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

Helsinki, Finland

Chancellor Ikka Niiniluoto, Rector Thomas Wilhelmsson, Your Excellency Mr. Hiroshi Maruyama, members of the Sylff steering committee, Sylff fellows, and my dear friend, Professor Vihko,

I am delighted to be here to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Sylff Fellowship Fund here at the University of Helsinki.

First of all, I would like to convey my deep gratitude on behalf of the people of Japan for all of your heartfelt sympathy and support toward the victims of the tsunami and earthquake that devastated northern Japan on March 11. Thanks to your warm support, and support from people around the world, northern Japan is quickly getting back on the road to recovery and the people are making every effort to get back on their feet.

The Sylff Fellowship Fund is a joint effort of three parties: The Nippon Foundation, which created the original fund, The Tokyo Foundation, which helps administer the program, and the Sylff universities, which run the actual fellowship programs. The University of Helsinki has brought along many brilliant fellows into the world. I would like to convey my deep appreciation to all parties who have helped to make this program a success.

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. This is a program that seeks out people who have a global mindset, who possess a strong sense of purpose, and who have the potential to become a powerful force in their various fields, such as academia, politics, business, media and civil society. 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.

To all of you fellows who are present here today, I hope that after completing your programs, 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 Helsinki 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. This 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 a 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 Junior. 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 motivate the people around you, possess clear judgment 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, with changes happening by the minute. You will be faced with problems in an environment never experienced before.
But no matter how difficult the challenge may be, I hope all of you will use your imagination and creativity to its full extent to overcome them and contribute to the betterment of society.