‘Believe in Your Power’, Says Secretary-General, Urging University Students at Academic Impact Forum to Help Governments Build Better World for All

10 August 2011

‘Believe in Your Power’, Says Secretary-General, Urging University Students at Academic Impact Forum to Help Governments Build Better World for All

10 August 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

‘Believe in Your Power’, Says Secretary-General, Urging University Students


at Academic Impact Forum to Help Governments Build Better World for All


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the United Nations Academic Impact Forum, in Seoul today, 10 August:

It is a pleasure to be with such a distinguished group of academic leaders.  My sincere thanks go to the Korean Council for University Education and Handong Global University for hosting and organizing this forum.

It has been nine months since I launched Academic Impact at United Nations Headquarters in New York.  The initiative has grown very encouragingly. What started with a few schools and the simple wish to harness academia’s great power for the common good, has become a global enterprise.  More than 670 schools in 104 countries are now taking part — 47 from the Republic of Korea alone.

It is clear to me that academic institutions around the world place significant importance on supporting the United Nations.  The question now is:  how do we translate these deepening ties into life-saving and life-improving progress for the world’s people?

Just over 40 years ago, I was a young graduate of Seoul National University.  The symbol of my school is a pen and torch embraced by two strands of leaves.  Little did I then imagine that I would one day serve another organization whose symbol is also two strands of leaves — though this time embracing the world.  Those two symbols suggest the great potential of the academic impact.

As teachers and university leaders, you have the pen with which to reason and persuade.  And you have the torch with which to illuminate the paths of others.  In doing so, you serve not one student, not one university, but a global community.

The renowned eighteenth century scholar Jung Yak-yong emphasized the importance of coming to the aid of people in need.  He wrote that helping others is fundamental to cultivating our own virtue.

This is the essence of public service.

At its founding, the United Nations was seen as an Organization where States and their diplomatic representatives would come together to preserve the world’s peace and advance the well-being of its peoples.

Today, a new view has taken hold:  Governments cannot do it alone, nor should they want to.

As the challenges we face grow ever more complex and interconnected, the United Nations has opened its doors to a wide range of new, exciting and sometimes unexpected partners:  businesses and non-governmental organizations; philanthropies and parliamentarians; young people empowered by technology and the latest social mobilization tools.

The academic community is among those key new partners injecting dynamism into our work and making such partnership the wave of the future.

President Kim, Handong University’s motto says it all:  “Why not change the world?”

What a wonderful message to send to your students.  Aim high.  Think big.  Think, crucially, of the larger human family.  Be a global citizen.  Believe in your power — the power of individual women and men to make a difference.

That is why we are here today.  To explore how we can make an impact — an academic impact.

You have joined this initiative because you believe in intellectual social responsibility — let us call it ISR, like CSR, corporate social responsibility.  And you are seeking to work more closely with the United Nations because you agree that developing a culture of ISR can help make our world wiser, safer and more just.

Indeed, the academic impact has begun to compile a record of engagement on some of the major challenges of our times.

Handong Global University has launched “global entrepreneurship training” for more than 90 students from 10 African countries.  Member universities in Ecuador, Japan, Lebanon and South Africa recently organized a series of e-discussions on education.

A similar global “virtual” conference was hosted by Lehigh University in the United States during this year’s session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan is using distance learning software to tutor middle-school children on how to create bio-sand water filters to ensure clean water.  The Black Sea Universities network in Romania is matching donors and development programmes.

There is also now an offshoot of the academic impact:  “ASPIRE” — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.  Many of those young people are here today.  We should all thank them for their engagement, including the funds they collected for relief work in Haiti and Japan.

The message is clear:  there is no area of study that cannot make a difference to the United Nations and the people we serve.

So where do we go from here?  I see three factors that are especially important.

First, freedom.  Only the unfettered sharing and exchange of human thought can allow the emergence of collective solutions to common problems.

Second, integrity.  Research tailored to a desired conclusion loses both validity and relevance.

Third, respect.  Research and other academic activity needs support:  the time and space and resources to do their work.

And I see three issues that are of utmost urgency and on which the academic community can make a difference.

First, food and nutrition security.

You are all aware that people across the Horn of Africa are starving.  A catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought has left more than 11 million people in desperate need.

Even as we respond to this immediate crisis, we need to deal with underlying causes.  Climate change means this drought will surely not be the last.  We need to focus on practical measures:  drought-resistant seeds; irrigation; rural infrastructure; livestock programmes; improvements in early warning systems.

The academic community is contributing already, and I call on you to do even more.

Second, sustainable development, including climate change.

This has been my top priority and it will remain so as I prepare for my second term as Secretary-General.  There can be no peace, no justice, no dignity, if billions of people must subsist in chronic poverty.  We need to focus on the links among hunger, water and energy, so that solutions to one can become solutions to all.

The academic community can help us connect the dots.  Bring your ideas to next year’s crucially important United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development:   Rio+20.

Third, tolerance:  our shared values.

The academic community, with its long-standing traditions of cultural exchange, can set an example of mutual respect and understanding.  During a period when extremism and polarization show little sign of lessening, such a contribution would be timely indeed.

As many of you may know, I have the very good fortune to be a proud grandfather.  One of my granddaughters was born on my own birthday.

It was a joyous coincidence.  From that day forward, that date was far more hers than mine.

In the same vein, I know that the greatest pride for many of you rests not on your own achievements but on those of your students, whose power to change the world you have strengthened.

So let us go forth together, students, teachers, university presidents, national Governments and the United Nations, to affirm our common purpose and the partnerships that can do so much to build a better world for all.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.