Jyoti Mathur-Filipp is a Senior Communications and Outreach Officer for the Division of the Global Environment Facility in the United Nations in Geneva. Jyoti’s career has been devoted to finding solutions for better management of our environment, raising awareness and practicing advocacy on issues directly related to the importance of sustainable development. Ashirvad pandey, one of our young and passionate contributors, caught up with her during her recent sojourn here in Delhi, to talk to her about various facets of sustainable development, and other issues close to her heart. Excerpts …
Before jumping into the interview, let us profile Jyothi here in an introductory paragraph. Jyothi’s career started with an UNDP assignment in 1993, where she began work as a Programme Officer with the Global Environment Facility, initially working for the Regional Bureau for Asia Pacific and later for the Regional Bureau for CEE countries. She then switched to the UNDP Capacity 21 programme as an information Officer, where she focused on developing resources for countries to use for developing and implementing their national Agenda 21 programmes. She has also worked with the first private-public partnership between an UN organization and the private sector, Netaid (UNDP and Cisco), to promote awareness of poverty-related issues among the public. She has been a Project Manager for the 139-country UNEP-GEF project ‘Building Capacity for Effective Participation in the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH)’ in Geneva. The Biosafety Clearing-House, apropos, is a tool for implementing the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Prior to joining UNEP, Jyoti had worked at the Secretariat of the ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’ and had assisted with capacity-building. At the secretariat, she had also developed a library of capacity-building tools, guidelines and applications to assist countries in fulfilling their mandates. Jyoti holds an Advanced Degree in Urban Policy, Management and Planning from the New School for Social Research in New York as well as a Masters in Business Administration from the City University of New York.
Please throw some light on your journey from India to the UN Office in Geneva. Do add a few milestone memorable childhood experiences.
The most important memory of my childhood is the iconic role of my mother, who after the death of my dad played the role of both father and mother and motivated me to be more educated, strongly independent, highly skilled, considerably empowered and widely open to global exposure. After becoming a widow, she gave dignity to her existence and joined Air India to support us with more confidence. I recalled my school days when I participated in drama, in artistic and cultural pursuits, and was actively involved in tennis, horse riding, swimming and physical fitness. Finally I found my position in UNDP, empowered by the life I had lived since childhood.
How do you see the emerging space of women’s empowerment in the socio-economic landscape of India?
Women are extremely strong in India, but the problem is that Indian women are too mixed up with so many centuries. They are following certain traditions, customs and practices which date back to old centuries. Indian women have a multitude of attitudes, mixed behaviour patterns, contrasting sociological backdrops and varied cultural ethos. They should shed their old skins to become more forward looking. It is very difficult to segregate Indian women because their behaviour is full of contrast in rural and urban India. Even within urban India, patterns are strikingly different in highly affluent metro pockets in comparison to middle class segment of metro pockets. The picture is quite the reverse in tier ‘B’ and ‘C’ cities and small towns, with lack of infrastructural, educational and other positive indicators of developed urban landscapes. But the situation is improving gradually. Electronic media and film have played a vital role in bringing Indian women of all classes onto one platform and have made them more aspirational with a true unity of oneness.
What are the marked attitudinal and behavioural perspectives that you would like to suggest to inspire thought process of women of rural and urban India?
No single formula is applicable to all because journey of every individual is different and life cycles are driven by different backgrounds. I can’t be a motivating model for all women. So many NGO’s, social activists and successful women are playing a dominant role to influence the thought process of the women. But the most important key factor is what the perspective of individual women is, and whether they are ready to receive signals of motivations from their surroundings.
How do you see the eco-system of creativity and design thinking in the educational domain of India for a more assertive role for women?
The syllabus of any class in schools and colleges are defined and structured, but ultimately students are independent to choose their career on the basis of their thinking and attitude. There are gender divisions of professions in India. For example, carpentry is dominated by men and stitching/knitting is dominated by women. Women should have equal opportunity, access and awareness to develop a ecosystem of design thinking in professional life.
Traditional family ties are fading away and nuclear families are gaining popularity day by day. Viewed from this point of view, how do you see that loss of emotional space of family life?
It is true that the emotional space of family life is fading away in modern society and the harshness of human nature is evident on streets and in the public domain. We have become less tolerant. All are in great haste to be unduly expressive and no one wants to listen. In this digital age of a presenceless, cashless and paperless era, artificial intelligence and the internet of things is a poor substitute for emotions like love, empathy, sympathy and care for others.
