Alumni Services

David Nussbaum

David Nussbaum describes how a theology degree at Edinburgh has lead him to heading up the country’s most influential wildlife charity.

Name David Nussbaum
Degree Course MTh
Year of Graduation 1981
David Nussbaum

Your time at the University

I chose to study for my second theology degree at New College in Edinburgh because of the reputation of the University and, in particular its divinity faculty. I also wanted a different environment from the Anglican-dominated Cambridge where I’d done my first degree, and a Presbyterian-dominated environment was certainly different. At the time I was also doing voluntary work at a small Baptist church on the Craigmillar estate, and wanted to continue to do so.

At Edinburgh, my primary MTh supervisor was the late David Wright. In one of my essays on Augustine (an influential Christian theologian 1,700 years ago), I commented that those who took the trouble to study his writings tended to be biased in his favour. David’s gracious comment on my essay was, “certainly not guilty of a pro-Augustine bias”. Then my dissertation was on: 'Augustine, Scripture and Power', and I've been thinking about how people use and think about power ever since.

Perhaps it’s long enough ago now to disclose that I once ‘borrowed’ a set of the official robes of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, accessible from the postgraduate reading room in New College, to go to a fancy dress party, and returned them - intact and unimpaired - afterwards.

My experience at Edinburgh was part of what trained me to think.

David Nussbaum

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

I decided not to pursue an academic or teaching career and instead wanted to get a technical qualification and move into the commercial world. So I started on a career in finance, eventually becoming Finance Director of Oxfam. Some years into the role, I was seconded to head up Oxfam’s extensive operations in India for six months.

I then took up a new role as Chief Executive of Transparency International (the global anti-corruption organisation) based in Berlin, though weekly commuting was a bit tough on my wife and our four teenage kids.

In 2007, I became Chief Executive of WWF-UK, the conservation and environmental charity, which is my main current role. I’m also now the Chair of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative. Best known for our work on iconic charismatic species, WWF’s vision is of a world with a future in which people and nature thrive; and our particular role in contributing to the realisation of that vision is to safeguard the natural world.

On the non-executive front, I now Chair the Board of Transparency International UK; am a non-executive director of the fair-trade financial services organisation Shared Interest; serve on the Executive Advisory Board on Sustainability for Marks & Spencer; and am a member of the International Integrated Reporting Council.

My experience at the University of Edinburgh was part of what trained me to think. Studying at New College helped to mature my thinking and perspectives on the world, to assess evidence and bias in sources, and to understand how assumptions and cultures affect the way people think.

Alumni wisdom

Immerse yourself in student life, but keep yourself earthed in the world outside the University, especially amongst those who aren’t university-types. And keep thinking about what it all means, and what your life is for.