Speech at Model UNESCO Mongolia (MUM) Nov 18, 2017

Good morning ladies and gentlemen – the bright future of Mongolia. I am excited to see all of you playing an active part in the issues shaping our world. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” And your leadership will be crucial in the discussions you hold here.

Today, you will simulate the UNESCO general conference – playing Permanent Delegates and coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication.

The aim is to sharpen your knowledge on current affairs, as well as strengthen your negotiation skills. But also, to promote the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 – to end poverty, to fight inequality and protect our planet.

At the centre of the SDGs, are young people. More than one third of the SDG targets reference young people directly or indirectly. This includes empowering young people and boosting their participation in top decision-making. You could say, this agenda belongs to you.

You account for more than a third of all citizens in Mongolia. Our future depends on our young people. You can be the first generation to end extreme poverty and inequality, the generation to achieve the world we want. You are more educated, tech-savvy and more connected than any generation before you. And you can change your country more than anyone else.

Mongolia is hit hard by climate change. 1/3 of its population is living in poverty. And inequality is a growing concern. You have great challenges ahead of you. To overcome them, we need more leaders. In particular, we need leaders from the generation that must carry these goals forward – you. You must recognize the power your contributions can make. 

Some of you might think “I am no leader,” but I want you to know that whoever you are, wherever you come from, you can lead. If you know what you want, and keep working towards that, you can reach any goal.

In my own career, I had no networks, and did not come from an Ivy League background – but I became a leader in the UN because I kept pursuing it, starting at entry level and over many years, working my way up.

Do you know the meaning of word ‘leadership’? It means ‘seeing one’s own way’. The first person that you must lead is you. Before you show others the way, you must discover yourself. It means being self-aware, respectful, passionate and courageous – being willing to challenge the status quo… Seeing opportunities, rather than being intimidated by constraints.

When I was working in Sri Lanka, for example, trying to get seeds to farmers hit by conflict to grow rice and corn for the harvest, the bureaucracy was high and time was running out. Eventually, I negotiated with UNDP HQ in NY to buy the seeds without waiting for the full formal approval process to be completed. The seeds reached the farmers in time and made a real difference.

In every one of you, there is a leader. By learning to lead – including yourself and others – you can achieve anything…. Including an end to poverty, a society that leaves no one behind and a planet that can support future generations. 

To the future politicians among you! I implore you to use your power for policies that include every citizen, while safeguarding your country’s environment. Lead not only those who can vote, but for unheard generations to follow.

To business leaders in the making! I challenge you to be pioneers of sustainability your industries. Invest in technologies that preserve Mongolia’s air, water and soil. Invest in the communities around you, to foster more leaders. Invest not in returns you count today, but in the value you create tomorrow.

Beyond the positions you hold, be leaders in life. Be examples to your friends, families, colleagues and community of what it means to live sustainably. This could be done by recycling, or using less electricity, for example. Get involved in public life to shape your country’s future, by voting in elections, or petitioning your representatives to pursue sustainable initiatives.

Today is your chance to practice the leadership skills you need, to reach your goals and make a difference, including in debates, diplomacy and consensus-building. Today is your opportunity to pioneer solutions to real global challenges. Today is your chance to lead! Thank you.