Diplomat talks to Xenia Dormandy about her work as Acting Dean of Chatham House’s Academy for Leadership in International Affairs
1. Did your upbringing influence your choice of career?
I grew up in an international household: my mother was born in South Africa and lives in the US, and my father was born in Hungary but is now British. So, while I didn’t realise it until I was much older, I grew up in a very multicultural environment. Holidays were spent visiting family, which meant travelling throughout Europe and the US. While none of my family are traditional diplomats, they have all practiced diplomacy throughout their lives. Today, international relations are driven as much by businessmen and doctors as by those in the government
2. Can you give a brief run down of your career and how you ended up where you are today?
‘Internationalism’ has been a common theme in my career. After graduation, I soon found myself settled in the US, where I would remain for the next 13 years. I went first to Santa Barbara, California and worked for an NGO, Direct Relief International. I left there some years later to do my Masters in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Around this time I started to focus on conflict prevention and peace building, spending a summer in Israel and the West Bank working for ECF, an Israeli NGO, and then another in New York, for UNICEF. But on graduation I moved to Washington DC and started as Presidential Management Fellow at the State Department.
This was now October 2001 and the attacks of September 11 had just taken place. Six weeks after arriving in Washington, I was asked to rotate to the Office of the Vice President to help set up his homeland security office. I spent the next two and a half years working respectively in the Bureau of Nonproliferation, the Homeland Security Office and the Bureau for South Asia. In 2004, I was then asked to move to the National Security Council where I finished my government service as Director for South Asia.
In late 2005 I became the Executive Director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In 2009, I was offered a job in Switzerland, to launch and run a new foundation focused on peace-building. And so in the first half of that year I once again relocated, moving to Geneva and launching the PeaceNexus Foundation, where I remained for almost two years.
But I soon found that I missed the policy world and decided it was time to return to the UK after 15 or so years away. In 2011, I was appointed to run a new project focused on America’s role in the world at Chatham House. And, in September 2013, to this responsibility was added the role of Acting Dean of the Academy for Leadership in International Affairs. I now hold both positions and split my time between the two.
3. How did the Academy come about?
As Chatham House approaches its centenary, it was timely to consider what kind of an institution it wanted to become and whether it could do more to fulfil its mandate and vision. Rather than send Chatham House staff to other countries to expand its services and reach, the decision was made to bring fellows from around the world to Chatham House in London. In so doing, not only do we seed the independence of thought and academic and policy rigour in individuals from around the world, but we also bring their knowledge and experience to Chatham House and to our members in London.
The Academy for Leadership in International Affairs provides a new model for fulfilling the vision of Chatham House. In addition to our traditional role of being a convening organisation and providing quality research and analysis on global challenges, we are now also building expertise in the next generation of leaders from around the world to implement the solutions and policies to address these challenges.
4. What does a Fellowship at the Academy involve? What fellowships are available going forward and who are they available to? How are they funded?
There are three principal parts to an Academy fellowship. The main role of the fellows during their time at Chatham House is to work on a personal project, which should culminate in a final report and possibly a roundtable or workshop. In addition to this, the fellow will integrate into one of the departments or programmes within Chatham House, assisting with and participating in their activities or ongoing projects. Finally, over the course of their stay they will also engage in an extensive series of seminars that will focus on the skill set and knowledge base that they need to be effective in their careers. They will also have the opportunity to meet with officials from many other institutions from government to NGOs and the private sector. Through these three mechanisms, the fellow will gain the skills, knowledge, network and self-awareness to be a more effective leader.
We are currently offering fellowships from citizens from a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey, as well as some in Asia and Eurasia including China, Japan and Russia. They are open to individuals in all sectors from government to NGOs, broader civil society, the media and the private sector. Fellows and Senior Fellows range from a minimum of five years’ experience to approximately 20, and the majority have masters or an PhD.
The Academy is funded by a number of foundations, corporations, governments and private individuals. We are currently also exploring new fellowships that might include ones from Greece, the US and Canada.
5. How does the Fellowship programme fit into the day-to-day activities of Chatham House?
The Academy is very intentionally integrated directly into the day-t0-day activities of the institution. While fellows will come together at least once a week as a group, the rest of the time they will sit within the respective departments and programmes depending on the nature of their work. In this way they have the benefit of being fully supported by the relevant experts, gain from being integral members of Chatham House during their stay, but also have the opportunity to engage closely with one another on leadership training activities. At the same time, Chatham House substantive experts get the benefits of the fellow’s expertise and their local and regional insights from working closely with them.
6. Are there any particular countries or areas of the world with whom you are keen to establish Fellowships going forward?
It is important that in time the Academy ranges from East to West and North to South, bringing fellows together from across the globe to learn from one another. As resources allow, I am looking forward to expanding our fellowships to Africa and Latin America and building up more access in Asia and, in time, Europe.
7. What constitutes success for the Academy?
The Academy’s success is defined by that of our fellows. We are successful when they are. Our role is to help them to realise a greater positive impact in their careers and their countries. And this means supporting them while they are with us, and continuing to do so as alumni, providing them with ongoing access to our experts and our research that will allow them to address the global challenges they will face in the coming years. Success can be defined by helping them to bridge differences and find new solutions to problems, working together across continents and sectors.
8. What are your main plans and priorities going forward
as Acting Dean?
In the coming year, we are also looking closely at how we can best expand the fellowships into new regions. We want to develop new partnerships with other institutions that will provide additional experiences and networks to the fellows. It is vital that we build an effective alumni programme so that fellows continue to receive the support they need once they have returned to their homes. Finally, we would like to ensure that the fellowship has a stable and long-term financial base so that we can continue to provide our fellows with the best opportunities available and can do so for years to come.
9. What do you think is Chatham House’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
The challenges the world faces today are more complex, global and faster moving than ever before. They involve more actors – both states and non-states – and cross more sectors from security to energy and cyber, vastly multiplying the difficulty of taking action. The diplomatic challenge that we all face is how to bridge these different players, sectors and priorities to act together coherently. This will require leadership in all sectors, from government to the private sector, East to West and North to South, to work together collectively. Our challenge is how to help facilitate that through our normal day-to-day operations and through the Academy.