Annual Lecture 2013

Kofi Annan

On May 23, 2013, former United Nations Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan delivered the Global Centre for Pluralism’s second annual Pluralism Lecture, “Pluralism: A Key Challenge of the 21st Century.” Addressing a crowd of 250 people and an online audience of nearly 400, Mr. Annan reflected on his recent experiences in Kenya and Syria as part of the challenge of managing pluralism in a globalized world. Mr. Annan is a member of the Centre’s Board of Directors.

Pluralist societies by their nature are challenging to govern. To secure the equitable outcomes of pluralism, Mr. Annan urged governments to:

  • Ensure that equal weight is given to the three pillars of successful societies, which are peace and security, development, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
  • Create the right institutions and policies to manage diversity and prevent communities from becoming marginalized and oppressed.
  • Educate citizens to foster mutual respect and tolerance.
  • Promote dialogue to combat fear, intolerance and extremism.

“My long experience has taught me,” he said, “that, whatever our background, what unites us is far greater than what divides us…We have to learn from each other, making our different traditions and cultures a source of harmony and strength, not discord and weakness.” But he stressed there is no simple, one-size-fits-all formula for pluralism that will solve the problems of diversity in all societies.

“The mix of policies and institutions required to manage relations between indigenous communities and a majority of long-established incomers is not the same as that required to integrate and protect ‘new’ minorities who have only recently arrived.” Solutions must be tailored for the unique situation of every single society. “This is where the role of the Centre will be invaluable.”

Mr. Annan commended His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada “for having the vision and generosity” to establish a centre dedicated to the creation of stable, fair societies where people can fulfill themselves and live together in harmony.

The 2013 Annual Pluralism Lecture was live streamed through the website of the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. Following Mr. Annan’s formal remarks, Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse asked Mr. Annan about the current situation in Syria before fielding questions from the audience.

His Highness the Aga Khan, founder and chairman of the Global Centre for Pluralism, introduced Mr. Annan. “Kofi Annan has truly been an inspiration – demonstrating the power of patience and persistence – of a willingness always to listen – and a refusal to give up hope.”

The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada, closed the Annual Pluralism Lecture, thanking Mr. Annan on behalf of the Centre. The audience followed suit with a standing ovation.

The Centre gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the Kofi Annan Foundation and the partnership of the Globe and Mail.


Kofi Annan

Kofi A. Annan served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006. Mr. Annan is the Chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation.