Keynote Address at UCLA – The Diplomacy of Knowledge: Innovation Exchange Across Borders (Los Angeles, California)
Los Angeles, California, Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Thank you for your warm welcome.
I would like to begin by offering you best wishes on behalf of all Canadians. It truly is a privilege to be the first governor general of Canada to visit California, and to be given the opportunity to speak to faculty, students and staff at this prestigious institution of learning.
This morning, I toured a part of your beautiful campus, and at lunch, I took part in an enlightening discussion on how UCLA can help Canada and the United States to train the next generation of researchers and innovators.
The Canadian Studies Program and the Canada Fulbright Chairs right here at UCLA are examples of how this is already happening.
The California Nanosystems Institute, where we are today, is home to the Canada Fulbright Chairs, which attract leading Canadian scientists to UCLA. Last year, two Canadians held the Fulbright Chairs: Ted Sargent and Shana Kelley, both from the University of Toronto. This year, the institute is hosting Dr. Christopher J. Barrett, an Associate Professor of Chemistry at McGill.
I would like to thank Vice Provost Cindy Fan for her effective leadership of the International Institute.
I would also like to thank Glen MacDonald for his work with the Canadian Studies Program, which focuses on the environment and sustainability. Canadian academics and researchers can contribute greatly to efforts being made to increase our sustainability and better protect the environment. We must find a way to meet today’s needs without compromising future generations, and I am pleased that this collaboration is taking place between some of Canada’s brightest minds and researchers here at UCLA.
These initiatives are important opportunities for dialogue, exchange, learning and innovation between our two countries—what I call the diplomacy of knowledge.
I would like to accomplish three things with my remarks today, adding my Canadian perspective to the questions you are asking and the great work you are doing here.
First, I want to reinforce the importance of practicing what I like to call “the diplomacy of knowledge,” defined as our ability and willingness to share our learning across disciplines and borders.
Second, I would like to share some insights as to why I think Canada is a great partner in terms of learning and innovation. Although there is already a great deal of collaboration taking place between UCLA and Canadian institutions and researchers, I believe even greater things are possible.
And third, I would like to keep my remarks reasonably brief, so we can have a stimulating conversation and all learn something together.
Or, as my grandmother used to say: Stand up to be seen, speak up to be heard, and sit down to be appreciated!
Some advice is timeless.
Allow me to start by asking you to summon up a very concrete image in your minds: that of a candle.
Why a candle? Candles are a simple, but truly amazing technology. But don’t take my word for it—take it from Thomas Jefferson, a truly great American who ran America’s first patent office, among his many contributions to this country..
Jefferson, as you know, was a leading figure in the Enlightenment. He coined what I believe to still be the most brilliant metaphor for learning: candlelight.
Of light, and ideas, he said:
“…no one possesses the less because everyone possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me receives [it] without lessening [me], as he who lights his [candle] at mine receives light without darkening me.”
Let us add inclusiveness to insight by reformulating Jefferson’s metaphor to: he or she who receives an idea and lights their own light.
The simple but profoundly relevant point is that ideas, like light, are strengthened, rather than diminished, by sharing. Physicists call this candlepower. Societies that lose sight of this principle in favour of too-strict a control of information and intellectual property do so at their peril. Eventually, the wick burns down and goes dark.
Obviously, I know I run the risk of preaching to the converted with this story. Each of you is well aware of the importance of partnerships and an outward-looking perspective.
I talk about sharing and collaboration everywhere I go, because time and again in my life, I have seen how wonderful things can happen when we work together.
In fact, the coat-of-arms I received upon my installation as governor general features, at the crest, a burning candle.
In today’s globalized world, at a time when we are facing complex, interrelated challenges, the sharing of knowledge across borders and disciplines is perhaps more important than ever before in human history.
A curious feature of globalization is that it not only enables greater collaboration, but it also requires it.
You never know from where a new idea or innovation will arise.
Here’s an example from a region that is quite different from southern California: Mongolia.
Last fall, I had the privilege of making a State visit to Mongolia, a remarkable country where a very interesting democratic evolution has been taking place since 1989.
Among the many things I learned during my visit was the little-known story of Genghis Khan’s contribution to Western civilization.
To many Westerners, Genghis Khan might seem an unlikely source of knowledge and enlightenment. And yet, the Mongol conquest of lands—stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the East to Vienna in the West—saw Genghis Khan and his descendants spread knowledge, ideas and new technologies—the stirrup, the compass, gunpowder and the printing press—all across the vastness of Asia and into Western Europe.
Scholars are only now beginning to unravel the complex nature of discovery and how ideas are spread throughout human societies. The notion that the Enlightenment may have been sparked—at least in part—by Mongol ingenuity may be new to us, but it is consistent with what we are discovering about how ideas travel and how civilizations thrive or fail based on their capacity to innovate.
Fortunately, today we have a vastly improved ability and willingness to share ideas—without needing to conquer one another!
This is particularly true when it comes to the sharing that takes place between Canada and the United States: which brings me to my second theme: Canada as partner in learning and innovation.
The scientific and intellectual collaboration between Canada and the United States—and our overall bilateral relationship, which is based on people-to-people ties—is unrivalled in the world.
Our trading relationship, for example, is the largest in the world, reaching $734 billion (USD) in 2013. One in seven Canadian jobs depends on trade with the U.S., while more than eight million American jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada.
One example of the collaboration between our nations is the Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership in Cancer Stem Cells, through which we are sharing knowledge and best practices, and making new discoveries in cancer treatment.
We have made breakthroughs in cancer research together, thanks to the support and knowledge of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. These types of partnerships—and the creation of a cancer research “dream team”—have benefited both Americans and Canadians.
Over the years, our shared commitment to learning and discovery has been a constant, and has helped to guide us through broader issues. The diplomacy of knowledge flourishes between us.
Almost 30 000 Canadians study in the U.S., and the U.S. sends 12 000 students to Canada, making it the fifth-largest contributor of foreign students to our country. This is one of the statistics that I really love because it demonstrates our ability to collaborate.
We are also strong collaborators in academic publishing: 48.8 percent of science and engineering articles by Canadians were international co-publications, and Canadian researchers collaborated most with U.S. researchers (Note: 47.6 percent of Canada’s co-publications).
Prior to being appointed governor general of Canada, I was first the president of McGill University and then of the University of Waterloo. During those years, I made several visits to universities and research labs in California to sign agreements and to meet with students and leaders.
And I continue to be impressed by the extent of collaboration in learning and innovation that exists between this state and Canada.
Canadians are one of the largest foreign student groups in California. A number of Canadian alumni networks are also very active in this state. Canadian universities are eager to form research partnerships, establish co-op placements, fundraise and cultivate relationships with alumni here.
A large number of Canadian students, especially engineering students—for example from the University of Waterloo—undertake international co-op placements in the western United States with American ICT companies such as Microsoft, CISCO and Google.
I would not like to talk a little about Canada and why I believe Canadians are such great partners in learning.
We have four key qualities working in our favour.
First, Canadians believe deeply in the value of working together and learning from one another. We came to this belief early and out of necessity; our climate and geography can be challenging, to say the least, and the first European arrivals were wholly dependent on their willingness to learn from Aboriginal peoples.
Second, Canada has made quality education freely or affordably accessible to all. Because of this, generations of Canadians have had a better chance of overcoming barriers such as discrimination, poverty and social immobility. We have tried to level the playing field in order to create greater equality of opportunity.
We believe that creating an educated society is both the right thing to do and the bright thing to do, and with 51 percent of the Canadian population possessing a college or university education, we rank the highest among OECD countries in this regard, and are currently first in terms of our post-secondary participation rate.
But Canada is not making efforts towards accessibility just because it’s the nice thing to do. Let me refer to a book you may know, called Why Nations Fail—co-authored by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson of MIT and Harvard University, respectively—which emphasizes how important equality or “inclusiveness” is to our prosperity.
“Inclusive economic institutions create inclusive markets, which not only give people freedom to pursue the vocations in life that best suit their talents but also provide a level playing field that gives them the opportunity to do so. Those who have good ideas will be able to start businesses, workers will tend to go to activities where their productivity is greater, and less efficient firms can be replaced by more efficient ones.”
Perhaps the single greatest equalizer in creating a “level playing field” is a strong public education system.
