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True Leaders Are Active Global Citizens

True Leaders Are Active Global Citizens

19 January 2012
Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Chair of the All-Party Group on the USA, William Hay MLA (centre), welcomes Ambassador Susman to Parliament Buildings. Also pictured is Acting Consul General in Belfast Kevin Roland.

Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Chair of the All-Party Group on the USA, William Hay MLA (centre), welcomes Ambassador Susman to Parliament Buildings. Also pictured is Acting Consul General in Belfast Kevin Roland.

(This op-ed appeared in today's edition of the Irish News)

Ambassador Susman:  As I look forward to my fifth visit to Belfast today, I am relishing the opportunity to talk with students at Queen’s University.  The capacity for young people to engage as global citizens has never been more important – or more possible.  So my message to them will be an encouraging one: that the United States sees them not just as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders of today. 

Thanks to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, young people everywhere are interacting with the world in a way that my generation just didn’t have the chance to at their age.  It means they have the opportunity to involve themselves fully in today’s inter-connected world.  And with the unprecedented challenges we face in this new century, the need for their passion, energy and ideas is paramount.

Issues like the economy, security, climate change and poverty affect us all -- wherever we live, whatever our faith, whether we are rich or poor, learned or uneducated, old or young.  No longer are we immune or isolated from events elsewhere.  That is why America, under President Obama’s leadership, is today reinforcing our existing alliances and building new partnerships across the world.

One of our most enduring friendships is with the people of Northern Ireland.  We have walked alongside you, in your collective effort to bring political, economic, and social progress to the region.  It is no overstatement to say that today your achievements inspire countless others locked in long-standing divisions.  Northern Ireland’s journey, as President Obama said, sends out a “ripple of hope” to other countries still enduring political conflict.

As you have experienced, the dividend from peace is not only a greater feeling of security but improved opportunities for every community here.  Clearly, Northern Ireland is now a better place to live and to do business.  There is, without doubt, a resounding commitment to generate trade, create jobs, and develop industry-led partnerships, particularly in the creative industries, financial services, and biotechnology -- the sectors that will drive growth in the global economy.

Conflict and division can leave people, understandably concerned by their own problems, facing inward.  It is to this region’s credit that in the years of peace you have looked out to the world, seeking international partnerships and strong bilateral ties in trade and investment.

Collaboration between Queen’s and Georgetown University in Washington DC is a prime example.  Collectively, this partnership has resulted in significant advancements in cancer research that is bringing life-changing benefits to people across the world.  And it is not just Queen’s.  Through some excellent international partnerships, the University of Ulster’s Business School is now helping to bring global expertise to meet the needs of local industry here.

During my term as Ambassador, companies such as GE Energy, NYSE Technologies, Cybersource, Microsoft and others have all recognised the excellent business proposition here.  Last week’s announcement by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange group to establish an office in Belfast further illustrates how the region can thrive on a global platform.

All these corporations see what I see: a dynamic, innovative and creative Northern Ireland backed up by  a first-class business infrastructure and a dedicated, agile workforce.

But with all the challenges we face, we will only be as strong in this new century as the opportunities we provide to the younger generation to act on the world stage.  On that front, the prospects for Northern Ireland appear – from an outsider’s perspective – to be very promising.

One example is a major mentoring program run by the U.S. consulate in Belfast in collaboration with the Northern Ireland Science Park and the American Ireland Fund.  It is placing local young people with top U.S. companies for a year of leadership and business development training.  I am confident that the global pespective this offers to young people will bring profound individual and wider benefits to the region for many years.

Equally, educational exchanges provide students with journeys of personal discovery.  In today’s tumultuous world, we need the greater respect and understanding that comes from these opportunities more than ever.  The Office of the First and deputy First Minster has shown its ongoing support for the Washington-Ireland Program, the British Council deserves praise for their stewardship of Study Abroad USA, Fulbright Scholarships are thriving here, and the Mitchell Scholars program connects generations of future American leaders to this island.

So I pay tribute to all those in business and academia – and in the communities of Northern Ireland -- who are expanding this region’s international ties and encouraging young people to think outward as global citizens.  As they look out on the world, the world will look back.  Rest assured, they’ll like what they see.

Ambassador Susman in N. Ireland