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José María Figueres Olsen
José María Figueres Olsen

Jose Maria Figueres Olsen joined the Carbon War Room as its Chair in 2009. In 2012 he became the organization's President (Chief Executive).

After a successful business career (1979-1987), José María served as Minister of State and was later elected President of Costa Rica (1994-1998) at the age of 39. As President he created a comprehensive national development strategy based on the tenets of sustainability: sound economics, investment in human development, and a strong alliance with nature.

José María pioneered the linkage between sustainable development and technology, which he continued after government by helping create and then leading the United Nations ICT Task Force as its first Chairperson in 1999.

He was the first person to become CEO of the World Economic Forum, where he strengthened global corporate ties to social and governmental sectors. Later he was named CEO of Concordia 21, dedicated to supporting organizations that promote development and democratic values around the world.

In 2013, José María helped launch the Global Ocean Commission to formulate politically and technically feasible recommendations that address key issues facing the high seas. He serves as Co-Chair.

José María holds an engineering degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a master's in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

George Polk
Chairman, Carbon War Room

George Polk is the Managing Partner of Tulum Trust, a private equity firm which works primarily with family offices and delivers high returns while having a meaningful impact on climate change. Among other things, Tulum has a special focus on industrial energy efficiency, where it funds energy generation projects that have very significant greenhouse gas impact and an annual cash yield of circa 15% for the 20+ year life of the project.

George has been applying his skills as an institution builder, investor, and philanthropist to the challenge of creating a viable and vibrant low carbon society since 2007, when he stepped out of a successful career as a technology entrepreneur to focus on tackling climate change.

George’s first work on climate was philanthropic. He founded and was Chairman of the European Climate Foundation (the largest funder of initiatives to change European policy on climate), was a Senior Advisor to the ClimateWorks Foundation (globally the largest philanthropic funder of work on climate), and founded Project Catalyst (the most significant effort to jumpstart low carbon growth plans for countries). George also worked with Richard Branson and his team to help found the Carbon War Room (where he is a Chairman), and with a number of other very high net worth individuals to design and implement other major philanthropic strategies related to climate.

In 2008, George began to focus on how to deploy more capital into the low carbon economy. He first acted as Senior Advisor on Climate Change to McKinsey, where he advised policy makers on how to create economically credible climate policy and Cleantech businesses on how to grow their businesses more rapidly. In 2009 and 2010, George worked closely with George Soros to plan the allocation of $1 billion to climate related private equity investments and served as the Soros representative on the board of the Powerspan Corporation, a carbon capture technology company which was one of Soros’ personal investments. In late 2010, started working with a wider range of high net worth families and in 2011, George founded the Tulum Trust, which invests on behalf of family offices in deals which deliver high returns while building the new low carbon economy

Before his work on climate change George was an entrepreneur, having founded, run, or bought a number of technology and telecommunications companies. George was recognized as Global Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, a Pioneer of the City of London, and has been ranked several times in the top 25 global technology agenda setters by He was most recently founder and CEO of The Cloud, the leading broadband wireless network operator in Europe which was sold to Sky/News Corporation. He is a graduate of Harvard University and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Seán Cleary
Founder and Executive Vice Chair, FutureWorld Foundation

Sean Cleary is Founder and Executive Vice Chair of the FutureWorld Foundation. He is Chairman of Strategic Concepts (Pty) Ltd, and also Managing Director for the Centre for Advanced Governance.
Sean is a Guest Lecturer on global corporate strategy at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria, the Wits Business School, Stellenbosch University, the Henley Management College, Georgetown University and the Wharton School. He is a Strategic Adviser to the Chairman of the World Economic Forum and a Faculty Member of the Parmenides Foundation. Sean is also Strategic Adviser to the Chairman of the Global Advisory Board of Operation Hope, and is a member of the Board of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and a Trustee of the South African Foundation for Conciliation.

Seán Cleary is Chairman of Strategic Concepts (Pty) Ltd, Managing Director of the Centre for Advanced Governance, Founder and Executive Vice Chair of the Future World Foundation, Chairman of Atlantic Holdings (Pty) Ltd, and a Director of Companies.

He studied social sciences and law at the University of South Africa, the University of Cape Town and Pahlavi University in Iran, and holds an MBA from Henley Management College at Brunel University in the United Kingdom.

He served in the South African Navy on the staff of the Commander Maritime Defence before commencing a diplomatic career in the Middle East, USA and Namibia. As Chief Director in Namibia in the mid-1980s, he initiated negotiations between all political parties, the release of political prisoners and the adoption of a Bill of Rights, paving the way for independence.

