The world awaits you
My LSE graduation speech
This is an edited version of a graduation speech given at the London School of Economics in July 2019.
Good afternoon, Graduates of the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is your day, and your careers, and your new lives, which start today.
“I was at the LSE. I graduated from the LSE. I’m an LSE Alumnus.” Those words are like saying “Open Sesame.” For the world lies open to you. You will end up working for the Government of China, for NGOs, for PWC or Goldman Sachs or Google. You will be entrepreneurs, social impact investors, data scientists, academics, prime ministers and presidents…we would be here all day if I kept on going.
I have spent most of my life involved with the City of London. I am proud to say, we are awash with LSE graduates. I can’t quite get away with saying that is the only reason the City is a centre of global excellence! But it is certainly a big one.
Despite its small size, the LSE is the second best university in the world for the social sciences. And Social Scientists are those most crucial to solving deepening inequality, health crises, resurgent racism and global conflicts. All amid the collapse of the international rules-based order.
We have graduates from many departments present today, ranging from Accounting to Anthropology to Behavioural Science. But don’t be distracted by arbitrary distinctions. Cross-silo collaboration, a blending of your different skills and knowledge, is the way forward.
And for those of you going into the City, or into finance anywhere, remember that capital and innovation are crucial in all fields – from Green Finance to deal with climate change, to upgrading asset management so that it delivers value to all.
Shareholder primacy and the Washington Consensus on economic growth had their time in the sun. Today, a couple of years after the election of Donald Trump, we see an avalanche of books with titles like “Democracy and Prosperity – the Reinvention of Capitalism in a Turbulent Century” and articles in the mainstream press headlined “Populists have a point, the system has to change.”
At the end of last month Christine Lagarde, former Managing Director of the IMF, quoted Aristotle on the need for a personal sense of purpose to be linked to a social purpose. Speaking in the heart of the City at the annual World Traders’ Tacitus lecture she called for the financial sector to develop “broader social responsibility.”
She noted that Fintech is producing cheaper and more accessible products to drive an inclusion revolution; that a higher share of women on boards correlates to more financial stability and sustainable growth; that the younger generations prefer to invest in financial instruments with social impact.
[At this moment Boris Johnson was walking into number 10 Downing Street. I could not resist a partisan ad-lib.] Taking power today is a new Prime Minister who is intent on saving the Conservative Party, rather than working for the good of of the greatest number in the UK. These are not LSE values.
Achieving social cohesion in our societies is key. The widening of the net of financial and societal gains of the last forty years is essential to support democracy and sensible government.
I shall finish with the most memorable sentence in American President John Kennedy’s inauguration speech, adapted for you, my audience, on this special day. Of course he attended the LSE – many global leaders have, and will.