Richard Jolly graduated in economics from Magdalene College Cambridge in 1956. Due to his Christian religious convictions, he registered as a conscientious objector and did his National Service not in the military but as a Community Development Officer in the Baringo District of Kenya from Jan 1957-Jan 1959, although he reassessed and relinquished his religious convictions during that time. Jolly’s Baringo service, meanwhile, sparked a change in career focus away from business and into the development field and eventually into the United Nations.
(Immediately after leaving Kenya, however, Jolly took part in the British Alpine Hannibal Expedition, which attempted to retrace, with an elephant called Jumbo, Hannibal’s route across the Alps.)
During the 1960s Jolly studied for a Masters and PhD at Yale University in America, and participated in a research tour of Cuba soon after the revolution. After his masters he became a research fellow at the East Africa Institute of Social Research, Makerere College in Uganda (1963), and did short-term economic consultancies in countries across the world.
He became a fellow and later director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex in 1969. In 1970 he was seconded from the IDS to work for the United Nations as the Senior Economist in the Development Division of Zambia’s Ministry of Development and Finance. Through the 1970s he continued to work on technical assistance and advisory programmes for the UN focussing mainly on labour and employment, including heading missions on agriculture and basic needs to Bangladesh and Zambia.
From 1975 Jolly sat on the governing council and executive board of the Society for International Development (and was vice president of SID from 1982-1985). He helped develop the North-South Roundtable as a project of the Society for International Development, chairing the Roundtable from 1987-1996. The Roundtable was a group founded by Barbara Ward (1914-1981) which incorporated equal numbers of representatives from developed and developing countries to discuss and brief policy makers on global development issues.
Jolly was appointed Deputy Executive Director (Programmes) of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in July 1981 with the rank of UN Assistant Secretary General, serving from 1 Jan 1982 until 1995. He had responsibilities for UNICEF’s programmes globally. His focus on paying more attention to the needs of women and children in economic adjustment policies led to his work on the co-authored book Adjustment With a Human Face (1987).
He was appointed to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) from 1996-2000 as Special Advisor to the Administrator of the UNDP and co-ordinator of the UNDP’s Human Development Report which published reports on a human development approach to growth as well as on poverty, consumption, globalization and human rights.
From 1996-2000 Jolly chaired the UN Sub-Committee on Nutrition and from Sep 1997-Dec 2003 and Nov 2004-Aug 2005 was the Chair of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. Following retirement from the UN he was a trustee of the charity Oxfam [Oxfam’s archive is also at the Bodleian Library, with multiple catalogues] and chairperson of the United Nations Association (UK), an independent policy association.
In the 2000s Richard Jolly became the co-director of the UN Intellectual History Project based at City University in New York which produced a sixteen volume history of the UN’s contributions to development. His papers here at the Bodleian Library form a significant part of a collection of archives from United Nations staff (the UN Career Records Project), a collection that Richard Jolly has been involved with since its inception.