Where Olof Palme Left Off: A student travels to Stockholm in search of ways to meet the global goals of eliminating poverty, protecting the planet, and creating a more just society.

Date01 October 2022
AuthorMoore, Jack

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 to be achieved by 2030, are described as "a bold commitment to finish what we started." The seventeen goals include eliminating poverty and hunger, taking action to curb climate change, and advancing international cooperation.

As a twenty-two-year-old American student beginning my master's studies in international development in Paris this fall, I am among countless young people who are ready to "finish what we started." Those of us who strive to complete this mission, however, would do well to study the people who started the valiant struggle to secure the basic human rights that today's SDGs set out to achieve. In my opinion, there is no better role model in this field than the late Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.

With the last bit of funding from a Morehead-Cain Scholarship during my undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I spent the summer in Stockholm, studying Palme's life, trying to answer a single question: How would Palme approach today's development challenges? I had the privilege of digging through dusty archival records, interviewing people who had known him, and walking the streets that he had walked. In doing so, I found more than just inspiration--by better understanding Palme's life and work, I found some answers. Born in 1927, Palme became prime minister of Sweden at the age of forty-two, as the leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He served for nearly eleven years, from 1969 to 1976 and 1982 to 1986. He became arguably the most enigmatic and controversial political figure in Sweden's history. To his supporters, Palme was a tireless defender of workers, a peacekeeper committed to removing the nuclear threat, and a humanitarian devoted to global development. In conservative circles, however, Palme was seen as a radical and traitor to upper-class society. On February 28, 1986, he was assassinated while walking home from a movie theater with his wife, Lisbeth. While the assassination remains officially unsolved, Swedish police believe they know who committed the crime--a man who died in 2000 -- although the motive is still unknown.

Across the developing world, and specifically in Southern Africa, Palme had been the moral conscience of the international community. He was often the lone head of state supporting liberation movements throughout front-line countries in Southern Africa. While then-President Ronald Reagan was conducting "constructive engagement," calling for stronger economic ties with the apartheid regime in South Africa, Palme was directing aid to the...

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