Anwar Fazal - The global Citizen


Long before UNDP New York coined its favourite catch-phrase – sustainable human development – half a world away, one person was making it his motto in life, Plugging away at causes he believed in – women's and children's issues, the environment, consumer rights and empowerment of people – this person, Anwar Fazal, was, through sheer conviction, making a difference when and where it mattered.

He has been called a "global citizen" because the causes he advocates cuts across national boundaries to touch on things generic to any and every nation – its human potential. Anwar Fazal is, however, a Malaysian; proud of his roots, traditions and culture. He is also a man quite used to the bouquets and accolades that frequently and deservedly come his way.

The most recent award which was conferred on Anwar was the International Health Award 1995, which was accorded to him by the La Leche League International (LLLI) for his pioneering work in promoting the welfare of mothers and children world-wide. [For the uninitiated, LLLI is a 30,000-member organisation of specialists in infant nutrition and breastfeeding and works in over 70 countries of the world. A previous winner of this award was James Grant, the former executive director of UNICEF.]

The International Health Award was given in recognition of Anwar's ground-breaking work and his continued commitment in setting up the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). World Breastfeeding Week, which is celebrated annually in over 100 countries – usually from August 1-7 – was mooted by Anwar.

He is also the founder and central figure in several global citizens networks dealing with health and environmental issues, such as Health Action International (HAI) and Pesticides Action Network (PAN).

Anwar is no stranger to awards, however. He was conferred The Right Livelihood Award (or the "Alternative" Nobel Prize) in December `82 for his work in promoting and protecting public's interests. He was awarded the title Activist of the Year (1993) by Ralph Nader's Multinational Monitor; and Anwar has also been elected to the Environmental Hall of Fame by Mother Earth News. In 1988, he was presented with the Global 500 Award by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for his work on consumers and the environment.

And thus, if awards were a measure of one's worth, Anwar would be one of the most valued people around. And if awards weren't a measure, there are other traits about this remarkable man that would stand him' way ahead of most others. His easy affability, coupled with his vast knowledge and cutting wit, gives him a charisma that is so uniquely Anwar Fazal. He combines joy with perseverance, and discipline with creativity. A colleague (and admirer) also singles out his extra-ordinary recall; a memory more like computer chip than human brain.

Anwar is as comfortable in developing "the big picture" as he is in dealing with the "devil in the detail". At 53 years of age, he is a child and an icon in one persona. He has the inquisitiveness of a child, which one presumes is what keeps his mind razor-sharp; he has the patience of a saint, which one presumes comes from a contentment and merriment within himself; and he speaks with the wisdom of the ages. his office on the second floor of Wisma UN (the UNDP field office for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei) is one vast and continually-growing library on "universal" issues and an adventure to browse through..

Today, through some stroke of good fortune, Anwar "belongs" to UNDP. He was inducted into the system three years ago with his appointment as the head of Asia Pacific 2000, an initiative to support the work of communities in improving the urban environment in Asia and the Pacific. He is also concurrently the Regional Coordinator of the Urban Management Programme for Asia and the Pacific (UMPAP).

UMPAP, which commenced in 1993, is directed at strengthening urban management capacity by networking between civil society groups, NGOs, local authorities and central governments in dealing with all aspects of urban management programmes. Asia Pacific 2000, meanwhile, is more focused in its objectives, which, generally, aims at capacity building for sustainable human development through partnerships with private, voluntary and community-based organisations.

Anwar brought to his work a vision – he calls it the panchasita (five principles) of better communities. He says that "if our cities are to be our homes, they have to be developed in ways that are socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory, economically productive and culturally vibrant".

Such a mission statement suggests that Anwar Fazal was tailor-made for UNDP's efforts towards sustainable human development, or vice-versa. Anwar has spoken extensively on environment, development, health and other public interest issues during his presidency of the International Organisation of Consumers Unions (IOCU), which was, during his leadership, awarded the World Health Organisation Medal for action against tobacco. His public lectures include the 1992 Development Lecture at the Asian Institute of Management on the theme "Values and Vision"; and the Second Global Lecture of the Citizen's Environment Foundation in Kyoto, Japan on the theme "Greening the Earth – The Challenge for Citizens". He has also served as chairman of the Environment Liaison Centre International based in Nairobi.

Despite the hectic schedule of his dual roles in UNDP's urban management programmes in Asia, Anwar continues to be involved in several global citizens networks working on sustainable development, human rights and health issues. Further, he serves on the Jury of the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the world's largest awards for achievements in the environmental field.

For those not so opportune to know Anwar – the mover – perhaps, his words would offer an insight into what motivates him. "We breathe one air, we drink one water," he says. "Babies cry the same the world over, our blood is red in colour. There is so much that makes us the same. It is important that we do not forget that human beings throughout the world have this linkage."

To Anwar, motivating and communicating sustainable human development have always been central to change. His philosophy is that "without committed people and without creative communication, no organisation can remain `alive', much less achieve anything". Anwar should know; he has been making the difference.