Insights and Analysis

Ban Ki-moon Accepts Chang-Lin Tien Award for Distinguished Leadership

September 12, 2018

On the eve of his first term as secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon was reminded by his predecessor, Kofi Annan, of the words of the first UN leader: “You are about to take over the most impossible job on earth.” Secretary Ban went on to serve ten years at the helm of the world body and preside over the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Accords.

This week, The Asia Foundation presented Ban Ki-moon with the Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Leadership Award in recognition of his leadership in international development. Accepting the honor before an audience of political leaders, philanthropists, diplomats, and heads of business in San Francisco on Tuesday, he summarized his approach:

I believe that we all share a common destiny. We are all in this together. There’s not a single country or single individual, however powerful and however resourceful, that can do it alone. We all have to work together. We have to pool our wisdom and energy. So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s work together to make this world better. And I count on your leadership and global vision. 

He also reflected, sometimes wryly, on his term as secretary-general.

When I assumed my job as secretary-general in January 2007, I declared that my motto, my mission, would be to make this world better. After 10 years of service at the United Nations, whether I had made the world better or not, I’m leaving it to the judgement of the historians. We have much more to do.

Former U.N Secretary Ban Ki-moon receives the Chang-Lin Tien Distinguished Leadership Award from Chang-Lin Tien’s son, Dr. Norman Tien.

The annual award honors the legacy of the late Dr. Chang-Lin Tien, an immigrant from Asia who rose to become a prominent engineer, educator, and internationalist, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, and chair of The Asia Foundation’s board of trustees. Highlighting Dr. Tien’s legacy of internationalism, Secretary Ban spoke of the importance of collaboration and one of his most prominent efforts, helping negotiate the Paris climate agreement among numerous parties.

As a former secretary-general, I do not carry any title, so I’m a free man now. Our world is changing. Multilateralism is under attack. Human rights are under attack, development and humanitarian funds are being slashed, and the U.S. has decided to withdraw from the Paris climate-change agreement, so laboriously, so difficultly negotiated among 197 state parties.

The award was presented to Ban Ki-moon poignantly by the family of Chang-Lin Tien, most notably his son Norman Tien, who spoke to the standing-room-only crowd of his father’s legacy of leadership. The ceremony also showcased a new generation of Asian leaders on the frontlines of change, represented by the 2018 Asia Foundation Development Fellows, 12 exceptional Asian women and men under 40 who are working to solve Asia’s most critical development challenges. A brand new film was screened that highlighted the fellows’ work across Asia. As Secretary Ban spoke, he addressed some of his remarks directly to the emerging leaders.

I hope you will speak up. I think the most important and strongest voice should come not from political leaders, but from civil society. You should raise your voices. This is the world where my grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren will have to live. This is going to be your world, not mine, or the other accomplished leaders attending this dinner. So, let us work together and make this work.

In his final remarks, Secretary Ban offered some thoughts on the nature of leadership and global citizenship.

In my life, I have seen so many political leaders passionate, full of passions, but there are not many people who have compassion. Everybody comes to the United Nations every year. They speak of grandiose visions. They look like global leaders. But once they leave JFK airport, they suddenly become national leaders. They easily become hostages of domestic views. So, it’s very important that we empower and educate our young generation to be global citizens. The Asia Foundation’s ongoing commitment to strengthening local communities and organizations, as well as empowering women and young people like the development fellows here, is harmonious with what I have just said. Indeed, these impactful efforts will secure better outcomes for Asia and our world. And the leadership and memory of Chang-Lin Tien is fully in line with these values and this spirit.


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