News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Remembering Our Colleague Professor Calestous Juma

A Tribute from Harvard Professors William Clark, John Holdren, Venkatesh Narayanamurti, and Daniel Schrag

Our colleague Calestous Juma—who passed away on December 15 at age 64 after a long illness—was a pioneering, prolific, and influential scholar/practitioner in science and technology policy for sustainable well-being. He joined Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) in 1999 as Director of the Science, Technology, and Innovation Project (a joint venture of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Center for International Development) and became Professor of the Practice of International Development in 2002, a position in which he maintained his exceptional productivity and engagement with policy, despite illness, up to the time of his death.

The diversity of responsibilities Calestous took on at HKS and in his prior professional life was simply extraordinary, as were the intelligence, energy, enthusiasm, and collegiality he brought to  all of them. Within the HKS roles mentioned above, he also directed the Science, Technology, and Globalization Project and the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project at the Belfer Center, as well as serving as Faculty Chair for the Mason Fellows Program and the Innovation for Economic Development series of executive programs. He taught HKS courses on “Innovation, Development and Globalization” and “Technology, Innovation and Sustainability” and a Harvard College undergraduate seminar on “Biotechnology, Environment and Public Policy”, among other courses in his time with us.

A Kenyan who grew up on the shores of Lake Victoria, Calestous initially taught elementary school and worked as a science and environment journalist in his native country. After earning a doctorate in science and technology policy studies from the University of Sussex, he founded and served as director  of the first all-Africa research center focused on the application of science and technology to sustainable development. He was a principal drafter of the Kenyan intellectual property law. He served as Chancellor of the University of Guyana, member of the National Social and Economic Council of the President of Kenya, a key advisor on the interaction of technology, environment, and development in the preparations for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, and the Executive Secretary of the UN Conference on Biodiversity. 

By the time he came to Harvard, Calestous had already published an even dozen books, including his pioneering 1989 study of the interaction of biodiversity, biotechnology, and development, The Gene Hunters. During his time here, another half dozen of his books appeared—most recently Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies—along with an enormous number of chapters in books edited by others, contributions to advisory-committee reports, and articles in both professional journals and popular media all over the globe.  Many of us wondered how Calestous could write faster than most of us could read.  Still, the work was not superficial, but packed with deep insights and provocative hypotheses. At the time of his death, Calestous was working on yet another book.  

Despite the demands of teaching, research, and writing, moreover, Calestous was constantly in search of—and finding—opportunities to speak truth to power. Internationally, he served as an advisor on technology for development and on global environmental governance for the Office of the Secretary General in the UN, the UN Development Programme and the UN Conference on Trade and Development, and co-chaired  the highly influential Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the UN Millennium Goals project. In the United States he was a key figure in the work on environment and development of the U.S. National Research Council, serving there on the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Committee on Scientific Support for Sustainable Development, the Committee for Geographical Information and Agenda 21, and the Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, Health, and the Environment. 

Dr. Juma’s contributions were recognized with election as a fellow of the Kenyan Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences, and the World Academy of Sciences, as well as to foreign membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the U.K. Royal Society of Engineering.  The list of his other honors and recognitions goes on for pages.

But for us, his close colleagues in the Belfer Center and its programs on Science and Technology Policy and Environment and Natural Resource Policy, what Calestous brought to our work together was not only a first-class mind, a deeply informed focus on some of the most important issues at the intersection of science and technology with development and sustainability, an admirable commitment to teaching and advising, a mind-boggling work ethic, and his exceptional standing as a global public intellectual.  He was also just a wonderful colleague—warm, ever upbeat and enthusiastic, always ready to consider seriously the views of others, always looking for ways to contribute to the Center, the School, and the world.  We will miss him terribly.


Dr. Clark is the Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science Public Policy and Human Development at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Co-Director of Harvard’s Sustainability Science Program.

Dr. Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Co-Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Environmental Science and Policy in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  He was Director the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs from 1996 through 2008.

Dr. Narayanamurti is the Benjamin Pierce Professor of Technology and Public Policy in Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Applied Science and Engineering and the Kennedy School of Government and directed the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy from 2009 to 2015.

Dr. Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering in the John A. Paulson School of Engineering, and Applied Science, and Co-Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy, in which he served as Director from 2015 to 2017.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Clark, William, John P. Holdren, Venkatesh "Venky" Narayanamurti and Daniel Schrag. “Remembering Our Colleague Professor Calestous Juma.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, December 18, 2017.

The Authors

William C. Clark

John P. Holdren


Calestous Juma