Elizabeth (Liz) Galvez

 COURSE LECTURER | DIPLOFOUNDATION

What do you do as a course lecturer with DiploFoundation?

I co-lecture an online course on public diplomacy, give face-to-face negotiation skills training to DiploFoundationMasters' students enrolled in a blended learning Master in Contemporary Diplomacy programme offered in cooperation with the University of Malta, and guest lecture on public diplomacy for the online course on E-Diplomacy. In addition, I have given face-to-face workshops on Diplomatic Drafting, Diplomatic Reporting in the Internet Era, Negotiation Skills and Public Diplomacy through DiploFoundation’s partnerships with various Ministries of Foreign Affairs.  I occasionally act as dissertation supervisor for DiploFoundation Master’s programme students.  Many of our online students are diplomats from small or medium developing countries who don't have access to the programmes of large Diplomatic Academies, or other public servants and NGO representatives who have decided to expand their knowledge and diplomatic skills base. Several of DiploFoundation’s lecturers are, like me, former diplomats from many different countries and we are able to share our experiences from many years of work in the field - this makes the courses quite practical, rather than just academic or theoretical.

Tell us about being Executive Director for the Aspen Institute in Romania.

I was invited in 2006 by the former Foreign Minister of Romania to help him to set up an affiliate in Romania of the Aspen Institute USA, a non-governmental, non-partisan organisation dedicated to promoting values-based leadership and open dialogue among leaders on contemporary challenges. Once we had set up the NGO, overcoming the red tape that is still prevalent in Romania,  and had approval from the US for our business plan, we organised seminars, conferences and instituted a Young Leaders Programme loosely modelled on the Aspen Institute's programme.  I left in 2009, but the Aspen Institute Romania continues to flourish. 

You previously worked at the Foreign Office (FCO), culminating with a position as a Counsellor, UN Finance and Management. What did that entail?

I was head of the British team on the UN’s Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committee which sets policy on all issues related to UN management, UN procurement, UN programme planning and coordination, UN budgeting and finances, security and oversight. This involved many hours a day spent in negotiations both with our EU partners, other western countries and the rest of the UN membership. While I was in New York, the UK held the Chair of the European Union, which entailed preparing, coordinating and representing European Union positions in negotiations to prepare for the UN Summit in 2005.  There was plenty of documentation to read, 2000 pages per session on average,  statements to draft, and resolutions to write and negotiate which makes working at the UN mission one of the most demanding jobs for a diplomat.  And as one of the larger delegations, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council,  the UK is generally expected to have a view on every issue. As native English-speakers, we are also expected to be active in writing proposals.  This was my third multilateral posting, after three years in Geneva in the late 70s (working on economic cooperation between developed and developing countries), and four years at theOSCE Delegation in Vienna from 1989-93, working on arms control and conflict prevention in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. All were challenging but rewarding  - there's a feeling of satisfaction after reaching agreement on a particularly tricky issue.

You spent two years on secondment as a senior policy adviser to the Romanian Foreign Minister. What did you do there and how did it work?

The  FCO asked the Foreign Minister of Romania if he would like a senior adviser for the year of their OSCE chairmanship in 2001. I was selected because of my OSCE background and my knowledge of Romanian. I worked closely with a handful of senior and very capable Romanian diplomats on a range of issues, mainly conflict prevention  in the OSCE area but also on setting up a policy planning capability; on designing a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) public diplomacy strategy, including the MFA website; on training  young diplomats in presentation and communication skills; and on the preparation of promotion board exams. I also acted as Ministerial speechwriter for several speech events abroad and travelled with the Minister on most of his OSCE trips, including seven trips to Macedonia.  The Minister asked the FCO to keep me for another year to help with the NATO accession process. The Romanian diplomats were almost universally welcoming and happy to help me, and  found my advice helpful to them. I found this job one of the most rewarding of my career, not least because it opened my eyes to other systems of diplomacy and their challenges.

You spent the first 33 years of your career at the FCO. Why did you decide to leave?

The FCO were cutting back staffing levels in the senior management by something like 15%. Many of the jobs I was interested in were downgraded, and competition for others was high. I decided against applying for postings as Ambassador in distant countries because of a teenage daughter at university and opted for early retirement.  Plus I'd had enough of the 12-hour working days in New York!

What would you advise to someone who would want to work for the FCO?

Be sure you know what's involved before you apply and think about what you want to do. Even in the digital age, diplomacy is still about building relationships and making connections.

You recently went back to university and did an MSc in Nationalism and ethnic conflict at the University of London. Why did you decide to go back to uni and what did it bring to your career?

