November 15, 2017

Madeleine Albright: The McNulty Prize is "an antidote to the cynicism of our time"

"What the the McNulty Laureates have all realized," remarked Madeleine K. Albright, former Secretary of State, at the 10th anniversary gala for the John P. McNulty Prize, "is that each of us has a responsibility."

"Each of us has a responsibility, as we reach certain levels of success, to help others climb the ladder, whether here at home, or abroad, and this might seem like a sacrifice of precious time or treasure. But as their experience proves, nothing can make you feel more fulfilled. And nothing can do more good." Secretary Albright spoke at length at the event on November 8 in New York, about the state of the world, the decline of faith in institutions and hope among peoples, and how the values and ventures of the McNulty Prize Laureates can provide an antidote to the ills of our time. 

Read the full remarks below:

albright_gala2.jpg#asset:1154:tallRectangleThank you so very much for your kind words and good evening to everybody. I am so honored to join with you, and the family and many friends in marking this important anniversary of the McNulty Prize. While I did not know John well, through my involvement with the Prize I have come to know the values for which he stood — the values that give pride of place to intellectual curiosity, moral integrity, community service and a desire not only to be the best one can be but also to bring out the best in others, and these are truly important qualities at any time, but they are of particular importance now, because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the world is a mess. That’s a diplomatic term of art. I was asked to give a few insights into the current globe, though I think I would much prefer to dance with the band. But, I will do my best to make some sense, quickly, of what I see.

The truth is that we are operating in an entirely new era for world affairs. Three times over the past century, the international system has experienced periods of transition similar to what we are experiencing today. The first, before I was born, came after the end of World War I, when the League of Nations was created as a mechanism to prevent another global conflict. The second, when I was a child, led to the creation of the UN and other global institutions after the second world war. The third transition got underway when the superpower rivalry ended and the Soviet Union disappeared. During my years in government, America worked with our allies to shape a new world, and our goal was to bring nations together based on core principles of democracy and free enterprise, human rights and the rule of law.

To that end, we developed a common agenda to strengthen the international system by expanding NATO, forging partnerships with Russia and Ukraine, pursuing Middle East peace, and halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. When I left office sixteen years ago, I was not naïve, but I had confidence that the world would continue to move toward a stronger and more cooperative international system.

It appears now that I might have been too optimistic, for in the short history of the twenty-first century, we have witnessed a multiplication of international divisions and the spread of hateful, violent ideologies. We are seeing the downside of technology, which was once hailed as a democratizing force but which has displaced people from their jobs, while enabling them to see what others have and they do not, which feeds dissatisfaction and fuels anger. Meanwhile, gaps have widened between rich and poor, urban and rural, the well-educated and those lacking twenty-first century skills. The unprecedented mobility of people and ideas afforded by globalization, while welcomed in many quarters, has also produced feelings of economic, social and cultural insecurity – prompting a backlash against immigrants, refugees and religious minorities, and this has had consequences.

Democratically elected leaders swept into power on the promise of change find themselves unable to meet expectations. In a rising number of countries, citizens profess a lack of faith in parliaments, the media, police, courts and governing and opposition parties alike.

As these challenges unfold, our institutions of global governance are not working as well as they should and need refurbishment, as both people and organizations do when they reach the age of 70.

For 10 years, the McNulty Prize has honored the kind of entrepreneurial, grassroots leadership that is values-based, rooted in community, and an antidote to the cynicism of our time.

Secretary Madeleine Albright

So we are dealing with many challenges at the local, national and international levels. But that is precisely why the work that we are highlighting tonight is so very important, for the world clearly is in desperate need of leaders who will restore a sense of common purpose across the globe — a purpose that transcends political borders and the boundaries of culture and religious faith. We need leaders who are looking beyond the next cycle of elections to the broader cycles of history and who have the capacity to unite diverse people in support of democracy and in opposition to the enemies of freedom. These leaders may be in short supply in capitals around the world, but they are here in abundance tonight. Because for 10 years, the McNulty Prize has honored the kind of entrepreneurial, innovative grassroots leadership that is values-based, rooted in community, and an antidote to the cynicism of our time.

I understand that we have 19 laureates here tonight from the past decade, all of them fellows of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and all of them still using their platforms to address the critical issues of our time. One such example is Dr. Jordan Kassalow, the inaugural prize winner, whose organization VisionSpring has now distributed over three million eyeglasses to marginalized communities. Another example is this year’s winner, Lana Abu-Hijleh, and as many of you already heard, she is engaging young people in democracy and good governance, and in some challenging and important regions of the world.

I am often asked if I am an optimist or a pessimist. I like to say that I am an optimist who worries a lot, and I worry for all the obvious reasons, but I am an optimist because of people such as Jordan and Lana, who remind us that the right response to wrong is not to throw up our hands; but rather to roll up our sleeves; not to complain; but to act, and I do think that, in fact, it is very important to remember all that.

And I have to say, Lana, I was going to tell this story: When I first became Secretary of State, I went to the Middle East, and I first gave a speech in Jerusalem to a group of young people, and then I went to Ramallah, and I was in a high school there and I was asked by a young man to tell me what his future was, and I couldn’t answer the question. And so I went back to the United States, and I spent a lot of time with the people at the State Department. We talked about the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, and I made it a point that we had to know what had to happen to those Palestinian people, and Lana, you have led the way now in terms of mobilizing those young people, so thank you for helping me to answer the question.

I am sure that most of us lead what seem to be impossibly busy lives. I know that we still do. But what the McNulty family, and the McNulty Laureates, have all realized is that each of us has a responsibility, as we reach certain levels of success, to help others climb the ladder, whether here at home, or abroad, and this might seem like a sacrifice of precious time or treasure. But as their experience proves, nothing can make you feel more fulfilled. And nothing can do more good.

Years ago, Margaret Mead urged us never to, and I quote, “doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

“Indeed,” she said, “it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The McNulty laureates no longer comprise a group that is small. But they are thoughtful; they are committed; and I have no doubt, they will persist until we prevail.

Thank you all so much for being here to honor these people this evening.

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