Fayez Mikhail - conservation's quiet IT hero

Kevin Grose and Fayez Mikhail (Information Management Group, 1996)

I first met Fayez Mikhail on joining the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1991. Everyone knew Fayez as the only computer guy in the organization who could and would fix a problem. 

Fayez was not, however, about computer support. He was the IT professional that configured our business software; set the technical standards; designed and ran the Local Area Network (LAN) and made operational IUCN's external telecommunications links. 

His reputation for solving IT problems grew beyond the HQ's operation.  During the coffee breaks of the many meetings convened in Gland, there would be a steady stream of IUCN Councillors, regional and country and out-posted office staff lining up at his doorstep to seek his advice or help.  To this day, IUCN HQ delivers a centrally-managed email service to some thousand staff around the world.

IUCN was on the cutting edge of technology in the 1990s, and was among the first of the international organizations to embrace the potential of the Internet for global conservation.  An article in a 1994 issue of IUCN's InterAct magazine highlighted the potential of electronic networking.  In 1996 the Information Management Group issued a strategy for "Union-Link" - a strategy to take IUCN onto the Internet. IUCN.ORG got registered. IUCN hosted a meeting of the Geneva chapter of the Internet Society to showcase the first version of JAVA. In May 1998, the IUCN Management Services Committee approved the policy documents establishing information management services at IUCN. These documents put in place formal polices and procedures for hardware, software, computer support, disaster recovery, electronic communications, and systems. Importantly, it was at this time that the Knowledge Network was launched (a service and system that I believe is still very much in place).

The technical face of this transformation was Fayez.  Fayez took it upon himself to test new products, assess their usefulness and then put in place products that did the job, were robust and were cost effective.  He liked Microsoft because the Office products were on their way to becoming a kind of international language.  He liked Microsoft Exchange because its handling of email would serve both IUCN's HQs and its regional and country offices.  He also liked Microsoft because, at that time, its products were solidly supported by Digital Corp. in Geneva.  

But Fayez was also open to the new.  He learned telecommunications and Internet connectivity, LAN administration and IT security, he supported Cold Fusion and assisted a host of would-be database developers from the Commissions and elsewhere. And for the IUCN Congresses, he brought to life parallel networks and computer centers around the world - working amicably with host country staff and contractors - in English, French or Arabic.  

In my view, Fayez has been instrumental in shaping the nature and personality of IUCN through the availability of services to HQs and regional and country offices, the reliability and ease of use of those services, the friendly voice at the end of the telephone line, or the friendly smile in person.  I realize that he is not the only one to have contributed, but he has brought invaluable continuity. The result is an IUCN atmosphere of global collegial collaboration with ready sharing of information and perspectives  - the bedrock of effective action.

IUCN owes him a great debt.

The recent blunt-edged actions in Gland seem not to have acknowledged Fayez's contribution nor its impact on the Union. While I understand that organizational change comes to all organizations, grace in taking forward that change can and should be preserved - for the sake of all IUCN's global community of practitioners and supporters.

 

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