New Approaches to Solving Complex Global Problems | SYNERGOS | NOV 16, 2004



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University for a Night

University for a Night is a unique gathering of leaders and innovators from around the world. Since 1997, the event has brought together representatives of business, government, international agencies, civil society, and philanthropy to discuss some of our most pressing problems, including poverty, inequity, lack of access to education, health problems, environmental change, and conflict.

Working together with others – creating effective partnerships – has been at the center of my business career and all of my civic involvements. I believe it is the only realistic way to achieve positive and enduring change.

– David Rockefeller at University for a Night 2003

Since 2003 University for a Night participants have also honored leaders whose work exemplifies what the evening is about – building bridges across traditional boundaries to create a better world. The first such honoree was David Rockefeller, for whom the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award is now named.


University for a Night 2017 will be held on Wednesday, May 10 in New York City.

Please join Synergos in honoring Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and Hadeel Ibrahim, founding Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, with the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award.

Through the foundation, Mo Ibrahim and Hadeel Ibrahim are working to improve governance and leadership in Africa in order to create lasting gains in the quality of life of its citizens.

After hearing their inspirational stories, University for a Night participants will then turn to our own dinner conversations about how we can work together to address poverty, health, nutrition, the environment, and other critical global issues.


Join Us

University for a Night 2017
Wednesday, May 10 in New York City
With Mo Ibrahim and Hadeel Ibrahim of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Ma Jun of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Past Events

University for a Night 2016
Wednesday, May 4 in New York City
With Othman Benjelloun and Dr. Leïla Mezian Benjelloun of BMCE Bank Foundation and Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner Odede of Shining Hope for Communities.

University for a Night 2015
Wednesday, May 6 in New York City
With Ratan N. Tata, Chair of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and the Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust and former Chairman of the Tata Group, and Angélique Kidjo, West African singer and songwriter, activist, UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador, and Founder of Batonga.

University for a Night 2014
Tuesday, April 8 in New York City
With Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, the Honorable Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance of Nigeria, and the Honorable Simão Jatene, Governor of the State of Pará, Brazil.

University for a Night in Europe 2013
Tuesday, October 8 in Geneva
With Güler Sabancı, Chair of Sabancı Holding and of the Sabancı Foundation.

University for a Night 2013
Monday, May 20 in New York City
With entrepreneur, philanthropist, and 108th Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg and composer, philanthropist, and author Peter Buffett.

University for a Night in Europe 2012
With His Highness the Aga Khan, Chair of the Aga Khan Development Network.

University for a Night in Africa 2012
With Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim, Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.


Creative cooperative networks are solving problems all over the world today in a way that we can’t seem to work into our political systems. And I don’t just mean in the United States, I mean everywhere. Just look, in place after place after place. The headlines are filled with conflict. The trend lines are filled with cooperation.

President Bill Clinton, Founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the United States at University for a Night 2012


University for a Night 2012
With Bill Clinton, Founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the United States.

University for a Night in Africa 2011
With Mamphela Ramphele.

University for a Night 2011
With Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, African Women’s Development Fund, and Jennifer and Peter Buffett, the NoVo Foundation.

University for a Night in Africa 2010
With Nahas Angula, Prime Minister of Namibia;
Wendy and Raymond Ackerman, South African entrepreneurs and philanthropists; and
Alice Mogwe, Director of Ditshwanelo – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights.

Zainab SalbiUniversity for a Night 2010
With Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Unite, and Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women International.

University for a Night in Africa 2009
With Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, African Women’s Development Fund and Synergos Senior Fellow; Achmat Dangor, Nelson Mandela Foundation and Synergos Senior Fellow; Graça Machel, Foundation for Community Development; and Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Synergos Southern Africa Board Member.


When we talk of leaders, that leadership doesn’t mean one must always be right, and one must always win, and one must always be in the lead. We should remember that a good leader is also a good follower.

–Kofi Annan, Seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations and Founder and Chair, Kofi Annan Foundation at University for a night 2009


University for a Night 2009
With Kofi Annan, Seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations and Founder, Kofi Annan Foundation; Sheela Patel, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres, Shack/Slum Dwellers International; and Guilherme Leal, Natura Cosméticos.

University for a Night 2008
With Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan; Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh, BRAC; Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Laureate, Green Belt Movement; amd Jeff Skoll, eBay, Skoll Foundation and Participant Media.

University for a Night 2007
With Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates and William H. Gates Sr., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mariclaire Acosta, Organization of American States, Raymond Chambers, Malaria No More, and Rajesh Tandon, Society for Participatory Research in Asia.

