WHAT makes a “Young Global Leader?”
According to the World Economic Forum, a Young Global Leader is a person who has achieved his or her success before age 40, demonstrates “a commitment to serving society at large,” has a “recognized record of extraordinary achievement, substantial leadership experience, and a clear indication that this will continue for the rest of their career,” and an “impeccable public record and good standing in their community.”
Each year the WEF chooses a number of “Young Global Leaders,” who earn the recognition “through a qualified nomination process and assessed according to rigorous selection criteria.”
This year’s class of “YGLs” was announced back in mid-March, and includes some impressive members, such as China Development Bank Deputy Director-General Gao Xiaohong; Vietnamese Ambassador to Italy Nguyen Hoang Long; Claudia Sender, who is the CEO of the Brazilian airline TAM Linhas Aeras SA; and world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, who apart from being a giant, terrifying man owns a multi-million dollar management agency, operates a major African charity in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and was (along with his older brother Vitali) a key figure in the recent Ukrainian uprising that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych.
So why is Julia Abad on this list?
The daughter of Department of Budget and Management head Florencio “Butch” Abad and Deputy House Speaker Henedina Abad, Julia is the head of the Presidential Management Staff, just one of 11—that’s right, 11—members of the Abad clan holding positions in the current government. Besides Julia and her parents, her brother Luis serves as the chief of staff of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima; five cousins of the younger Abads and two first cousins of Daddy Butch are also employed in the Administration in various capacities.
With respect to Miss Abad’s individual qualifications as a “Young Global Leader”, second-guessing the undisclosed, subjective criteria applied by the WEF is also admittedly subjective, but on the face of things her résumé is respectably unremarkable. An Ateneo graduate, Abad earned a graduate degree in public policy at Harvard. Her pre-government work record includes stints with the Ayala Foundation and as a program officer for the Asia-Pacific Philanthropy Consortium; in addition, the website of the Presidential Communications Operations Office highlights her work as a consultant for the Gearing up Internet Literacy and Access for Students (GILAS) program, which apparently resulted in the non-profit organization’s obtaining some free advertising from Google. In government, Abad has served as an executive assistant to Corazon “Dinky” Soliman during the latter’s first stint as DSWD secretary under former President Arroyo, and later as then-Senator Noynoy Aquino’s chief of staff.
If there were no else with the same surname in the Philippine government, we might not question whether a CV as a well-educated alalay qualifies one as a “young global leader”, but the inescapable fact that the Philippine government is positively infested with Abads completely invalidates the argument that Julia Abad owes her position to her own talent and hard work. She doesn’t; everyone in the Philippines knows it, she knows it, her parents know it, and if the WEF did a little research, they would know it, too.
Not only is the WEF sending the wrong message about “leadership” by suggesting that “having the right connections” is worthy of recognition, the particular circumstances of the environment of which Julia Abad is a part should have automatically disqualified her from consideration. While there have been allegations that point to her father as being a key figure in the vast “pork barrel” scandal, and perhaps even one of its architects, there has of course not been so much of a whiff of a suggestion of any complicity on Julia Abad’s part, and there is no reason to think there will be.
But appearances matter, and being an integral part of an organization that has perpetrated a massive fraud on the people it is supposed to serve does not look good, particularly in light of recent disclosures in Senate hearings that releases from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) required the personal approval of the president. That puts activity that may very well be determined to have been illegal right in Julia Abad’s work area. Whether or not she had anything to do with it – and again, there’s no reason to think she did – separating her from all suspicion requires an exercise of moral relativism that rather contradicts the high ideals stated by the WEF.
Julia Abad’s selection as a “Young Global Leader” sends entirely the wrong message about “leadership”, even more so because it is a message that the WEF goes to some effort to direct towards young women: Taking advantage of personal connections and serving those of questionable integrity is as worthy of recognition as hard work, vision, and high personal standards. That kind of message cheapens the value of recognition, unfairly takes away from the good examples that many of the other YGL members represent, and in doing so, defeats the noble objective of inspiring and encouraging young people to develop themselves into leaders.
The WEF owes it to the next generation of leaders to do better. Perhaps Julia Abad herself, since she is after all an essentially blameless symbol in all of this, could demonstrate the leadership attributes her current position so poorly represents now by finding something more worthwhile to do outside the family business.