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Former UNESCO director gets back to grassroots

By Cheng Yingqi  (China Daily)

10:02, September 24, 2012

At the age of 60, Natarajan Ishwaran is a well-known figure in the international conservation community - he has 30 years of experience in teaching and research in and building international partnerships for environment, conservation and sustainable development.

And he served as director of the Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization until July 31, when he decided it was time for a change of direction.

Instead of sitting in an office and giving instructions to UNESCO staff members, he will now work at the grassroots at China's World Heritage sites and biosphere reserves, to influence changes that simultaneously help people's lives and the environment.

"In the immediate past, when I was a UNESCO director, I more often saw things from above, and had less chance to go to specific places to talk to local inhabitants, industry owners, NGOs, and to see what was happening there.

"Now I am going back to my past before I was the director, when my work was more directly connected to moving things on the ground," Ishwaran said.

Ishwaran is taking part in a government-funded program for foreign experts, which plans to recruit 500 to 1,000 high-end non-Chinese foreign professionals from outside China over the next 10 years to help spur innovation, and promote scientific research and international partnerships.

Each expert will be sponsored for three years' research in China, and Ishwaran is one of the first batch of 40 foreign experts who are already in the country.

"It is not difficult to have new ideas, but it is difficult to convert your idea into on the ground practices that can help both people and the environment. And China is such a good place to test my ideas," he said.

Ishwaran said he chose to come to China as it has numerous wildlife and heritage sites, an effective system to translate policy into on-the-ground action, and there are many sites and the necessary human and technical resources to experiment with improvements. .

Ishwaran recalled a story about China. In 1990 Huangshan Mountain in eastern China was included on the World Heritage List, but tourism increased too much in the following years, so UNESCO advised the local government to regulate the development of tourism in the area.

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