He is a member of the Faculty of the Parmenides Foundation and lectures on global corporate strategy at the Graduate School of Business at the University of the Witwatersrand, Henley Management College, the Gordon Institute of Business Science of the University of Pretoria, Georgetown University, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Stellenbosch University; and on conflict resolution, the challenges of globalisation and development economics at several U.S and European universities and institutes.

He is a lecturer on the National Security Management Course at the South African Defence Staff College, a research associate of the South African Institute of International Affairs, a Fellow of the World Economic Forum and Strategic Adviser to the Chairman, Chairman of the Global Advisory Board of Operation Hope, a member of the Board of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and a Trustee of the South African Foundation for Conciliation.

He was a member of the Facilitating and Preparatory Committees of the South African Peace Accord and Chairman of the Working Group on the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Organizations, an EXCO Member of the NEPAD (New Programme for Africa’s Development) Business Steering Group, a Member of the Board of LEAD International, and served on national Advisory Committees in Namibia and as Senior Adviser to the Arab Business Council.

He is a recipient of academic and public service awards and has been published in South African, British, German and U.S. journals. He is the co-author, with Thierry Malleret, of two books on risk, Resilience to Risk (Human and Rousseau, 2006), and Global Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and has contributed chapters to several others, most recently, Learning from Catastrophes (Wharton, 2009).

Jean Oelwang
CEO of Virgin Unite

Jean Oelwang is the CEO of Virgin Unite, the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group and a Partner in the Virgin Group focused on People Innovation. In 2003, Jean left her post as joint CEO of Virgin Mobile

Australia to begin working with Richard Branson and the Virgin staff from around the world to create Virgin Unite. Over the last 10 years, Jean has worked with partners to create new approaches to social and environmental issues, such as the Branson Centres of Entrepreneurship and a global platform to support budding entrepreneurs. She has built collaborations to incubate a number of global leadership initiatives such as The Elders, the Carbon War Room and The B Team. In addition, Jean has been instrumental in working with over 25 Virgin businesses across 15 industries to put the wellbeing of people and planet at their core.

In her previous life, Jean lived and worked on five continents helping to lead successful mobile phone start-ups in South Africa, Colombia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and the US.

Jean has long explored the overlap of the business and not-for-profit sectors and has been involved in both, having worked for the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife in Australia, and in numerous volunteer roles, including a stint as a VISTA volunteer where she worked with – and learned from - homeless teens in Chicago.

She sits on the Advisory Council for The Elders and the Boards of the Carbon War Room, the B Team, the Ocean Elders and Just Capital.

Jigar Shah
President CASE

Jigar Shah is an entrepreneur and visionary committed to leveraging the next economy by solving the challenging issues of our time. Shah has recognized this as “The Impact Economy.”

Shah has noted that a global "Impact Economy" is one in which mainstream investors team up with corporations, entrepreneurs, and governments at scale to solve the big environmental and social problems of our time while generating compelling financial returns – not just average returns.

Today, he is CEO of Jigar Shah Consulting and a board member of the Carbon War Room. He works closely with some of the world’s leading influencers and guides policy makers around the globe on key issues to implement solutions for global warming and sustainability that will unlock that next trillion dollar impact economy.

His first foray in realizing his vision was the founding of SunEdison in 2003; today the world’s leading solar services company. SunEdison, through Shah’s perseverance and vision, simplified solar as a service through the implementation of the power purchase agreement (PPA) business model. That model changed the status quo, allowing organizations to purchase solar energy services under long-term predictably priced contracts and avoid the significant capital costs of ownership and operation of solar energy systems. The SunEdison business model remains an important catalyst that turned solar into a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.

From 2009 to March 2012, Shah served as the first CEO of the Carbon War Room, the global organization founded by Richard Branson and Virgin Unite to help save the world from Climate Change. During Shah’s tenure he was a trailblazer in helping build the organization into one of global importance.

In the few years, since its founding The Carbon War Room has identified 17 sectors that all contain gigaton scale profitable opportunities ready to scale up to an “Impact Economy” – representing the largest economic opportunity of our generation.

Prior to launching SunEdison and his tenure as Carbon War Room CEO, Shah managed mergers & acquisitions, corporate strategy, and sales efforts for BP Solar, specializing in national commercial accounts. He also worked as a contractor for the Department of Energy on alternative vehicles and fuel cell programs.

Shah holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and an MBA from The University of Maryland. Besides the Carbon War Room, he also sits on the boards of the SolarNexus, KMR Infrastructure, Prometheus Institute and Greenpeace USA.

There is no Planet B™
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