In a virtually filled to capacity aula, 900 people were present to watch United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon receive the World Leader Cycle Award on Wednesday. The award ceremony was organised by the Economic Faculty association Rotterdam (EFR).

The public welcomed Ban, the highest ranking functionary of the United Nations, with a standing ovation when he entered the aula. Following speeches by EFR President Rik Bross and Vice-President Annegeke Jansen, it was Ban’s turn to speak. He gave a lengthy speech in which one of the key themes was a call for sustainability. “We live as if there were more worlds to live on, but there is really only one Earth.”

He also spoke about international tensions. “It is especially important that during this time of global unrest, we are more unified. International exchange programmes such as those at EUR are a good example of this.”

Global citizen

In a debate moderated by Twan Huys, students selected in advance were permitted to ask Ban questions. In response to a question from a student asking how universities could contribute to resolving global issues, his answer was: “Knowledge on its own is not enough, because tomorrow that knowledge could already be obsolete. Universities must teach students to apply the knowledge they have acquired to daily life so we can bring about a better world.”

When Huys himself asked Ban if he had other words of advice for EUR students, the Secretary General replied: “Rise up above the crowd, but keep your feet on the ground.” Laughing, he followed with “Yes, I realise that what I said is contradictory, but you know what I mean. Expand your horizons and be a global citizen. Remain aware of the fact that outside of the Netherlands there are many people dying in wars and their human rights are being violated.”

‘A very compassionate and sensitive man’

Ban Ki Moon Rij
There was a long queue outside the aula

The students present were very positive about Ban. Economics & Business Economics student Hasmanan Singh (19), said: “It was fantastic to see someone like him up close. I’ve read so much about him, especially his achievements in the field of international politics.” The 25-year-old Communication and Media student Qiong Gong greeted Ban Ki-moon in Chinese when he entered the hall: “And then he waved to me! I was so happy he did that.” International Management master’s student Frank Hugi (27) stated that Ban was ‘a very compassionate and sensitive man, and I do believe he has the power and the will to change the world for the better’.

There was also some criticism of the debate. Gong: “I found it strange that the persons asking the questions were selected in advance. I wanted to ask a question as well but I didn’t get the opportunity to do that.”

‘A true mediator’

The EFR presents the World Leader Cycle Award to world leaders who have had an important global impact on society in the field of economics and politics. Previous winners include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council.

According to Jansen, the reason for adding Ban Ki-moon to this list was due to his ‘efforts in the area of peace, sustainability and human rights’. Through his efforts he has raised awareness for issues such as ‘sustainable development, gender equality and disarmament’. Thanks to Ban more children now have access to education than in 2000. In her speech Jansen called Ban a ‘true mediator’.

Ban Ki-moon is now in his final year as Secretary General of the UN. His term of office ends on 31 December of this year.