Young Leaders Scholarship
Kate Robertson: The Reconciliation, negotiation and dialogue between superpowers certainly affect the future of our young people
January 15, 2024

Kate Robertson

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, One Young World

So I'm firstly, hugely honoured to be here, James, thank you so much, John, Victor, Andy, really, thank you so much. I always find these things quite difficult because I stand here not as myself, but as a representative, and hopefully a valid spokesman of these brilliant young leaders from around the world. Now 17,000 of them in the network. This is not youth, this is young leaders. So it's all of you at the front here. When you were a bit younger, I don't want to talk to the students at the back. But if you can imagine the young people that you meet, you people of my generation, if you meet them today, and you say, this is me, this is a person who's going to achieve as I did, and hopefully more. That's what we're looking for.

So in this scholarship, which CUSEF has so generously done, what it means for each of these young leaders is that a scholarship to join One Young World community makes you an ambassador of the values of that community, which are truly all of the values on display here today. You become an ambassador, and you attend your first summit, which next year will be in Montreal, and thereafter, you are supported throughout your leadership journey. And we have them there in the leadership troops. One of them is Lauren Bush, Neil’s daughter, who's a vintage Ambassador going back to 2010. But we support them with their connections with world leaders. We support them with mainstream media, not just for social media, because that's easy these days, but support them to bring forward their influence. So this scholarship from CUSEF is really one of these remarkable ones that comes from civil society. But that bravely steps into the creation and development of the leaders that we want to see, more like you guys.

I grew up in South Africa. Obviously, at my age, I'm a child of apartheid South Africa and all the privileges that white people had then. Did we ever believe when I was a young person that things were going to change? Not really. But they did change. As Martin Luther King said: ‘the arc of history just does bend towards justice’. And we have to hope that that is so. But it always seemed to me as a South African that we shouldn't be waiting for leaders to have to be imprisoned for 28 years. Or in the case of Malala Yousafzai to get shot in the head for us to acknowledge them as leaders, that there was a job to be done for this coming generation and why. You know, there's a lot of people who would say to me: ‘yes, but you know, they're young, they've got rose tinted glasses, who cares what they think, we all grow up, we all change’, that may be true. But this generation is, whether we like it or not, the most informed, most educated, and most connected generation in human history. There has been none other like this generation.

And from them have emerged in the last 13 years, the youngest billionaires in the world. So, business people, don't tell me you can't be a billionaire at 20. Apparently, you can. I missed my slot. We also see in the corridors of governments, we also see these very, very young leaders. Now, why? We know in the business community that we need them. Why? Because these days, if you're not digital, you're not going to survive. Who are the masters of the digital world? Who are the cyber masters? They are that particular generation. So this is our work at One Young World. But for me, for my story. It's partly As James said, it's a South African story. It's acknowledging that truth and reconciliation are incredibly hard work, but that they do work. What did they work at? Do they work at creating perfection? No, they work at creating that thing which we had believed we had in our grasp. That elusive thing called ‘peace’. That is why truth and reconciliation. My dear friend Desmond Tutu said to me when I proposed the idea of One Young World to him, he said: ‘Yes, we are going to do this, remember that I had problems with truth and reconciliation, but it is still valid’. I said: ‘yes, Archbishop’. And he said to me, as he said at the first One Young World Summit, he said: ‘Kate, it's in your hands’.

And I think today we look at China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, this remarkable organization, which James has told me so much about over the last couple of years. Well, to all of you, I guess, and so many of you actually carry real power, it's in your hands. We look today, I don't think that we believed and one of the speakers previously mentioned it, five or six years ago, more than I think, it was you were talking about in 2015, I think we believed in some kind of peace, somehow, that is not where we stand today. I didn't think in my lifetime, to see armed conflict in the middle of Europe, almost leave alone on the eastern edges. And we've turned away from what was the coming conflict in the Middle East. We have forgotten the efforts of truth and reconciliation that brought about the Oslo Accords. We have not paid attention.

