IN 1985, I was fortunate to be among a group of mid-career professionals to join the Fulbright Hubert Humphrey Fellowship programme in the United States of America. Three were selected from Malaysia, one of the more than 75 countries who participate in the fellowship.
A selected number of universities in the US hosted us, and I went to Cornell University in Ithaca, upstate New York. My stint at Cornell, which was spent at the faculties dealing with the environment, did a lot to shape my interest on environmental issues.
More than 40 Malaysians have graduated from the programme and are now all members of the Malaysian chapter of the Humphrey Alumni, a mixed group that includes scientists, doctors, journalists and public administrators.
The annual programme is managed by the Malaysian-American Commission On Educational Exchange (Macee).
We learnt many things about the contributions of Senator Hubert Humphrey to humanity and the world. He was instrumental in driving many of the legal reforms in the US that touched on civil liberty and the rights of humanity. He was also passionate about championing global food production, eliminating world hunger and improving environmental well-being. In fact, these are the same elements spelt out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
No wonder Humphrey is hailed as one of the great leaders of the US who should have become president. The closest he got was as vice-president to Lyndon Johnson. But even then, he left a legacy which would put to shame many of the current world leaders.
Nowadays, many in the world are consumed by the issue of sustainabilty, which is about balancing development and the environment. Humphrey must count among the early world leaders who acted on such an important issue.
The SDGs provide strategies to reach a healthy balance between environment and development. Unfortunately, not all world leaders subscribe to the SDGs, making it difficult for the world to deliver them.
Global consensus is key. It is therefore very disconcerting that a leading nation like the US pulled out of the global pact on climate change reached in Paris a few years ago. Humphrey would surely have scorned this misguided decision.
There are valid reasons behind the world’s increasing concern over the on-going neglect of the environment. On top of the list is the resistance to move away from high-energy absorbing industries. Many have warned that the deteriorating environment may be a serious threat to the development agenda itself. In fact, it already is happening.
Global warming, climate change, biodiversity, air and water pollution have now become common talking points on the world stage.
The global engagements to find solutions have intensified, but the answers to the problems remain relatively elusive. It is unfortunate that many economies do not take the SDGs seriously. We need to do more.
In 1995, Hubert Humphrey Alumni Malaysia organised a conference titled “Into the 21st Century, Development and Environment in Harmony”. This was to propagate the legacy of Humphrey, who demonstrated a strong commitment to the SDGs.
Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad, known among many as Tok Pa and a minister in the former government, was our president then.
We also held a successful English programme for Primary Six students in Tok Pa’s constituency, Jeli in Kelantan. It helped a lot in improving the level of English among rural schools there.
We are now contemplating taking the English programme nationwide and incorporating the SDGs as its key feature. We are also reaching out to other Humphrey Alumnis in the region to collaborate with them.
It is a pity that such noble values championed by Humphrey are slowly disappearing in his own country. This should give us more reasons to propagate his legacy.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
President, Hubert Humphrey Alumni Malaysia