Published on 30th June 2017
In an increasingly unstable world, it’s important to recognise the power of individual action, Helen Clark says.
Speaking at an event at Te Papa on Thursday, June 29, Ms Clark, in conversation with VSA CEO Gill Greer, spoke about the challenges facing the world now, including climate change, famine and continued discrimination against women and girls. "In this volatile world, each of us in our own small way can make a difference for the better," she said.
More than 300 people attended the conversation, titled “Positive action in a volatile world”, and enjoyed an all-too-short hour in which the conversation covered those challenges and opportunities to overcome them.
A wider audience, including many VSA volunteers around the Pacific, were able to follow along on Twitter via the hashtag #HelenVSA and tune in via a live Facebook feed. [The video of the talk is available on VSA’s Facebook page or you can read the transcript of the interview].
Leadership, Ms Clark says, “starts with each of us,” and it’s the belief that she could make a difference that drove her through her career in politics and at the UNDP.
Throughout the talk, Ms Clark emphasised the importance of development focussed around preventative, rather than reactive measures. On climate change, for instance, she remembers travelling to Kiribati years ago and seeing “slivers of land” appear in the sea as she flew overhead.
That trip emphasised the vulnerability of small islands states to climate change but, she says, the focus must be on trying to maintain i-Kiribati ability to stay on their land, not simply find new places for them to live. “When people lose their land, it’s not just a country; it’s language and culture that is lost, too.”
Likewise, when looking at the refugee crisis, Ms Clark noted that many displaced people are displaced within their own countries, so work needs to be done with those countries in order to stabilise – not simply to raise the refugee quota.
But, looking at development overall, Ms Clark returned, probably unsurprisingly, to the need to empower women and girls in order to achieve good development outcomes. “How,” she asked, “are you going to end poverty if women aren’t part of the story?”
Noting that 155 countries still have laws that discriminate against women, she said gender equality was the most important of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
While noting recent advances – for instance, Kenya’s recent decision to provide free sanitary protection to all school girls, in order to help them stay in school – she noted that there were significant steps back, too, such as one of Kenya’s neighbours not only expelling girls who get pregnant, but not allowing them to return to school once they give birth.
The answer? “Don’t get mad, get organised!” Ms Clark recognised the many thousands, if not millions, of people around the world who are working to overcome obstacles, and gave special mention to volunteers: "People giving freely of their time is indispensable. It's the glue that hold us together."
The event closed with a heartfelt rendition of the waita Te Aroha, where more than a few tears were shed. You can see some of the feedback and Twitter conversation from the day captured in tweets below.
If you missed the event, you can: