Press Releases

                15 July 2004

    Successful International Leaders See Themselves as “Citizens of the World”, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Address to Goldman Sachs Luncheon

    NEW YORK, 14 July (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to the 2004 Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Institute’s luncheon in New York, 14 July:

    I want to welcome you all most warmly to the United Nations.  You can’t imagine how refreshing it is for me to leave behind meetings and papers to come and break bread with such an outstanding group of young men and women.  I’m sure most of the Ambassadors who are with us here today feel the same way.  We should do this more often!

    As I was reading through your impressive personal histories, I realized some of you were born about the same time that the rock band Dire Straits was at the height of its fame.  Believe me, it was famous back in the early 80s, and maybe some of you have heard of it.  Anyway, one of their songs, “Brothers in Arms”, has a verse that goes like this:

    “There’s so many different worlds
    So many different suns
    And we have just one world
    But we live in different ones”.

    Those words came to my mind because I see that the theme of your programme is “Leading without borders”.

    It is true that some borders are becoming less and less important -- the borders between countries.  But for many, there are other kinds of borders which are still very hard to cross -- and indeed, they seem like walls that grow higher every day.

    I’m speaking of the borders between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the free and the fettered, the privileged and the humiliated. While we have just one world, we do live in different ones.

    For example, let’s imagine that the 50 of you here reflected the young adults of the entire world today.

    Six of you would be illiterate.

    Twelve of you would be living on less than a dollar a day.

    Many of you would never have made a phone call or used the Internet.

    Some of you would be HIV-positive.

    Others would have already been made soldiers in your teenage years against your will.

    Only a handful of you would ever have made it to university.

    And the women among you would, as a group, be poorer, less educated, and less free than the men.

    I point this out because your future is tied by invisible but unbreakable bonds to the future of all the young people around the world today.  Both you and they pay the cost of the deep divisions that stubbornly persist between different parts of humanity.

    No one can hide behind national borders to avoid paying their share of those costs.  National borders don’t make anyone safe from AIDS or terrorism or global warming.  And national governments on their own can’t stop human trafficking or the spread of deadly weapons or economic downturns.

    If we are to build a fairer and safer world -- for a fairer world will be a safer world -- our aim must be to overcome the borders that still divide us, and which could ultimately destroy us.

    I don’t think you need to be a starry-eyed idealist to reach that conclusion. On the contrary, I think the most hard-nosed, realistic analysis of the global situation today would conclude that our world can’t be safe or secure if the divisions within it are not reduced.

    As I see it, the great challenge before your generation is to build a global community that is not simply interdependent, but integrated.

    So the question is: In a world that is at once so connected and so divided, what qualities do we need from our leaders?

    There’s no easy answer to that question. I know you have spent the morning analysing the leadership skills of the Secretary-General, and that is not a bad place to start to try to find answers.  After all, he probably has the toughest job on earth. The expectations are high, the challenges are monumental, and the levers of power comparatively few.

    He is accountable to 191 sovereign Member States, each with the same legal rights in the Organization’s General Assembly, each different in terms of their political, military, economic and cultural power, each with specific national interests.

    But he doesn’t have the powers that your national leaders enjoy -- he can’t decide to deploy force, he can’t pass laws or budgets, he can’t tax. He must oversee an intricate network of intergovernmental institutions and international civil servants, often stretched thin in terms of resources and personnel.

    And, believe me, he doesn’t get any simple problems on his plate.  Every problem that comes to him is complex -- whether it is the Middle East, or the HIV/AIDS epidemic, or the reform of the Organization itself.  And whatever actions he does or does not take reverberate in many different ways among the various stakeholders in the Organization.

    The first thing the Secretary-General and all of us at the UN must do is to think globally.  By that I mean we must think of the global community, and be guided by its needs, and leave behind our national interests.

    We can’t necessarily ask political or business leaders to do the same, and ignore their national or commercial interest -- that’s utopia.  But “Leaders without borders” must view their interest and that of their countries differently.

    Take, for instance, the question of tariffs and subsidies.  We all know it would cause short-term pain for rich countries to get rid of tariff barriers and to stop paying massive subsidies to their farmers.  But the long term pain that is caused globally by leaving those barriers and subsidies in place is enormous.  The world is still paying the bitter costs of the imbalanced global trading system -- and a leader without borders would see the problem in that light.