Working with the 17,000 young leaders as I do, and many of them are in touch with me on my personal channels, my private channels as well as on social media. I know that One Young World as an organization, has been called upon to comment on the situation in the Middle East. And you can imagine, everybody's on a side. I was very reluctant that we should say anything. I'm not sure that bland statements contribute anything in the situation. Making a noise on social media doesn't really contribute anything, except it makes things an awful lot more divisive. So we have tried to walk some sort of middle path which is almost impossible.

It's awful to me that in Belfast, the keynote speech at the opening ceremony with 5000 people was given by Queen Rania of Jordan. And essentially much of what she said is what she's been saying in the last couple of weeks on CNN, so many of you will have seen her. But she talked about the plight of the Palestinians. It's a difficult lesson for our delegates from Israel and for our Jewish delegates. No question. But we felt that as we had been invited to be in Belfast for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, that this was one of the ongoing things and work of peace that needed to be done. We also had a speech for the ages, which we'll be publishing soon, from President Santos of Colombia, on how he created and delivered the peace agreement in Colombia. And I urge you, university students, I urge you to look at that speech. It is the master class because he learned from all the previous peace agreements all around the world; studied his subjects; the former Minister of Defense had been killing FARC people, and it was he who created the peace. Peace is possible but peace is hard work.

We now know from the NGOs that we work with in Israel, and also in Gaza and the West Bank - a form of almost total despair, a terrible, terrible despair. One of the representatives of the parents’ circle, which works with families, both in Palestine and in Israel, said to me, and it was repeated again in a radio recording: ‘the bodies of our children, our dead children, cry out to us for peace’.

So when we talk today of China and the United States and Ms. Barshefsky, I think since I wasn't at university 100 years ago, I haven't taken as many notes as I took when you were speaking. So thank you, thank you all for the work that you're doing. This China-United States situation, these are the powers in the world, let's just call it what it is. These are the superpowers and the work of reconciliation and negotiation and dialogue between them is the future of our kind. And certainly, of our young people. I take so seriously these words that competition, leading to this overwhelming sense of it has to be confrontational, it has to be aggressive. No, it doesn't. No, it absolutely doesn't. And this worked for China and the United States, so serious, and for our young ones.

So we at One Young World, we have a large delegation every year at the summit's from China. We also have a big delegation, of course from the United States. So I commit here on behalf of my organization, with James's help, we will try to ensure that these delegations are carrying on your work, or doing this talking, getting to know each other, understand each other, not judge each other, work together, because frankly, our lives depend on it.

So the scholarship that has been put together here by James, John, Andy, for these young leaders to become part of the One Young World family and community and part for their lives. It’s serious work; they have a chance to work together with leaders and they work towards the sustainable development goals and we measure, Neil was asking me earlier about our impact, our impact reports are on our website, and the latest one from last year from 2020 is 210 pages. So I know you won't be reading it. However, the community has had an impact on 41.4 million people thus far, and we don't have 2023 measurements. This is done conservatively and carefully because we always try to teach that no one values what they can't measure. So that's on the sustainable development goals. We know the truth is today because of the conflict and the pandemic on many of the targets, we are going backwards. So there is work to be done.

But I particularly, personally on behalf of the One Young World community worldwide, I want to commit to this China-U.S. exchange. It is vital. And I give my heartfelt thanks to CUSEF for the scholarship for these eight very fortunate young leaders soon to join us. The scholarship is being launched. It's for open application, the shortlist will be sent to you, James and to CUSEF for you to decide exactly who those people are. And I know that these young leaders that you select, you will be hearing from them. And I would just say to you today just close with the words of Sir Bob Geldof who always gave me and Kofi Annan such a very hard time at One Young World: ‘We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day. So let's start giving. It's a choice we're making. We're saving our own lives. And it's true. We make a better day.’ Thank you.

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