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Keynote address at Leading Like Mandela Leadership Development Programme launch by HE Amina Mahommed, UN Deputy Secretary General
30 November 2018, Sandton
It is a pleasure to join you today at the launch of the Leading Like Mandela initiative, providing a platform for leadership development and intergenerational dialogue on the concept of African leadership excellence. Now we must walk the talk of Madiba.
I would like to acknowledge and congratulate Ndileka Mandela for having the courage and fortitude to birth the initiative. You may be aware that a statue honouring him was unveiled at United Nations Headquarters in September, depicting him in a signature pose, with arms raised and hands outstretched. His statue gives us a reminder of the values he lived by and inspired the world.
As we mark the centenary of one of the giants, we are compelled to reflect on the type of leadership we need in the twenty‑first century. Leadership that will steer us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); leadership that is fearless, selfless, bold yet humble; leadership that models mutual respect, compassion and understanding; leadership that puts people at the centre of its service.
These are all qualities embodied by Madiba — and they remain as urgent as ever. As we honour what the late Kofi Annan described as Madiba’s “particular and exceptional example in his generation of leaders”, we should interrogate our governance systems and, indeed, all our ways of working as we face the tests of our time. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Graça Machel and the broader group of the Elders demonstrate that no dream is too big to dream. They teach us to summon the courage to take on big challenges and stand up for what is right. They inspire us to advance peace, human rights and equality for all.
Leaving no one behind — this is a guiding principle and the core promise of the Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s blueprint for building a better future. It means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind.
Our greatest resource today is ourselves. Intergenerational dialogue is a crucial element of this work. The world today is home to the largest generation of young people in history — 1.8 billion. Close to 90 per cent of them live in developing countries, and 600 million are girls. They face formidable challenges and, too often, life‑threatening risks that are disproportionately carried by girls and young women in many parts of the world. The older generation must lead by example by enabling the space for young people, especially women and girls, to build their capacities to grow and contribute. Even if that means stepping aside when necessary. Then we solve many problems.
I applaud the Thembekile Mandela Foundation, together with the United Nations through the UN Development Programme and the Africa Forum, for including intergenerational dialogue in the leadership framework. It is through such forums that leadership models can be shaped, evaluated and redesigned. It is here that leadership values can be instilled, and experiences shared from across several generations.
If our goal is to transform our world, we must cultivate transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is about change in individuals and social systems alike. It connects people with themselves and others in bonds of purpose and mission. And it nurtures people to become leaders and role models themselves. Mandela was a truly transformational leader, and the partnership between the United Nations and the Thembekile Mandela Foundation will allow for a fusion of transformational leadership inspired by Mandela’s unique attributes.
Young people in and beyond Africa are the torch bearers of the SDGs. My message to you is: be proactive, positively disruptive and innovative; show the world what meaningful youth participation and leadership looks like as we strive to achieve the SDGs; constructively contribute to everything you do; learn from the lesson of the past to shape a better future.
Mandela said: “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” Now is a good time to be inspired. Now is a good time to be fired up. To the older generations in the room — and I don’t exempt myself — it is our job to create space at the decision‑making tables to meaningfully include young people and to help amplify their ideas and solutions, which can galvanize our journey towards a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable planet.
In conclusion, I would like to borrow again from Kofi Annan’s reflection on the lessons he learned. “Mandela’s example is one that all leaders should strive to follow. His legacy, however, is not about finding another Mandela in Africa or elsewhere, instead it is for individual men and women, empowered and dedicated citizens of our world, to take responsibility for our societies. And this, the spirit of ubuntu, is perhaps the greatest gift that Nelson Mandela bestows. His recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye, that there is oneness to humanity and that by caring for those around us we will find the truth in ourselves.”
As we pave the way forward together, the national office is ready to support you in this endeavour. The regional and international structures of the United Nations will stay closely abreast of your work, with the hope to benefit from the new pool of leaders. I encourage all of you to identify opportunities to engage. Choose an area and commit. And inspire others.
For many years, the United Nations has striven to improve its leadership along these lines as part of our development efforts around the world. We are reforming the system to be able to deliver. We have a long way to go, but there have been signs of encouraging results.
We thank you for your commitment and partnership to deliver this much-needed transformational change. We are eager to work with you and wish for success as we set off on this journey. Thank you.