World Fellows 20th Anniversary Reunion

Emma Sky

October 14, 2022


Fellows, friends

As I said this afternoon, it is so wonderful to see you all – and to see so many of you here.

Over 170 of you – from a hundred or so countries. You have come from as far away as Australia, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Argentina….That is amazing.

It is a great honor to direct this program. And we wouldn’t be here without the generosity, support and work of all of you, our previous directors, our wonderful funders and the Yale Faculty. I want to recognize those who created and supported the program over the past 20 years:

  • Presidents Rick Levin and Peter Salovey
  • Our funders: Maurice Greenberg and Florence Davis (Starr Foundation)
  • Former Directors – Michael Cappello & Dan Esty
  • Jim Levinsohn, Dean of the Jackson School
  • Program Staff: Tim Stumph, Holly Salter, Alice Kustenbauder as well as former team members who are with us this evening – Valerie Belanger, Daniel Juarez, Anita Sharif-Hyder and Emily Smith

Please give them a round of applause.

I am so proud of who World Fellows are as people, and what you do in the world to address the key challenges of our times.

The first generation of World Fellows came of age at the end of the Cold War. Liberal democracy and free market capitalism were seen to have defeated communism.

Francis Fukuyama famously declared it was the End of History. It was democracy from here on out.

It was such a hopeful time.

Democracy was on the march. We saw the third wave of democracy sweep across Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

There was optimism that intractable conflicts could be solved. We saw the launch of the Middle East Peace Process, and the Oslo Accords. We saw Nelson Mandela released from jail and the end of Apartheid. We saw the Troubles in Northern Ireland brought to an end with the Good Friday Agreement.

The EU enlarged, integrating the countries of the former Soviet Union, promoting peace through economic integration.

NATO expanded, integrating countries of Eastern Europe into the security community that had developed in Western Europe during the Cold War.

It was an era that saw the growth of the United Nations, the deployment of peace keeping forces, the creation of the International Criminal Court, and a new norm of Responsibility to Protect to hold dictators to account for killing their people.

It was the peak of American power.

The second generation of World Fellows came of age after 9/11.

This was the era of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and unsuccessful attempts to impose democracy.

It was the era of obsession with terrorism, of the Global War of Terror – and of human rights violations. It was a fearful era when freedoms were curtailed.

The Arab Spring brought hope to a deeply troubled region – but regimes proved incapable of reform. They countered or collapsed. Civil wars raged in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Russia reemerged as a power in the Middle East.

Over a million refugees crossed the Mediterranean on flimsy boats seeking safety in Europe. ISIS conducted terrorist attacks in European cities. All this had a profound impact on European politics, leading to the rise of far-right anti-immigration parties – and Brexit.

It was also the era of the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the Washington Consensus. The backlash against globalization commenced.

Democracies began backsliding. Backsliding in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe. Authoritarianism was on the rise. Nationalism was rising.

Populism, Polarization and Post-truth defined the times, enabled by social media and new technologies – and epitomized by the election of Donald Trump.

Sharper than American decline has been the rise of China, turbo charged by state capitalism, and tightly controlled by the Communist Party – a model that appeals to authoritarians around the world.

Not even the global COVID pandemic could bring the world together in a unified response.

The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and handing back the country to the Taliban, was the final nail in the coffin of America’s unipolar moment. It was the end of the End of History.

Today’s generation of World Fellows live in a world defined by the Return of History.

In February this year, China and Russia signed a joint communique declaring a “no limits” partnership and setting out their manifesto for their global leadership of the international system.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February this year marks a turning point. It showed that history had not ended.

What is happening in Ukraine is horrific.

The war woke up the West – and unified it. America is leading the response to Putin’s aggression – imposing sanctions and supplying weapons.

The West-leaning camp accounts for 70% of the world’s GDP – but only 36% of the world’s population.

Around two thirds of the world’s population live in countries that are neutral or lean towards Russia. China has not condemned the invasion. Some developing countries default to neutrality – they don’t want to pick sides.

All parts of the world are affected by this war. We have energy crises. We have food crises. We have humanitarian disasters.

We don’t know how long this war will last – and we don’t know to what degree it will escalate.

And we see other warning signs: tensions over Taiwan; North Korea’s ballistic missile tests; oil used as a weapon…Global recession.

Everything has become weaponised: energy, trade, information, migration…

It is a perfect storm. And some mornings I wake up fearing we are sleepwalking into WWIII.

We are certainly at an inflection point.

1945, 1989, and now 2022. The winds of change are blowing again.

Listen, on this glory night.

The future is in the air.

The Ukrainian people are sharing their dream, their conviction, that freedom is worth fighting for.

And while the bombs are still exploding and the bullets still flying, let us dare to imagine a better world.

Let’s build a vision of a better order, one fit for the 21st century – a new international order that reflects our common humanity, and in which every country makes a meaningful contribution.

The leadership we need to drive global processes, reform institutions, and set new norms, will emerge when we devise a new language of solidarity, a new internationalism.

