Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona delivers the key note address at the J. Luce Foundation Annual Luce Leadership Awards: “It takes a Team to Support Young Global Leadership”

H.E. Dr. Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, gave the key note address at this year’s J. Luce Foundation Luce Leadership Awards on 27th January, 2014.  The Ambassador speaking on the theme “It takes a Team to Support Young Global Leadership” said that the challenges and opportunities faced by today’s youth were complex, and emphasized the importance of active youth participation in formatting the post 2015 development agenda.
Dr. Kohona stressed the significance of education in his address, and highlighted Sri Lanka’s success in the field of education. Today, Sri Lanka enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the developing world and is placed high in the UNDP Human Development Index. He also shared Sri Lanka’s belief that education promotes creativity, innovation, mutual respect, and understanding. “Sri Lanka has a policy of integrating youth participation and mainstreaming youth perspectives in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.
The Ambassador told the audience that Sri Lanka will be hosting the World Conference on Youth in 2014 (WCY 2014), and invited them to participate in the WCY 2014 that will produce a “Colombo Youth Declaration”. The Colombo Youth declaration is expected to serve as a guide for global policy makers on youth matters in the years to come.


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Keynote Address
Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York
Annual Luce Leadership Awards
“It takes a Team to Support Young Global Leadership”
27th January 2014 

I thank the James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation for inviting me to address the Annual Awards Ceremony of the Foundation. It is indeed a great pleasure to share some of my thoughts on the importance of education, as well as the challenges and opportunities confronting youth, and the young.
1.8 billion of the global population are youth and the vast majority of them are from the developing world. They must be central to our thoughts as we develop policies affecting  the future, especially on education. Youth education is a critical issue, in particular to developing countries. At Rio +20 in 2012,  world leaders agreed on the document “The World We Want”. The Millennium Development Goals have as their target, the year 2015. It would be impossible to discuss any follow-up to Rio+20 and the Post 2015 Development Agenda without taking into account the needs, the aspirations and the challenges of the young, and education is central to such a discussion. 

The youth of today live in a complex and difficult world. They need to secure employment for themselves and, additionally, make provision for a rapidly ageing population. In the past, the aging population did not pose the same challenge. This phenomenon is a massive test for all our economies, especially developing country economies. Furthermore, women will be the major segment of the ageing population. For reasons which have been explained in many ways, employment will not be a readily available option for all the youth of today. These challenges of youth on the one hand and the ageing population on the other, must necessarily focus our attention on the importance of education.

Professional basketball player, Olympic athlete, businessperson, actor, born in Brooklyn, New York, considered to be one of the best basketball players ever, Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” I think this quote encapsulates today's theme "It takes a team to support young global leadership". Certainly it embraces the provision of education services which must be intelligently provided.
When we talk about empowering young leaders, education, formal or informal, undoubtedly plays an important role.  In our knowledge-based world, appropriate education is the single best investment countries can make towards building prosperous, healthy and equitable societies. It helps to unleash the optimal potential in people, and improve individual livelihoods and those of future generations. And it must be a service that must be provided through an intelligent, team based network.

I would like to share some UNESCO statistics, which underline the importance of education.
-    In terms of income and growth, if all children in low-income countries acquired basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, the equivalent of a 12% cut in world poverty.

-    In terms of health, in sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 1.8 million children's lives could be saved if their mothers had at least secondary education. Educated mothers also ensure that their children receive education.

-    When it comes to peace and democracy, if the enrollment rate for secondary schooling is 10 percentage points higher than the global average, the risk of war could be reduced by about 3 percentage points.

While we mull these figures, 57 million children are deprived of primary education at this moment. Millions of children who start primary school are unable to complete their studies and still more miss out on secondary schooling. Today, some 71 million adolescents, in low-income countries, receive no post-primary education.

Unaffordable costs, shortages of schools and at times, teachers, humanitarian emergencies, especially conflict, hunger and poor nutrition, gender discrimination, anachronistic practices such as child marriage, early pregnancy, and expectations related to domestic labor are some barriers that hinder school enrolment and completion. If we are to address all these issues effectively, the international community, policy makers and, importantly, youth, must all be involved in fashioning solutions.

