Have I Made a Difference?

Christian Leffler (Sweden, UWC Atlantic College, 1971-1973) is currently Deputy Secretary General in the (EU) European External Action Service, EEAS. Previously, he worked in the Swedish diplomatic service and in the EU Commission focusing on external relations and institutional affairs. He also received a decoration from the Swedish King for a “significant contribution in the field of external relations”. Here he talks about his career in government and how his UWC experience influenced his life and encouraged him to constantly ask himself the question: “Have I made a difference?

As Deputy Secretary General with particular responsibility for economic and global issues, I oversee the EU external relations work on cross-cutting international issues. These include the UN 2030 sustainable development agenda; EU trade and development cooperation; migration; governance and human rights; environment, climate change and energy; as well as various other issues where the EU reaches out or the world impacts on European affairs. My two Dep Sec Gen colleagues in the External Action Service (EEAS) are in charge respectively of general political affairs (traditional diplomacy) and security, defence and conflict prevention. The EEAS works hand in hand with all the departments of the European Commission and also with the diplomatic services of the (still) 28 EU Member States.

Coming to UWC Atlantic College was a double awakening for me. I grew up in a stable, comfortable and largely monocultural Northern European society. Sweden’s place on the world stage was a source of pride to its people though that stage seemed quite far away, be it the development challenges and distress of peoples less fortunate or the dark clouds of the Cold War and distant rumblings of other conflicts. At UWC Atlantic College, the diversity of backgrounds and opinions spurred in me a lifelong interest in other cultures and societies – above all in people. Moreover, and more importantly, the emphasis on services to society – be it the rescue services or in the social area – helped me develop an awareness and sense of responsibility for my situation and actions, which has served me well ever since, in professional life as well as privately.

One great programme for UWC leavers, which did not yet exist when I was at UWCAC, is Go Make a Difference. Isn’t that what we all want to do, whether at the macro level or in small things – or ideally both? I have spent almost all my professional life seeking to contribute to change, at the European level, in cooperation with countries and communities around the world or through the actions of the EU in a global context. Have I made a difference? I hope so, even though in policy work, especially at senior level, you are of course much further removed from the daily lives of people than if you work hands-on at the local level. Promoting agents for change, creating enabling environments, and motivating colleagues, friends and counterparts to rise to these challenge is what gives me greatest satisfaction and drives me forward in my work.