Former Chair of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, Mr. M. A. Partha Sarathy (Partha), passed away peacefully on 5 January 2013 at the age of 89. Frits Hesselink, Wendy Goldstein and Dr. Jan Cerovsky share their memories.
By Frits Hesselink, CEC Steering Committee member and former CEC Chair
M.A. Partha Sarathy (India) was a Deputy Chair of CEC and became Chair in 1986, when Dr. Lieberman resigned as Chair during a difficult period for CEC in its relations with the IUCN Secretariat. Partha kept the Commission’s network going with voluntary assistance from CEC member Dart Thalman (USA). Partha moved the CEC secretariat to Bangalore, India, where he used his own resources to set up an office with staff. At his suggestion, the name of the group was changed from the ‘Commission on Education’ to the ‘Commission on Education and Training’, a decision that took place at the 17th IUCN General Assembly, held in Costa Rica in 1988. At this event, IUCN members also elected Partha as Chair in his own right to lead the Commission, which was then a network of about 80 members.
Partha was re-elected at the 18th IUCN General Assembly, held in 1990 in Australia. The Commission’s name was changed at the time to its present form, the Commission on Education and Communication, reflecting a desire to widen the focus of the Commission for new approaches. It now included Partha’s main field of interest: communication, and particularly film. He organized several environmental film festivals, including during the IUCN General Assembly in Perth and at the World Parks Congress in Caracas in 1992. Most importantly Partha secured funds from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries. Thanks to Partha Sarathy, CEC once again had a future. This funding made it possible for CEC once again to have a secretariat and operational support at IUCN headquarters. For over 14 years, Wendy Goldstein (Australia) managed the CEC network with the help of Cecilia Nizzola-Tabja (Peru), who still is at the heart of the CEC network management in Gland.
In 1992, IUCN introduced its second World Conservation Strategy, known as “Caring for the Earth”, with UNEP and WWF. Partha, his Steering Committee and his new Secretariat team provided leadership for the CEC input into this document. Similarly, he was very active on behalf of the environmental education and communication community in the PrepComms for the Earth Summit. CEC was instrumental in ensuring that Agenda 21 and the international environmental conventions contained special paragraphs on communication, education and public awareness (CEPA). Partha operated from the idea that the role of education is to provide ecological, technical, scientific and legal knowledge and training, while advertising and entertainment should influence public opinion. As a personal initiative, Partha instituted the IUCN CEC Tree of Learning Award for outstanding contributions to environmental education and awarded it to Professor John Smyth, Al Gore and Kartikeya Sarabhai, among others.
During Partha’s leadership, CEC produced publications such as A Guide to Environmental Administration In Service Training, Youth in Environmental Action, New Ideas in Environmental Education, and Planning Education to Care for the Earth. He also launched the CEC newsletter 'Nature Herald'. Responding to the trend towards regionalization, Partha welcomed the creation of a new regional network in Asia in 1993. The network, called SASANEE, was established with Secretariat support by CEC Steering Committee member Kartikeya Sarabhai and his Centre for Environment Education in Ahmedabad, India. Encouraged by Partha, SASEANEE conducted a number of regional training programmes in education and communication for environment and development. Some 90 professionals from over 18 countries were trained under this initiative, which ran from 1993 to 2005.
Partha stepped down as CEC Chair in 1994 at the IUCN General Assembly in Buenos Aires, where I was elected as his successor. On a personal note I remember M.A. Partha Sarathy as a man of wisdom. His was a practical political wisdom he had inherited from his father and which he practiced as an IUCN Chair and Councilor. To prepare me for my job, he always made sure to explain to me the dynamics of human interaction and decision making and his experience in IUCN and other international organizations. He also often shared with me in private moments the wisdom he had gained from his religion and often said to me with humor: “If you do well in life, I see you ending your life meditating in a cave in the Himalayas.” In the years since Buenos Aires, where he had been in a committee that advised replacing the Commission with an advisory committee, Partha followed the Commission from far away, with only occasional contact. We will always remember him as the CEC leader who – through his perseverance, wisdom and statesmanship – made it possible for CEC to become what it is today: a thriving global network of expertise for change through learning, strategic communication and knowledge management – grown from 80 to more than 1,000 members worldwide.
By Wendy Goldstein, CEC Steering Committee member and former CEC Deputy Chair
M.A. Partha Sarathy was a very caring and passionate Chair to work for and I am sad to hear this news. I remember many long calls with him from India or some European country he was visiting on business and his interest in all things from progress on the education and communication programme, to my family and the politics of IUCN. He was always a gentleman, sharp and had a great sense of humour.
Partha's visits to Council twice per year were important occasions for updates and advocacy for the work of CEC, as well as dinners filled with conversations of life in India to IUCN intrigue. He attracted respected and famous Indians to the CEC like Swaminathan an innovator in agriculture, and Kartikeya Sarabhai, Director of the Centre for Environmental Education, who he predicted would become an influential leader in environmental education.
Partha had enormous energy in mobilising his film festivals single-handedly as I never remember being asked to do anything to support them. He was not envious or competitive, and recognised Frits' strategic capabilities as Deputy Chair and was generous in giving Frits space to use those qualities to move CEC forward.
If Partha had not had a quirky desire to hire an Australian for the Secretariat to work for CEC, I probably would never have had worked for IUCN. He may well have come to regret that choice - as he would suggest as a woman I should walk behind him, not stride out in front, as my fast paced walking style was want to do. Dear Partha, CEC has its legs because of you.
By Dr. Jan Cerovsky, Past Vice-President of IUCN, CEC member
I just received the sad message about the death of M. A. Partha Sarathy. I worked together with him for many years in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and always have admired his devotion to and his enthusiastic work for the case of nature conservation. I extend my deep sympathy to his family whom I had the opportunity to meet when Partha kindly invitated me to his home during an international conference in Bangalore in 1990.