Esta de Fossard-Nelson, a global champion and pioneer in the field of entertainment education, a passionate mentor and a former employee at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, died on December 18 in her Virginia home.
“The world has lost a true icon in the field of entertainment education,” says Susan Krenn, CCP’s executive director. “She was a brilliant practitioner and educator whose impact was felt at the village level and in the classroom.”
Esta began her career in entertainment in her native Australia at the age of seven as a radio actor and, at the age of 15, went on to write educational radio programs for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Later, she merged her entertainment and education backgrounds to develop television and radio programs that addressed a range of issues — family planning, adult literacy, maternal and child health, HIV and malaria — for organizations like UNICEF and the World Bank.
Esta joined CCP in 1997 and would spend much of the next decade producing groundbreaking entertainment education programming throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. Her unique design approach had target audiences participate alongside educators, writers and producers in weeklong workshops to create messages that were relatable and authentic. She was ahead of her time in her commitment to involving audiences and her belief that getting to know an audience was an integral part of creating meaningful behavior change.
“Esta was a rare gem,” says Ben Lozare, CCP’s former director of training and capacity building. “Her wisdom and teachings have burrowed deep in my heart. She was a wonderful teacher, always teaching through her actions.”
Esta published more than 50 books during her career, including education textbooks and a series of children’s books. However, it was her trilogy of education entertainment textbooks, “Communication for Behavior Change,” the first of their kind, that allowed her to inspire a whole new generation of entertainment education practitioners to continue in her footsteps.
CCP’s Caroline Jacoby, who also teaches at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, remembers Esta fondly: “I believe we stand on the shoulders of giants and she was my entertainment education giant. I was fortunate to be mentored by Esta by working together on radio and TV programs in Nepal and Bangladesh. I used her textbooks in my class and I appreciated her willingness to reply to queries anytime. She helped me become the entertainment education practitioner and educator that I am today.”
Most recently, Esta was a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, teaching a course in social and behavior change through entertainment education and intercultural communication. In 2012, she was awarded the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s Everett M. Rogers Award for Achievement in Entertainment Education. Esta also received the Johns Hopkins University Heritage Award in 2014 to honor her decades of outstanding leadership and service.
“She will be remembered for her exuberance, her passion, her wit and her unforgettable presence,” Krenn says. “She will be sorely missed by us all.”