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Ex-Finland Pres. Receives HLS/HBS Award

By Yun Jee Kang

Former President of Finland and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti O.K. Ahtisaari received the 2010 Great Negotiator Award last night in recognition of his achievements in international diplomacy.

Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Kennedy School’s The Future of Diplomacy Project presented the award, which is given each year to someone who has contributed to the field of dispute resolution and negotiation.

Ahtisaari has worked to resolve many conflicts, including Namibia’s struggle for independence from the Republic of South Africa, fighting in Kosovo, and hostility between the province Aceh and Indonesia.

Though Ahtisaari cautioned that many peace agreements dissolve a few years later, he said he remains hopeful: “There is no conflict in the world that cannot be solved,” he said.

As part of the event, Ahtisaari engaged in an open discussion about these conflicts with faculty from the Kennedy School, the Harvard Business School, and Tufts University. R. Nicholas Burns, a Kennedy School professor and co-chair of the 2010 Great Negotiator Award Committee, repeatedly praised Ahtisaari for his “clear vision of objectives.”

Ahtisaari emphasized the importance of that trait throughout the discussion: “I knew from the beginning what the outcome was going to be,” he said about the Kosovo negotiations. “Because if you don’t, you can waste the rest of your days on processes.”

Burns also commended Ahtisaari’s “extreme modesty,” a characteristic audience members were also able to glean from the discussion.

“He was very honest, very straightforward, and it was refreshing,” said Extension School student Luis A. Navia. “He’s someone who can admit that his team is essential and who welcomes a challenge.”

“He had a sincere humility that was winning,” said Business School student Jacqueline R. Sandberg.

Ahtisaari, who pretended to drop his award, balanced the serious topics of the night with frequent jokes that elicited laughter from an appreciative audience.

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