As an aside, there is a Canadian connection to Why Nations Fail, which has been compared to The Wealth of Nations by Nobel Prize-winning economists. The book was in part produced by the Global Economy program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, where Drs. Robinson and Acemoglu—both of whom are Americans—are senior fellows—another example of Canada/U.S. research collaboration.
Our public education system is an important part of what I like to call the “Canadian competence factor,” which makes our country such a strong partner in learning and innovation. The results of the OECD PISA tests show that Canada leads all English-speaking countries in achievement levels in the primary and secondary education systems.
The third characteristic that Canada possesses that makes it a great partner in learning is our success in combining accessibility in education with excellence. It is not a case of “either/or,” but rather of “both/and.” Think “synchronized gear,” not “see-saw.” The equality of our system reinforces its excellence, by allowing the most capable students—as opposed to the most well-heeled or well-connected—to pursue the vocations to which they are best-suited. It is a meritocracy, if you will, not an aristocracy.
In this, Canada has done well, but we can always do better. An OECD study ranking member nations on the degree to which children in their country met or exceeded the educational levels of their parents found that, for the top 80 percent of students, Canada was ranked number one.
However, for the other 20 percent of students, Canada ranked in the bottom third, which tells us that a significant portion of our population has less access to education than their parents did.
I am convinced that countries that recognize and address gaps such as these will be better-able to succeed in today’s world.
Canada’s fourth positive quality as a partner in learning—and this is a great asset in our globalized world—is that we encourage new Canadians to retain and celebrate their culture and language, while embracing the best values of Canada. This approach fosters social harmony and makes our country a truly outward-looking, global microcosm.
Fundamentally, Canada’s approach is an inclusive one. It is not perfect, of course, and we can and must do better, but I believe that the Canadian approach to learning is one of our important contributions to the world. We also benefit from the considerable learning of those who immigrate to Canada, as they are often highly educated. Forty-five percent of the 1.9 million permanent residents who were accepted into Canada between 2001 and 2010 had at least an undergraduate degree.
An inclusive approach to learning and innovation is essential to a successful society. Canadians by and large welcome the world to Canada, and we are eager to learn from others—including from great American institutions such as UCLA.
This in part explains why so many graduates of Canadian institutions are now based in California. They are making an impact here, and not just in education, but in high tech, health care, culture, finance and energy—I could go on.
In fact, it is estimated that nearly one million Canadian expatriates are now living and working in California. We are intimately linked as peoples, cultures, polities and economies.
Before we begin our Q&A discussion, I would like to leave you with a challenge: let’s explore our partnerships further and extend the limits of our Canada-U.S. knowledge chains. Let’s find innovative ways to break down barriers between disciplines.
The basic principle to success between Canada, the United States and our other key partner on the continent, Mexico, is that the well-being of each depends on that of the others. These are the terms of the North American community or, to use an environmental term, the North American ecosystem. Let’s take our cues from ecology and recognize how interdependent we are, not just as living beings, but as neighbours in a globalized society.
We must do this for our own sake, and to remain competitive and relevant in today’s world. Science, technology and innovation are of utmost importance to our lives today.
As the great Canadian philosopher and humanist Ursula Franklin said, “Technology has built the house in which we all live.” Canadians understand that addressing the challenges facing our environment, our economy and our society requires a deep commitment to learning and innovation.
This realization has taken root the world over and, as partners in North America, we can be inspired by other regions. For example, countries in Southeast Asia are developing impressive research and learning hubs, while linking their cities by high-speed rail to facilitate the movement of people, goods and ideas.
Practicing the diplomacy of knowledge means recognizing that we are stronger when we work and learn together. Competition is vital and necessary, and diversity is essential to maintaining our resilience, but we must always keep in mind Jefferson’s candle and the basic principle of the Enlightenment: knowledge is meant to be shared.
It is up to us to find ways to share it and to work together. Let us take full advantage of the opportunities that are now open to us. As the saying goes, the most effective form of knowledge transfer is a good pair of shoes, especially if you wear them out in exchanges, internships and co-op programs. What other modes of co-operation can we develop? How can we collaborate further? Our communities and cultures can be enriched by a diversity of perspectives and ideas.
And so, I urge each of you to continue your important work together and to extend your collaboration to an even greater number of Canadians and Americans. Our challenge is to take a great foundation and build something substantially better.