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Meridian Looks at Global Leadership

by Audrey Hoffer

On a bright mid-October day, more than 200 people gathered in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to discuss the promise and challenges of global leadership.

Hosted by the Meridian International Center, the 2013 Global Leadership Summit was a timely exchange among diplomats, policymakers and businesspeople about the state of affairs around the world. Now in its second year, the summit served as a prelude to the popular annual Meridian Ball held at the Meridian Center later that evening.

Meridian Global Leadership Summit Jim Clifton
Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, discusses “Global States of Mind: New Metrics for World Leaders,” a new report by Gallup that looks at what people in 160 countries think about their leader. Photos: Joyce Boghosian

Before the desserts and dancing, however, there was a discussion on leadership — specifically the “Global States of Mind: New Metrics for World Leaders,” a new report by Gallup.

Jim Clifton, Gallup chairman and CEO, presented results from the polling company’s second annual global audit, which looked at what people in 160 countries around the world think about their leaders. The only global study of its kind, the Gallup report measures the views of citizens on key quality of life issues including law and order, food and shelter, institutions and infrastructure, good jobs, and overall well-being.

“We need to know what’s in the hearts and minds and souls of the world’s 7 billion people,” Clifton said.

From left, Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies at the State Department Tomicah Tillemann; Ambassador of Singapore Ashok Kumar Mirpuri; Ambassador of Botswana Tebelelo Seretse; Ambassador of Mexico Eduardo Medina-Mora; Dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Vali Nasr; and Ambassador Stuart Holliday, president and CEO of the Meridian International Center, participate in the panel discussion “Reimagining Power: The Demands of Global Leadership Today” at the 2013 Meridian Global Leadership Summit.

“Through classical economy data, we know what people worldwide are spending and transacting, but we do not know what people are thinking or how they are feeling,” he explained. “Classical economic data do not necessarily reveal conditions for instability or revolution. We are more likely to predict stability or revolution when we review metrics of hope, suffering, perceptions of government corruption, number of good jobs, and perceptions of safety and food security.”

This is behavioral economics, he added, and is a better predictor of societal progress than traditional economics because well-being predicts stability better than money does.

For example, when Gallup asked 3 billion people what their dream is, the overwhelming response was to secure a decent job. “Today, having a good job is the global dream,” said Clifton.

“That sounds simple but it’s really profound,” he said, because the follow-up question — ‘do you hope to get a job’ — garnered negative replies.

From left, Ambassador of Botswana Tebelelo Seretse talks to the audience as Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora, Vali Nasr and Meridian President and CEO Stuart Holliday look on at the 2013 Meridian Global Leadership Summit, held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

“That’s key,” said Clifton, noting that hope is the fundamental premise of well-being. If one is hopeful, then dreams are limitless and one lives in a state of well-being. But if one is hopeless, the person will be a burden and possibly a threat to society.

“Well-being is slipping away in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. No one knows this and so we are trying to quantify the phenomenon,” he said.

Ambassador of Singapore Ashok Kumar Mirpuri speaks on a panel that examined America’s positioning as a global superpower, the emerging role of civil society, and the relevance of the United Nations as a governing entity.

What about the United States, which recently suffered a 16-day government shutdown? Is it still a global superpower or a waning empire?

Panelists praised the United States for creating many international institutions that preserve peace. “There’s no substitute for the superpower role of the U.S.,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The United States has the resources, demography, financial penetration and, above all, the rule of law, which is the underpinning of democracy and the single most important criteria enabling a country to move forward.

From left, Chief Operations and Technology Officer of Barclays Shaygan Kheradpir; Chairman and CEO of CEB Tom Monahan; the Lord Palumbo of Walbrook, chairman of the jury for the Priztker Prize for Architecture; Chairman and Managing Director of the ARTOC Group for Investment and Development Mohamed Shafik Gabr; and Christopher M. Schroeder, author of “Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East,” speak on the panel “Accelerating Cooperation through Culture, Commerce and Education.”

“This makes the U.S. an international powerhouse regardless of the role of China,” said Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora.

Medina-Mora also noted that the entire region is more critical than is often appreciated. The problem is that in North America “we take each other for granted,” he said. “We have to recognize that our hemisphere will be the powerhouse of the world. Perhaps we already are. Think what we could do if there were public policy to help this along?”

Tebelelo Seretse, the ambassador of Botswana and the only woman in the program, concurred that America remains an indispensable power because of its myriad advantages. “We look at the rule of law and freedoms that go with it, the freedom of expression and free will of the people, the quality of education and R&D,” she said. “Yes, the U.S. is still the superpower.”

Meridian International Center Board of Trustees Chairman James J. Blanchard, left, talks with Meridian Ball and Summit Chair Dalia Mroue-Fateh, founder of Salt Productions, LCC.

Ashok Mirpuri, Singapore’s ambassador, said he was grateful for the security blanket that America has provided to its allies. “The U.S. has guaranteed our safety for the past 50 years,” he said, reminding the audience how much President Obama’s presence was missed at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (Obama had to skip the meeting because of the shutdown).

Despite that shutdown, a sluggish economy and ongoing budget battles, Mirpuri said the United States is still number one in defense and education. “The problems aren’t insurmountable. They can be fixed,” he said.

But the United States is no longer the only player on the world stage. Tomicah Tillemann, senior advisor for civil society and emerging democracies with the State Department, said that now is a time of extraordinary transformation in the relationships between people and their governments, as evidenced by the Arab Spring and elsewhere. “The countries that succeed in managing these changes will do well.”

Where does that leave the world’s main multilateral bloc, the United Nations?

Nasr said the world body was designed to do exactly what it does and is still relevant in today’s changing world. “The question to ask today is whether the right number of countries are [Security] Council members,” he said, referring to the five veto-wielding permanent members of the council (the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom). Other nations have long argued that the Security Council needs to be expanded to give others a greater say in the bloc.

Added Medina-Mora: “There is tremendous space for improvement but it works.”

Mirpuri disagreed, describing the U.N.’s peace and security role as disappointing — largely because of the Security Council, where one nation can torpedo any resolution (i.e. Russia’s refusal to slap sanctions on the Syrian government). “The institution only moves ahead on issues not of vital interest to any of the Security Council members. The result is action only on minor issues,” he argued.

But in addition to the traditional levers of diplomacy, technology is changing the world at a pace both people and governments can hardly keep up with.

“The world is going through an inflection point I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” said Shaygan Kheradpir, chief operations and technology officer at Barclays. “Every segment of business, society and government is transforming into something new.”

The fastest transformation is in financial services — corporate banking, customer banking, government banking. “We’ll have a hard time recognizing the financial industry in five to 10 years,” said Kheradpir. For example, it’s likely that African farmers will use computers in their cell phones to make decisions about their land.

“Every 28 months, the amount of information transmitted over phones doubles,” Tom Monahan, chairman and CEO of CEB, pointed out.

The single biggest change will be the practical way people get work done, he said. They will still sit in cubicles in sight of colleagues, but increasingly teams are orchestrated over geography and tasks. “This changes leadership drastically,” Monahan said.

Leaders must enable people’s voices to be heard despite the distance between workers. A good flow of opinion through an organization is essential to building strong companies and creative employees, he said.

“There are tradeoffs with all this technology and a little bit of human contact goes a long way toward making a company successful,” said Monahan. “But I’m an optimist.”

For more on the 2013 Meridian Global Leadership Summit, click here.

To read The Washington Diplomat’s profile of Meridian President and CEO Stuart Holliday, click here.

Audrey Hoffer is a contributing writer for the Diplomatic Pouch.



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