20th Anniversary of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund program at Uppsala University

Uppsala, Sweden

It is a privilege to be here with you to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sylff program at Uppsala University.

I would like to offer my thanks to all of you, in particular to Vice Chancellor Anders Hallberg and to all the members of the Sylff steering committee, for the way you have managed the Sylff endowment so effectively over these past 20 years.

The Sylff program was established in 1987. It aims to cultivate future leaders who will transcend geographical, political, religious, ethnic, cultural and other boundaries, and contribute to the peace and well-being of humankind. As the issues the world faces grow more complex and diverse, I believe the Sylff program is more necessary than ever.

To date, 68 institutions of higher education in 44 countries have received Sylff endowments, and there are over 10,000 Sylff Fellows. Uppsala University was the second institution to join the program, in 1988.

We are extremely proud that Uppsala University is part of Sylff. Not only is it the oldest university in Scandinavia, but it has also produced many Nobel Prize winners and is an internationally renowned seat of learning. To date, I understand that 56 graduate students have been recipients of Sylff Fellowships.

Sweden and Japan have enjoyed very close ties over the years, particularly in the academic sphere. This university itself is well known in Japan. As most of you know, in May of 2007, on the 300th anniversary of Linnaeus’ birth, the Japanese Emperor and Empress paid a visit to your university. The emperor received an honorary membership and a medal for his work in natural science. The Japanese media covered this landmark in the history of our two nations, leaving me, and Japanese people in general, with an excellent impression of Uppsala.

But long before that, Carl Peter Thunberg, who was a pupil of Linnaeus and later a professor of this University, visited Japan in 1775. At the time, Japan had proclaimed a policy of national isolation, and was closed to the world. The sole window to the West was an artificial island in Nagasaki, called Dejima, which only the Dutch and Chinese were allowed to visit.

Thunberg was appointed head surgeon of the Dutch trading post on Dejima, and spent one year in Japan. As well as collecting botanical specimens and conducting research, he also taught medicine. The 700-plus plant specimens he collected during his time in Japan are still preserved here at Uppsala.

To prepare for this visit, I did some research on Thunberg. I was fascinated to read that he taught his Japanese interpreters how to treat leprosy. Since I currently serve as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy, and spend about one-third of each year on this activity, this information was very interesting to me.

The story of Thunberg is just one example of the important role that human and academic exchanges have played in the history between our two countries. And beyond its influence on Japan, Uppsala University has had a global impact by producing individuals who have contributed to peace and development in different parts of the world.

I understand that Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, was a graduate of Uppsala. He demonstrated outstanding leadership in implementing peace-keeping operations and in mediating improved relations between Israel and the Arab world. It is my hope that Sylff Fellows from Uppsala University will likewise have the vision and energy to meet head-on the various problems that face international society. I also hope that the Fellows will be able to transcend national, religious, ethnic and cultural differences and lead the world to peace and prosperity.

However, the value system that has been in place up to now is no longer capable of dealing with the various events and global problems we face today.

There is a growing sense of uncertainty in the world. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we have seen war in the Middle East, disputes over natural resources, a growing gap between rich and poor, a looming environmental crisis caused by global warming, and depletion of energy supplies. In the face of these challenges, finding a solution is beyond the capacity of one person, no matter how great his or her leadership skills.

In these changing times, it is not clear where we are headed. But that is all the more reason to transcend the current international framework and find ways to cooperate. We must also ask what each of us has to contribute.

I believe that the problems facing the human race, which are of a global nature, can be solved by a partnership of people who are tenacious, committed, and caring.

In that regard, we are indeed fortunate that there is a network of over 10,000 Sylff Fellows throughout the world.

The Sylff Fellows from Uppsala University, who are already blessed with leadership potential, are at the heart of this network. By bringing your knowledge and experience to bear on the common problems that confront us, I believe you will help to move the world in the right direction.

Whatever the era, the younger generation is always at the heart of change. Although it might be easier to walk the path of those who have gone before you, drawing on their knowledge and experience, I urge you to go forward without fear and build your own roads to the future. My main duty is to create the stage upon which people such as you Sylff Fellows can be of service to others and to help you build a human network not just among yourselves but beyond Sylff.

In conclusion, I would once again like to thank Vice Chancellor Hallberg and all at Uppsala University, as well as the Fellows, for your dedicated efforts. You are responsible for the successes of Sylff to date.