Suzana Padua | President & Co-founder of IPÊ

Suzana Machado Padua (Brazil, 1950) has a background in Visual Communication from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1977). Since the late 80s, she began to work on environmental education, focusing on the protection of one of the most endangered species of primates in the world: the black-lion tamarin. This primate became the symbol for the education program, though it expanded in many ways to better reach people living around natural areas, raising local people’s awareness to the importance of conservation. Later, education was enriched with viable alternatives that aim at integrating social and environmental needs.
In 1991, she completed a Master’s on environmental education at the Center for Latin American Studies (University of Florida, USA), part of the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD). In 2004, she finished a Ph.D. in environmental education from the Center for Sustainable Development of the University of Brasilia, Brazil.
Suzana is currently the president of IPÊ – Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute for Ecological Research), a not for profit and non-governmental organization (NGO) she co-founded in 1992, dedicated to conservation and sustainable development. Suzana has also helped create an education center linked to IPÊ, which helps provide conservationists from Brazil and other Latin American countries with skills that may enhance their performance in conservation related fields. This Center has expanded to a Master’s program, which is the first offered by an NGO with the approval of the Ministry of Education, and also a MBA, designed to influence the business world with sustainability concepts.
Suzana is a member of the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication (CEC) since the early 1990s, She is an Ashoka fellow and an AVINA leader, and in 2009, together with Claudio, her husband, they were chosen the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur. She has received a number of awards: the Bahá’i X World Citizenship Award of 2007;  2006 Ford Motor Company of Brazil Conservation Award; Woman of the Year in 2002 from Claudia Magazine; category she was among the Most Influential Women of Brazil (Forbes, Gazeta Mercantil and Jornal do Brasil) of 2005 in the environmental; and, in the USA, she received in 2003 the Conde Nast Traveler Environmental Award. Claudio and Suzana were portrayed as Heroes of the Plant in 2002. 

Suzana-Padua-_P1My Definition Of Success | The idea of success for me has changed over the years. When I was young, success meant to be known worldwide for having done something grandiose. I read Joan of Arc’s story in many versions and thought of her as a model, for she was a young woman who had literally fought for her ideas and convinced everyone, including kings and other powerful people to follow her ideas. She showed it was possible to be a leader and an inspiration at a very challenging moment of history.
Over time, success means achieving small goals that make a difference for other people, for my family, for myself or for nature, which is inseparable from humans in my point of view. We depend on nature in all our needs – in fact we are nature even if we are not aware of it anymore. Many small things done for the benefit of a few or for many may culminate in a ripple effect that can be contagious, bringing wellbeing for many more. That is what counts now for me as being important – being famous is not my goal anymore, though it may even happen to one who  lives for a cause that respects life in its integrity.



I Am Driven By | I am driven by a deep respect for the life we inherited in this planet with its rich diversity. The more I see nature or other human beings being exploited or badly treated, the more I feel we have to work for reverting the detrimental scenarios that are so frequently. Perhaps it has always been this way, but now we know what happens immediately throughout the world. Besides, the pressures seem to increase with so many demands that emerge because of the development model we have chosen. The planet has been treated and infinite, though its natural resources are finite.
I have always believed in education as a powerful means to change the world. Of course I mean an education that enables people to understand what is happening and helps them find ways to work for the changes they believe in – and not just accepting what comes their way. Education should stimulate change, should motive daring and innovative ideas that aim at collective gains, even if these are against the tide. That is why I dedicate more and more of my time to education and to the spreading of ideas that can empower people to go after their own dreams, especially those that can make the world a better place  for all.

My Highlights | I believe I was able to take the best advantages of the opportunities and the challenges that came my way. Some hardships were not easy to overcome, but fortunately I was able to  ways to learn from what was happening and did not wait for solutions to appear by themselves.
My career in conservation began after my husband Claudio decided to abandon a successful business position in Rio de Janeiro and follow his dream in protecting nature. We went to live in the forest where the species of monkey he was trying to save lived: the black lion tamarin. Our adaptation as a family was not that easy. Our three children and I had to adjust to a life with no comfort and to customs that were new to us. I fell sick due to a mosquito-transmitted disease called leishmaniose and for the four first months after we had moved there life was very hard.
But, soon after that was when my life changed radically, and I feel grateful for having taken the best advantage of this opportunity. I began to work on environmental education, as I could see the need for people to understand the importance of nature and all that it represented for the region. Less than 3% had been left from the Atlantic Forest of the Interior, as the ecosystem is called, and the forest fragments that remain hold an amazing biodiversity, which includes the black lion tamarin.
I totally fell in love with this field and decided to this the quest of my life. I switched my Master’s that I had begun at the University of Florida, where Claudio was working for his PhD, and dedicated my studies to this new field. From then on, I decided to become an expert in understanding how I could contribute to helping raise people’s awareness to the importance of nature and to finding ways for improving social conditions through activities that can enhance conservation I later did my PhD at the University of Brasilia in Brazil, especially because we needed professionals with doctoral degrees to be able to offer a Master’s programme.
That was how we began to work in an integrated manner with tree nurseries, agroforestry projects for the small and often very poor landowners, in addition to handicrafts that focus on the local fauna and flora species. So, while Claudio and a group of young students studied ecology, I had a youngsters working on social integration. The bridge between these fields became natural to us were never separated again in our institution. By the way, with these principles in mind, in 1992, together with these young people who were working with us, we founded IPE – Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute for Ecological Research). From the one initial project, the black lion tamarin, we now carry out more that 40 in five different regions of Brazil, with almost 100 professionals.
So this is an example of how a scary and uncertain scenario became my way of evolving as a human being. I always joke that I was fortunate enough to have made a nice lemonade out of what could have been a very sower lemon. And what is fascinating is that the more I commit myself to the cause that I am involved with, the more energy I gain to pursue what I believe to be right. That is an important lesson to share with our students (as we have an education centre with short courses, a Master’s and a MBA) –  find a cause that touches you, do what you love to do and you are in the right track to be happy and successful.

