Athens, Greece – Decmeber 3, 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my sincere pleasure to be addressing all of you today in my capacity as High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. At the outset, I would like to thank Ms. Elizabeth Filippouli Founder & CEO of Global Thinkers Forum for inviting me here today.
As I stand here, before all of you, in this beautiful city of Athens, I am reminded of the honorable traditions and foundations which date back to early Greek culture. Since ancient times, Greece and its people have positively influenced the Western world in significant ways. From contributions to science, the arts and philosophy—to practically pioneering the earliest forms of democracy, the principles founded in ancient Greece have enabled the rest of the world to flourish intellectually. These global developments have undoubtedly played an integral role in the achievements of countless leaders in the academic, artistic, social and political spheres. Greek history and valuable heritage has undoubtedly been an inspiration to many leaders around the world.
Traditionally, a leader is one who possesses influence or power; an individual who commands or guides others. Over the years, time has reshaped this definition, transforming the traditional role of “the leader” as we once knew it.
Leadership is no longer just a position, it is a mindset. Without causing disrespect to our philosophical ancestors, the old notion that leaders are “born” and not “made” no longer applies today. The evidence is all around us, in this moment, as we gather here amongst the world’s most prominent figures for the 2013 Global Thinkers Forum. You and all of our honorable fellow leaders are present because of the qualities YOU possess. Qualities that uniquely characterize YOU as a leader. These qualities differ as our communities develop, grow and change, so do our leadership responsibilities.
However, it should be noted that we are also fortunate to have the advantage of being able to express our leadership skills. When we see a need for change, we are able to take action. We are free to channel our talents, our knowledge and our ideas into constructive strategies to address social, political and humanitarian issues of all kinds.
Unfortunately, our world has yet to progress to the point where this opportunity is available to all capable persons. Too many people see the need for change in their home communities, but are unable to do anything about it.
I followed the outcome of the first annual Global Thinker’s Forum last year in Amman. Topics of discussion explored the importance of female leadership; not only in politics, but in business, entrepreneurship, the arts, civil society and academia. However, as much great talent exists among women worldwide, so do challenges and obstacles to applying that potential.
Though progress has been made in this area since 2012, the recommendations given at last year’s forum are not to be dismissed.
The Alliance has partnered with various organizations and initiatives which increase education for youth worldwide, including young girls who are not currently enrolled in school.
Her Royal Highness, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar, has recently launched a multitude of initiatives aimed at providing basic human rights for the most destitute individuals. “Education Above All”, launched in 2009, has made ample progress in protecting educational rights for children in conflict-stricken communities. It counters anti-education efforts, securing schooling for adolescents who would otherwise be forced to revert to a life of combat and poverty. UNAOC and EAA have just signed an MOU last month.
The combined efforts of EAA and UNAoC will play an integral role in obtaining education for the world’s youth, as developing and conflicting nations are home to the most vulnerable children who are missing out on their chance at education. These individuals are enduring the repercussions of conflict—often characterized by extremism and severe social exclusion. Initiatives such as EAA work to secure educational access during these difficult times. UNAoC is proud to partner with such programs.
The United Nations family, with its many unique initiatives, has specific projects geared at the advancement of women. For example—UN Women for Peace—for which my wife, Muna, serves as Chairperson, helps provide opportunities for women through social, cultural, educational and empowerment programs while contributing to the global peace building process.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Education is a vital component of cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.
Indeed, early learning is where the initial prospects of leadership begin. The qualities of a leader—compassion, humility, tolerance, the ability to communicate, and the ability to inspire and create—are among the values which must be nurtured from the earliest years of life.
We at the Alliance recognize the importance of this and have taken steps to help provide an environment conducive to raising a knowledgeable, informed and respectful youth.
Investing in youth-based organizations and programs which foster an informed and respectful generation through interdisciplinary educational programs, is vital for raising the next age of influential voices. Today’s youth will bring tomorrow’s change. As the leaders of our generation, we must ensure access to opportunities for those who will be leading our children and us into the next one.
The topic of global leadership is one that has momentous implications for each and every part of our complex world. Without proper guidance in regional and international affairs, there is little hope for progress.
There exists a leadership gap in our world, particularly in specific areas of development. Some of the biggest challenges we are facing—regional tensions, economic crises, resource depletion, sustainable development—can be attributed, at least in part, to failing leadership. While we call for responsible leadership, improving national capabilities and international competencies to address local concerns AND global issues can help bridge this gap.
