Mary Robinson

Thanks to being a Skoll Award winner, I am frequently blessed with the opportunity to hear from the world’s most inspiring leaders. Whether it’s local in California, or at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, there is a regular chance I will have my mind expanded.

The latest Skoll opportunity came along with the recent visit of Mary Robinson to Palo Alto. She hit the world stage most notably as Ireland’s first female president, and has continued to campaign for the world’s most vulnerable people, especially women.

Mary spoke privately to a small group of social sector leaders at the Skoll Foundation offices. I want to share just two insights from Mary that made a big impression on me.

First, she saw 2015 as having two watershed events. The first was the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations. These goals commit all countries of the world to make progress on critical social objectives, such as ending poverty and hunger, improving access to clean water, education, and gender equality, as well as a dozen others. The second was the Paris Agreement on climate. She saw this incredible combination as a watershed moment in global history. She sees the two events as inextricably linked: we need to strongly move forward on our social developmental objectives while protecting the planet. She was disappointed that a bigger deal wasn’t made at the beginning of 2016 recognizing the dawning of this new global era!

Second, she talked about key dates in our climate goals. The headline goal of the Paris Agreement is to ensure that global temperature rise by 2100 is no more than two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That date always seemed like a long way off. Mary made the climate change goals of 2100 tangible in a deeply personal way. She explained that that the grandchildren of the people sitting around the table were highly likely to be alive in 2100. As someone who doesn’t currently have grandchildren, but hopes to in the next ten years, this really hit home. Children being born today should have every expectation of living on average at least 84 years!

This is where the voices of Elders like Mary Robinson are especially powerful: awakening insights and inspiring action from all of us. I look forward to the next time I have a Skoll moment (maybe with the Dalai Lama in Oxford this spring?)!


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