Need an Antidote to Trump’s UN Speech? Try this Conversation with Finland’s Former President

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Tarja Halonen is Chair Emerita of the United Nations Foundation’s Council of Women World Leaders, and former two-term president of Finland (from 2000 to 2012). She traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico in September to speak about leadership to an overflow crowd at The Women’s International Study Center.

Halonen was there to speak about political evolution: how a country evolves as a political entity, and how people evolve into roles of political leadership. She was there to inspire and recruit by example. “You are just a human being,” she told the primarily female audience, “but human beings have to lead this planet.”

Halonen spoke about her approach to policymaking in Finland, which is known for its high achieving public education system. She credits its success with the fact that, “we keep everybody on board,” and explained why universal access to a good education is important to a healthy society. “My daddy used to say to me, I cannot choose a husband for you. You have to have a good education, so you can have economic independence.” She emphasized her country’s value of focusing on “We” not “I,” and shared the secret to Finland’s social policy successes. “When you make a welfare society, don’t make it so it’s good enough for your neighbor; make it so it’s good enough for yourself.”

“When you make a welfare society, don’t make it so it’s good enough for your neighbor; make it so it’s good enough for yourself.”

She spoke about leadership with a particular purpose: Finland’s temperature is rising faster than anywhere in the world, and its leaders have been vocal about the need for the Paris Climate Accords to be respected, especially by the U.S. and Russia. “Because of climate change, we have to work very hard, we cannot retreat, we have to move forward,” she said.

I spoke with President Halonen, who combines personal warmth and seriousness of purpose, at the Center’s offices in Santa Fe’s historic Acequia Madre House.

Read the interview at THE PROGRESSIVE