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SPEECH: RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP IN A RAPIDLY CHANGING WORLD

It is a great pleasure for me to address the youth delegates at this Nobel Peace Laureate Summit in Mérida.

I have no doubt that one of the central challenges that your generation will confront will be the management of the enormous changes that you will experience during your lifetimes.   

You will need very special leadership skills to deal with change - because:

  • It is accelerating;
  • It is unpredictable; and
  • It is fundamental.

During the past century - and particularly since World War II - there has been an exponential acceleration in the pace of change.  Our society has changed more during the past 10 years than it did in the first 10 000 years of our development as a species.  It is interesting to note that the flint hand axes that were made by our ancestors - homo erectus - 1.5 million years ago were indistinguishable from the hand axes that they were still making half a million years ago - for a million years there was no advance in our technology.  

Today it is impossible for any single individual to keep track of the technological progress that we make in just one year.   And any of these changes might affect our future as dramatically as the hand axe did one and a half million years ago.

Change is also unpredictable.  Some of the main developments that have fundamentally transformed the world were entirely unforeseen only 35 years ago:  think of the internet and mobile phones; the collapse of the Soviet Union and international communism and AIDS.  

The change that we are experiencing is also fundamental.  It affects virtually every aspect of our lives. 

  • It is changing the relationships between men and women, husbands and wives and parents and children. 
  • It has profound implications for the traditional family.40% of mothers in Europe are now unmarried.
  • More than half Europeans state that they do not belong to any religion.
  • Change is affecting our value systems and traditional conceptions of morality.
  • It will continue to transform the way we work; the way we spend our free time and the way we communicate and obtain information.

I would like to share some perspectives with you about the historic change process that we South Africans have had to manage during the past 29 years.  I would also like to talk about the leadership qualities that change management requires.

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