“You can be an outstanding academic, a summa cum laude, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader,” said former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr José Ramos-Horta at the PeaceJam Singapore conference hosted by the NUS Centre for Future-ready Graduates (CFG) on 2 December. Speaking to some 120 youth at NUS University Town, he shared tips on how to be a good leader, the likes of former President of South Africa Mr Nelson Mandela and founding father of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
“One of the greatest qualities of a leader, for me, is that you are accessible to people and compassionate. You can be a giant in science or in literature, you can command the seventh fleet, you can reside in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but you’re greater still if you find time to talk to the fisherman, the street vendor, the taxi driver…” said Dr Ramos-Horta.
Born in 1949 in East Timor, a then colony of Portugal, Dr Ramos-Horta was exiled to Mozambique when he was 18 years old for criticising the colonial government on issues of poverty. When East Timor was freed from colonial rule in 1974, the country was soon invaded by Indonesian forces, which left thousands dead including four of his siblings. Dr Ramos-Horta spent the next 24 years in exile working to secure support for the Timorese case from world governments. In 1992, he convinced the United Nations (UN) to pass a resolution supporting his country’s independence from Indonesian troops and respect for human rights, and in 1996 was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
East Timor achieved independence in 2002 and Dr Ramos-Horta was appointed the country’s first Foreign Minister. He was elected President of East Timor in 2007, completing his presidential term in 2012. He now serves as East Timor’s Minister of State and Counselor for National Security, as well as East Timor’s special envoy to the UN.
In his speech, Dr Ramos-Horta emphasised the need for youth in Singapore to be engaged with the world. “If you spend most of your time on your smartphones, you live in an oasis of safety and tranquility. This oasis is possible because Singapore’s leadership knows how to protect its country and how to navigate the challenges in the region and the world. But you are not able to do it single-handedly because Singapore’s success and prosperity depends on peace and security in the region,” he said.
During the engaging question-and-answer session, Dr Ramos-Horta addressed how to achieve peace in such turbulent times. His advice? If we all do our part in maintaining peace within our own countries, we will contribute to a more peaceful world. “There are so many people in need. Are you able to help one? Then help one. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the challenges and wonder what we can do. Well, focus on the areas in which you can do something…study, study and study, not to be just good, not to be just better but to be the best.”
The full-day programme also featured several interactive workshops where participants picked up skills in developing leadership, building an inclusive society and strengthening brain functions. Mr Tan Chade-Meng, Google pioneer, bestselling author and Adjunct Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, also delivered a talk on “One Billion Acts of Peace”, a global citizens movement designed to tackle the planet’s most pressing issues.
Mr Jasbir Singh, Senior Manager at CFG and project lead for PeaceJam Singapore, hoped that the event would inspire ground-up changemakers. “We’ve brought together students from NUS, polytechnics, Institutes of Technical Education, junior colleges and international schools to get as much diversity of thought and perspectives in the room. Whether it is as local as changing the way their family spends time at the dinner table or making their school more disabled-friendly, or as global as championing nuclear disarmament, the conference was organised to inspire our youth with the belief that every individual can make a change,” said Mr Singh.
Established in 1996, PeaceJam is an international programme that aims to nurture the next generation of young leaders committed to creating positive change in their communities through the inspiration and wisdom of Nobel Peace Laureates.