Speech presented at Universities Canada’s membership meeting on April 25, 2017 in Montreal
By Henri-Paul Rousseau, vice-chairman, Power Corporation of Canada
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The Canadian University for Global Leadership or The “Blue Leaders” Network
I would like to begin by thanking rector Breton and president Davidson for their gracious invitation. They have asked me to speak to you about the role of universities and about the importance of education and university research for our private and public organizations, and for society in general.
Normally, I would endeavour to show how universities contribute to the economic growth and development of modern society. There is, after all, no doubt that they play and will continue to play a decisive role in the emerging technological revolution, in which digitization, data sciences, robotization and artificial intelligence will take our economies into as yet unknown territory and, most probably, lead to both great discoveries and major social upheavals.
I could very well have set out to demonstrate these truths, but on due reflection, I realized that you were all more qualified than I am to do so. And so, I decided to speak to you about a project that, I believe, would increase our universities’ impact and influence by a factor of ten, not only on our own society, but worldwide. Because I am convinced that, through working together, Canada’s universities would be ideally positioned to take on the major challenges facing not just our country, but the entire world!
Section 1. The State of Our World
So, what are these challenges? To answer this question, allow me to quote my friend Ketan Patel1, a highly discerning investor and one of our most enlightened thinkers about the state of the world. Ketan Patel identifies 10 global challenges and risks. They are:
- Growing inequalities in wealth and income
- An increasingly precarious labour market
- Rising protectionism
- Climate change and increasing pollution leading to major environmental problems
- Food and water scarcity
- The rise in terrorism
- Record refugee movements
- The rise in hate crimes and political hate speech
- The appearance of “alternative facts,” or “post-truth societies.”
1 Ketan Patel, CEO and Founder, Greater Pacific Capital, “GPC’s Sign of the Times,” January 2017.
Mr. Patel concludes his overview of the state the world with these words:
“The core challenge for today’s divided world leaders will be to establish a set of shared values as the basis of building the future world order.”
I would add that the challenge is also to find high-calibre leaders able to identify the shared values needed to build that new world order. And the project that I am inviting our Canadian universities to participate in today is to take a leadership role in developing those future world leaders.
Why universities in Canada? Because our country has a privileged place on the world stage. Canada’s DNA is one of diversity, complexity and of cultural balance. Moreover, we avoided the serious financial crisis of 2008; income is distributed relatively fairly here; and we have demonstrated great openness in welcoming refugees and immigrants fleeing war in the Middle East. Canada is held up as an example around the globe, and our “brand” is highly regarded. We have to capitalize on that privileged position to contribute to the emergence of the new world order that everyone is calling for.
Section 2. The role of Canada’s universities: A bold proposal
The difficulty in tackling the challenges of our time lies in their global scope and in the lack of a world government to which this responsibility would normally fall. But the absence of such a government does not mean an absence of leadership. Several governments are showing their leadership by joining forces to tackle global problems, and many international organizations have been created for that purpose. However, our international organizations date back to the end of World War II, and our governments’ actions, even if they are coordinated, are often one- off, sporadic efforts, with no permanent framework in place. No matter whether they involve fighting famine, helping refugees, providing assistance following natural disasters or peacekeeping, all such initiatives have had their share of failures. We must understand the reasons behind such failures if we are to correct them and equip future leaders to avoid them— global leaders whom it has become urgent to develop, and who could be developed by our universities.
Clearly, Canadian, American, European and Asian universities already have a number of programs in place studying global problems, but to my knowledge, there are no initiatives as bold as the one I will propose tonight.
And so, please allow me to outline my daring proposal for a “Canadian University for Global Leadership” (or the “Université canadienne du leadership planétaire”)—a proposal which, it goes without saying, you are free to comment and improve upon.
The mandate of the University would be to become an internationally recognized centre of excellence and benchmark institution for the study of global issues and the training of global leaders.
Its mission would have four main components: teaching, research, creation and communication.
i) Teaching a graduate program on global issues
To fulfill its mission, the Canadian University for Global Leadership would recruit and select young leaders from every country in the world and prepare them to understand and manage global issues in all their diversity and complexity. It would offer a four-year multidisciplinary program for students with various origins and religious, cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, all of whom would be required to speak at least three languages, have completed an appropriate undergraduate degree and have successfully demonstrated natural leadership talent.
At the conclusion of the four-year program, the University would grant them a graduate degree in global leadership. The uniqueness of this program lies in three core characteristics:
- The topics to study are global issues;
- The approach to study is a multidisciplinary one that imposes a curriculum including sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as humanities and social sciences;
- Students are selected for their very diverse backgrounds.
