Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gives lessons on modern leadership
The class gives undergrads a chance to explore what the future may hold from the perspective of a global leader
When Gordon Brown, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, entered the hushed lecture hall on the University Park Campus, he started at the back.
Much to the delight of the assembled undergraduates packing the room in early April, the Scotsman shook hands with almost every student. He exchanged a few words with each while engaging in witty repartee that soon had everyone joining in the laughter. Only after the ice was broken did Brown, still exuding warmth and bonhomie, move to the front of the room to begin his eagerly awaited lecture, the first in a series of nine.
Brown, who served as prime minister of the U.K. from 2007 to 2010, came to USC to join Steven Lamy, professor of international relations and vice dean for academic programs, in teaching the course “Case Studies in Modern Leadership.” Offering an intensive study of international politics and economics at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the class gave 82 undergraduates from diverse majors the opportunity to examine various dimensions of what the world may look like in 2025 from the perspective of a global leader who helped shape today’s world.
One of the first to initiate calls for worldwide action during the 2008 financial crisis, Brown, who served as Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) from 1997 to 2007, is credited with averting a global financial meltdown. A dedicated multilateralist, he played a major role in the G-20 and continues to work as a United Nations special envoy for global education. He is committed to ending poverty worldwide.
A unique opportunity
USC President C. L. Max Nikias expressed what an honor it was to welcome Brown to the university and to have students benefit from his wisdom and experience.
Mr. Brown provided … a series of engaging lectures that contributed enormously to the intellectual vitality of our university.
C. L. Max Nikias
“President John F. Kennedy once observed, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,’” Nikias said. “During his visit to USC, Mr. Brown provided both through a series of engaging lectures that contributed enormously to the intellectual vitality of our university.”
USC Dornsife Dean Steve Kay echoed this, saying how proud he was that Brown chose to partner with USC, entrusting students with his expertise.
“By studying under Mr. Brown, our students have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not just to wonder what it must be like to be in a position to influence world events — but actually to find out,” he said.
A global future
Focusing on a global future, Brown shared his views on the challenges leaders face and discussed the economic, political and cultural forces that have and will continue to shape the domestic and foreign policy priorities of every country.
His first lecture addressed the growing need for international cooperation and global decision making in an increasingly interconnected world.
“This generation thinks nothing about making contact with people in other countries and continents; they think nothing of traveling between different continents,” he said.
Technology and travel, Brown said, have made people far more globally aware.
Is there a possibility that we can develop better ways of cooperation for the future.
“Given that we are more interconnected and more interrelated and more interdependent than ever before — given that there’s a possibility that we can understand each other better and have sympathy for people who may be in different countries but share similar problems to us — is there a possibility that we can develop better ways of cooperation for the future?”
This was among the key questions Brown posed to the class, which included undergraduates with majors from throughout USC Dornsife, as well as business, health sciences and cinema majors.
Topics explored in the course included the 2008 world financial crisis, global growth and the role of the United States, the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference and the role of the U.N. regarding poverty, education and disease.
Brown’s own ability to give students not just a European view, but a world perspective on global issues was tremendously important, Lamy said.
Mr. Brown is someone who clearly understands what is going on globally, not just in his own country.
“Mr. Brown is someone who clearly understands what is going on globally, not just in his own country. He also got us to think about our own country and America’s role in creating the new world order.”
A major theme Brown emphasized was the importance of developing a global perspective in order to address 21st-century challenges.
“One of the advantages of doing a course about our global future is that you can take into account the different attitudes people have in different continents to ask first, what are the problems that we face for the future, and second, how we can solve them?” Brown said.
Brown said he felt it was important to have these conversations at this point in students’ academic careers. “This is the generation that includes the decision makers of the future.”
What did the students think?
Elizabeth Peabody, a senior majoring in international relations with a psychology minor, lauded the course and described Brown as “truly a global citizen.”
“The extent of his knowledge is incredible,” she said. “We are learning things we never knew before and his perspective is obviously very unique in this regard.”
Nick Kostouris, a senior majoring in international relations, said, “It’s amazing to be learning from a world leader who has been involved in the politics and political process of international negotiations firsthand. His opinion on the need for international cooperation speaks volumes to what this world needs right now.”
Plaudits for pupils
Brown praised the students for their rigor and engagement.
“USC students are incredibly lively and had huge amounts of questions to ask based on a very considerable amount of research that they did before the lectures, which I think is incredibly impressive,” he said. “This is a group I think will go far.”
The interdisciplinary class demonstrated the strengths of the university as well as the diverse interests of students in the modern student population, Brown said.
“Many people in the class came from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, so just as the university is a very strong multicultural community, so too is this class, and it shows the great strengths of the university itself,” he added.
Asked if there was anything he had learned during his tenure as British prime minister that he wished to pass on to the students, Brown replied with some words of wisdom that could apply equally well to world leaders as to undergraduates.
“There are points in your life, whether you choose it or not, when you’ve got to make important decisions,” Brown said. “Life is full of surprises. Events come at you whether you are prepared for them or not. So the best thing to be is prepared for all eventualities.”
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