By any standards Robert’s life story so far is an outstanding one. As a highly experienced university teacher, business manager, consultant, as well as contributing author of an important book, he is not one to be put in a box!
Although his early study of philosophy was not to bear fruit till his later work as part author of the book Right Relation, Building a Whole Earth Economy, over the period from the late 1960s through to the early 80s Robert was steadily gaining an impressive list of degrees culminating in a PH D. After working in the health sector in the 70s, as City Manager at Napier City Council in the early 80s he was able to implement a number of reforms that later became standard practice in local government.
Early study of the work of Quaker philosopher Adam Curl on peace making had set him on a 20 - 30 -year period of growing respect for Quakerism, and he finally became a Quaker in the years after marriage to Gael Bowling in 1969.
In 1988 he and Gael set up in Napier an English language school for Japanese students. When Robert left the Council he was able to use the contacts in Japan to establish an agricultural college providing practical experience for overseas students. In the mid 1990’s the couple moved to Auckland and Robert worked as a consultant on multiple projects for NGOs on policy setting and organisational design and implementation, as well as teaching in local government and business.
The move to Auckland enabled him to explore his interest in peace making. This led to a 12 year project in Indonesia, working with the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Gadjah Mada University, on the introduction of non-violent conflict resolution training with the Indonesian police.
By 1998 Robert was representing Quakers on the committee of the Combined Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ) and chairing a committee on church financial investments, and looking at the ethical criteria used for investment. This was to lead eventually to Robert’s work on the environment and climate change, and was also part of the journey that led to the setting up of the Council for Socially Responsible Investment (CSRI) in 2003.
At overseas conferences Robert became aware of the problems involved in the choice of investment of huge pension funds, in light of the dawning understanding of climate change and the need for risk management on the part of insurance companies. He learned of an organisation called the Quaker Institute for the Future and at a meeting at Pendle Hill in 2003 the idea for a book on a moral economy was born and Robert became involved in the writing of the book Right Relationship, a task for which he was fitted by his early experience in management, strategy and organisational change, his ‘public policy perspective’. Writing the book was a multi- disciplinary activity and Robert had to learn much about economics, and return to his study of ethics, especially a wide reading of modern philosophy which had not been part of the curriculum during his university days.
Since the book has been published in early 2009 Robert has embarked on a course of lectures on the implications of a moral economy. He is the Asia West Pacific Section representative of the QUNO Geneva Committee, and a member of the Global Change Committee of the Asia West Pacific Section. Integrity is the word that comes to mind when I think of Robert; everything holds together. But life is not all serious work; Robert sings with the Auckland Choral Society and enjoys Highland dancing! In terms of his own lifestyle, he and Gael have embarked on an ambitious project to minimize their carbon footprints, which is covered in Gael Howell’s story.