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Thank you to President’s Institute for inviting me today – even though I’m not a president.
But then again – with a room full of presidents, there should be room for at least one prime minister.
There is one president missing, though. President Bill Clinton. He should be on his way. His plane will be landing shortly, as I understand.
48 years ago another special landing took place.
On this day, the command module of the Apollo 13 returned to Earth, after a failed mission to the moon.
Most of you know the story. “Houston we have a problem”.
What had started out as a great aspiration – ended up as a rescue mission. And luckily – a successful one.
I’m sure a lot of inspiring leadership points can be made from this mission and the way it turned out.
But to me – the most inspiring thing about the Apollo 13 – is the Apollo 14.
Because less than a year after the failure of Apollo 13, the Apollo 14 landed safely on the moon.
Instead of doing the easy thing, and shut down the program – visionary leaders faced the problems. Improved the program. And took the next step forward.
When I look at the world today from my perspective – I think we could learn a lot from that approach.
Over the last decades we have managed to make the world a better place.
Globalization is at its peak. Making it possible for new ideas to flourish. And for inventions to make a global difference.
Since 1990 infant mortality has been reduced by more than 40 percent worldwide.
The number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by more than one billion people.
Child marriage rates are falling. Life expectancy is increasing. And literacy rates have never been higher.
To me – there is no doubt – that new technology, free trade and globalization have made the world a better place for the vast majority of people around the world.
...for the vast majority, yes.
But we – who are in favor of globalization – must admit that a fair share of people in the western world, do not share our excitement.
They feel worse off because of global dynamics. To them, development equals insecurity. Competition equals problems. And the future equals a constant fight to – just to try keeping up with rest.
I was personally reminded of this a while ago. At two separate occasions.
Some of you have heard the story before. I apologize for that.
The first occasion took place in my own living room.
My oldest son, Bergur, had just graduated from Copenhagen Business School.
To celebrate, he invited some of his fellow students for dinner in our apartment.
I was appointed head chef of the evening.
And while I was cooking and serving food and drinks for the guests, I couldn’t help noticing their optimism.
None of them feared the future. They were full of dreams and ambitions. They were even speaking English all night – although only one was not a Dane. And he was actually able to speak Danish, by the way.
Some days later, I was biking with a group of kids who have suffered many defeats in life. And in school. Left with nowhere to go.
They were talking about the future as well. One had just received his first good grade - ever.
These boys had dreams as well. But they far too often turned into dead ends – or even nightmares. Because of difficulties in school or at home.
Ladies and gentlemen.
If we turn our backs on such kids – close our eyes to the flip-side of globalization – we are not only compromising our moral obligations as leaders and humans.
...we also risk losing support for free trade, international cooperation – and perhaps even liberal democracy.
In my opinion, we all need to be aware of this danger.
And all leaders – at all levels are responsible for dealing with it. Because if free trade becomes less free. If international cooperation fails. If our liberal societies erode – we will all be affected.
The good news is that we can in fact make a better world. If we decide to do so. And learn from the past.
I think we should do so – and I think we should handle the challenges we face like they did on the Apollo program – 48 years ago.
Instead of tearing down the institutions, agreements and societies we have built. We should start improving them.
It can be done. And I think Denmark, and the rest of the Nordic countries, are a living proof of that.
Back in time, Denmark was an absolute monarchy. One king dictated everything.
But a hundred and seventy years ago people gathered in the streets of Copenhagen. Marched towards the king’s palace.
They declared that the time of absolutism was over. Denmark was to become a free and democratic country.
And surprisingly the king agreed. Revolution was a fact. The most peaceful ever...probably.
Today, this way of caring about the future of our society. And finding peaceful solutions. Is still a part of our DNA.
Within the last century we have built a welfare state. Yes – we pay high taxes. But we get something in return. Free education, free hospital care, a helping hand when we get old or, if we lose our job.
For more than a century, employers and unions have solved labor market issues together. Most often with a responsible perspective on both sides. Creating a flexible labor market. Where employers are able to reallocate resources. And employees are provided with a fair degree of security. And I hope today will be yet another proof.
And despite being one of the most digitized countries in the world – we still insist that people comes first. And that human trust is one of the most important values of all.
To me – this approach is the way forward.
True leadership is not only about making the most fortunate able to perform. It is also about providing everyone with a fair chance.
True leadership is not just about putting your company first. It’s about adding value to the world in which you operate.
And true leadership is definitely not a matter of only putting your country first. It’s about being part of something bigger.
That goes for all kind of presidents. Today, tomorrow – in space and on Earth.
In these words – welcome to Copenhagen. Welcome to this great conference.
I hope you will enjoy your stay – and will stay focused on how we create a better world for all.