In memoriam: Elinor Ostrom
Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, who challenged the idea of blaming poor people for mismanaging the natural resources on which their lives depend, died on June 12, 2012, at age 78. Ostrom was a past president and founding member of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, a long-time IDRC grantee.
In 2009, she became the only woman who has received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The award honoured her trailblazing research on how people organize themselves to manage collective resources, such as forests, fisheries, and pastureland.
Ostrom, a professor at both Indiana University and Arizona State University, disputed the conventional wisdom that the market or government is best suited to be sole manager of common property resources (or “the commons”). In her celebrated 1990 book, Governing the Commons, she drew on examples from Kenya to Nepal to show how communities could successfully share and protect communal resources.
The book was an inspiration and a key resource for IDRC-supported researchers worldwide. They went on to generate a wealth of evidence about collaborative arrangements involving diverse stakeholders — including local resource users and governments — that allow common resources to be managed wisely.
Priya Shyamsundar, Program Director for the IDRC-funded South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, recalled Ostrom’s “great optimism about humanity’s ability to solve the problems of the world.”
“We remember Professor Lin Ostrom for her deep contribution to understanding the theory and practice of common property management, her relentless commitment to strengthening the work of researchers around the world who studied the commons, and her generosity in sharing her time and knowledge with so many of us,” Shyamsundar said.
In April 2012, Time Magazine named Ostrom one of the world’s 100 most influential people.