On 12 September 2016, I had the privilege of presenting a graduation speech on behalf of the 2015-2016 class of graduating advanced master students from the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp, Belgium. I share with you what I said to the public audience that day. The audio-visual of that speech starts at time 1:30:00 in the recorded proceedings located in this link…
Distinguished Guests, new students, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of myself and my colleagues I thank you for making time to share in this memorable time of achievement with us as we graduate from this rigorous training process at the Institute of Development Policy and Management of the University of Antwerp. One of the very first clauses we heard during our training here is: ‘Asia is not a country’. Of course; neither is Europe, nor Latin America, nor Africa. But throughout our stay in this glittering diamond city of Antwerp, as students from over 18 different countries around the world, we tried to live as though the world was a country.
Let me share with you an anecdote.
On the 13th February 2016, we were scheduled to play a match between two master programs in our maiden IOB Students Football league. We arrived at the venue to realise that the facility was inaccessible. Subsequently, we had to wait for about a whole hour to eventually get access; and we had a wonderful time of fun and healthy competition together.
What is remarkable about this incident is that, many students had very busy schedules with academic work and had only turned up in honour of the match. Despite this disappointing welcome, students from different backgrounds and cultures who had studied together for barely 6 months managed to unite around a common course. This sense of belongingness and unity in diversity is one of the very profound experiences we will be taking with us as we graduate. Whilst it may have not have been a perfect sense of togetherness, we definitely are leaving IOB with a greater international network of minds and opinions. To our new students, this is an experience I advise you to make the most of.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
We can’t emphasize it more that the IOB’s academic calendar is heavily packed. But we survived it. And we believe that any student who commits to the goal of becoming a better academic and development practitioner can do same. We were privileged to have healthy brainstorming debates with the high level of expertise found in the IOB faculty. Many of them were very open to critical perspectives of students about theories espoused in the classroom. And I am sure our professors would have a similar feelings considering the rich early career expertise many students entered IOB with. The empirical perspectives from which faculty engaged the theories is something we believe makes IOB an excellent pro-policy institution of higher learning and which we appreciate.
Now to another insightful anecdote.
One of the very popular moments this academic year is the 1st Leg of the student’s vs staff football match. It was a lot of fun and we were happy to have redeemed the trophy in the second leg. But beyond the fun, perhaps as students we can take development lessons from our surprising 7:8 defeat to the staff team in the first match. I will mention 3 main lessons.
First, institutions determine everything, and should be given ultimate consideration. I dare say that without the gender rule, students would probably have won that match; and when it was changed we indeed won the rematch. Second, all-inclusive human resource development is crucial to progress. For instance, just consider what the score-line would have been if we had female students with football skills comparable to the likes of Prof. Marijke Verpoorten and Dr. Carola Betzold…. Hence, the unfavourable institutions would have mattered less if the students team skills were developed from both gender perspectives. Fellow students, if we want another proof why gender issues matter in development; there we have it. Thirdly, context and circumstances matter. I can confidently say that students would have won easily if the contest had been singing, mountain climbing or badminton. So as we graduate with renewed energy, let’s be reminded that it is good to reward effort, but context and circumstance are crucial.
Fellow students, we engaged these development theories in class and discussed them in relation to sometimes remote cases. We used examples like a faraway village in Nicaragua or a slum in Vietnam; but they eventually turned out to affect our little soccer game in the rich diamond city of Antwerp. So perhaps, as we leave the tutorship of IOB, we would be minded by these personal theory-meets-practice lessons in development and recognise how critical Institutions, Human Resource and Equity are in everyday life and do more to influence them for good. (By the way, I admonish our new students to defend the trophy in the name of the students of IOB)
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, as I conclude, I wish to appreciate the students’ secretariat for their support. Throughout the year, we have indeed recognised how significant it is to have those officers. Therefore, on behalf of my colleagues, I give honourable mentions to Dr. Sara Dewatcher, Ciska De Ruyver, Joelle D’hondt and Greet Annaert. We know you are just doing your jobs, but it affects our lives, memories and experiences significantly, and we appreciate it. Talking of memories, we hope that in the near future IOB will consider providing students with graduation gowns and caps for graduations; at least, for a photo opportunity. We understand this may not be popular with Belgian culture. But considering that succeeding generation of IOB students express such desire, from Amartya Sen’s perspective, that would be some graduation ceremony students would have extra reason to value.
To our individual professors, we hope that this strong partnership we have established does not end here. In future, if we complement your ideas like Dr. Andy Sumner does to Prof. Paul Collier, we hope you continue to support us. However, as we gather our own experiences, if we become critical of your views like Dr. Dambisa Moyo does to Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, we hope you understand and tolerate.
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow students, may I invite all of us to join in this three hearty cheers to mark a successful episode in our lives and a new promising chapter in our careers. Hip Hip Hip!!!!!! Hurrayyy.
Let’s Develop Together.