Statement by ITC Executive Director at the Graduation Ceremony of University of Geneva (en)

30 junio 2014
ITC Noticias

Delivered on 28 June 2014 at the Graduation ceremony of University of Geneva, Switzerland


It is a great pleasure for me to speak at the 2014 Graduation Ceremony of the International University in Geneva and to receive an Honorary Degree from this great institution. An institution which works very closely with the International Trade Centre in ensuring trade impact for good.

Congratulations! A year of hard work is now behind you. And you have made it to the finish line.

Today you will start a new journey in your lives. The world and the job market you are entering is not an easy one. But it is a fascinating one full of promises and possibilities.

Forecasts are that by 2030 there will be an estimated job deficit of around 500 million as youth demography, especially in the developing countries, continues to expand. This is an imposing figure. Competition looks tough. But the world of 2030 will look a lot different than the world of 2014.

Seeing you here today makes me think of my own graduation back in 1992 and how much the world has changed since. Back in 1992 there was no internet; obviously there were no smart phones or tablets; and no cloud technology to store information. The WTO had not yet been established and many of you may have not yet been born. This is not to age me of course, but rather is to show how dramatic change can be in one generation. The world can shift in astronomical ways in a short space of time.

In 2030 we may be writing with our thoughts and travelling to the far reaches of space or we may just have faster internet speed and slimmer tablets. Who can tell? Forecasts and predictions are important but certainly not absolute.

What is certain is that today you will leave here with good tools at your disposal, including an excellent education under your belt and years of experience with colleagues from all backgrounds and with different perspectives. This exposure to diversity and different points of view will hold you in good stead as you enter a job market which is more multicultural than ever before, knows no borders and where diversity and innovation are traits to be celebrated.

My first advice to you as your older “sister” is: respect diversity and search for innovative solutions. Both are two important traits that you will need to prosper in the world of tomorrow.

Another such trait is both micro and macro in view: an appreciation of our interdependence and interconnectivity.

As a human species we are only really now coming to grips with this interconnection and more importantly the interdependency of issues such as poverty and climate change, environmental and bio diversity threats; job creation, access to health and education, empowerment of women and equality for all.

More importantly, we now understand that in order to tackle these issues we need to approach solutions from a holistic perspective.

My second advice to you is do not forego your individual skills but rather blend and mix these singular approaches to allow for more comprehensive perspectives on the issues facing the global community today.

This is exactly the kind of debate that the international community is having now to define the Global Development Agenda post-2015. The International Trade Centre, the United Nations and WTO organisation which I head, is very much involved in this discourse.

Allow me to take an example which will show the two sides of ITC’s work in helping policy makers and the private sector to enjoy the opportunities provided through trade to generate grow, jobs and foster development.

Trade, especially a more open trade, can sometimes be wrongly perceived as a capitalist tool to exploit the poor and increase the bottom line of the rich. I would be the first to recognise that the free trade paradigm is not without its flaws. But what I have been pushing in the United Nations context is to have trade recognized as a ‘means of implementation’ for a sustainable future and as an important component of the global growth model.

Having spent eight years in the World Trade Organisation, I have seen how critical an open, rules based and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system is in effectively ensuring a global level playing field and helping to ensure that trade stimulates economic growth. Central to this is the fundamental role of the private sector and in particular the small and medium-sized enterprises which are the backbone of our economies.

But trade is not just a sector. It is a framework through which development and empowerment can be harnessed. And it is here that the United Nations “DNA” of the International Trade Centre is important in linking these economic concepts to development on the ground. It is about using trade as an engine for women’s economic empowerment, for youth employment and for sustainability.

This is a global effort. For it to be effective it must be based around collaboration, cooperation and mutual learning. And not just between countries and governments but also between societies and people.

This is my third message to you. Value cooperation and partnerships. Act individually but first think collectively. Understand how you can be part of a fabric that is woven using thousands of hands.

At ITC we are passionate about entrepreneurship, innovation and connection with the private sector. We believe that effective global cooperation requires concrete connections with those who are driving commerce and creating jobs and who have even greater potential to ‘give back’ to the development story. And here I am speaking of improving the dialogue and the partnership between policy makers and the private sector, with international organisations such as the ITC brokering this dialogue.

I am particularly pleased to be sharing the receipt of today’s honorary degree with Paul Polman. A gentleman who understands the need for profit but who equally understands that true profit comes from making a difference to people’s lives on the ground. Unilever’s work in ensuring sustainable livelihoods for consumers and producers along the supply chain is admirable.
It has a lot in common with the ITC.

This year the ITC celebrates its 50th anniversary. Our mandate to empower small and medium-sized enterprises to increase their competitiveness and to internationalize remains as relevant today as it was in 1964. SMEs are engines for sustainable development. They generate more than 90% of jobs in the world. Job creation is not an add-on to social goals. Without jobs and the empowerment that comes with it - especially for women- the impact of social interventions in health, education, environment and peace and security will not reach their full potential.

This is what I have seen in my recent visits to Nepal where we help manufacturing of pashminas, in Kenya, where we are empowering thousands of women through our “ethical fashion” initiative or in Liberia where we are linking farmers to markets.

Economic empowerment through jobs anchors and sustains social progress.

And as we promote trade as a tool for growth we must ensure it is supportive of the environment. Trade can cause ill effects if not properly managed. Some estimates show that trade can account for up to 30% of biodiversity loss in some countries for example, and it certainly adds to the use of fossil fuels which may have an impact on climate change. The important thing is to take action based on the evidence, and at ITC we do just that. We promote trade and economic development as a tool for growth but we have developed programmes to ensure that there is a positive relationship between trade and the environment. We are providing a free-of-charge online database which maps a vast range of private standards, including in the environmental arena, and allows suppliers to better understand and meet the different voluntary standards needed to export “green” or sustainably-produced products and services. And we are proud that Unilever has chosen us to be part of this exercise.

This is just one example on how we see inclusiveness in business. But we are doing much more in women economic empowerment, connecting poor communities with local, regional and global value chains, and developing e-solutions to reach often distant markets.

The private sector, especially the ecosystem of SMEs, can be part of the solution to the global questions that we are grappling with. Equipping them with the tools to better understand and address climate change issues, empowerment priorities especially for women, and quality and employment standards will be a collective win for business and for the global commons.

Your understanding of diversity, your exposure to different perspectives and your focus on innovation are already potentially important inputs into the world of tomorrow.

This is my final advice to you: the university which you are just leaving has empowered you to be an actor for change, not just a spectator of the change; whether in public service or in private practice, whether for small, medium or big impact, whether in academia or in civil society, use that power; make your contribution to a global good from wherever you will be. You can start today, from the convenience of your tablet, by logging to “myworld2015.org “. You can influence the global development agenda by selecting the six issues that matter most to you and your community.

Let me conclude my message with few words from a Spanish poet who spent a large part of his life questioning his journey, his purpose and defending a cause, Antonio Machado, a Sevillan author who wrote in Campos de Castilla:

“By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road
Only wakes upon the sea.
Everything passes and everything remains; but our destiny is only to pass, and open roads, open roads on the sea.”

Do not be discouraged by failure. Avoid being dazzled by success. Remember that what counts is to be part of those who opened roads on the sea.

Good luck for the future. And if you ever need to chat with someone who has gone through much of what you are and will be going through, come and visit me!

Thank you for your attention.