News — August 24, 2018

The Passing of a Changemaker: JCI Secretary General Remembers Kofi Annan

On the morning of Saturday 18 August, the world received notice about the passing of former Secretary-General of the United Nations and one of my personal role models, Kofi Annan. As the world continues to mourn the loss of this global icon, we should all use this time to reflect on the contributions he made to help better our world.

When we reflect on Mr. Annan’s contributions toward sustainable development, we think of his leadership at the United Nations, the Kofi Annan Foundation and his role as a Ghanaian diplomat, but long before making the headlines he was simply a young active citizen who wanted to create a fairer and more peaceful world. Growing up in Ghana, he was a student leader at his secondary school by getting involved with clubs such Junior Chamber International (JCI) and AIESEC. He challenged the status quo in everything he did, working tirelessly to advance peace, believing that, “suffering anywhere concerns people everywhere."

Few have the ability to rise above the narrow confines given to them in the name of helping others. Few have spent their lifetime developing Africa into the continent many have dreamt of it becoming. Few have selflessly placed others first to be a champion of peace, sustainable development, and human rights. During a time when peace seemed unrealistic, Mr. Annan could have been cynical. During a time when profits seemed to dictate business interest, Mr. Annan could have been indifferent about engaging the private sector with sustainable development. During a time—in the past and present—when men overwhelmingly dominate the conversation, Mr. Annan could have ignored the voices of women and young people who beg for change, yet he chose to challenge the status quo, advancing our planet so we can build a better world.

As he rests in peace, Mr. Annan leaves behind a world still plagued with conflict, terrorism, poverty and many other global challenges, but it is a world that has been greatly improved by his leadership. He has left behind millions of young active citizens who are inspired by his life’s work and promise to continue creating positive change. To the thousands of JCI members who heard him speak at the 2017 JCI World Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands, upon his death we are reminded of his words and how we need to continue to act for a more just and peaceful world.

“I am optimistic about the future. Today we have the largest global population in history, and the vast majority of young people in the world are committed to peace, sustainable development and human rights. Throughout my career I met with numerous youth groups, student associations, young leaders, and I have always been struck by their talent, knowledge and ambition to create a better world. With new forms of technology and interaction, your generation is a source of opportunity and possibility and is connected more than any other previous generation…For these reasons, I am confident that you will be able to do what my generation has not been able to achieve,” Mr. Annan expressed to me during last year’s JCI World Congress.

As an active citizen myself, I have always admired his calm demeanor, his decency, turn of phrase and persuasive abilities. I was blessed to have been in his presence and felt the positive energy that he exuded. The world will miss you as you journey on to another world.

With sincere compassion,
Arrey Obenson
JCI Secretary General

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