Riga, April 17, 2015
[As prepared for delivery.]
Minister, Ms. Šteinbuka (Head of the European Commission Representation in Latvia), AmCham President Kākulis (President of AmCham), members of the American Chamber of Commerce, and distinguished guests, good evening. I am delighted to be here for the Human Development Awards ceremony and want to thank all of you for joining me. Your presence here tonight underscores the importance we all attach to recognizing the individuals, companies, and organizations that are working tirelessly to ensure Latvia’s prosperity and the well-being of its people.
Sākumā, vienā teikumā pateikšu latviski to, par ko pēc tam runāšu piecas minūtes angliski. Lūk, cik latviešu valoda ir bagāta! Man ir milzīgs gods šovakar piedalīties pasākumā, kas skaidri apstiprina to, ka Latvijas sabiedrība augsti vērtē un ciena tos cilvēkus, kuri ne tikai nesaudzīgi ziedo savu laiku un darbu, bet arī iegulda savu mīlestību pret savu līdzcilvēku, lai stiprinot Latvijas iedzīvotājus, stiprinātu Latviju.
This event marks the second year of the Human Development Awards in Latvia—a second year recognizing innovative and inspirational people; a second year honoring social responsibility; and a second year highlighting the work of those who promote Latvia’s economic growth and advocate for a strong civil society. But what is human development? It starts with the simple concept laid out in the UN’s first Human Development report in 1991: People are the real wealth of a nation. The Human Development Index, or H-D-I, was created to emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing a country’s development. The HDI is a composite measure of health, education, and income that was introduced as an alternative to purely economic assessments of national progress, such as GDP growth.
Perhaps more important is not how we define Human Development, but how it defines us, what it says about us, and what weight our societies give to these qualities in order to build the foundations of future prosperity and security. Tonight’s nominees fall into four distinct categories: social responsibility; education; health and well-being; and the future of Latvia—but they share admirable and interrelated goals: promoting long and healthy lives, increasing access to knowledge, and raising the overall standard of living in Latvia. First, I’d like to congratulate all the nominees here tonight.
Yet I believe HDI not only offers a measurement of progress, but a glimpse into something deeper—national values, which underpin every country’s actions, beliefs, and commitments. The United States is honored to partner with Latvia in promoting our shared values – including democracy, equal opportunity, and social well-being. The Human Development Awards seek to recognize those who boldly stand up in their defense, as well as those who more modestly – but no less importantly – make day-to-day sacrifices in the service of a higher vision. We must remember that although HDI indicators can quantitatively measure gains, they have implications that go far beyond numbers.
When we measure life expectancy for the Human Development Index, we are not simply counting years, but measuring society’s commitment to help its members. Last year’s finalist in the Health and Wellness category, the Project for Parents’ ‘Mommies’ club,’ is not just supporting new mothers by providing them with the resources to raise happy and healthy children; they are living out the idea that those more fortunate are obligated to help those in need. This year’s honorees in this category have similarly exemplified this commitment, and follow closely in the footsteps of the 2014 finalists.
When organizations make strides towards increasing school enrollment rates, they are not just adding more students, but rather ensuring that young people are given every possible chance to succeed in life. Last year’s finalist, Vitols Fund, grants scholarships to young people—but it also helps them become active, engaged citizens who stand to be Latvia’s leaders one day. Giving opportunities to youth is an investment in society’s future, and tonight’s honorees in the education category continue that tradition.
When volunteers from organizations, like the Latvian Dyslexia Association, a 2014 finalist, takes time to help those with special needs, they are also reaffirming Latvia’s commitment as a society to protecting marginalized groups. Making Latvia more tolerant and accepting of all its citizens, regardless of physical or mental ability, furthers the cause of freedom in Latvia and ensures that society is making the most of all of its human resources to achieve future prosperity.
Looking at the example this evening’s honorees have set, it is no surprise that the United Nations ranks Latvia’s accomplishments in human development as “very high.” But promoting these ideals is only half the battle. We must guard against those who would exclude, who would ignore, who would denigrate – undercutting our commitment as free societies to protecting the vulnerable and providing opportunity for all. And no country can pretend there aren’t areas where it can improve. Latvia is, without a doubt, moving in a positive direction, but social and educational reforms, including greater efforts to combat income inequality, would enhance Latvia’s economic prospects and work to discourage emigration. More must be done to fight corruption, improve transparency, and strengthen the judiciary, so that Latvia sees increased growth and stability.
Perhaps most importantly in today’s world, we must be mindful of the inseparable link between our values and our physical security. A society that sees an injustice and looks the other way, a country that knows of opportunity denied and ignores it, a nation that fails to embrace all its minority groups – such a place forfeits its claim to global leadership. Latvia and the United States are a different kind of society, but we earn that distinction only through our daily efforts to face down persistent social challenges. Our opponents, meanwhile, will continually challenge our resolve, and stand in contrast to all that we hold dear. As a NATO partner and EU member, Latvia is well guarded against external threats, but only the Latvian and American people can defend against threats to our values. The U.S. Embassy stands with Latvian officials, business leaders, and civil society, in our desire to advance towards a brighter future for both our peoples.
As we celebrate tonight, we must remember that Latvia’s human development achievements do not come easy, nor are they a guarantee of future success. It takes hard work and dedication, as demonstrated by the honorees tonight. They are fighting for our nations’ shared values, for a better tomorrow, and helping to secure this country’s future.
Whether in the business, non-profit, or public sector, tonight’s honorees are taking risks, thinking creatively, and making a difference for Latvia. Tonight’s Human Development Awards Ceremony honors these individuals, and I’m proud that the U.S. Embassy can be a part of these awards.
Paldies visiem klātesošajiem un ikvienam Latvijas iedzīvotājam, kurš nav vienaldzīgs un ir pielicis savu roku un sirdi Latvijas attīstībai. Lai veicas!