How do you see the symbiotic relation between Indian Diaspora and their motherland?
Honestly it’s very difficult to answer because my relations with Indian Diaspora across the globe are very limited on account of my professional commitments. The presence of Indian Diaspora is highly heterogeneous and widespread in nature. But my study in New York and association with my sister’s family in USA has given me a strong conviction that Indian Diaspora respect their family ties and are full of emotional stability. Overseas Indians have retained ‘Indianess’ in their life in host/adopted countries outside India.
Which part of Indian Culture is close to your heart and compels you to revisit it again and again?
I basically hail from Delhi and I find my heart close to Delhi with all my extended family here. The colours of emotions are very vibrant in Delhi and we visit all the cultural nerve centres of Delhi to watch drama, music & food festivals.
What is the secret of your life skilling for building a balance between professional life and family life with multiple responsibilities to actualize your different ‘selves’?
My work is my hobby. I concentrate on the field of environment, forest and alternative way of life with Nature. Forests should not be cut and should be kept with our lifestyle. If we try to save the forest, we save the future of the humanity. My life partner gives me a lot of autonomy of space for life skilling and productive thinking. We support each other without any interference.
During the course of your journey of life, you must have had quite a few potential mind changing experiences that impacted your way of thinking. Do share these experiences if any with our readers.
After the early death of my father, my mother took on and played the roles of father, tutor, mentor and motivator. Her multitasking left an indelible imprint on my mind. She inspired me to perspire more for achieving success in life. My Mom ensured that our mind should not lose its mental edge to remain fit in the race for excellence. She used to say that your attitude decides your altitude in life.
India is truly continental in character with a lot of local cultural heritage, history, ecology, economy, dialects, food and other forms of pluralism. How do you capture the essence of India out of so many contrasts and variations?
India is a beautiful country and has been always viewed as a colourful land of diverse cultures and traditions. I believe we have always been empowered by our rich heritage. I visited Haridwar recently and could see plenty of cars and people throughout my journey which gives us the reflection of diverse cultural and real essence of India. The emotive colours of love, happiness, celebration, sacrifice for others, community life and taking rent-free accommodation in the hearts of others is not merely amazing but touching too in this predominantly self-seeking time and clime, where the mind is eclipsed by matter and technology. Each and every part of India has a different story, narrative, script, location, character and unique moments to treasure in memory. Its always fascinating to witness new phases of India in countless fields. The magnitude of the country with cultural diversity is multi-dimensional and one life is not enough to fathom it.
What are the hobbies that occupy your leisure space and heal your fatigue for more fulfilling experiences?
I love to read and do a lot of exercise to retain physical fitness. I never miss out on my gym sessions even during my tours. I like to travel and explore different places which quench my thirst for knowing things in a better way. I feel when our mind is clear we can focus more on work. I like to detach from my work and work space to recharge my internal resources and ‘dial to oneself’ for internal harmonisation.
It is said that life is a journey and not a destination. So isn’t it futile to sensitise our lives with so many agendas and expectations?
Yes, it is indeed contradictory as we cannot live without agendas and expectations that keep on changing as we take different courses in our lives. But we should always be a traveller during journeys of life cycles to derive inspirations from all directions and to get a new perspective of life. Motto of momentum matters a lot during our journey to counter inertia of inaction.
Do you believe in the dynamics of destiny?
Yes, I believe in destiny. Destiny smiles on those who are steadfast travellers on the road of life and are always keen to actualize their potential and explore new opportunities of fate. After the premature death of my Dad, my mother tried to empower me through education and I was inspired to go to New York for doing my Masters, joined the United Nations in Geneva and got married to Robert Filipp there. It was sheer luck that my thesis on ‘Global Environment facility’ opened up my career in UN.
What is your overall reading of India as a powerful emerging economy of the world?
No doubt India is the fastest emerging economy of the world today. But India is not taking a full step forward. India should engage herself more comprehensively on the economic front, keeping in view our huge human resource, abundant natural resources and our vibrant democracy.
Do you think that gender sensitisation deserves more priority and practice in India to give voice and recognition to women?
Gender sensitisation is still a priority area for women in India to create more opportunities for their parity, progression, access, opportunity-creation and participation in decision making process. There is still a bias against women not only in developing but developed countries as well. Very few educated women are able to go on to top positions in governance and mostly remain confined to middle management positions. Inclusive and equitable quality education is the real change-agent that can make women game changers in society to promote lifelong stable opportunities. Elimination of gender disparities in education deserves more attention.