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

Palmerston North, New Zealand

Honorary Steve Maharey, Vice-Chancellor of Massey University, His Excellency, Mr. Hideto Mitamura, Ambassador of Japan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As you are all aware, both of our countries were struck by disastrous earthquakes this past February and March. Precious lives were lost. People’s livelihoods were destroyed, and those who survived were left scarred. I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims and deep sympathy to the survivors of the two disasters.

The earthquake that struck the Canterbury district on February 22nd destroyed the one hundred thirty year-old tower of the Christchurch cathedral. The city of Christchurch suffered from the worst recorded case of liquefaction in its history. Forty to fifty thousand homes were destroyed. In Japan, we watched in pain as news of the disaster unfolded before our eyes. But just as our hearts were going out to the people of Christchurch, our nation too was hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami. The destruction caused by the earthquake itself was terrible. However, the tsunami that followed swallowed up people, homes and large buildings in a matter of seconds. In some cases, it utterly leveled entire villages. When I visited a town that had been struck by a thirty-nine meter wave, I was lost for words. There was nothing left of the town as it was before the tsunami. Instead, I found large ships up on land, resting among the rubble.

The experience reconfirmed my fears of the immense power of nature, and I was overcome with sadness for all those who had to experience the ordeal. The March eleventh earthquake claimed nearly twenty-four thousand lives and close to nine thousand people are still missing. Of those who managed to survive, most lost their families, friends, homes and assets. The cruel reality they face has weakened both their minds and souls. Since the quake, generous aid has been pouring into Japan from all over the world for the relief efforts in the affected areas. In particular, the New Zealand government and her people were one of the fastest to respond. Although it had only been a little over two weeks since your country was devastated by a massive quake, your government, and many citizens, expressed their support for Japan.

Within forty-eight hours of the disaster, a New Zealand rescue squad arrived in the disaster zone. Although transportation routes were still cut off and the area continued to suffer from aftershocks, the squad started rescue efforts. I cannot tell you how deeply the people of Japan were encouraged by the friendship and compassion of the New Zealand squad.

It has been 20 years since Sylff was established at Massey University. Today, I am delighted to be here in the presence of Vice Chancellor, the Honorable Steve Maharey, the members of the Sylff steering committee, and the Sylff fellows themselves. This program has been possible with the cooperative efforts of three parties: The Nippon Foundation, which created the original fund, the Tokyo Foundation, which manages the fund, and the Sylff universities, which run the actual fellowship programs. Here in New Zealand, thanks to the tireless effort of Massey University, we have been able to send many brilliant fellows out into the world. I would like to convey my deepest appreciation to all parties for their relentless effort and dedication.

The mission of the Sylff program is to nurture dedicated young leaders who can face up to global challenges and devise workable solutions for them. It is a program that seeks out people who see the world from a global point of view, who possess a strong sense of purpose, and have the potential to become a powerful force in their various fields. The program provides the necessary knowledge, skill and experience so that they may one day become leaders of their community and the global society at large.

Therefore, once all of you fellows finish your programs, I am hoping you will move forward to tackle the social problems around you, and demonstrate the leadership needed to better our society. And when you exercise your leadership, I ask that you set a goal that is bigger than yourself; in other words, your goal must be to achieve a higher cause. No matter how unattainable your goal may seem, the important thing is that you push yourself to attain it.

In the more than twenty years since the founding of Sylff, I have met a great many fellows who are applying their specialization and talents to lead society forward for some higher cause. Since this year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Sylff at Massey University, I would like to take this opportunity to revisit the notion of what it is that Sylff fellows should aim for as leaders.

To start off, I would like to share with you three Sylff fellows who are exercising strong leadership to tackle challenging social issues.

In the early 1990s, the breakup of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into Serbia and Montenegro resulted in political confusion, causing hyperinflation and a major blow to the nation’s economy. At that time, Dr. Dejan Soskic was a Sylff fellow studying at Belgrade University. Years after his fellowship, in July 2010, he was appointed by the national government as the president of the Serbian Central Bank. In this capacity, Dr. Soskic is now working on such national financial issues as stabilizing prices and the Serbian Dinar.

There are Sylff fellows who are exercising leadership in NGOs as well. In the late 1990s, in DR Congo, the government and anti-government forces began a civil war, which continues today. Since governmental peacekeeping bodies were not functioning, some of the areas outside the conflict zones were without proper rule of law. During this period, Father Rigobert Minani-Bihuzo was a Sylff fellow studying at the Institute of Political Education Pedro Arrupe in Italy. His strong desire to alleviate this situation drove him to later create the NGO, Groupe Jeremie. The NGO is currently working in DR Congo to promote democracy.

Even after entering the new millennium, the program has continued to generate effective leaders. After the breakdown of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority in the year 2000, the situation there became extremely chaotic, as both sides engaged in violent suicide bombings. Amal Jadou, a Sylff fellow who was studying at Tufts University in the United States at the time now works as deputy chief of the PLO Mission in Washington D.C., serving on the front lines of Palestinian diplomacy.

It gives me great joy to know that the Sylff program has successfully generated strong leaders like these three people, who are striving for a higher cause. Since I have been given this opportunity to speak, I would like to share with you 3 qualities that I have found to be key traits that make a trusted leader.

The first quality that I would like to touch upon is the ability to sort out and analyze the necessary information to make appropriate decisions. As I hinted, working for a higher cause often involves working in an extremely volatile and complex environment. In order to solve such difficult challenges, a leader must not only collect information and knowledge from various sources, but be able to maintain enough distance from things and people to analyze the information and ascertain the proper timing and situation in order to pass calm judgments on the appropriate course of action and strategy.

The second is the ability to raise and maintain the motivation of the people they work with. When working to achieve a higher cause, you will need to work with a team that is highly motivated, as this will serve as a powerful source for action. In difficult times, a leader must encourage their members, and make sure that the motivation of the entire team does not fall.

The third quality that is important for a trusted leader is the strong sense of will and personal commitment. One must be prepared to dedicate one’s life to achieve a higher cause, no matter how difficult or unattainable it may seem. The person that comes to my mind who most holds this quality is Martin Luther King, Jr. King was a remarkable leader who led the civil rights movement in the United States of America in the 1950s and 60s, when racial discrimination was severe. Justice, his higher cause, pushed him to pursue a movement of nonviolence, to end racial discrimination. His commitment was such that he placed himself in harm’s way to fulfill this mission, winning people’s trust and bringing together an army of people. His dedication left a profound impression on many and continues to impact society today.

In pushing forward toward a better society, you must possess clear judgment, motivate the people around you, and work with a strong feeling of personal commitment. This is the basis upon which Sylff fellows are leading their teams to tackle the world’s problems.

In addition, if I may speak from experience, I believe the ability to think outside the box is another important quality to have, if you are to take leadership in an increasingly fast paced, globally connected world. The world today is in constant motion, and changes at a dizzying pace. You will have to solve difficult problems in an environment you have never experienced before. In these circumstances, we need innovative leaders who are able to use their imagination and creativity to its full extent in order to find solutions to difficult problems and contribute to the betterment of society.

In conclusion, while New Zealand and Japan are separated by geographical distance, our two nations are connected through the 44 sister city relationships, through sports, home-stays and the hundreds of different kinds of exchange programs. Each year, many Japanese students travel to New Zealand to study. And I believe that New Zealand is the destination for many of our young students because of the very good relationship that our two governments have maintained. As a Japanese, I can think of no greater joy than if our two nations could work together for an even better and deeper friendship.

In closing, I would like to convey my deepest appreciation to His Excellency, Mr. Hideto Mitamura for his attendance to this ceremony.

Thank you.