Career diplomat talks global resilience, importance of partnerships

Walter Christman
Walter Christman (Photo: Global Strategic Analysis)
AMMAN — At the age of 18, Talal Abu Ghazaleh, then a Palestinian refugee living in Ghaziyeh in Lebanon after having been exiled from Jaffa during the 1948 war, received a unique opportunity. He received the only scholarship available from UNRWA for Palestinians to study at the American University of Beirut.اضافة اعلان

“Talal studied accounting and today he’s the owner of the largest accounting firm in the Arab world, the largest intellectual property firm in the world, and a man of considerable stature on the world stage as in the United Nations and held in high esteem,” said Walter Christman, who co-founded the Global Challenges Forum Foundation alongside Abu Ghazaleh after over 30 years spent working in international relations, in an interview with Jordan News.

“This started with an opportunity when he was 18,” Christman said. “And without that opportunity as a youth, where would he be today? So in giving back and focusing on these things, he’s looking to be able to encourage and empower and enable others to be able to carry forward in meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century. Starting with the US and China reaching a shareable discourse.”

The Global Challenges Forum Foundation (GCFF) was founded over 10 years ago and operates internationally from its base in Geneva, hoping to prepare the next generation of youth leaders and tackle future global security challenges, with a particular focus on US-China relations. “Our foundation is helping, in collaboration with the UN, to facilitate a discussion on what the United States and China hold in common and (their) shareable interests with the rest of the world, understanding that that relationship is full of tension,” Christman explained.

“In the next 10 years, we want to raise a new generation of leaders to basically be equipped to address the challenges in the twenty-first century,” he added.

The foundation’s work is based on three pillars that hope to unite disparate governments across differences: Tolerance, resilience, and youth empowerment, for sustainable development, all in support of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, according to Christman.

“Today, 40 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 25,” the co-founder, who spent over a decade as an American diplomat in Geneva, said. “By 2030, half the world’s population will be under the age of 25. Youth are not the future, they’re the present. And these emergent global challenges that we see are all interconnected,” including through health, the economy, trade, and identity.

For Christman, the pandemic has exposed the increasingly both global and digital nature of society. “We’re actually living in the post digital age,” he said. “And in this we are living in an age of interconnectedness in global collaborations in which new collaborations globally and locally are possible as never before.”

“Nation states are not as effective as they could be in the past, their boundaries are permeable. The challenges to sovereignty come through a whole array of challenges that aren’t fixed with military forces or diplomacy,” Christman explained. He called for the “an entire society connecting at all levels, individuals, organizations, nation states, or international organizations, and the global population into a new concept of global citizenship.”

“You can be both proud of your (national) identity and be a global citizen contributing your unique contribution to the common welfare of mankind, or humankind,” he added.

The consequences of a country not investing in its youth, according to Christman, can be severe. “The youth are the power of the nation. If you don’t invest in your youth, you’re headed to an impoverished future,” he said. “Who else would you invest in?”

“If you create roadblocks to opportunity, and you disable hope, the natural alternative is radicalization, which doesn’t really build the cooperative energies of the society very well, (and) can lead to the overthrow of the government or the overthrow of the regime.”

In Jordan, which has one the youngest populations in the world, the GCFF hopes to make its goals a reality through a very “grassroots, day to day level”. The foundation sponsors the Life in Abundance (LiA) initiative, which provides annual scholarships to underprivileged youth in Jordan and Palestine in the spirit of the foundation’s goal to empower young people. LiA builds on the legacy of the Gift of Life – Amman (GoLA) initiative, which provides lifesaving medical interventions for children in the Arab world.

Christman quoted a favorite saying of Abu Ghazaleh’s, that he was “lucky to suffer’’ in reference to COVID-19, which he called the “first world war of the twenty-first century.” Suffering “created opportunities for me to rise to the challenge. We may find the silver lining in (the pandemic), the world may ultimately have found a new way to collaborate.”

“So we’ll use this ‘lucky to suffer’ opportunity to harvest from what we can for the next generation and equipping and empowering youth to lead for a more sustainable world of tomorrow.”

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