During the first two years, the students would follow a common curriculum focusing on the history and geography of the civilizations, religions, cultures and continents they represent, and on the major philosophical and epistemological currents characterizing their societies. This would be supplemented by updates on the current state of knowledge in the natural, physical and medical sciences, as well as in the humanities and social sciences. Additional courses in political science, sociology, economics, risk management and governance would round out the first two years of the program. Furthermore, a special focus would be placed on their study of concepts and tools required to better understand the socio-political and economic trends in modern societies. The changing role of both traditional and social media in shaping public opinion and beliefs, the new challenges facing the political leaders and the CEOs of public and private organizations as well as the rapid implosion of trust in most modern societies are all relevant topics to be well studied and understood. A critical dimension of these two years will be the focus on training how to become better inclusive leaders which can help rebuild trust within and between organizations and societies.
In their last two years, students would choose from among the following five areas of specialization:
Global management for global private and public organizations
Just like international institutions, private-sector companies with a global reach face specific management challenges. Their activities are carried out in numerous countries, time zones and languages by employees from different cultures and religions. This situation is further complicated by the need to carve out a place for themselves in the networks of economic, political, media and academic leaders in the countries where they operate, not to mention that they must also become familiar with and abide by the laws and customs of the host country. In short, managing such organizations requires a unique, both rigorous and decentralized, governance model to ensure their objectives are met. The managers and personnel of these global private and public organizations form an ecosystem that plays a central role in the world’s governance and they must also be part of this tremendous challenge of re-establishing trust between our societies and global organizations.
Cybersecurity / national and global security
There has been a big jump in the number of cybersecurity threats: industrial espionage, terrorism, leaks of classified government information, invasions of privacy, and so on. No one in this room would ever think that businesses and individuals should be responsible for raising an army to defend their national territory, because defence is a public responsibility, not a private one. That is even more the case for cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is not only a national public responsibility but a global one, because the Web has no borders. Recent events are telling in this regard, and we need competent leaders who can deal with the complexity, the technical aspects of these threats and the ethical considerations around the responses to these threats.
There is no need here to stress the global nature of environmental problems. Droughts, floods, climate disruptions and ocean acidification all have causes that transcend the borders of the countries suffering from their effects. What’s more, there is a real risk that such problems may give rise to conflict. Although there is a growing awareness of these problems, we are not making much headway in taking corrective action. Once again, by educating leaders about these issues, we would be able to strengthen the global ecosystem and make faster progress toward implementing solutions that a greater number of national leaders would agree upon.
Public health system
Avian flu, SARS, AIDS, the Zika virus and antibiotic resistance have clearly shown the global nature of disease today. Large international public health organizations live in fear of a pandemic that would be impossible to contain. Another problem shared by many countries is the astronomical proportion of healthcare spending—98%—devoted to treatment rather than prevention. The skyrocketing incidence of obesity and chronic disease is yet another worldwide issue.
One useful way to contribute to improving global health is to train public health leaders who will have the expertise and ability to understand such issues in order to help governments and international organizations adopt consistent and effective public health policies which are coordinated globally.
Education, training and labour markets
The new technologies of robotization, digitalization, data sciences and artificial intelligence are changing the approaches to education and training as well as the content of education. They are also radically changing the labour markets and the approach to training employees and managers. How will different cultures and societies respond to these new challenges and opportunities? How do we educate and train the largest number of young people for this new world? How does the educational system need to be changed to be successful? All these questions are central in preparing new generations for this new world.
These areas of specialization are examples; other relevant areas should be considered.
It goes without saying that the Canadian University for Global Leadership’s research mission would focus on the issues that we have just mentioned. Researchers would be called upon to develop methodologies geared to the study of global phenomena in which the data sources would play an important role. However, there is a complex web of interactions amongst the phenomena we have described above, and an analysis of those interactions would be the researchers’ main challenge. It is in fact key to understanding worldwide problems and identifying potential solutions for them.
The University’s research centre would be a true virtual agora for researchers in the humanities and pure, applied and social sciences, for technologists and engineers, and for other specialists hailing from every Canadian university and from centres of expertise around the globe.
A few clarifications should be made regarding how this research centre would function. In my view, it would not be housed in a physical building; instead, it would be a virtual association of top academics in every field from every Canadian university. Its governance model could take its inspiration from our great research councils and the Canada First program, which has enabled many universities to discover the power of interdisciplinary work and interuniversity collaboration. In addition, benchmarking would be required in order to make the most of other countries’ experiences. Research grants would be awarded in keeping with a strategic plan establishing research priorities, scientific guidelines, levels of co-operation between researchers and their ability to work in a multidisciplinary fashion. The participation of recognized international experts should also be an important factor in awarding grants.
The Canadian University for Global Leadership would establish a creative laboratory. Its mission would be to work with other international organizations to identify lasting solutions to global problems. The laboratory would coordinate a very active and diversified internship program with major international and global public and private organizations. Every student would participate in at least three internships during his years of training at the University.
