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Green Clean Guide in conversation with Chris Allan, Institute for Social and Environmental Transition

ISETISET-International’s work focuses on understanding social and environmental change processes, including climate change and urbanization, and supporting adaptive responses to the fundamental challenges such processes pose for society and marginalized populations. GCG had an opportunity to interview Chris Allan about ISET’s work.

When was ISET established and how was the idea conceived?

ISET was established in 1997. The idea was generated by a number of action researchers who saw the need for an organization that would bring together committed people in the Global South and the North on an equal footing to solve some of the complex social and environmental issues of our time.

What are some of the chief activities and objectives of your organisation?

ISET works with policy makers, civil society groups, academics, from local to global levels to understand how challenging natural resource issues – especially water use and climate change adaptation – can be solved. ISET has created an international network of like-minded people in Nepal, Pakistan, India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

ISET-International’s work bridges the science-policy-implementation divide across regions and cultures. We focus on the translation of global natural and social scientific insights into local contexts in a manner that improves understanding and enables action. We also analyze the implications of local physical, cultural, economic and other system dynamics for global and high level policy and strategy.

ISET-International’s activities combine knowledge generation, learning and the incubation of innovative strategies through pilot scale implementation.

Our Mission is to catalyze transformative changes toward a more resilient and equitable future. We improve understanding and elevate the level of dialog and practice as society responds to natural resource, environmental and social challenges. We serve as a framework for equal collaboration among individuals and organizations in the North and South.

What are some major programmes being run by ISET?

One of our major activities right now is working with the Asian Cities Climate Change Resource Network, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation ( This is a multi-year, multi-partner program in 10 cities across four Asian countries to understand what the adaptation issues are, and to work with cities to develop practical solutions to them. So far cities have done pilot projects to deal with sea level rise, increased salinity, adapting housing to increased flooding, and improving solid waste management to reduce disease following flooding. The US Agency for International Development is funding ISET to undertake a similar effort in four more cities in Thailand and Vietnam as part of the Mekong-Building Climate Resilience in Asian Cities Program.

In Vietnam ISET is the Country Coordinator for the ACCCRN program, coordinating the efforts of all ACCCRN partners under the Rockefeller program.

In Pakistan, ISET has just completed a study of resilience following the devastating floods of 2010 that swept across vast swaths of the Indus valley. The study looks at the characteristics that allowed some areas to avoid damage and to return more quickly to productive life.

We are working with the American Red Cross in three countries – Uganda, El Salvador, and Vietnam – to help the organization understand how to better build resilience in cities in the face of increasing disasters around the world.

I understand that ISETruns programmes for climate resilience such as Climate Resilience Framework. Please tell us more about it? Are you going to expand it in future to more cities?

Yes, we are. We have developed a set of resilience training tools, which are available online at These tools can adapted by most any organization – city or rural authority, NGO, etc. – to follow a path to understanding what vulnerabilities are and how to address them to make a more resilient community, city, state, country, world. While most of our established partnerships are in Asia, these training tools are useful for people in a wide variety of countries and situations.

We are also beginning a two year program to develop tools to more easily communicate resilience concepts in practical ways. Resilience can be a very complex phenomenon, and talking about can lead to many layers of discussion and analysis. While this can be empowering, it can also be very confusing, especially when audiences are mixed, such as high level policy makers, city engineers, local community members, etc.

 India has recently witnessed a mammoth disaster in the form of Uttrakhand floods. We could really benefit from programmes such as the Disaster Risk Reduction? What stage is the pilot programme in Nepal and Vietnam and the results of the findings of a preliminary study if any?

The Resilience Framework is actually the product of many years of study in Nepal and Vietnam, as well as India and elsewhere. So the Framework itself is already in use, and can be usefully applied in Uttarakhand. We have also supported cities and civil society groups in Vietnam, Thailand and India to implement over a dozen practical programs to build resilience to flooding, sea level rise, urban growth, and other issues.

It is not a coincidence that we were already in discussion with ways to work with local authorities across the state of Uttarakhand when the flooding hit. While it is not yet clear whether this program will include ISET, it is precisely the kind of work we are well set up to do. Our work with the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) has also produced encouraging results on the local level, and is now being expanded to three more cities in Bihar.

How can individuals join in your efforts?

We are not really a membership organization, so there is no clear path for individuals to join. We do develop partnerships with local authorities, civil society organizations, university researchers, and donors to generate deeper understanding of these complex issues and to support programs to solve them.

Are you also in touch and partnerships with such other international groups/ communities?

ISET is a broad network in itself, so partnership is our basic mode of operation. In addition to our operational partnerships such as GEAG in India, we participate in broader international communities working on similar issues: the Asia-Pacific Adaptation Forum, ICLEI (a network of local governments around the world), the US National Adaptation Forum, the World Water Forum, UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, the Resilience Alliance, and many others.

Does ISET also help in grooming of upcoming NGO’s through capacity building and funding support? How can interested organisations join hands to learn from your work?

Continuous capacity building of both ISET and our partners is integral to our work. While our capacity to create new partnerships is of course limited by our staff resources, we are always looking to build a network of strong partners to take on these problems together and find common solutions. Our web site is the first place to start – – and we are frequently at conferences and project meetings and are available for discussion.

What are your future plans and activities?

Our future plans are to expand our networks and understanding of these complex issues. We hope to do so in many different forums: among policy makers, academics, planners, and civil society groups. And we hope to do it on a variety of levels, from professional academics to generalists who are trying to solve local problems. Finding useful ways to talk to these varying audiences will be a major focus for us over the next couple years.

If you wish to learn more about ISET, contact them here-


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