Objects in motion will stay in motion, observed Sir Isaac Newton, unless compelled to change by an external force. Today’s most pernicious problems – extreme poverty, violence, gender inequity, climate change – will continue shuttling our world toward an unsustainable future, unless we create external forces that compel change.

The December 2015 Paris climate conference demonstrates that multinational agreement on a dedicated course of action is indeed possible. The Paris Agreement is but one branch in an ever-growing forest of worldwide partnerships working to understand our warming Earth and what we can do about it. Real connectivity – between disciplines and between nations – is vital to the success of the Paris Agreement and the future of our planet. Working with global partners like the United Nations Foundation, institutions of higher learning can help to build and strengthen those vital connections.

As a new member of the United Nations Foundation Board of Directors, I am honored to be among those tasked with weaving a montage of ideas and cultural nuances into a focused plan of action to support the UN’s vital role as a platform for global problem-solving. As president of the University of Miami, I am eager to elevate the role that universities can – and should – play in the agency of worldwide change. Our enduring product is knowledge, and knowledge is the currency of effective, sustainable action that leads to meaningful and lasting

Midway through my first year at the University of Miami, I called upon the thinkers, scholars, leaders, and mentors throughout our 11 schools and colleges to join me on a journey of monumental importance. I asked them to spend the next nine years leading to the University’s centennial in a united effort to become: the hemispheric university, leveraging our geographic location to build bridges within the Americas and across the world; the excellent university, one that recognizes both arts and sciences as essential elements of a thriving society; the relevant university, a pipeline for translating scholarship into solutions; and the exemplary university, a model for inclusion of all ethnicities, genders, religions, sexual orientations, ages, and abilities in a true culture of belonging.

These four aspirations are the same forces capable of disrupting complacency to practices that harm people and the environment. If the thinkers, scholars, leaders, and mentors in government, industry, and academia build global collaborations, employ the best resources in STEM fields as well as the humanities, stay purpose-driven and relevant, and commit to eradicating intolerance, I have no doubt we will create formidable forces of change.

Our home in Miami is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. From marine science to public health, policy, economics, and more, scholars in nearly every academic discipline at the University of Miami are developing ways to adapt to immediate changes while mitigating the impact for subsequent generations. To harness the full potential of our expertise, the University is launching a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary initiative that will expand and strengthen our commitment to this urgent call. To explore some of the work underway, visit our special report on climate change at

As global citizens, we share a collective obligation to eliminate suffering within our hemisphere and throughout the world. I cannot think of a more perfect conduit than the United Nations Foundation for collating the work of the world’s most innovative universities and institutions, forming synergies that yield sustainable solutions, and sparking the life-changing spirit of implementation. By setting in motion forces of changes, we can help shape a future of opportunity and hope for all nations.

[Photo: UN Environment Program]