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Indian International Model United Nations

August 16, 2017

Good Evening, member delegates, ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests.

It is indeed an honor and a pleasure to speak to you today as members of a group that hold the future of the world in your hands, in the halls of a building that has since its completion in 1952 stood as a symbol of peace, the potential for the peoples of the world to live as a family of nations rather than as a set of groups at war, committed to the four great purposes set forth in the UN Charter

  • maintaining international peace and security;
  • developing friendly relations among nations;
  • promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights, and
  • being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations.

As a former participant in Model United Nation Assembly competitions, I still remember the awe I felt as I took my seat in an assembly representing at various times France, Nicaragua, and the United States. While I was completely aware of the fact that I was debating actions that would have no real consequences on the state of peace in the world as it was then, or on trade and economic treaties, or on the need to work together to eradicate disease and fight hunger and poverty, I still felt the weight of accountability on my shoulders. I felt the innate desire to do my best, to represent the country for which I was a delegate, keeping in mind not just nationalistic pride but also the responsibility of being a delegate to an august body that has always been a symbol of hope, an emblem – if you will – that mankind can, and must, work together, resolve differences across a table, and live as brothers and sisters committed to a better tomorrow for all. I felt the passion, the desire to be more than I was, the commitment to do all I could to ensure a better future – just as I’m sure each of you feels it now. I believed, with all my heart at that time decades ago as an undergraduate that I could make a difference and standing here today in front of you – I still do.

I am inspired by the sea of faces in front of me – youth representing the promise of a better tomorrow with each taking their rightful place as members of a family of nations, adding your voices as beacons of hope, debating key issues in constructive and meaningful ways. As I look out into the audience I am reminded of the words of John Hume, noted Irish politician, winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, who said, “Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

We live in a world that is beset by challenges that know no national boundaries – poverty and hunger, the growing inequities between the rich and the poor, terrorism, water shortages and the irreparable harm done to our oceans and lakes by industrialization and increasing population, the escalating global tensions between development and sustainability, and the rise of diseases that are resistant to the very medical advances that were once considered to be the means to eradicate them. Headlines across all media every day report on increases in unemployment, a range of natural and man-made disasters, superbugs and challenges in health-care, violence and increasing hostility between communities, decreases in social norms, and increasing conflict world-wide. The global economy appears to be getting worse rather than better with each passing year and this might well be the first time that an entire generation is worse off than the one that preceded it.

We live in a dynamic and interconnected world, one driven by globalization and the consequent integration and mobility not only of goods and services, but also of information, capital and people. Technological advances have made it possible for people, ideas and resources to flow seamlessly and swiftly across yesterday’s barriers of time and space. When we buy goods and services or seek assistance on the phone or on the web we are no longer sure if the person with whom we are communicating is in the same town, or thousands of miles away in another country. News and information is available in the blink of an eyelid moving faster than it can be checked, spreading across the globe as never before, ensuring that events can no longer be hidden from the public eye but also enabling the rapid diffusion of rumors, innuendo, and false reports. As the world becomes smaller, diverse peoples are pushed closer together, sometimes making them reluctant neighbors and often fueling resentment, envy, anger and mutual distrust. Divides – social, cultural, religious and political – have been amplified as the ever present competition for resources is extended to that of control of ideas and modes of communication.

To address these aspects there is a critical need for the development of leadership – young men and women, like you, who can think beyond boundaries of place, identity and norms, who have empathy, trust and mutual respect for diverse cultures and civilizations, who seek to contribute to a sustainable and more humane world, and do not live in a vacuum but seize important questions, confront them, and develop solutions.

Those of us with grey hair often think of youth as representing the future, but in reality you are active in influencing the present, through your thoughts, debates and actions, and we gain significantly from what you are already doing. You show tremendous commitment to a sense of public ethos and engagement with the community for the common good, you develop new ideas, better ways of enhancing life in your own community and across the world. You build powerful, influential and culturally inclusive networks – you are already building a better world.

The UNDP has called for the empowerment of youth as a means to a sustainable future. The 2014-2017 strategy emphasizes sustaining “through support to national policy, more effective strategies to protect young men and women from exploitation and neglect, and support their informed and active participation in all spheres of society.” A range of reasons, all good and true, are given for this, emphasizing vulnerable groups, unemployment, poverty, susceptibility to illness and others.

But perhaps the most powerful reason of all is that you, our youth, are a force for positive change not just in nation building but in determining the equality of all peoples and in ensuring the humaneness of mankind. From the streets of the Arab Spring initiated by the act of self-immolation by 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, and the marches by youth for democracy in Hong Kong, to the courageous words of Malala Yousafzai, young people are increasingly acting as the agents of positive change in society across the globe. You are the force that is demanding that institutions once taken for granted as being the norm and all-powerful be more responsive in expeditiously addressing issues of equality, justice and opportunity, more focused on ensuring access to education and health services, more engaged with all segments of society and more responsive to the need for reform.

