Leadership for Future Generations: The Call to Action from Swansea University

MA Digital Media student Kornelia Kaminska reflects on the important messages emerging from the historic event at Bay Campus…

On November 16th, 2023, Swansea University Bay Campus became the stage for a profound and memorable conversation. Global leaders, including the former President of the United States Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford, joined on stage by Swansea University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Boyle; converged to discuss everything from international security to the climate crisis. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill conference; but a collaborative and vibrant dialogue about dealing with the world’s most pressing issues through collaboration and shared principles. The Vice Chancellor expressed that, “our now long-standing relationship with Secretary Clinton is found on mutual belief that through meaningful collaboration, we can change the world for the better.”

The questions posed to all three luminaries cut through the political noise, firstly touching on the ongoing unrest in Ukraine and in the Middle East. President Clinton expressed his optimism towards the current crisis, “My believe is that we’ll get through this, and we will resume elevating systematic cooperation around conflict but it’s not clear yet, and it won’t happen unless people are willing to stand up for cooperation over conflict or peace over war.” The former President’s reflections on global cooperation illuminate the efforts and work of his own administration, throughout his time as President between 1993 and 2001; during which he achieved a number of successes in his Middle East policy. Secretary Clinton extended on the President’s point, stating that, “We have to make not only the effort to stay as well informed about what’s really happening, what the facts are versus the fiction, but we have to help equip ourselves and others to withstand those forces of divisiveness.” Both of those reflections on global cooperation resonate deeply, and it is fair to say that they’re not just words; they’re a firm call to action.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, Secretary Clinton fuelled her vision into a project called Onward Together; a movement that has funnelled over  $6 million into partner organisations, raising $63 million for Democratic candidates and progressive initiatives. The powerhouse behind this initiative is the Onward Together PAC, which has poured nearly $1 million into over 225 campaigns since 2017. The result is something worth mentioning, with a 62% victory rate for the candidates Onward has supported. Secretary Clinton’s political reflections during the conference are echoed throughout her work, which is shaping the narrative of the political landscape in America with the values of collaboration, progress, and inclusivity.

The conversation delved deeper into the subjects of future generations, leadership, and the climate crisis. The First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford, highlighted Wales’s immense progress in tackling the climate issue, “20 years ago, we recycled about 5% of what we threw away, today recycling rates in Wales are third best in the world, second best in Europe, best of all in the United Kingdom.” President Clinton praised Wales’s progress, “Wales seems to make fewer excuses and more progress than any other place in the world.” Those acknowledgements underline the leadership potential, of which the rest of the world’s leadership should surely take note. According to Climate Action Wales, the Welsh Government is committed to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

Secretary Clinton also expressed her admiration for Wales’s Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and commented that in today’s world, “we are short on patience, we are short on long-term thinking, and we have an abundance of impatience and instant gratification.” It is perhaps appropriate to say that this admiration towards Wales’s attitude in regard to future generations and climate isn’t just a simple nod and a pat on the back, but instead a cry for long-term thinking in a world obsessed with short-term and personal gains. The Secretary went onto making an interesting distinction in the current political landscape, stating that, “In the United States, we have what I call two different kinds of political leaders right now; we have performers, and we have producers. We have a lot of performers, all their interested in is getting those clicks, getting that attention, being outrageous, driving people to their social media accounts. It is a form of entertainment and at the end of the day they do very little to nothing to change anybody’s life.” Everyone who was present in the Great Hall could have immediately made the same connection to the political climate in Westminster, or quite frankly, across international politics. This response poses as a challenge for current and future leaders and shows that a mindset shift is long overdue in political discourse.

So, are we doing enough, and what more can be done? Answers from all three leaders can summarised in three words: accountability, leadership, and collaboration. Secretary Clinton highlighted the importance of voting for leaders, “who are willing to be held accountable, willing to take responsibility for their service, what they do, what they stand for and are willing to be able to tell you what they’ve accomplished that is actually in your interest and in the interest of your families.” President Clinton extended on the Secretary’s advice, stating that, “I do think it’s important to recognise that there are voices asking for recognition today; political, economic, social recognition, that may be called populists. But there’s a difference in positive and negative populism. There needs to be an effort to pull up positive and inclusive populism and to fight negative and divisive.” Both pieces of advice clearly show that we, as citizens, need to be doing more to hold our leaders accountable, and supporting the “producers”; those committed to genuine and meaningful change. The First Minister for Wales also contributed his own guidance, highlighting that, “When you come across an issue that needs to be addressed, the first question you ask yourself is not what is somebody else going to do about this, but your first question is what contribution am I to solving the problem that’s in front of me.”

This discussion about leadership, progressive cause, and accountability was not another series of political rumblings that we often see in the media, but instead should be labelled as strong encouragement to young people, and everyone else, to take strong initiative in tackling the world’s issues. The Leadership for Future Generations Conference at Swansea University was a milestone in the collaborative effort to address and tackle current global challenges.