Last Friday, December 2nd, The United Nations celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I was very honored to be there and felt strong gratitude both professionally and personally, as I have a story to tell.
When I was growing up in Taiwan in the late 60s, my father worked for the United Nations as a maritime commerce subject matter expert. He helped the Taiwan government develop and launch a merchant marine academy so they could train sailors for the emerging commercial shipping business there.
My father was very good at what he was doing and was very well liked by his colleagues because he was also a very social man. We lived in an all-Chinese neighborhood, but my father would often invite his UN colleagues to our home for special holiday celebrations like around Christmas time. I remember how awed I was, along with all the neighborhood children, when we saw these foreign guests of different nationalities: French, Japanese, German, Italian and American arriving at our house. I also remember in 1971 how disappointed I was when my father told the family that even though he had received a full-time offer to start a similar maritime program in Brazil, the job offer had been rescinded because Taiwan had been removed from membership in the UN to make room for the People’s Republic of China.
Little did I know that this early UN connection would shape my life in so many different ways later.
Specifically, on the eve of December 12, 2006, 35 years after my first encounter with the UN, I was at the time, Director of IBM Human Ability & Accessibility Center. I had been invited by Axel LeBlois and Ecuadorian Ambassador Luis Gallegos to come to the UN and consider becoming the first private sector sponsor of G3ict, a non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) by promoting a digital inclusion and accessibility agenda world-wide. I remember thinking that IBM certainly should support the CRPD, as it is
”an international treaty that was inspired by U.S. leadership in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities”. (http://www.ncd.gov/policy/crpd)
It really did not hit me about my personal connection with the UN until I attended and spoke at the initial UN CRPD meeting. As I was listening to each country’s progress report and engaging in dialogue about what the private sector could do to help this cause, it struck me how the UN is the one and only global institution that strives to do good for the entire world. And that by setting inspirational goals and policies such as climate change and disability rights, its mission would eventually trickle down and impact individual citizens’ lives.
As we come off one of the most contentious presidential elections ever and when the whole geo-political landscape seems to be shifting in many unknown directions around the world, I hope we can maintain faith and work hard to support collective institutions such as the UN and federal, state and local governments as they offer the best forum and structure to improve life for each citizen by working through individual or national differences.
This is the back story to why I have wanted to work with G3ict after my career with IBM, despite how large and how removed the UN seems to be from individuals on a day to day basis. The UN made a difference to me and my family’s life, and for that I am eternally grateful.