- 1910-04-18 - 1994-11-21
Malcolm Sathianathan Adiseshiah was born in Vellore, India, on 18 April 1910. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Loyola College in Madras in 1930, and then studied at King’s College, Cambridge University, and the London School of Economics, earning his PhD in 1940.
Adiseshiah began his career as a Lecturer in Economics at St. Paul’s College in Calcutta from 1931 to 1936. He then became Professor of Economics at Madras Christian College from 1940 to 1946. At this time, he was a member of the group of economists who developed the Ten-year Plan for the Industrialization of India. Adiseshiah moved to become Associate General Secretary at the World University Services in Geneva from 1946 to 1948.
Later in 1948, Adiseshiah began his career at UNESCO as Deputy Head, Exchange of Persons Service. He moved to become Head of the Technical Assistance Unit within the Office of the Director-General in 1950. After an organizational change, Adiseshiah was named Head of the new Technical Assistance Service. In 1952, the Service became the Technical Assistance Department and Adiseshiah became its Director. At the Eighth Session of the General Conference in Montevideo, the two posts of Assistant Director-General (ADG) were officially introduced and Adiseshiah was named Assistant Director-General along with Rene Maheu who had been provisionally appointed as such earlier that year. In addition to replacing the Director-General as needed, Maheu was responsible for the diplomacy of the Organization and Adiseshiah was to concentrate on the technical assistance programme, the integration of the technical assistance programme with the regular programme, and the coordination of administration of programme activities in general. Adiseshiah formally started as ADG at the start of 1955. The division of duties between the ADGs remained fluid. In 1960, Adiseshiah was said to be responsible for the administration and management of the Secretariat and for UNESCO’s field programmes. For the period 1960 to 1963, he was given the responsibility for helping newly independent countries of Africa. Adiseshiah was responsible for the development of the Karachi Plan for universal primary education for Asia and educational development and science plans for Africa and Latin America.
Again in the face of larger organizational change (departments becoming sectors with an Assistant Director-General at head as opposed to a Director), Adiseshiah was made Deputy Director-General (DDG) in 1963. In this role, in addition to replacing the Director-General as required, Adiseshiah was given special responsibility for coordinating organization-wide programme services relating to UNESCO’s work on the contribution of education in all its forms to economic development and for programme services relating to the direct relationship of science and technology to national progress. He also oversaw UNESCO’s cooperation with the United Nations Special Fund and was specifically charged by the Director-General to organize and direct a system of inspection of field activities. Adiseshiah served as DDG until his retirement from UNESCO at the end of 1970. For a period of five months in 1969, he also acted as interim Assistant Director-General of the Natural Sciences Sector. The Sixteenth Session of the General Conference in 1970 expressed its high esteem of Adiseshiah, noting that he had "served the Organization with unstinting devotion and energy, labouring untiringly, in particular, to advance the cause of development and international co-operation" (16 C/Resolution 0.9, 1971).
After his retirement, Adiseshiah was a member of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission. From 1970 to 1971, he founded with his wife the Madras Institute of Development Studies. He was the Institute’s first Director and remained Chairman of its Governing Council until his death. He was President of the Indian Economic Association from 1973 to 1974, President of the Indian Adult Education Commission, and a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, the Indian Council of Social Science Research, and the National Council of Teacher Education. Beginning in 1975, Adisehiah was named Vice-Chancellor of Madras University. In 1978, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha for a six-year term. He was President of the International Council of Adult Education. Adiseshiah served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the International Institute for Educational Planning from 1981 to 1989. He also served as Chairman for the jury of UNESCO’s literacy prizes.
Adiseshiah died in Madras, India, on 21 November 1994. The UNESCO Malcolm Adiseshiah International Literacy Prize was created in 1998 from a contribution by India. The Prize was awarded annually from 1998 to 2001 for meritorious and effective contribution to the struggle against illiteracy. Among his many works, Adiseshiah published the books Let my country awake (1970) and It is time to begin (1972).