After studying architecture and urbanism and completing a doctorate in economics, Thierry Paulais specialized in urban development, environmental economics, and the commons. He has worked on five continents, holding positions in both the United States and the Pacific. He spent much of his career working at the Agence française de développement [French Development Agency].

At the same time and in a personal capacity, he engaged in research, publishing works on the history of the Atlantic world, abolitionism, colonialism, and the Back-to-Africa movement from the perspective of African-Americans.
In addition, he has continued to cultivate his lifelong passion for the sea, sailing, and underwater diving. He has owned several boats and even built them for a time. He has sailed and dived in all the corners of the world, and is now an adept of solo ocean sailing on small sailboats.

At RFI, program by Valérie Nivelon La Marche du monde, 2019.
au journal Afrique de France 24, août 2021
On the evening news at Polynésie Première, 14th June 2015 Photo : Vincent Joguet
Awarded by the President of French Polynesia for his commitment to the Polynesian economy
Thierry Paulais has never stopped sailing throughout his professional career. Here on his boat Alphée in Madeira National Park, Selvagem Islands, 2014 Photo : Hubert Bortzmeyer

Detailed Biography

Thierry Paulais was born in Paris in 1952. The day after his baccalaureate, he began studying philosophy, then abandoned them to devote himself to artisanal boat building and navigation. After four years of this regime, he resumed his studies, this time in architecture. He worked in architectural firms until he obtained his DPLG diploma in 1980. The following year he obtained a graduate degree in town planning at the National School of Bridges and Roads and took a keen interest in development economics, urban economics and the economic analysis of projects. He began to work in design offices and at the same time continued to train in economics. In 1989 he obtained a Doctorate in economics from the University of Paris X.

He spent nearly fifteen years in different engineering companies for which he directed, among other things, studies of urban development projects financed by the World Bank on the African continent, urban renewal programs in France and many urban economics studies and economic analyzes of projects everywhere.

In 1994, he was recruited at the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations where he took responsibility for the implementation of an envelope of loans for local communities included in the so-called political geography of the city. In 2000 he joined the French Development Agency (AFD), where he was first urban referent in the Mediterranean and Middle East area, before heading up the Urban Development Division when it was created. in 2002.

In 2007, he was seconded for four years to Cities Alliance (a Trust Fund located at that time within the World Bank in Washington) to direct a research and publication program on the financing of African local communities. On his return from the United States, after a brief stint in the Research Department at AFD, in 2012 he was appointed Deputy Director of the Africa Department, in charge of the Horn of Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa, and the Indian Ocean.

These successive functions have led him to intervene in France, in the French Overseas Departments and Territories, in South-East Asia, in the Middle East and in more than forty-five countries of the African continent.

In the summer of 2015 and on leaving six months for personal convenience, he was appointed Director of the AFD Agency in French Polynesia at his request. Within the framework of these functions he occupies the seats of administrator of the first local bank, of an airline company and of the international airport. He travels extensively in the five Polynesian archipelagos to instruct infrastructure, environment and biodiversity projects. He has collaborated with the Government of French Polynesia for the establishment of public policies, particularly in the high seas fisheries and aquaculture sector, and has initiated regional cooperation projects in the Cook Islands and Fiji.

Thierry Paulais has written and co-written books, articles, and pamphlets on subjects connected with his professional activities. These works are described, and many are available to be downloaded, on this site. He has also written books on the history of Africa, the issues of the Atlantic World, and the eighteenth-century debates on the abolition of slavery and colonialism.

The subjects explored in these published works are some what eclectic, and show how the author’s areas of interest continued to develop throughout his career, leading him from urban, to development, and then to environmental economics, and, simultaneously, to history.

Thierry Paulais left his position at the Agence française de développement (French Development Agency) in the summer of 2019. Based in Paris and Charente-Maritime, he divides his time between writing and sailing. Thierry Paulais currently has several works in progress and practices solo sailing on his small sailboat.