20th Anniversary of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund program at Jagiellonian University
It is a great honor to be given this opportunity to be with you here today for the 20th anniversary of the Sylff Fellowship Fund at Jagiellonian University. I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to everyone who has given so much time and energy to administer the program – especially Rector Wojciech Nowak, Vice-Rector for Educational Affairs Andrzej Mania, the Sylff steering committee, and all program fellows.
In recent years, rapid globalization has given rise to diverse problems around the world: outbreaks of ethnic and religious strife, deterioration of the natural environment, and widening inequality, to name but a few. Since its founding, Sylff’s mission has been to nurture leaders who can address increasingly complex global issues such as these and who are able to take swift, bold action and devise solutions for the betterment of society. Leaders who contribute to the peace and well-being of all humankind. Leaders who transcend differences in nationality, language, race, religion or political system.
The program was inaugurated in 1987. In the 25 years since then, it has grown into a large network that today links 69 leading universities in 44 countries. The program is carried out jointly by three parties: The Nippon Foundation, which provides financial support; the Tokyo Foundation, which manages Sylff on a global scale; and the universities that administer the actual fellowships. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Sylff member schools, to date more than 13,000 fellows have completed the program and have been sent out into the world.
Here in Poland, Sylff has produced about 220 outstanding fellows, and I wish to express my heartfelt admiration and respect to everyone whose efforts have made this possible.
Many of your predecessors are already undertaking a variety of activities to make society better. For example, former Sylff fellows from this university have created JUSFA – the Jagiellonian University Sylff Fellows Association. JUSFA organizes seminars and workshops on human rights in developing countries and on various problems faced by the global community, as well as working with NGOs on solving social issues. It makes me truly happy to see how these former fellows all share Sylff’s principles and exercise leadership in resolving global issues.
Through the years I have been blessed with opportunities to meet many leaders in positions to impact society – including Sylff fellows who have taken up important posts in governments and international organizations. Today I would like to share with you what I personally admire about their leadership and commitment.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, our world is beset by problems of global scale.
Problems such as environmental issues.
Widening economic gaps.
Conflict based on faith or ethnicity.
As globalization has advanced, these issues are being found everywhere around the world.
The tendency is for people from varying regions, locales, societies, cultures and disciplines to face many common issues.
One result has been the increase of simplistic attempts to apply solutions that succeeded elsewhere to the resolution of similar local issues. Unfortunately, such attempts often result in failure.
The reality is that issues which may seem similar on the surface are often very unique in nature, because of the circumstances that surround them.
A solution that succeeded in one situation cannot simply be transplanted, as it is, into another.
Such precedents definitely could be used as reference points. But due consideration must always be paid to the relevance of such precedents to the specific needs at hand.
As Sylff fellows, you have all mastered the knowledge specific to your fields. Going forward, I am sure that you will continue your studies, deepening your expertise and addressing diverse social issues in the future.
However, it is seldom enough to make judgments solely on the basis of expert knowledge. If you limit yourself to the things you already know, or rely on general theory, it will be very difficult to devise successful solutions.
I therefore urge you all to make every effort to study the history, customs, religions and other aspects of the places where the problems exist, to deepen your knowledge of others’ cultures and traditions, and to listen to what the people themselves have to say. In this way you can obtain an accurate understanding of the situation.
The outstanding leaders I have encountered have been individuals who approach issues from a variety of perspectives, who use their accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom, and who are fully committed to finding solutions that are tailored to the surrounding situation. This is the kind of leader I would like you to become.
In striving to resolve problems, cooperation among all stakeholders is indispensable. However, when stakeholders from different sectors gather together, it usually becomes clear that they all have different standpoints. They have their own interests and their own agenda and their own audience to serve. Sometimes they represent conflicting positions. As a result, they cannot collaborate well, and problems can even deteriorate into chaos.
There will be times when your views will not be accepted and will be criticized. But even at times like these, I hope you will never let your determination slip, that you will listen closely to the opinions of others, and that you will persevere in maintaining a dialogue. Criticism, in fact, should be received in a positive light, for it can make you reflect on your methods. This, in turn, can bring you new realizations.
There is no doubt that every stakeholder you meet shares the desire to contribute to society. I hope you will thoroughly discuss whatever issues you are approaching with all stakeholders and only then pursue the best strategies for resolving them.
In your position as Sylff fellows, I sincerely hope that you will proceed forward, with strong determination, and address the diverse issues awaiting you, creating a better society in the future.
In closing, I would like to again thank Rector Nowak and all the faculty and staff at Jagiellonian University for the dedication that has brought about such significant achievement and progress for the Sylff program. I wish you continued success in your noble endeavors.
Thank you for your kind attention.