This is, of course, easier said than done. Particularly in our current globalized era. The recent economic interdependence of states has brought a myriad of opportunities for the world. Increased prospects in the areas of finance, technology, trade and communications has contributed to worldwide growth.
However, these opportunities have also led to quick flow of information. The globalization process, with its new, innovative avenues of communication, can help in facilitating international cooperation. Right now, we are dealing with a flood of information overflow. Instead, we should utilize our resources for meaningful knowledge exchange, to further international collaboration. This weekend’s forum is an example of shared intellect to advance worldwide progress.
Our greatest assets are the diverse experiences and expertise that we bring to the table. Our mutual interests in the cause of humanity are what inspire collaboration to generate effective decision-making and create a strong framework for initiating worldwide teamwork. It is up to us to channel the support of our respective nations towards a greater vision of peace.
The voices, thinkers, leaders in this room all come from a colorful palette of cultures—each of which has something meaningful to contribute to the grand, global picture.
Approaching political, social and business affairs from a broader perspective under a multicultural prism will improve the framework for international cooperation. Global thinking cannot be accomplished while there is an inherent lack of dialogue. I stand by my firm belief that dialogue among civilizations offers a complementary approach to preventing and peacefully resolving conflicts. We all belong to the same world, yet it remains in a perpetual state of war. Believing that this constant violence will somehow, someday bring peace, is futile.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to protect those whom we lead. If we are unable to do that, we have ultimately failed.
We must strive to replace violent efforts with peaceful strategies, to restore conflict-ridden societies. Resolving and repairing regional tensions to strengthen the international network, is the first step in achieving global cooperation.
Intercultural conversation starts with each nation’s leaders. Initiating and increasing dialogue on a global scale would enable us to better understand and address the current state of international affairs. Discourse can be facilitated by support from intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations.
In particular, the UN Alliance of Civilizations plays a crucial role in diminishing tensions arising from cultural or religious differences. As the economy and society develop, various tensions are bound to arise. Debates over tradition versus modernization, religion versus liberalization, industrialization versus environmental degradation will trigger new challenges for cooperation.
We must commit to rising above these disagreements to protect the potential for harmony. There is much for us to achieve through trade, investment, technology and economic cooperation—however our efforts will remain fruitless if we cannot first respect each other’s opinions and contribute to an environment conducive to tactful discourse.
As we push for sustainable development, the Alliance recognizes the importance of peace and harmony as the foundation for stable political relations and an expanding, prosperous economy. Peace and harmony begin with us relating to and understanding each other.
Though leadership is a necessary ingredient for success, it cannot stand alone. The world could have an endless abundance of global leaders, yet still be ridden by conflict and failure. Lack of dialogue between different authoritative figures will destine us to downfall if we do not create the context for cooperation. As leaders of our respective organizations, societies and nations, we should build a collaborative network which pools our resources together.
The Global Thinkers Forum has given us a head start in doing this. A world-renown think tank providing a platform to enable dialogue between global leaders, the forum facilitates brainstorming for efficient strategies concerning governance, society, progress and the future. The overarching goal is to respond to the world’s demand for responsible, credible and ethical leadership. This cannot be accomplished if we continue to compete with one another. Joining together to generate innovative strategies in high-level forums, such as this one, will help us to address global struggles.
This is especially important as we wrap up yet another year of triumphs and disappointments, nearing even closer to the approach of 2015. The Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda will depend heavily on our cross-cultural cooperation. This means providing aid to neglected areas of poverty and destitution. Distraction from these issues is largely why we missed our targets for the Millennium Development Goals. It is our social responsibility to lend a hand to our developing counterparts and ensure that they are engaged in the international decision-making processes so that their needs, too, are met.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are living in a time where a myriad of profound, new concerns face mankind. Yet we all possess a shared vision of universal peace. This is our mutual global mindset, though we come from various realms of personal experience. So what does this mean for the success of today’s leader?
The renown Greek philosopher , Plato, sums it up best: “Society…can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states…of humanity itself…till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”
Let us commit to uniting our respective ideas, our perspectives, our philosophies on leading—so that we may further our mutual goals of worldwide progress, peace and positive change. For then, our reign as leaders will have been truly successful.