Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Friends,
Thank you for coming!
It’s wonderful to have you all here tonight.
After we sent out the invitations, it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who thought that a ?Monday evening? would be the safest bet for organizing an event during the holiday season:
?I myself received 3 invitations for tonight!
So I am particularly grateful to all of you for choosing to be here and honoring us with your presence tonight.
Some of you I have known from my original stint at the German Embassy 8-13 years ago.
5 years ago, when I was back at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, the Asia Department mooted the idea that, given my extensive Asia experience, I could perhaps be seconded to the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and return to Singapore.
The highest levels of the German Federal Foreign Office supported the idea to nominate and fully second me.
1st the European Caucus of ASEF’s Board of Governors and then the Executive Committee agreed that I was the right candidate for the position of Deputy Executive Director and the Board of Governors concurred.
All this allowed me to serve ASEF as the Deputy Executive Director for the past 4 years.
This was the most interesting and challenging, and most rewarding posting of my 25-year diplomatic career!
I enjoyed the challenge immensely and found myself a passionate advocate of ASEF’s work.
About 2 years ago, a 2nd idea was mooted that given my engagement for ASEF’s work and how experienced I now was with ASEF and the ASEM Process and with the intricacies of the political and administrative structures of both, I would be the right person to lead ASEF into its 20th year.
There was no precedent for anyone moving from Deputy to Executive Director at ASEF.
And I was particularly honored by the initiative given the very big shoes left behind by such prominent and eminent figures as ASEF’s 1st Executive Director, Prof. Tommy Koh.
Once again I benefited from support from the highest levels of the Federal Foreign Office.
This time I even caught the attention of the German Federal President who appointed me as Ambassador in March.
Fortune favored me once more and I was voted in as Executive Director of ASEF with a substantial majority.
As you can imagine, I was delighted by the outcome and humbled by the support I received and by the trust placed in me by so many to lead this unique and important organisation.
It has been a long road here.
I never imagined when I left Singapore 8 years ago that I would be standing here in front of you today as Ambassador, Executive Director and Head of the Asia-Europe Foundation.
From an idea, to a plan, to a strategy, to a campaign, to a vote, to approval, and to success twice in a row only proves once again that nothing is impossible!
I want to share my gratitude with all of you.
I want to thank wholeheartedly all those of you who encouraged me, who supported me, who voted for me, who believe in me.
In particular, I am forever grateful to my wife, Lavinia, who imagined and believed, and encouraged me to believe the impossible to be possible, and to my colleagues and supporters in Germany and Europe, and particularly to Birgitt Ory, former German Alternate ASEM Senior Official, who made the impossible possible once more.
After 4 years of working and learning at ASEF, I am now in a position to take this organisation forward into its 3rd decade.
Although our offices are hosted here in Singapore, we at ASEF know that many of you may not notice the work we do.
The reason for this is that we work and deliver projects in 51 Asian and European countries between Norway and New Zealand, so we make news around the world but rarely in the same country.
Some of you may not even know the work we do.
Let me help you out quickly.
We bring Asians and Europeans together to understand each other better, to work and to cooperate together through our projects.
And we have done this successfully for 20 years.
We manage to bring people together, Asians and Europeans, civil society and government representatives, women and men, the young and the less young – pretty much like the crowd we have brought together here tonight.
In our projects we manage to get them to collaborate and produce outcomes and results, recommendations and reports, and, in some cases we even manage to change lives.
We run about 20 projects with about 60 events and activities every year in culture, education, governance and human rights, sustainable development, economy, and public health.
I am proud of our work and I am proud of the ASEF team of dedicated and talented people who put in many hours of strategic thinking and hard work to make all this possible.
We do all this with a team of 40 people from 20 different countries; 2/3 of my team are under 40; and 3/4 are women.
In 2017, ASEF turns 20.
For this occasion, we have just created a new tagline, which we feel exemplifies the spirit in which we work: “Diversity creates”.
And we have deliberately left the ending to your imagination.
ASEF connects people from very different Asian and European countries and cultures, as diverse as Germany and China, Finland and Mongolia.
ASEF connects people from diverse backgrounds, from NGOs and governments, from the public and the private sector; academics and practitioners; lecturers and students.
We connect them by providing them with various physical and virtual platforms where we encourage and facilitate exchanges, so that they can create.
“Create what?”, you may ask.
Create anything: new ideas and new solutions; new options and new alternatives; new experiences and new opportunities; new networks and new friendships.
Anything: whatever they want to share, whatever they agree upon, whatever they all aspire.
We believe that ASEF is where diversity creates the future for both our continents.
As I said at my welcome address 4 years ago, ASEF does not create big bang fireworks that can be seen and marveled at from afar, but our work through our projects are strings of firecrackers that spark and ignite bigger things – bringing us back to the idea that “Diversity creates”.
I was asked what I would like my legacy to be.
I answered that in 4 years I want, 1stly, to have made ASEF and its work more relevant to addressing current problems and more visible to those who need us, by essentially widening and deepening our projects.
I believe our work in ensuring continued understanding and cooperation between our 2 continents is even more important in today’s global political climate than it has ever been.
2ndly, in 4 years I want to have enabled and empowered our team at ASEF to stretch their wings and maximize their potential to elevate ASEF’s work to a higher level towards fulfilling its mission.
I aim to provide vision and guidance for my very talented team, and I look forward to all that we will create in the next 4 years.
I am ready to face the challenges ahead, excited about the prospects, and, therefore, very much looking forward to the next 4 years.
So now, please join me in a toast to 4 more years with ASEF!