The creative laboratory would serve as an idea and solution “factory”: again a virtual agora where relevant leadership, management and governance experience would be pooled with a view to solving global problems. It would round out the University’s academic program and work in full symbiosis with the research centre. It would also test new technologies and researchers’ discoveries.
To ensure the results of its research and creative work are circulated widely, I would propose that the Canadian University for Global Leadership establish a communications capacity responsible for coordinating the dissemination of those results in co-operation with its international partners, in various languages and on a variety of platforms. In that way, the results would be available to everyone around the world.
A publishing program spearheaded by an editorial committee would seek to establish the University as a benchmark in terms of global leadership and governance.
The Canadian University for Global Leadership should also invest the time and energy necessary to make sure its research findings are communicated in plain language to help the traditional media and general public distinguish truth from fiction when it comes to Internet content. To fight the rise in hate crimes, xenophobia, populism, racism and religious fundamentalism, we must raise the level of open-mindedness, respect and dialogue between people. More importantly, we must develop leaders capable of asserting the primacy of fact over opinion and science over belief if we are to avoid returning to the Dark Ages. This role has always fallen to universities.
Section 3. Business model, governance and funding
Following this rather lengthy look at the state of our planet and the proposed raison d’être of the Canadian University for Global Leadership, I am sure you will have a number of objections, or at least some questions, concerning the new university’s business, governance and funding model. Satisfactory answers to those questions are essential if this new university is to see the light of day.
I believe that the Canadian University for Global Leadership should be established as a co- operative belonging to its members, the Canadian universities that will decide to be a part of it.
Those members, as a group, would elect a board of directors, which would select the management personnel tasked with preparing the business plan and budgets, setting professors’ compensation and students’ tuition fees, and so on. The co-operative would also set up probably many international advisory committees made up of leading world experts with a wide range of skills and experience. These committees would advise on each area of specialization.
The University would be financed by a foundation, funded in turn by Canadian and foreign governments, international organizations, major global businesses and philanthropic organizations anxious to see the formation of a new, global leadership.
The University’s campus would be virtual, since participating Canadian universities would be brought together by a shared website containing all the information related to the University. This University would use state-of-the-art education and training technology, and would be a showcase of the best technology available. Each university’s contribution would take the form, first and foremost, of the participation of its professors and researchers in the new program. Students admitted to the program would be guided by three tutors from different universities and disciplines. Working with students, they would set up a personalized course of study for each individual for the first two years of the program. The courses would be given at several universities, and students would live on at least two different Canadian campuses during that two-year period. During the last two years of the program, the student would be based on the campus of a university offering one of the five specializations I described earlier. During those years, professors and researchers from the various participating universities would travel to meet with students, which would of course require them to be grouped together by area of specialization in the same location.
Conclusion: From idea to plan, and from plan to reality
Let’s turn our attention now to what could be the main objection to this plan for a Canadian University for Global Leadership: namely, that Canadian universities do not have a particularly strong tradition of collaboration, as they naturally compete to recruit students and professors and secure public and private funding. In response, I would say that that is exactly the same problem of governance facing the world’s nations, which are engaged in a fierce competition but nonetheless have to work together to establish the rules of the game in terms of trade and politics and prevent our world from imploding. To develop leaders capable of co-operating, Canada’s universities must themselves learn to co-operate more.
In concrete terms, if you think this idea has merit, a working group could be set up to make this bold idea a reality. It could be responsible for conducting a market study targeting international organizations, for holding focus groups comprising academics, senior university administrators and international community leaders to examine the project, and for developing a strategic plan and financial model based on various growth scenarios.
Creating a new university is not an easy job. A four-year full-time study program is also costly. In fact, this big idea will probably not become a reality without the support of a global sponsor like the G-20 and without the will and commitment of a few global private foundations. The mandate of the working group will also include the task of find the right support and sponsorship.
I know that the road to the realization of this project would be littered with obstacles, but think of the tremendous attraction that such a university would hold for Canadian and foreign students in every field of science and the humanities vital to the global challenges we face.
Moreover, many students would come to Canada to obtain an undergraduate degree before applying to this unique university.
Consider also that, after 10 years or so, Canada will have played an important role in developing leaders who are present in every major international organization and Canadian or foreign private-sector company, and who will all share a Canadian alma mater. It is difficult to imagine any greater influence for a Canadian university!
It would be quite a boost for the Canada brand and for the international Canadian ecosystem.
I would like to close by noting that, with the creation of the Canadian University for Global Leadership, Canada’s universities would be taking another step toward the fulfillment of
Canada’s historical role in the world, which began in the midst of the Suez crisis in 1956 with the creation—at Lester B. Pearson’s initiative—of the UN’s “Blue Helmet” peacekeeping force.
Over 60 years later, the Canadian University for Global Leadership could take up the torch by forming a network of “Blue Leaders” dedicated to healing the woes of our planet.
Thank you for your attention.