In our 21st century, power no longer rests simply in nation states. It is diffused and networks are transnational. So we need to incentivize cooperation and collaboration – between people, communities, civil society, private sector, and governments.

Let’s create an operating system for this century, the digital age.

In this new order of ours let the competitive nature of humans and states be harnessed to save the planet, prevent pandemics, eradicate poverty.

Those countries that contributed the least to global warming are suffering the most. Let richer countries invest in financial instruments to support clean energy initiatives in Africa and Asia, to build climate resilience, to support adaptation.

Let’s measure economic systems by human well-being rather than simply growth, which too often comes at the expense of people and our planet.

Let’s upgrade our international refugee regime to include those forced from their homes due to climate change and not just persecution; and to enable refugees to contribute to their full potential in their new communities.

And while we work to build a better international order, we also need to work at improving governance at home.

No better idea than liberal democracy as a system of government has come along. It has done more to enable human flourishing and innovation than other systems. Repressive regimes, surveillance states, do not offer an attractive counter model. For anyone who might doubt this, try living under a totalitarian regime.

Let’s make our democracies work. Democracy has a flexibility and capacity for reinvention. Let’s work to renew the social contract between people and governments. Let’s really combat corruption – and hold leaders to account. Let’s explore business models for news, advertising, and tech organizations that incentivize democracy – rather than promoting polarization and the spread of (mis)information.

We have a panel tomorrow on democracy. And on the panel is Laura Alonso, an Argentinian politician,  Evan Mawarire, Pastor E, who led a social movement in Zimbabwe, and Belabbes Benkredda, BB, who runs an organization that promotes informed debate and free speech in the Arab world, and Stephanie Busari, CNN’s senior editor for Africa.

Democracy is promise. Democracy is hope.

In democracies, people have the power. The power to vote out governments that do not serve the people.

Amandla – Awethu – proclaimed from the streets of Soweto and echoed in student campuses around the world.

People have the power.

Democracy as an idea may be shaken. So it’s up to us to stir it. Because for all the flaws in the way that it is implemented, democracy embodies values of liberty, openness, the rule of law, freedom of expression and human rights. Values that all human beings hold dear.

We can’t protect our way of life unless we are strong enough to deter or defeat those who oppose us.

Let us harness the technology revolution for good. It’s changing the world. It is disrupting everything – including the way government works. It is the 21st-century equivalent of the 19th-century industrial revolution. It is the key to raising living standards, to improving services, to promoting renewable energies. We need to grasp its full potential to do good – and mitigate against the bad.

Tomorrow, we will get the chance to hear from Belva Devara about his netflix for education which is providing top quality online schooling to 35m students across Indonesia and beyond who cannot afford a good education. And Sasha Brown and Kirsten Rulf will speak on emerging tech.

We will hear from James Mwangi on how to get to net-zero – and how Africa can remove carbon from the atmosphere for the whole world. Africa – a continent whose population will double in the next 30 years as China’s declines. James was recently awarded the 2022 Climate Breakthrough Award that goes to extraordinary changemakers to pursue their most ambitious and innovative climate change mitigation ideas that have the potential to transform entire countries and materially change the lives of millions of people. Well done, James.

We are in a period of radical uncertainty. The speed and scope of change is extraordinary.

We can’t build a better world – and protect our values – unless we have a strategy that is pursued with competence and conviction.

World Fellows have the brains and knowledge. World Fellows have the expertise and skills. World Fellows understand how everything is connected.

World Fellows have the networks: you know how to design, build, and manage networks.

Last summer, World Fellows mobilized to help our Afghan fellows and their families get out of Kabul as the Taliban took over the country once more. Afghan fellows please raise your hands. It is great to see Aziz Royesh, Musa Mahmodi and Habib Ur Rahman. Let’s raise a toast to them. To the Afghans!

Our Ukrainian fellows are in our hearts and thoughts. Two of them are with us this evening. Please put up your hands. Olena Sotnyk, Taras Shevchenko, Ihor Shevchenko.

Let us raise a toast to them. In solidarity with the Ukrainian people, when I say Slava Ukraini, you respond heroiam slava. Slava Ukraini!

Some fellows cannot be with us this evening. They are in jail, locked up for daring to promote democracy and free speech.

  • Alexey Navalny (2010) in Russia
  • Hakan Altinay (2009) in Turkey
  • Felix Maradiaga (2008) in Nicaragua.

Please join me in a toast to our prisoners of conscience. To our heroes!

We don’t choose where we are born – or what circumstances we are born into. But we do choose how we live.

We should not let the past define us – but let it drive us to make a better future.

We should not let cynicism weaken our resolve for action. Each day we can make the world a bit better by what we do.

We should not be ashamed to love our countries for what is best about them.

We should look for the best in other cultures – and other people.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Be afraid of not trying. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Dare to. Be brave. Be bold. Be resilient.

So finally let us raise a toast to you all, to World Fellows. World Fellows!

World Fellows forever! Thank you all.