from the world's big
Big Think Interview With Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and more former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo (1944), the daughter of two physicians, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King's Inns Dublin and Harvard Law School to which she won a fellowship in 1967.
A committed European, she also served on the International Commission of Jurists, the Advisory Committee of Interights, and on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world, Mary Robinson is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society and, since 2002, has been Honorary President of Oxfam International. A founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, she serves on many boards including the Vaccine Fund, and chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Currently based in New York, Mary Robinson is now leading Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative. Its mission is to put human rights standards at the heart of global governance and policy-making and to ensure that the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable are addressed on the global stage.
Question: Should rich countries help poor countries and, if so, how?
Mary Robinson: I do very much believe that they should, it’s an important component and we mustn’t let that slip. There’s a certain amount of feeling that there's a financial crisis, can we really afford? We have to. Because we have a very connected world and what’s happening in other parts of the world will ultimately affect us unless you have social stability. So it is in the outcome document of this summit that there must be a recommitment to the 0.7% of GDP, which is actually not a great amount, given the potential of being able to have a safer and more balanced world.
We also know now that the way in which we’re living our lives, based on carbon, in the rich parts of the world, is undermining development of the poorest parts and there’s a commitment that was made in Copenhagen for an additional $30 billion a year over the next three years to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries. I want to see that money, as yet, I don’t see any new money being committed by countries. And even though there’s a financial crisis, we can actually find the ability and then we need governments of the poor countries to have a real sense of their responsibility to govern on behalf of their people.
Question: How can you convince people and governments to give during economic hard times?
Mary Robinson: I certainly very much understand the stress and the worry and the day-to-day concerns of people who have terrible mortgage problems, who are behind on their payments, who know that they have problems of school fees or university fees for the young people, etc. And it’s the same in the modern Ireland, we’re going through a very tough time in many countries in Europe and elsewhere. But we have to see the connections in our world. I mean, look at a country that has become what we call now a failed state, pretty well, Somalia. You have pirates out on the open seas from Somalia. You have a danger of terrorists being able to group where there is no law and order and finds ways of attacking elsewhere in the world. We are much more interconnected than we have ever been. It’s in our total interests to help to create middle classes in the developing countries. Then they will buy American goods, they will want to trade to the profit of everyone. And so I think it’s hard when you’re really wondering how you’re going to meet the commitments for next month and real worries about food, as that woman has said.
But in fact, I think any kind of sense of political leadership now has to move in the direction of understanding the interconnections between our world and we will not have peace and security if we do not have fairer balances. Because we’re not staying at the same population level, we’re going to go up from just under 7 billion people today to over 9 billion by 2050. That’s the largest increase in population we’ll ever have seen, and many of them are in very poor countries.
So for stability for our own generation, but particularly for our children and grandchildren, we have to have this sense of an interconnected world.
Question: How do we ensure that aid is actually being used to improve conditions in poor countries?
Mary Robinson: I still firmly believe we need to keep the commitments to development aid, but I also agree with an increasing number of African leaders and others who say, “We want to bring ourselves out of poverty. We want fairer trade rules. We want some subsidies removed that disadvantage us and when we’re trying to compete on cotton or sugar, etc.” And I think that we need to have more emphasis on access to energy for the poorest. One of the things that has helped poor countries greatly is the mobile phone. That was the private sector creating a market in the poor countries and the mobile phone, you it attracts markets, it transfers money, it does help surveillance, you can do education on it, it’s wonderful. But there are 1.6 billion people who have no access to electricity in our 21st century. That’s not acceptable.
If you give energy to the poorest, they will be able to be more productive and there is that sense that age shouldn’t be sort of, kind of, "We’ll look after your needs and not make the poor productive." Many of us think that we have to have much more emphasis on decent work as part of the whole approach. Including by the private sector, the companies that are operating, like Coca-Cola or other companies in developing countries, must more and more look at their whole value chain. How do we create more jobs? It’s jobs that take people out of poverty.
Question: How has Ireland weathered the global recession and debt crisis?
Mary Robinson: I’m very aware, because I’m actually moving back to Ireland, but these are really difficult times indeed. We’ve had the property bubble, we’ve had the misjudgments, to say the least, and the pain, and the real sense, at the moment, of anger about the unfairness and the role of the banks and the role of the property dealers who were most caught up in that bubble.
I’m very glad to be going back to Ireland, I’m really very happy about it, because I want to connect again with an Ireland that has to actually find the courage and the motivation moving forward to try and engage our very bright young people, I’m going to be linked with the two universities in Dublin and really anybody who’s working on climate issues and we’re going to be working to promote the idea of climate justice. I’d like Ireland to be the go-to place on climate justice, a bridge between the developed world going into the renewable energies and necessarily having measures of mitigation, but also the need to transfer good, green technologies, low-carbon technologies, to the poorest so that they can develop, they have a right to development. And Ireland has a very good history and tradition of development aid. It began with priests and nuns pioneering in the poorest parts of the world, and some of them are still there. And then very good NGO’s and Irish Aid itself, the government program, is very well regarded, and I know, in developing countries, because it’s very focused on the poorest and most vulnerable, in a very sustainable way. So I want to try and help to work with those on the ground to rekindle, I think, a sense of real pride and purpose in Ireland on this issue of climate justice.
Question: Will Ireland be able to regain the competitive strength of the Celtic Tiger days?
Mary Robinson: I’ve no doubt it will take a bit of time, but we have a great advantage of size, we have a very bright population, there’s a lot of research that has gone on, and there is a sense of community again. Maybe during the Celtic Tiger, people got very selfish, and now we have more sense of community. I’m hearing that Irish Gaelic word "meitheal," meaning linked to the other, the spirit of "meitheal," "meitheal" communities. People in small towns and villages actually looking after those who are most hard hit and, you know, there’s a human element coming back in, in a community sense and I do hope that we will continue to put great emphasis on education and on our young people because that’s the way we will turn around fastest. But I have every confidence. We’ve been in hard times before, we just need to accept that there was a foolishness and a stupidity and a selfishness and that some people are feeling pain who didn’t have that responsibility, which is provoking a lot of anger, and we need to be as far as possible in how we move forward.
Question: Are the days of the United States as the dominant global superpower coming to an end?
Mary Robinson: I think they have certainly changed and are no longer at all the way that the United States was perceived at the very beginning of this century; the year 2000, say. That’s reflected in the G20 and other developments. There should be a reform of the Security Council, the Security Council does not reflect the power balance and economic balance in our world today and so we need more urgent reform than we did because we recognize. At the same time, the United States is still a very, very powerful player. And I think there is a wisdom that the United States reengage again in these alliances and partnerships that are being spoken about by the Obama administration. I do believe that that’s the way for the United States to go.
Recorded September 21, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown
A conversation with the former President of Ireland.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.