Global Leaders Discuss Complex Challenges During Annual Columbia Forum

Sept. 28, 2010Bookmark and Share
From Sept. 15-24, heads of state and diplomats representing ten countries and the European Union visited the Morningside campus to discuss some of the world’s most pressing challenges during Columbia's annual World Leaders Forum.
Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan (Image credit: Eileen Barroso/Columbia University)“Challenges of the Drylands,” co-hosted by The Earth Institute. Pictured here: Siba Rukikare, Drylands Program in Uganda; Belay Begashaw, MDG Centre; and Upmanu Lall, Columbia Water Center.José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, on issues facing the European Union, Sept 21. Co-hosted by the Alliance Program and the School of International and Public Affairs.José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime minister of Spain, on “The New Economic Order and the Millennium Development Goals,” Sept. 21Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, on “The Current Global Environment and Its Impact in Africa,” Sept. 22. Co-hosted by Columbia’s Committee on Global Thought.José Manuel Ramos-Horta, president of Timor-Leste, co-hosted by The Earth Institute, the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity, and the Vale Columbia Center.José Sócrates, prime minister of Portugal, on "Energy Policy and the Portuguese New Growth Agenda," Sept. 23. Co-hosted by the School of International and Public Affairs.Ivo Josipović, president of the Republic of Croatia, on “Transitional Justice: Croatian and International Response to War Crimes,” Sept. 24. Co-hosted by the Harriman Institute.Abdullah Gül, president of Turkey, on “What Next? Turkey's Global Vision for a Prosperous Future,” Sept. 24. Co-hosted by the School of International and Public Affairs.

Click on the photo to view a slideshow of 2010 World Leaders Forum guests. slideshow

University President Lee C. Bollinger established the World Leaders Forum in 2003 to advance lively, uninhibited dialogue on the large economic, political and social questions of our time. The opening of the forum traditionally coincides with the fall U.N. General Assembly session in New York City.

Leaders visiting Columbia during the week of Sept. 20 included José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, prime minister of Spain; José Sócrates, prime minister of Portugal; Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia; José Manuel Ramos-Horta, president of Timor-Leste; and Ivo Josipović, president of the Republic of Croatia.

Beginning this year’s series on Sept. 15, Jigmi Y. Thinley, prime minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, spoke about his nation’s unusual and complex system of measuring gross national happiness as an alternative to gross national product, or GNP, the common economic indicator that measures the sum of all goods and services produced by a nation. Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom of about 700,000 nestled in the Himalayas between China and India.

Thinley said gross national happiness is based on the belief that the purpose of development and the role of the state is to create a place where people can pursue what they aspire to most in life. “It is a holistic development paradigm to make human society resilient,” said Thinley. “We are the only country so far that promotes happiness through deliberate public policy and action.”

On Sept. 20, a special World Leaders Forum event co-hosted by the University’s Earth Institute, welcomed East African officials representing Djibouti, Somalia and Uganda, who joined Columbia faculty to discuss the little-known, but complex challenge of drylands—areas marked by parched soil and extremely limited rainfall.

On Sept. 21, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission (the executive body of the European Union), said Europe and the United States must cooperate to solve problems like the recent global financial crisis, which are characteristic of an increasingly interdependent world. “No country, no matter how powerful it may be, not even the United States, is able to tackle the challenges of the 21st century on its own,” he said. “We either stand together and prosper, or we fall separately.”

The week’s final speaker, Turkish President Abdullah Gül, sounded themes that served as an effective summation to the remarks delivered by foreign heads of state throughout the World Leaders Forum. President Gül urged the adoption of a new language for describing international relations, arguing that talk between wealthy and developing nations, or the North and the South, has become outdated and unhelpful. He prefaced these comments with reminders of Turkey’s importance on the world stage, citing its geopolitical significance, fast-growing economy, and recent turn as host of the World Basketball Championships.