Former Member of Finnish Parliament Discusses Politics, Youth and Global Reach

Pär Stenbäck was a Member of Parliament in Finland and served as Minister of Education and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He left politics in 1985 to move to Geneva as Secretary General of the Red Cross and Crescent International Federation, continuing as Secretary General for the Nordic Council of Ministers in Copenhagen. After 1997 he has been a civil society actor in many different boards. He is a founding member of the International Youth Foundation, International Crisis Group, European Cultural Parliament and the Finnish Children and Youth Foundation. In addition, he continues to work in the ICTI Care Foundation and the Brazzaville Foundation. He is also Council Chair of UWC Red Cross Nordic and Vice Chair of the UWC International Council since 2014. Here is his story.

I became interested in world affairs before finishing school in my small home town in Finland. These years the struggle against colonial rule for independence was waged, foremost in Africa. I followed it keenly and I won first prize in a radio quiz about colonial policies. This was at age 17.

It was quite natural to choose political science and history as academic fields. Students were politically active for many good causes, such as anti-apartheid, for nuclear disarmament and for prisoners of conscience. I was one of the leaders on social liberal front and that gave me a seat in the Finnish Parliament at age 28.

I specialised in foreign and development affairs, becoming the Vice Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee for 9 years, after which I entered government as Minister of Education, later as Foreign Minister. All these platforms enabled me to influence policies in favour of a more open society, creating bonds with other cultures. During my twenty years as political activist, Finland changed dramatically, from an agrarian society to an urbanised one, from Year 0 in 1945 towards membership in most European and international institutions.

The ideals of my youth, in combination with my political experience, decided my next career step: The Red Cross. First at the national level, then as Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. My humanitarian work took me all over the world, later focusing on the Middle East. Today I am working for conflict resolution, marginalised youth, language minorities and culture in half a dozen boards.

I met first time with UWC after my stint as Education Minister. It was Tony Macoun, a prominent figure and Council Member, who, about 20 years back, contacted me to solicit support for UWC Nordic Red Cross College. When I was asked to become Chair of the UWC Red Cross Nordic Council, pieces fell into place: Youth, Peace, Red Cross and Global reach!