Suzana-Padua_P2The Difference Between Good And Great | You can be good at what you do if you are a dedicated and responsible professional with the necessary skills to accomplish a task. But you can only be great if there is passion and perseverance in being excellent, and the drives comes because the cause you work for will benefit from your refined performance in what you believe to be important.

A Key Talent | I may have already answered this question, but I believe it is to seek excellence in what we do with innovation, when that is the case, not just to be different, but to be able to better respond to what is needed. Not being scared to make mistakes is also a characteristic I consider to be important, as the only ones who do not err are those who do not try. We are living in a complex world where there is no recipe for success. So, we need to think broadly, taking into consideration social and environmental aspects that have to do with the cause we are involved with. The entire way in which we think and act have to be different from what used to be the trend in the previous generations. We now must have an interdisciplinary approach to what we do, learning from our mistakes and designing strategies that  can make a difference in what we aim to achieve. This means we will not always be successful, but if we monitor carefully what we do we will be better the next time we try.

Critical Skills I Develop | Claudio is a fearless person (who was brave enough to abandon a career for another he envisioned to be right for him, and later another job because he did not agree to the way that things were being done) and is full of ideas that are temping to be put into practice like a person like myself, who I believe I can say that is a doer. Like me, others see Claudio as a source of inspiration, for he is always seeking ways to go forward, to achieve what has not yet been achieved, and everything for the sake of improving life in this planet. The word “no” does seem to resonate and does not have the same meaning for him as it has for most people – he is always asking why not?  In this process, he helps people pursue what they are good at and not accept things because they can be easier. I am also a motivator and a person who inspires, but in different ways. Some people have said that my values are solid and I walk my talk, so I can be trusted and that is why I am sometimes a role model for those around me.
Claudio and I share ideas and dreams. However, we have very different paces. For example, I like to prepare myself in advance and have a presentation ready way before I need it. Claudio, on the other hand, is a last minute person, though he spends a great deal of his time studying and thinking what he will say and he ends up joining pieces of different areas in a very exciting way. If I were to define us I would say that I am much more predictable than Claudio, and this has advantages and disadvantages for both is us. But the balance has worked for the past 43 years and will hopefully last a long time in the future, as we help each other in many ways at a personal or at a professional level.

Principles I Live By | I believe the world is in need of models who live according to values that inspire what is correct, what is worthwhile and what is beautiful. We have learned to accept what is wrong and what impacts people and nature in negative ways. We are loosing so much and being more and more unhappy as time goes bye. But if we seek real happiness we will find that it is only possible when life is respected and admired. We should relearn how to celebrate life in its small details that contain so much wisdom in themselves. Every creature exists due to a multitude of aspects that have made it possible for them to be what they are. But we, human beings, are changing the way in which the world evolves, not allowing other people to live a dignified life and impeding other species to evolve naturally. The accumulation of wealth has never been so accentuated and greed, with its short sightedness, has become common. But, no material possession can bring real happiness and we are now harvesting this sour plantation we have allowed to happen, instead of sowing the seeds that can lead to the sense of wonder that is really what our lives were meant to be.

How I Use My Mind | I am always attentive to the ways in which I feel and think. If I allow a negative vibe to enter my day, I will be dominated by things that do not take me to what is good. On the other hand, if I make myself think that the day will be great and that I will have the best of what I am supposed to do, things will flow in a good direction. In this process, I avoid negative thoughts and negative words, which can create barriers to what I wish to attain. This may seem like a naïve wishful thinking scheme, but it works for me and it is more easily said than done. This demands continuous attention and a discipline that does not always come that easily. But for me it has been worthwhile and I believe it inspires other people too.

Suzana-Padua_P3Advice On Building Wealth | For me wealth is a consequence and not a goal in itself. If you do what you believe to be right, if you do what is to be done with passionate and seeking quality in all stages, the recognition will come as a result and this can mean a certain wealth. If your aim is to be rich no matter what, then I may not be the best person to offer an advice.

On Inspiring Others | I would phrase the question a little differently. People should be stimulated to follow their own dreams. What happens when you are a good educator is that you find ways of helping people discover their own dreams. Traditional education has blocked people from daring to dream – what is usually expected is for everyone to accept what is offered with no questioning. This is what needs to be changed. People continue to work with you as a consequence of an empowerment process that you offer. As Claudio often says to our team, you should be here because you wish to be here and not because you need a job. In fact, what we offer is not jobs, but a chance for people to grow and become independent from the system, but linked to it because of a cause they believe in.