The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova took part in the Distinguished Lecture Series, organized at the Fels Institute of Government of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League Institution.
The event was chaired and moderated by Ms Marjorie Margolies, CEO of Women’s Campaign International and Senior Fellow at the Fels Institute of Government, with an exchange with students from the Institute.
Underlining the importance that UNESCO attaches to promoting access to education and opportunities for women and girls worldwide, Irina Bokova commended Ms. Margolies’ lifelong dedication to advancing women’s leadership – recalling that gender equality is a UNESCO global priority.
With the students the Director-General referred to UNESCO’s action to tackle core challenges facing the world today – including the fight for quality education for all, and global citizenship, in order to prevent radicalization and violent extremism, racism and anti-Semitism.
“It’s such a pleasure to see so many students interested in critical issues such as sustainable development, climate change, and gender equality. We need to talk about the issues and we need to search for answers to some of these very difficult challenges that we confront” she said.
“We live in a world which is more connected than ever and we have more information about each other, but at the same time our societies are more fragmented and more polarized”.
Emphasizing the critical role of higher education institutions to the development agenda, the Director-General stressed that “one of the most important needs nowadays is to have access to international development studies, and universities like this are very well placed to produce reliable data and studies in such critical areas as water, literacy and girls education”.
Irina Bokova expressed appreciation for the excellent cooperation established between UNESCO and UPenn under the leadership of Prof. Dan Wagner, UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy.
“UNESCO is very pleased to benefit from the service of talented students from the University who are doing internships in our field offices all around the world, including in Dakar, Beijing, Paris and even Samoa” she said.
Responding to questions from students about the importance of preserving cultural heritage, the Director-General stressed that “without knowing our history, without understanding where we come from and the cultural diversity of the world, we do not have an identity”.
“Culture and heritage is about who we are and learning to live together," she continued.
The event was attended by around 300 graduate and post-graduate students from the Fels Institute and other departments of the University of Pennsylvania.