    The same idea lies behind the Global Compact, a United Nations initiative in which companies are asked to commit themselves voluntarily to certain principles relating to labour standards, human rights, environmental protection and corruption.  The Global Compact challenges business leaders to find a way to pursue their legitimate commercial interest in a way that furthers the global interest -- and plenty of corporate leaders have responded to that call.

    Leaders without borders must not only think globally -- they must truly put themselves in the shoes of other people. The longer you spend in this business, the more you realize that people from different parts of the world often see the same issues very differently. They may be motivated by very different concerns.  They may have goals that would never occur to you.

    Good international leaders are alive to those differences -- and that’s why they can connect with people from all over the world, and operate effectively in complex environments.

    My friend and colleague, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed last year in Baghdad, had this quality.  Wherever he worked, he had an ability to understand what made people tick.  Sergio was a proud Brazilian, but he enjoyed working not only with UN colleagues from all over the world, but with local people. He could deal just as effectively with an East Timorese guerrilla leader, a refugee from Kosovo, or an Iraqi cleric.

    One reason he was able to do this was that he could put to one side his own conception of what was “normal”, what was “the right way”, and what constituted “success”.

    If you take the templates of your own country and apply them blindly to other parts of the world, you may well come up short. Things are not done the same way in sub-Saharan Africa as in Scandinavia.  Outcomes are not measured the same way either.

    That’s why the solutions that work best are usually anchored in local traditions. A leader without borders doesn’t impose pre-fabricated solutions and walk away -- they empower local people to develop solutions in partnership, solutions that will stand the test of time.

    Leaders who pursue global goals also need one other quality -- patience, patience and more patience.  International understanding and consensus does not happen overnight -- it takes time to reduce misunderstanding and build trust across the divides caused by cultural diversity, competing interests and different languages. This is a business for marathon runners, not sprinters.

    The people who require the most patience of all are mediators.  Some of the conflicts with which they deal seem never to go away -- look at Cyprus or the Middle East or Kashmir or Western Sahara.

    Does that mean that those who try to find solutions to these problems are failures? Not necessarily. It may be that the international community is not all pulling together in one direction, or isn’t really sufficiently interested to solve the problem. It may be that the conditions aren’t ripe for a settlement to be reached, and that the protagonists prefer the dispute to remain unsolved. But there is always the chance that something will turn up that changes the context, and the very process of diplomatic effort itself can generate positive momentum.  The patient and skilled international leader is always on the lookout for an opportunity to make an impact.

    I’m sure each of you, whatever your field of study, is wondering how best to shape your careers to be effective leaders without borders. Here, I have no ready-made answers. You each must find your own way, and even make your own mistakes. There is no template, no “kit” for young leaders, and no “roadmap”, as we say at the United Nations.

    When I left university, I didn’t have a grand “game-plan”. But I did have a large dose of curiosity.  And much as I loved my immediate community, and my country, what really got me hooked was the wider world in all its amazing diversity.  I wanted to know how other people lived, and to find out what I had in common with them.  I wanted to know how the world “worked” and, if I could, to make it work a little better.

    I chose to join the public service, and specifically, the Canadian Department of External Affairs. I began a career which has taken me around the world; which has exposed me, especially in my present capacity, to fascinating people and ideas; and which has confronted me, almost daily, with difficult and, at times, painful challenges.  I’ve learned lots of things, and I’ve tried to apply those lessons as I’ve moved on.

    I don’t pretend to have figured out how the world works.  But I do have a slightly better sense of what we need to do, in many fields, to make our world more peaceful, prosperous and just.  And as I hope I have conveyed to you, I believe that what ties all those things together is the need to build an integrated global community.

    Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Some are inspirational; others are skilful managers.  Some weave words magically; others don’t say much but do big things. Some touch millions of people; the impact of others may not be so broad, but it may be deeper.

    What makes such leaders good international leaders is that they see themselves as citizens of the world.

    So whatever kind of a leader you turn out to be, and whether you career is in diplomacy or dance, economics or engineering, law or literature, finance or psychology, remember the hypothetical group of 50 people I mentioned earlier.

    Remember that, for better or for worse, your destiny and the destiny of people your age all over the world, including those who haven’t had the opportunities you’ve been blessed with, are indivisible.

    And remember that we have just one world, but we are living in different ones.  The task for your generation is to help us live as one world.

    Thank you very much, and good luck to you all.

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