From humble beginnings to UN Secretary General | Sustainable Development Goals and Global Citizenship as a worldwide mission | Appeal to youth and universities
Childhood and youth in the simplest of circumstances
Born in 1944 into the simplest of circumstances in the Korean town of Eumseong and raised by his mother, who was not even allowed to attend school, Ban Ki-moon experienced the cruel hardships of the Korean War. These formative experiences set him on a path marked by humility, renunciation, education and dedication to fellow human beings.
After studying at Seoul National University, which was made possible by his scholastic achievements, and subsequently at Harvard University (as the only South Korean of his class), Ban Ki-moon entered the diplomatic service and served his homeland in positions of responsibility before being appointed Foreign Minister of South Korea from 2004 to 2006.
Top positions in diplomacy
But his greatest impact was yet to come. In 2007, he was appointed the eighth secretary-general of the United Nations, a position he held until 2016.
During his tenure as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon championed climate change, sustainable development and, in particular, the long-neglected issue of women’s empowerment. He created UN Women to strengthen the position of women and promoted initiatives such as the Global Education First Initiative to promote education, especially for children in disadvantaged regions and for women worldwide.
He will also be permanently remembered for his efforts on the groundbreaking Paris Climate Agreement, and it was under his leadership that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda were created.
Sustainability in the broad sense as a personal legacy
Asked whether his everyday life in retirement has now become quieter, the South Korean puts on a mischievous smile: “Look, while I used to wear just one hat, I now wear ten hats.” Question thus impressively answered.
Ban Ki-moon currently serves as co-president of the Vienna-based Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, which empowers youth and women to become active global citizens for a sustainable future, understanding sustainability in a broad sense and not pitting one against the other (e.g., climate protection, security, intergenerational justice, economic efficiency…). In addition, he currently holds more than 20 responsible offices, including, for example, the presidency of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) as well as the chairmanship of the Global Commission on Adaptation, the Ethics Committee of the International Olympic Committee and the BOAO Forum in Asia.
Principles of a true leader
The question of which principles have shaped Ban Ki-moon’s life and work is quickly answered: Openness. Modesty. Passion. Selflessness. The service to the community that results from these principles and an unwavering commitment to peace have always been Bank Ki-moon’s top priorities. He believes in the power of cooperation and the need for the voices of the younger generation to be heard. At the same time, he urges young people never to lose heart, to challenge the political elite even more, but also to be committed themselves to the principles expected of others.
Ban Ki-moon sees the fact that for most politicians’ national interests override global sustainability requirements as the main reason why most SDGs cannot be achieved or can only be achieved with delay. In this context, he would like his successor António Guterres to be even more active in driving forward the necessary reforms within the United Nations, knowing the hurdles and resistance to which he is exposed as Secretary-General in the game of global politics.
After this livetalk, one thing is clear:
Ban Ki-moon’s journey from Eumseong to the United Nations is an inspiring example of how commitment, vision and tireless work can bring about positive change in the world. This year’s guest lecture by Ban Ki-moon is one in a series of annual guest lectures given by the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations at the Entrepreneurial School®. A personal visit by Ban Ki-moon with an on-campus lecture at MCI is planned for next year