Official Biography

Dr Patricia Turner

Dr Patricia Turner is an academic, philanthropy practitioner, and co-founder of the Turner Kirk Trust. Patricia leads on the Trust’s conservation, biodiversity, and early childhood development programmes.

Dr Patricia Turner

Dr Patricia Turner is an academic, philanthropy practitioner and co-founder of the Turner Kirk Trust. She is a member of the Advisory Board at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. 

Patricia’s approach to philanthropic giving builds on her academic career, which she has been involved in for over 30 years. She is a firm believer that charitable giving should be underpinned by robust academic research, and it is this approach that has guided her work at the Trust. Patricia has led initiatives at the intersection of sustainability, economic development and poverty alleviation that seek to set global standards for effective, evidence-based philanthropy in the developing world.

In recognition of her work in philanthropy, she was elected to the Vice-Chancellor’s Inner Circles at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Conservation & biodiversity

Through the Trust, Patricia has founded and supported a number of initiatives focussed on wildlife and environmental conservation, which have pioneered collaborative approaches to biodiversity loss, drawing upon inter-governmental dialogue, interdisciplinary academic research, and in-field implementation by NGOs.

In 2019, Patricia founded the Turner Research Fellowship at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). A world-leading cross-disciplinary research institute, CCI brings together academics from across the University of Cambridge, international policy experts, and practitioners from international conservation organisations, such as the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, to find integrative approaches to biodiversity degradation. It provides a practical forum for experts from different disciplines to share insight, best practice and research with the potential to provide fresh, original solutions to complicated conservation problems.

Founded through a £250,000 gift from the Trust, the Research Fellowship brings world-class practitioners from academia, law, politics and NGOs to the University of Cambridge for a three-month research residency. Patricia supports Research Fellows with the potential to positively impact global public policy discussions around biodiversity, such as reconciling rapid economic development and the environment in China and ensuring the Paris Climate Agreement strengthens the global response to biodiversity as well as climate change.

The initiative at CCI builds on a similar scheme launched at the University of Oxford in 2013. The Trust established the Turner-Kirk Fellowship Programme within Oxford’s Department of Zoology through a £500,000 gift, which supported a wide spectrum of research projects across Africa and South-East Asia. The Fellowship supported research not only focussed narrowly on understanding and addressing conservation problems, but also on how to effectively explain the importance of biodiversity, engage local communities in conservation projects, and implement long-term solutions.

Early childhood development

Prior to founding the Turner Kirk Trust, Patricia spent two decades in academic research, initially focusing on behavioural sciences and subsequently on the social, emotional and cognitive development in early childhood. This research informed her view that philanthropic efforts in the early childhood development (ECD) space are one of the most beneficial and cost-effective investments in human capital.

In 1990, she was awarded the prestigious Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship, which supported her research into gender differences in child development. In the same year, she was elected a Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge, where she conducted a cross-cultural study of child development in the UK and Hungary with the support of the European Science Foundation.

Between 1994 and 1997, Patricia was a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge Clinical School, researching the impact of maternal postnatal depression on early child development.

Since 2015, Patricia has supported a number of initiatives that seek to ensure that the healthy cognitive, social and emotional development of young children becomes the responsibility of every government, organisation, community, family and individual. Working in collaboration with the philanthropy division of a global foundation, these projects have pioneered evidence-led early intervention projects to support the emotional and physical development of young children in the developing world.

In particular, Patricia donated £250,000 to a global charitable initiative focused on childhood nutrition, which seeks to catalyse international action on the dietary challenges facing young children and mothers; encourage inter-governmental, third-sector and academic dialogue on the subject, and make evidence-led interventions to radically improve diets for mothers and children in the developing world. Nearly 150 million children around the world currently are not getting the right nutrition or care during early life and suffer from stunting as a result; it remains the underlying cause of 45 percent of all child mortality and is dangerously underfunded.

This was followed by further donations to catalyse evidence-led interventions to improve the life chances of young people, including £280,000 to provide new mothers and infants with crucial postnatal care and support in the developing world, and £200,000 to a global initiative working to eliminate orphanage-based care systems and, instead, ensure that all children can benefit from being brought up in a loving, caring family environment. The latter project is particularly important to Patricia given the conclusions of her PhD research on the significance of early primary care-giver relationships for the subsequent emotional, social and cognitive development of young children.

Research

Patricia is a firm believer that charitable giving should be underpinned by robust academic research, and it is this approach which has guided her philanthropic work. Through the Trust, Patricia has led initiatives at the intersection of sustainability, economic development and poverty alleviation that seek to set global standards for effective, evidence-based philanthropy in the developing world.

Between 2007 and 2015, Patricia worked with the MicroLoan Foundation, establishing the first donor-funded regional branch, providing affordable repayment finance to female entrepreneurs to launch businesses. The Foundation has supported over 150,000 women entrepreneurs through its operations in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, providing them with sustainable pathways out of poverty and creating jobs for the communities. In that role, Patricia led a pioneering social data exercise to analyse the impact and sustainability of the charity’s existing programmes as well as to develop products and initiatives with the potential to have a higher impact.

Having developed a reputation for leveraging data and field evidence to substantially improve the impact of philanthropic projects and define standards, Patricia worked with the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) in 2014 to produce a number of research reports. These reports discussed the challenges to effective evidence-based philanthropy and how these can be overcome through better data collection, robust evaluation and taking a cross-dimensional approach to giving. These insight papers assisted CAF’s private client managers to educate individual donors on giving across its multi-million-pound philanthropy portfolio.

Early life & education

Patricia grew up in rural Northumberland, which led to her love of the natural world. Patricia holds a PhD in Child Development from Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, and a BSC in Zoology from the University of Nottingham. 

Further information

Latest news

SolarAid launches new pilot to find sustainable model for deploying solar lights in Africa

SolarAid is launching lighting systems in 500 homes in Kasakula, Malawi this month as part of its ‘Light a Village’ pilot, in an attempt to find a method to end energy poverty in all of super-rural Africa.

The Turner Kirk Trust funds innovative pilot to light up rural Africa

SolarAid is launching ‘Light a Village’ – a new game-changing initiative to implement a new commercial model that aims to reach 100% penetration of solar energy in a single, rural off-grid community in Malawi.