By your presence here today you are affirming your commitment to lead, to be an active force for positive transformational change and to truly be engaged, not just in word, but deed, heart and soul, in policy dialogues, political action and in decision making processes.

Decades after the signing of the UN Charter in 1945 the peoples of the world still face daunting challenges associated with the attainment of economic and social progress, assurance of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and the security of global peace. We have cured diseases, travelled to the moon and to the depths of the oceans, developed technology that enables us to design materials at the atomistic scale and to understand the genome and yet these basic principles still prove elusive. We look to you to resolve these issues making the world a better place, one where diverse peoples live in harmony.

I believe that education provides a path to success, a way to combat ignorance and apathy, and a means to empower our youth to engage in issues larger than themselves and to solve problems that we the older generation have not only not been able to solve but have rather complicated them even further.

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as the President of the University of Texas at Arlington, one of the largest educational institutions in the nation with over 58,000 students and a growing international reputation. The development of new knowledge, the creation of intellectual property, the presentation and exhibition of new creative activity – these and more have distinguished our institution. Every day, our faculty, staff and students work with a purpose, with the commitment that it takes to become one of this nation’s top universities. This happens in our classrooms and laboratories, in offices and in study lounges, and on the courts and fields of play – and the impact is felt not just in Arlington but in communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and across the globe. The opportunity of a transformational experience, the ability to develop talent, and the determination to leave footprints on the sands of time – these are ever-present at this University of Excellence. We are a university that knows no bounds and we are driven by the determination and talent of our students, young men and women just like you, to bridge excellence and access, opening vistas of unlimited opportunity and boundless potential.

It is with this as a background that I look to you, not as delegates to the Indian International Model UN but as the leaders of tomorrow to make a choice – to work together affirming a collective responsibility to build a better tomorrow rather than standing by the wayside and allowing intolerance, bigotry and hatred to overcome the world. Hope over fear, passion over lethargy, and courage over cowardice – this is what I see as I look at your faces.

Fear, barriers and obstacles – we face them every day. Success is not measured by how many we face, or even how many are overcome, but by how we face the situation and what we do during, and after that moment. The popular Roman philosopher of the Silver Age of Latin literature, Lucius Seneca, was reported to have said, “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

We face barriers and obstacles every day. Some are small and some are big – but each and every one of them has the potential to have a profound effect on us, and through us on the rest of the world. Think back to a time when you really wanted to do something, you knew you could do it and you were convinced that if you did you would cause something wonderful to happen for your siblings, your family, your friends, even your community – but something was in your way – and you looked at it and it seemed like a huge mountain in your way – and you stopped. For that one moment, or hour, or days – the world stood still as you debated whether you could climb that steep face, cross that deep ocean – and in some cases you did. In others you held back – and something, someone who would have benefitted from your moving forward did not gain from it. Sad – but true. Let me ask you today then not to let fear hold you back. We, the older generation, depend on you to make this a better world, to achieve what we, because of our prejudices and past, have not been able to do. You start with a fresh sheet of paper – paint a masterpiece on it – one that speaks of racial and ethnic harmony, one that illuminates a world with every individual assured of their fundamental rights and each person able to live to their full potential.

You might well ask as to how each of you can make such a profound transformation in the world. Aren’t the problems we face globally too big, too difficult, too intractable – so complicated that even the adults in this room have largely failed?

Let me remind you of the words of Robert Kennedy who said, “Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills – against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32 year old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. “Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.”

You have already shown us that you can indeed make a difference and, in doing so, move the world. I ask you to remember that even a lonely voice in a sea of murmurs stands out – it stands out for what is right, for what is good, for truth and justice. And if you follow your heart and your dreams there is nothing you cannot do. If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never get it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be ‘No’ and if you don’t take a step forward you will always remain in the same spot.

The world is waiting for you and the future is not tomorrow. It is not two years or ten years from today, it is NOW and it’s your choice to make a difference and be a part of the solution. So I’m hoping that you will take those steps; you will reach out; hold each other’s hands; look deep into your neighbor’s eyes and promise that you will, together, make this a better world – for each of you, for us, and for Mankind.

What are some of our remaining challenges? What is it that we all need to grapple with and find urgent solutions for?

  • Even with the exceptional results I have just described, one in eight people around the world still remain hungry;
  • Fifty-eight million children are still out of school;
  • Women and other people in situations of vulnerability still face discrimination is accessing and jobs, and to participate in decision-making in economic, political, and even in respect of their own lives;
  • I noted that child mortality has been cut nearly in half over the last two decades, meaning 17,000 children’s lives are saved every day. But six million children still die before their fifth birthday;
  • Many people still lack access to required and recommended healthcare;
  • Fifty young women are newly infected with HIV every hour; and
  • Hundreds of thousands are still dying from treatable diseases like malaria;
  • 2.5 billion who still do not have access to basic sanitation; and with all this,
  • The amount of aid money going to the poorest countries is falling.