Acceptance of the George Bush Award for Distinguished Public Service

Maine, USA, 20 September 2013

President Bush, Mrs Bush, Dr Ripich,

Distinguished guests and friends…

What a pleasure it is to be among you today, in such a spectacular setting.

I feel certain that all the students at the University of New England must be very high achievers. Who could not help but feel permanently inspired by such stunning natural surroundings!

What an honour it is to have been nominated for the George Bush Award for Distinguished Public Service. I accept this honour on behalf of the people and nation of Qatar.

Thank you.

As Qataris we have much to be thankful for. Our nation and our people have been blessed with many gifts. We have a globally-recognised education system, free for all our children from pre-school through to university. We are building a world-class health system. All our citizens can freely access health centres and hospitals, and today, we are in the process of transforming all our hospitals into academic and research hubs. These investments are reaping rewards. Just last week, the World Economic Forum ranked Qatar 1st in the Middle East and 13th globally in its Global Competitiveness Report.

His Highness the Father Emir planted the seeds of openness, creativity and freedom of expression in our society. These are the seeds of prosperous minds that will continue to flourish generation after generation.

Dear friend President Bush,

When you visited Qatar Foundation in 2003, our campus - Education City - was still a work in progress. The idea of establishing branch campuses of renowned universities in distant lands was a new concept. For many, it seemed like a utopian ideal. But not for visionaries like you, who could foresee and recognise the importance of such ventures for the present and future of our nations.

Since its conception in 1995, Qatar Foundation has been a crucial component in developing the talents of our young people, and building a strong and sustainable economy for future generations. It embodies our determination to use our resources wisely and responsibly.

Today, our campus covers 15 million square metres. Each day it welcomes 5000 students of 90 nationalities, from pre-schoolers, to MBAs and postgraduates. Together, they study subjects ranging from medicine to Islamic law, from business to archaeology of the Arab world. Together, they help to design Qatar’s future, while building on our rich heritage, in a spirit of openness and curiosity.

Yet, despite all these blessings, the people of Qatar know that we must not become complacent or inward-facing. Our Muslim, Qatari and Arab traditions demand that we continuously reinvigorate ourselves and reach out the hand of friendship and support to those who are most in need. To share our blessings with others and also with future generations.

For me, this is the essence of public service. In today’s interconnected world, our sense of responsibility must stretch beyond our own borders.

Qatar Foundation strives to contribute in many ways to the development of learning, knowledge and culture for the benefit of all mankind. Whether it is through music, the arts, or scientific breakthroughs. But it is indeed for our world-class universities that Qatar Foundation is most renowned. And for that, we will always be grateful to centres of learning such as Texas A&M, for believing in our vision and joining us on our journey.

President Bush,

You have devoted your life to public and community service, and over the last 13 years you have sought to recognise the efforts of others to do good.

I know that Texas A&M has a special place in your heart. I can tell you that its branch campus in Qatar is a great contributor to our socio-economic development. Not only through the 300 young graduate engineers and the 550 current students who are helping to build our nation’s infrastructure and industry. But also, by collaborating with our companies and our science and technology park, the University is helping to drive forward Qatar’s national research capacity.

The students and staff at Texas A&M in Qatar are also demonstrating the same commitment to improving the world that Qatar Foundation seeks to embody.

At the tenth anniversary celebrations of the campus in Qatar, Dean Weichold presented me with a very special pledge. In it, the students and staff commit their time, resources and talents to support the Educate A Child Programme I launched in Doha last year.

Educate A Child is seeking to help millions of out of school children get into quality primary education.

It is hard to believe that there are still 57 million children in the world - the hardest to reach - who cannot go to school. Each and every one of them deserves the chance to break the vicious cycles of poverty, conflict or marginalisation.

The goal of Educate A Child is to help 10 million of these get into school over the next three years.

I have seen for myself children living in the chaos of a refugee camp in Kenya. Children surviving in the floodplains of Bangladesh. Children from poor families in the shantytowns of Rio de Janeiro. And just two days ago, I was with indigenous children in the Amazon rainforest.

These isolated communities are struggling to hold on to their identity and culture, and at the same time they are eager to get connected to the World Wide Web. Their dilemma shows why it is so important to tailor our education approaches, and make them culturally relevant. Sustainable solutions need to be creative and innovative.

I am delighted that our students in Qatar Foundation are bringing their fresh perspectives to help us create this new world view.

The greatest obstacle to progress would be to do nothing to improve the lives of millions of people who suffer disadvantage.

Ladies and gentlemen, education is our key to changing the world. We need the skills and the willingness of able young people to unlock the doors of opportunity.

President Bush, Mrs Bush,

On behalf of Qatar Foundation, and of the Qatari people, I warmly thank you for this award.