Ban Ki-moon's speeches

Remarks at launch of the United Nations Academic Impact

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Headquarters, 18 November 2010

President Michael Adams of Farleigh Dickinson University
Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka,
Distinguished academic leaders, university presidents, senior faculty members and student representatives,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to this important ceremony.

I admit I am a little intimidated to be with so many eminent scholars this morning. Growing up, English was my favourite subject … but please don’t quiz my grammar at the end of my speech.

Looking around this room, I feel like I am at a vibrant, global think tank. The collective knowledge here spans so many disciplines and so many countries. From Botswana to Bangkok, from Kyushu in Japan to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, from Mexico to Mongolia and beyond.

All of your countries already contribute to the United Nations’ work by donating peacekeepers, supporting development and providing the political backing we need to succeed.

In addition to resources, in addition to personnel, we need ideas. Ideas bring the United Nations to life.

A single idea can generate a breakthrough that saves millions of lives. A new technology can spare whole populations from hardship. Even a theory can unlock action for peace.

The academic world has supported our work since the founding of the United Nations. Without research scientists, we never could have eradicated smallpox. Experts in mediation have contributed immeasurably to peace and security. Deans of universities have been top advisors to me and my predecessors. My own Deputy Secretary-General was not only her country’s Foreign Minister, but also a professor at the University of Tanzania.

Scholarship around the world continues to advance our causes. Breakthroughs on agricultural development, strategies for ending poverty, studies on women’s rights - all directly serve our mission.

The act of teaching and learning itself builds bridges among people.

With the launch of this initiative, we have a chance to accelerate these efforts.

The Academic Impact has already spurred considerable interest around the world.

Earlier this month, I opened a conference in Shanghai where universities from all over China gathered in support.

A few weeks from now, the Centro Niemayer in Spain – named after the only architect of UN Headquarters who is still alive – will host the first Academic Impact conference in Europe.

And next year the Korean Council for University Education will co-sponsor a conference on education and entrepreneurship.

I am grateful for these and other efforts, and eager to do more.

By formalizing our relationship today, we can magnify the already great impact the academic community is having.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We know the disciplines that obviously relate to peace, development and human rights. Political Science. International Law. Diplomacy.

A half-century ago, people who wanted to engage on the international scene typically pursued degrees in law, diplomacy and political science.

Today, more and more people realize that our work touches virtually all other academic fields. Architecture and engineering for sustainable development. The humanities for tolerance and intercultural understanding. Medical science for public health.

That is because the mission of the United Nations continues to evolve – at times very quickly.

Consider what has happened with peacekeeping.

The traditional peacekeeping operation separated troops on two sides of a ceasefire line. Relatively small numbers of soldiers and a few mediators were enough to keep a lid on any resumption of hostilities.

Peacekeeping today usually looks quite different, and involves humanitarian relief, human rights, institution-building, security-sector reform, child protection and much more. We still depend on uniformed troops and police, but we also need forensic scientists, human rights lawyers and many other specialists, often drawn from the ranks of academia.

This means that whether people study new theories of physics or timeless literary texts, their work can inspire progress worldwide.

More and more universities understand this. Departments are coming together to create interdisciplinary degrees. We are seeing the emergence of well-rounded scholars who are as comfortable in a research facility as they are in a refugee camp. Universities are opening satellite campuses and providing “distance learning” far from home.

This opens up vast new possibilities. By sharing ideas, across borders and disciplines, we can find solutions to the interconnected problems that cause so much suffering.

Climate change is not just an environmental threat, it is closely tied to poverty.

Poverty is not just about jobs, it is directly related to food security.

Food security has an impact on health.

Health affects generations of children.

Children hold the key to our future.

And education can lead to progress on all these fronts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By joining the United Nations Academic Impact, you pledge to make these connections.

And by doing that, you get more than the immense personal satisfaction of teaching, learning and individual research. You get the even greater pride of seeing your scholarship help people cope with their day-to-day struggles.

We are not asking for your intellectual property. But we are demanding your dynamism, your energy and your commitment.

Each of you has the power to inspire scores of students. Each of you has the dedication to make a difference.

Thank you for joining with us in this initiative. I look forward to working closely with you to bring it to life in meaningful ways as part of our work to build a better world for all.

Thank you very much.