The World Ecology Award was presented to President Jos Mara Figueres on Saturday, June 15 1996 at a ceremony held at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The award was accepted on President Figueres' behalf by his mother, Karen Olsen Beck de Figueres. Jos Mara Figueres was born into a family with undeniable political tradition, his father, Jos Mara Figueres Ferrer was three times President of Costa Rica and a person who is still remembered with love and admiration by many. Jos Mara Figueres was born on December 24, 1954. He spent his childhood at La Lucha, his father's farm, and one of his favorite activities was horseback riding. He studied at Lincoln High School, a private bilingual institution, where he was elected School President. His professional studies of Industrial Engineering were undertaken at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He also studied at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and Administration at Harvard University.
Before moving into government service, he was a very successful businessman developing initiatives and markets outside Costa Rica. In the public sector, he held numerous positions including the Minister of Foreign Commerce and Minister of Agriculture. In the agriculture ministry he was able to confront serious problems with innovative strategies and successfully coordinated the work of numerous government offices.
He was elected President on May 10, 1994 and thereby became the youngest President in Latin America: he was just 39 years old. Under his direction, the government supported education, especially that of small children, introducing English and computer classes into the public school system. He also supported the health sector, with vaccination campaigns against relapsing diseases and the housing sector.
President Figueres also pledged to manage wisely the natural resources of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Costa Rica has an impressive series of national parks, wildlife reserves, forest preserves and other protected areas that cover nearly 25% of the country. Those protected areas encompass all the major habitats in Costa Rica, thereby ensuring the preservation of a multitude of species.
Within the Costa Rican Government, President Figueres incorporated sustainable development into his administration's programs at several levels-economically, socially and environmentally. Understanding the change that comes through education, he also put in place educational programs that will produce a conservation-aware population. Through these efforts Costa Rica leads the way in moving Central America away from the incredible deforestation that plagues tropical regions. The country has one of the world's best conservation records and serves as a model for the rest of the region.
President Figueres encouraged other leaders in Central America to adopt similar programs of sustainable development, not only to stop the destruction of natural resources, but also to boost economic development. Costa Rica has received numerous international awards for its environmental programs., including the "Song to all Creatures", award given by the Franciscan Center for Environmental Studies, based in Rome and the Peter Scott Award given by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.