July 22, 2016
A Tribute to Long-time Friend of the Institute of Island Studies: Dr. George McRobie
by Harry Baglole
Dr. George McRobie died in Charlottetown on Friday, July 2. The trajectory of his remarkable life took him from his birthplace of Moscow (1925), through his childhood in northern Scotland, his highly successful career in London and throughout the world, and finally here to Prince Edward Island, his half-time home since 2009. He was a man of great personal warmth and charm, much beloved by his many friends on the Island.
McRobie achieved fame through his close association with the British economist E.F. Schumacher and what could be called the “Small Is Beautiful” movement. They first met while Schumacher was Economic Advisor to the National Coal Board. For Schumacher, international attention came with the publication of Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered, in 1973. This seminal work has been named by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II.
As well as being a fine theorist, Schumacher was also a remarkable man of action, and in McRobie he found a willing and capable colleague. Together they were founders of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) in 1966, a UK-based NGO specializing in creating small-scale technology for developing countries. In 2005, the ITDG changed its name to Practical Action, and today it claims that “every year we help over one million people out of poverty.”
Schumacher and McRobie both served stints as President of the Soil Association, the main British organization promoting the use of organic agriculture.
For rather obvious reasons, the book Small Is Beautiful found a ready audience in Prince Edward Island. In 1975, McRobie first visited the Island, where he spoke to the Legislative Assembly at the invitation of Premier Alex Campbell.