University for a Night 2006
With Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, Ted Turner, United Nations Foundation, Charles A. Minor, Government of Liberia, E. Neville Isdell, The Coca-Cola Company, and Ingrid Srinath, Child Rights and You.

University for a Night 2005
With Corazon C. Aquino, Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation and former President of the Philippines, James D. Wolfensohn, Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement and former President of the World Bank, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, Robert H. Dunn, Business for Social Responsibility, and Surakiart Sathirathai, Royal Thai Government..

University for a Night 2004
With John C. Whitehead, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the Foundation for Community Development of Mozambique.

University for a Night 2003
With David Rockefeller; Bruce Klatsky, Phillips-Van Heusen; Corazon Juliano-Soliman, Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines; President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria; Graça Machel, the Foundation for Community Development of Mozambique; and Eveline Herfkens, the Millennium Development Goals Campaign.

University for a Night 2002
With William B. Harrison, Jr., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; Helio Mattar, Abrinq Foundation for Children’s Rights; Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, United Nations Population Fund; and Tokyo Sexwale, Mvelaphanda Holdings.

University for a Night 2001
With Maria Isabel Baquerizo de Noboa, First Lady of Ecuador; Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund; Louise Frechette, The United Nations; and Phil Watts, Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies.

University for a Night 2000
With Ruth Cardoso, First Lady of Brazil; Richard A. McGinn, Lucent Technologies Inc.; Charles A. Heimbold, Jr., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; and Mark Malloch Brown, United Nations Development Programme.

University for a Night 1999
With Michel Camdessus, International Monetary Fund; Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, Secretary of Social Development, Mexico and Sithembiso Nyoni, Minister of State for Economic Development, Zimbabwe.

Positions listed are those held at time of event.
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Above: Opening plenarya at University for a Night 2004
Below: Paulo Zucula of the Foundation for Community Development of Mozambique, Peggy Dulany of Synergos and David Rockefeller

[W]orking with others and creating effective partnerships has been an activity central to my business career, and indeed to all of the civic involvements during my life. I continue to believe that the only realistic way to achieve positive, enduring change is through partnerships.

–David Rockefeller

This event and this award give us more responsibility in terms of delivering service to the poorest of the poor in the country. It also gives us more of a commitment in developing our community and the country as a whole.

–Paulo Zucula Executive Director Foundation for Community Development of Mozambique

Despite the divide between rich and poor, the developed and the developing worlds are in fact profoundly dependent on each other. This means that if we are to create a better and safer future, we must bridge the divide, we must join together to build a fairer and more inclusive world.

— Kjell Magne Bondevik, Prime Minister of Norway

I believe that it is possible to mobilize our people to solve the real problems of our society, with responsible governments…that allow us to advance [with respect to] the new challenges that the processes of regional and global integration have imposed on us.

— Mario Conejo Maldonado, Mayor of Otavalo, Ecuador

The honorees this evening…remind us that there are real solutions out there to poverty and conflict, if we only have the courage and vision to seek them out. Through their lives and their work, they provide the evidence of the power of collaborations to bring healing, reconciliation and sustainable development to communities in need.

— Richard Gere, Actor and Philanthropist

We need to look at women and girls not just as victims, but as part of the solution, to invest in bringing them to the peace table, but more importantly, to the reconstruction process. In fact, many of them that I’ve worked with have said that crisis for them also means opportunity.

— Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women

I recently took 200 of my leaders in Asia to India and let them work for three days in communities. We brought them all together in the desert in Rajasthan, and in that desolate, hot space, we asked them, “who are we?” We started to redraft what we thought Unilever Asia should be all about, and we said we will…make sure that young Asians get the right food in order to have mental and physical development like everybody else.

— Tex Gunning, President, Unilever Foods Asia

Left: Dinner discussion at table on Peace, justice and reconciliation — Bridging divides in Colombia and South Africa with María Eugenia Garcés of Fundación AlvarAlice, Tokyo Sexwale of Mvelaphanda Holdings and Paul van Zyl of the International Center for Transitional Justice

Above: John C. Whitehead of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, David Rockefeller and Michael Sonnenfeldt, Dinner Committte Co-Chair

For all of you who are involved in finding peaceful solutions and getting agreement among people, I think the most important thing is to be a good listener. The importance in trying to find agreement among groups of people who don’t agree, is to listen to what they don’t agree about. And if you don’t do any listening, you never reach that point.

–John C. Whitehead, Chairman Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

Synergos has found that successful bridging leaders possess a number of key traits including listening skills, compassion, credibility, and well-developed networks of relationship capital. John Whitehead combines all these skills with an international outlook which have given him wide-ranging impact at the global level.

–Michael Sonnenfeldt, Dinner Committee Co-Chair