Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, has called on academics to use their expertise to help guide policymakers in challenging times.
Mr Annan made the comments during his keynote appearance at the Orchestrating Winning Performance conference held at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. Responding to a question from Times Higher Education, Mr Annan said that academics could “make [politicians] listen” to influence change for the good.
When asked about the importance of the knowledge economy and how crucial business school education and tertiary education was for our future prosperity, Mr Annan recalled a conversation about influencing public policy that he had had with Nicholas Negroponte, the computer scientist, academic and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.
“I was at the MIT Media Lab, their 30th anniversary; he was telling me all the things they were doing, the inventions they were coming up with, the world they were going to change,” Mr Annan said. “And so I asked him: ‘Are you talking to politicians? Are you talking to local government authorities? Are you preparing them for the changes?’
“He said, ‘Yes, we are telling them, but they don’t always listen.’ You have to make them listen, and you [academics] are able to do that.”
Mr Annan asked whether national leaders and experts were preparing for future uncertainty, and told his audience, mainly members of the business community, that those “privileged to get the sort of education you have” should be looking ahead.
“At the level of society or countries, are the leaders thinking about it? Are the social scientists thinking about the implication of the changes that are coming?” he asked. “And if we’re not thinking about it, what do we do when we suddenly realise it’s on top of us? What sort of crisis are we going to face?
“You have influence with politicians. Raise awareness and get them to think ahead and look at some of the changes we’re going to face and engage them.”