Ian Goldin insists that a united international consensus can help tackle burning issues such as climate change
It is a good thing that Ian Goldin is an optimist. As the first director of the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University, he will be dealing with some of the most intractable problems facing humanity.
Dr Goldin, a former adviser to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, now heads the multimillion-pound school, which encompasses a number of institutes. Its purpose is to bring together academics across disciplines to tackle challenges such as environmental change, ageing, immigration and rapid technological change.
"This is a marvellous resource," he said. "It will be my job to build bridges between the institutes; the school and the wider university; and academics here and elsewhere. It will be my job to create links with policymakers."
Dr Goldin, a former vice-president of the World Bank and before that its director of development policy, wants the developing world to be properly represented. "In areas such as climate change and immigration, we are keen to build capacity in Africa and other parts of the developing world so they have a central say in the debate."
He insists that solutions can be found. "I am an optimist, and that comes in part from experience. In the mid-1980s, I was in exile from South Africa," he said. "The future looked bleak, yet Mandela became President and I worked for him. It was a dream come true."
But he spots a degree of "intractability" in our capacity to resolve global conflict. "We have a terrible situation in Darfur. Our system of global governance is insufficient."