Born in Sligo, Ireland, Robert Blackburn attended Saint Columba"s College, Rathfarnham and, in 1946, Trinity College, Dublin, where took a first-class degree in History with gold medal and was captain of the rugby XV.
He was an early pioneer of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) and was instrumental in establishing the first United World College (United World Colleges) in the early 1960s. Blackburn started his teaching career at Downside School in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Somerset, moving to Merchant Taylors" School near Northwood, Middlesex, in 1954. During this time, he supplemented involvement in the United Nations Association and the Council for Education in World Citizenship with work in refugee camps.
In 1962, he was appointed Deputy Headmaster and Director of Studies of United World College of the Atlantic, South Wales, which was the first United World College.
The college took sixth formers from all over the world, mixing the children of South American millionaires with Maoist Chinese children secured with the help of the Foreign Office. He was appointed United World Colleges International Secretary in 1968, working with the then president, Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
Together they visited many countries, particularly those with Commonwealth links, to establish committees which were to lead to the development of three United World Colleges colleges in Blackburn"s time. Using his contacts, Blackburn also organised charity concerts with line-ups including Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Leonard Bernstein.
In 1978 Blackburn became Deputy Director General of the IBO, taking on particular responsibility for Africa and the Middle East.
Robert Blackburn was one of the speakers at the World Goodwill seminar in London in 1988, where he set out his belief that:.