Ogata, who is known for her work in several refugee crises, including Bosnia, Rwanda, and Iraq, said she was very surprised to be chosen for the honor.
“I never thought of myself as a negotiator,” she said.
HLS’s Program on Negotiation (PON) presents the reward to individuals who have created innovative and lasting solutions to disputes on the international stage.
Ogata served as High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000 and oversaw the protection of refugees displaced by conflicts like the Gulf War and strife in the Balkans. During this time, she often confronted world leaders who were reluctant to commit to an international relief effort.
“I know how to push,” the five-foot-tall Ogata said, speaking of her negotiation style. She added, “I do it a bit more quietly.”
Ogata emphasized the importance of trust and reliability, rather than pressure, in negotiations.
Chair of PON, Robert H. Mnookin ’64, wrote on the program’s website, “All of us at PON are deeply impressed with the type of extraordinary negotiations Sadako Ogata undertook during her tenure at the United Nations. Her skilled negotiations on behalf of refugees saved many lives, yet are less well understood than many higher profile diplomatic efforts.”
Prior to receiving the award, Ogata spoke at a panel discussion and stressed the important role first-hand knowledge plays in innovation.
“All breakthrough ideas come from being involved,” she said.
She cautioned against taking an excessively cerebral approach to problem-solving.
“I used to be a scholar,” Ogata said, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, to her academic audience. She said, “there were no books,” to guide her in the type of situations she faced. Instead, Ogata said she relied on her instincts and found information for herself.
She said she admired military officers for their efficiency compared to the sometimes too-bureaucratic UN and added final advice to her successors at the UN.
“Don’t be bureaucratic,” she said.
In receiving the award, Ogata joins the company of past honorees, including former Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke and former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell.