Dr. Ardakanian, 53, the Founding Director of the UNW-DPC, says when he worked as vice minister in charge of water he used to organize monthly meetings with journalists to help them understand the challenges that Iran was facing in providing this important resource to the people.
*“I gave them my personal phone number and told them to call me anytime anywhere and ask questions without making appointments … And by this I tried to increase the level of knowledge for our people and then for you (journalists) so that you are as knowledgeable as I am about water issues.”*
He says by having regular meetings with journalists even the quality of their questions had improved. He narrates that this was not easy because at the same time as being minister, he was also lecturing at the university.
*“It was one of the magic formulas which I believed.”* He says that it wasn’t an easy task but it was something important to do.
*“In the morning, I was teaching in the university and in the afternoon I was in the ministry and parliament, and in the evening I was being interviewed by the media, so I knew what I was doing. I was ready to listen to their questions.”* He adds: *“I think this is a good model and even when I joined the UN we continued with the same concept and we have been in touch with journalists in Asia and other continents.”*
Dr. Ardakanian who was born in Yazd, Iran previously served in five different ministerial positions as deputy minister. He says as a government official, he was ready to listen to the people.
*“First as a government official, you have to be at a good level of confidence and understanding and you have to be knowledgeable about the area. I was a vice minister in charge of water and my masters and PhD was in water, so I was not just coming from another area and being appointed as vice minister from outside.”*
Dr. Ardakanian believes political leaders should play their role by not feeling ashamed when they fail to deliver on their promises.
*“If you fail as a minister, accept your failure.”*
He says government leaders should not blame anyone if things don’t go well because it is their duty to explain things to the public.
*“I would say anything that goes wrong in the area of water; I would say this is my fault. Instead of trying to find someone to blame, I as a teacher should say I did not teach well if anything goes wrong with my student.”*
After losing his father who was working as a shop-keeper at the age of 11, Dr. Ardakanian became the bread winner immediately. But by 25, he was made Iran’s Deputy Minister for Urban Development in the Ministry of Interior. With a PhD in water resources, he later became a Vice Minister in the ministry of Energy for Planning and then Water Affairs.
*“I was relatively young when I became a deputy minister in charge of 510 municipalities. It was during those years that also in our country we had a big war between Iraq and Iran so I was in charge of 510 municipalities and 110 of them where under fire because they were along the borders, so I was in charge of logistics to provide different commodities and distribution of water.”*
The soft-spoken UN Director was in the university doing a bachelors’ degree when one of the professors who became a minister requested him to join government. Dr. Ardakanian says the revolution which took place almost 30 years ago in Iran is what prompted him to become deputy minister at such an early age.
*“I would not recommend this to anyone but I cannot change my way of doing things because it is too late for me. I am so happy with my family so far they have supported me a lot.”*
Dr. Ardakanian who has served as vice rector ad interim of the United Nations University, Member of Governing Board of the UNESCO – IHE and other bureaus of the organisation, among other high profile positions admits that it was not easy to assume the position of deputy minister at 25 years. He says it was difficult especially that he had just married his wife and the country was at war with Iraq.
*“They were very challenging moments but I think I made a few contributions in building something. That period was not a normal period and I would not recommend it to anyone; to take up such responsibilities at that age.”*
The UN Director in charge of the Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development says the current challenges require a change of mentality to the way we look at water. This he says is because water by nature is a commodity that deals with everything.
*“I think we need to work hard to try and bring the water to its position. Water has a connection with agriculture, investment, the environment, the economy, with social life, with culture with religion and with everything. So any manager of water should feel like a president,” says Dr. Ardakanian while posing a question: “How can a president of a country try to distinguish between this ministry and that ministry when all the ministries fall on his or her shoulders?”*
Dr. Ardakanian says there is nothing more gratifying in life than to achieve what you have set out to do. He adds that the heavy responsibilities he assumed at an early age prepared him to work without respite.
*“When I have a plan and I reach the point when that plan is a reality, I am happy. We cannot achieve everything but we must work to help many people. Planning is what is important.”*
In 2007, Dr. Ardakanian was appointed as the Founding Director of the UN Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC).
The UNW-DPC is a joint programme of UN agencies and programmes cooperating within the framework of UN-Water. It is hosted by the United Nations University and funded by the Federal Government of Germany.