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The 2015 Concordia Summit on October 2nd, 2015 in New York, NY.
By Matthew A. Swift
Chairman, Co-Founder, & CEO, Concordia

David Brooks, the conservative political and cultural commentator for The New York Times, recently wrote that he missed President Obama because he “feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board.” Whether you agree with his comments about President Obama or not, his reference to the broader political class and their behavior could not be more accurate.

This past week, Concordia hosted a roundtable session with the former Majority Leader of the United States Senate, George J. Mitchell. Senator Mitchell is a member of our Leadership Council, and while we convened to discuss the geopolitical ramifications of recent events in the Middle East, I was struck mostly by something else.

The United States and the international community are thirsty for strong leaders. Leadership does not come down to simply who is the most assertive or forthcoming with might or power, but instead about the moral character of the individual and their ability to serve their country with integrity no matter what their role. From serving as the Independent Chairman of the Northern Ireland Peace Talks to his position as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Senator Mitchell has shown a remarkable agility when tackling any issue important to the country. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still maintain the ability to function.” Senator Mitchell has been principally tasked with holding two opposing ideas in mind while not only functioning but also actively negotiating world peace.

If the most significant issues of our time could be addressed with a simple right or wrong answer, we would not still be facing the same historical challenges. While referencing his approach to complex issues such as negotiating the Americans with Disabilities Act or peace in the Middle East, Senator Mitchell stated, “A perfect agreement is the refuge for those who don’t like the agreement and do not have an acceptable alternative.” A leader that recognizes the principal of compromise and the mutual benefit of reaching middle ground is greatly needed within political ranks around the world.

Over the last five years, Concordia has dedicated itself to the greatest issues affecting the world today. There is one constant theme throughout all our sessions: that a solution of consensus, while imperfect, is far better than no solution at all. At this past Summit, a session on youth unemployment, held in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation included José María Aznar, former President, Government of Spain; Jabulane Mabuza, Chairman, Telkom South Africa; Ahmad Alhendawi, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Dr. Jacob A. Frenkel, Chairman, JPMorgan Chase International. A consistent thread throughout the discussion highlighted the fact that the private sector tends not to factor in broader implications of youth unemployment into its business decisions, despite the fact it is in its best interest to do so. The panelists emphasized that consensus was needed in uniting the private sector’s bottom line with youth opportunity and empowerment, especially as extremism continues to spread in certain regions of the world, and remains closely linked to youth unemployment, representing an enormous opportunity deficit for future generations.

As we think about these larger issues facing the world, how do we take into account the lessons of Senator Mitchell? One key takeaway from his remarks emphasizes the value of a platform like Concordia’s – ensuring that all sectors, public, private, and nonprofit recognize their own role, responsibility, and vested interest in addressing pressing issues such as youth unemployment. I hope the next generation of political leadership is as agile, as honorable, and as prepared to tackle challenging global issues as Senator George Mitchell.