“If I were to have visited Singapore last year, I would’ve gone around and said, I am SG71,” was the opening remark that brought a hearty laughter which rippled through the diverse crowd.
On 29 August, at the Suntec Convention Centre, His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon was the distinguished speaker at a speaker series hosted by Singapore Management University (SMU). The 8th UN Secretary General notes how his position is often abbreviated to simply, 'SG,' otherwise known as the internet domain of every website in Singapore. Almost instantly, the audience is at ease but at once attentive to his motioning. This is an accomplished yet humble man who earns his respect and demonstrates this by the sudden hush that overcomes the exuberant crowd. He begins his speech.
He begins by emphasising key themes that reappear throughout his speech – the commitment to combat climate change, the need to promote gender equality, the urgent call to lift people out of extreme poverty and the power that lies within the youth to act as the catalysts for these aspiring plans that have the potential to enforce radical yet positive change.
In September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals were created, comprising 17 indispensable and interdependent goals that the UN plans to reach by 2030. Mr Ban’s speech emphasized the 5Ps – Peace, Prosperity, Partnership, Planning & People; the role of ASEAN and Singapore as a key member to promote regional stability and solidarity; the upcoming peace and security challenges and the imperative need for tolerance and coexistence – all done in the name of the common good and realising our shared humanity.
As much as Mr. Ban’s speech was heartening, empowering and inspiring, I couldn’t help but remain skeptical to this global call for progress. I don’t believe my skepticism stems from pessimism nor being adequately informed about global affairs, rather I think it comes from the doubt about how we can enact the vast amount of resources, people, organisations and initiatives needed to form the urgent concerted effort needed to make a more equal and sustainable future.
In other words, given how individual member nations come to the UN with an already preconceived, nationalistic agenda, it prevents the actual “unification” from happening. The core of the United Nations hinges precariously on a global call to act in good faith, in the name of goodwill.
Furthermore, though each point was graced with eloquence and a convincing delivery, I could not help but notice how phrases that promised progress did not have a definite time frame and statistics to support them. Without a doubt, there will be progress from now till 2030. The question is, will the response to tackling these deeply-seated, complex issues bring to fruition enough progress and positive change to rectify the problems that we as a human race have created and are still creating for ourselves?
As ideal as this all sounds, it will not simply come to appear because a draft resolution had been unanimously passed in the General Assembly in a glass facade, air conditioned New York City high rise. What comes next requires us to realise our inherent obligations and shared humanity, not only cultivating shared empathy but acting upon it. That is what will make all the difference.
On Mr Ban’s Legacy
Particularly in Western media, Mr Ban’s legacy has been portrayed as lacklustre, unyielding and by some measures, a complete failure even. The Economist published a scathing feature that described Mr Ban as “painfully ineloquent, addicted to protocol and lacking in spontaneity and depth,” asserting that “even after nine years in the job he is apt to stumble."
Looking beyond criticism, I believe we should take heart in what has been unchanging and constant throughout his terms – the steady positivity and hard work that he has invested across the board. For example, without Mr Ban’s insistence, the Paris Climate Change Agreement might not have been realised. Without his leadership and humility, UN Women’s largest initiatives such as HeForShe would not have even gotten off the ground. Being the humble, down-to-earth and intelligent man he is, I think we have reason to believe his positivity does not come from gullibility or naïveté. I think it comes from an unwavering faith in the insurmountable amount of power that is derived from acting in unity, for a common purpose. This is by far the greatest benefit and gift the United Nations has given the world for the past 70 years, and will continue to, regardless of his successor.
So – let’s not be cynical, but hopeful. Let’s not simply declare those hopes, but approach them with a sense of determination, grit and self-motivation.
Maybe with faith in humanity, a willingness to get our hands dirty and the desire to enact the potential that comes from being unified, Mr Ban’s idealistic yet arguably achievable view of our world can actually materialise into a shared reality; our shared reality.