Formal education must open pathways of creativity and innovation. As we all know, too often it does not. With more than 1.8 billion young people in the world today, our youth have the potential to make a transformative impact on history. Yet, in many countries, education systems have not been geared to confront the challenges posed by the 21st century’s knowledge-based economic developments.  There is a mismatch between the competencies needed in today’s world and those acquired through the current education system. Too often technical and vocational education is specific and narrow, thus limiting employment opportunities as skills become quickly obsolete in a dynamic and rapidly changing world. Governments and educational institutions, in cooperation with regional and international organizations, could establish or enhance vocational and technical training relevant to current and prospective employment conditions. Youth must be given the opportunity to access vocational and professional training and apprenticeship programmes that help them acquire entry-level employment,  with growth opportunities, and the ability to adjust to changes in the job market.

Even with many economic challenges, successive governments of Sri Lanka, since the 1940s, treated education as a critically important issue. All Sri Lankan children enjoy free education today. Even after several reforms in the education system, free access to schools and universities remains a cornerstone of government policy. Education is free and state funded from primary to university levels. We enjoy one of the highest literacy rates in the developing world and are placed high in the UNDP Human Development Index.

I'm pleased to state that Sri Lanka has integrated vocational education into the school curriculum last year. Consequently many students have begun to enroll in these programmes with a view to securing quality employment. Young women have also increasingly accessed professions, which have previously been the domain of men. Sri Lanka is now planning to propose the declaration of a dedicated Day for Skills Development under the auspices of the United Nations.
Sri Lanka takes the view that youth can be the messengers of better practices to  children, the future of the world. Their innovation and creativity is vital for exploring new knowledge for preparing the entire world for tomorrow. Entrepreneurial youth in both developing and developed countries have actively contributed in the fields of green energy, ICT and media. Innovative ICT is largely the domain of the youth. Much of today’s ICT innovation come from youth – not ageing men and women.  Just think of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Coming from a country which suffered from a  thirty year long armed conflict, I would like to emphasize the importance of promoting mutual respect and understanding and the ideals of peace, solidarity and tolerance among the young through education. Programmes aimed at inculcating tolerance, peacemaking and conflict resolution should be encouraged in schools at all levels. Children and youth should be informed of the differences in their own societies and given opportunities to learn about different cultures as well as understanding and mutual respect for cultural and religious diversity. Education should promote and strengthen respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and enhance the values of peace, solidarity, tolerance, responsibility and respect for  diversity and the rights of others.

As the number of youth grows, policy makers, national leaders and the global community are confronted by significant challenges.  We must therefore listen to the voices of the youth, at national, regional and international levels as we make policy, as we implement our plans. Their input becomes essential in this area. Sri Lanka, along with India and Pakistan, is actively engaged in developing the sustainable development goals within the UN system for the post-2015 period. We have identified education as an enabler for promoting global sustainability, including addressing the issues of climate change, sustainable consumption and production, the ocean, water and sanitation, among many other pressing global issues. Only a synergetic approach with the active engagement of youth would enable us to realize those goals.

Sri Lanka has a definite policy of integrating youth participation and mainstreaming youth perspectives in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We will be hosting the World Conference on Youth in 2014 from 6 – 10 May. We expect over 2,000 delegates from all over the world. The Conference will focus on a wide range of themes, including education, employment, entrepreneurship, technology and sustainable development, with the support of the UN and other multilateral organizations as well as global and regional youth-led organizations. The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth is actively engaged with us.
The WCY 2014 will indeed be a team effort that justifies the theme of this event.  "It takes a team to support young global leadership". The initiative is driven by a young team with representatives from different regions of the world and different specialties. I invite you to actively engage in this exercise which will result in a “Colombo Youth Declaration”, serving as guidelines for global policy makers.

I would like to end my comments with a quotation from the late Nelson Mandela. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

I thank you.

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