Former Colombian president tells grads to tackle ‘liberty deficit’

Iván Duque, the former president of Colombia, urged the 2024 graduating fellows of the Emerging Markets Institute (EMI) in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business to tackle what he termed a “liberty deficit” in countries across the globe.

More than 70% of the world’s population lives under authoritarian regimes, said Duque, an EMI Distinguished Fellow.

“A decade ago, it was 48%,” he said. “And that means there is a liberty deficit. And if we are not conscious about that, we’re going to have a tremendous prosperity deficit. Many rich countries are under authoritarian regimes, but they are not prosperous.

“The only way a society can prosper,” he said, “is a society in which there are liberties for people and there are economic liberties for innovators and entrepreneurs to identify ideas and make them succeed.”

Duque, a lawyer who was president of Colombia from 2018 to 2022, spoke at the EMI fellows graduation ceremony, May 24 in Sage Hall, to an audience of 250 people online and in person, including 71 EMI Class of 2024 fellows. EMI brings together students from the SC Johnson College and across Cornell to explore the role of emerging markets in the global economy through coursework, research projects, study trips, case competitions and visiting speakers.

Duque’s address as the inaugural EMI Distinguished Fellow capped his yearlong appointment, during which he is spending six weeks engaging with students, faculty and business leaders on the challenges facing emerging markets.

As the graduates launch their careers in the global economy, they will face a set of growing challenges Duque called “the four Cs of today”: climate, conflict, crisis and cyber. He encouraged the graduates to embrace the world of politics to help find solutions to these problems.

“I have conversations with businessmen and businesswomen around the world and sometimes they just tell me they don’t want to look at politics or they don’t want to look at government decisions,” he said. “But if the private sector doesn’t want to get into the discussions of policy and politics, policy and politics will get into the private sector, and not necessarily for a good reason.”

What is needed, he said, is “a private sector that thinks about democracy, liberty, entrepreneurship and the capacity to generate happiness, as the founding fathers of the United States said when they mentioned the pursuit of happiness as one of the cornerstones of this nation in which you have studied.”

Andrew Karolyi, the Charles Field Knight Dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, also addressed the EMI fellows, recalling that when EMI was established in 2010 at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, it was created to prepare future business leaders who are resilient, able and prepared to meet complex challenges and deliver positive societal change anywhere in the world.

“You represent the vision that we had 14 years ago, and I wish you all nothing but the best, wherever the road carries you,” Karolyi said.

Lourdes Casanova, the Gail and Roberto M. Cañizares Director of EMI, said EMI fellows had changed over time “because of the power of all of you – your intellectual power and eagerness to learn,” she said. She introduced debates in her class because it’s a skill that’s “very important in this very polarized world,” she said. “Here, in EMI, we listen to the other side. And we listen to many emerging markets.”

Vishal Gaur, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean of the Johnson School, said what he admires most about EMI is how it brings together students from programs across Cornell onto a common platform and provides them with a shared purpose.

“This integration that EMI provides is just the hallmark of Cornell and it’s so important for the future leadership of our students,” Gaur said. “So I would like our graduates to take this spirit forward as you step into the world and try to integrate it.”

Sherrie Negrea is a freelancer for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

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