When I returned from Romania in 2009, I didn't want to lapse into a life of retirement where I stopped using my brain. So I applied for the MSc at Birkbeck thinking that my past experience with conflict prevention would at least give me some advantage. Academic study was quite a struggle after so many years and quite different to practical diplomacy but studying for that Masters has been invaluable in helping me with my present position teaching and supervising DiploFoundation Masters students.

Why the interest in foreign policy?

My father worked overseas as an expatriate so I was brought up travelling abroad. I studied foreign languages at A level and one of my teachers suggested the Diplomatic Service as a career and encourage me to apply. The interest in foreign policy came after I joined. 

What are the particular advantages and barriers a woman pursuing a career like yours might face?

I've had to struggle with balancing family and work, dealing with people who believed women were not as capable as men, sexual harassment when I was young. I think most of these problems still apply. But without wishing to generalise, women diplomats may be more effective in situations where there's a perception that their male colleagues may pose a threat.  Women are not generally given to chest-thumping (metaphorically speaking) behaviour. 

What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?

Be resilient, confident and adaptable.  Be assertive but not aggressive. Do your homework. Respect other people even if you don't agree with their opinions or cultural systems. Listen, and think before you open your mouth

What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?

My first job in the FCO (pre-university, aged 18) was in Protocol Department, dealing with diplomatic privileges and immunities. I learnt that diplomats are very conscious of their status and don't like parking tickets! So you need tact. Post uni, I worked in the EC department at the time of renegotiation, in the section dealing with political cooperation, now evolved into the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy.  You need to prepare carefully but also to realise you need to work with others.  Our viewpoint is not more important than others just because we're bigger and may be more powerful, and compromise is essential to reaching agreement.  

What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?

Most rewarding of my diplomatic career was perhaps the secondment to the Romanian Foreign Ministry, though I am now finding the teaching of young diplomats from many different countries a privilege. Least rewarding perhaps is the misperception that career diplomats are over-privileged, over-paid, idle wasters of tax-payers' money when the majority, certainly those representing the UK, are committed public servants who work long hours, often in uncomfortable situations, for little appreciation.   

What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?

Interpersonal skills. Communication. Negotiation.  On the job training mostly, from some good mentors, and some formal training though not much was available when I joined. The ability to connect with another person especially from another country or culture is not something that can be learned through a degree in International Relations. Too much emphasis is placed in many diplomatic services on formal academic qualifications. Study does not make you a good diplomat if you don't much like other people  or can't communicate. 

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?

1. People dislike you because of what you represent ... or sometimes they like you only because of what you represent.  2. Humility

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?

Raising a child in several different countries with the help of parents and friends, some wonderful nannies and au pairs, and understanding (most of the time) colleagues.

What achievements are you most proud of?

Difficult to pick any one thing since I can't say there is anything I did entirely on my own. Starting the Aspen Romania Young Leaders Programme is one. I'm still in touch with several of the first few generations, thanks to Facebook. I'm happy my daughter has grown up to be a compassionate human being who respects others, no matter where they're from, which I like to think is a consequence of her exposure as a child to different countries and the people who live there.

Do you have a role model and if so who and why?

I don't have any one specific role model, though there have been many people who have influenced my career choices and the way I've done my job, in both a positive and a negative sense. Ultimately, while you may admire others for certain qualities or achievements, you have to choose your own way according to your own circumstances.

Elizabeth (Liz) Galvez (nee Sketchley) | Course Lecturer | DiploFoundation

45 years' experience

CV in brief

Studied MSc, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict at Birkbeck University | BA Hons, Spanish/Latin at University of London

Previously worked as Executive Director, 
Aspen Institute Romania | Diplomat, British Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Languages: English, Spanish, Romanian, French

Find her online: LinkedIn | Twitter | 
DiploFoundation profile

Inspired by Liz's career? Take a look at these career opportunities: Volunteering and internship opportunities at Aspen Institute Romania | Foreign Office Careers

Exclusive email interview 4 August 2015

  At a conference in Yerevan, 2014

At a conference in Yerevan, 2014

"Even in the digital age, diplomacy is still about building relationships and making connections."
  In Bahrain

In Bahrain

"Be resilient, confident and adaptable.  Be assertive but not aggressive. Do your homework. Respect other people even if you don't agree with their opinions or cultural systems. Listen, and think before you open your mouth."
  In Malta in 2014

In Malta in 2014

"Several of DiploFoundation’s lecturers are, like me, former diplomats from many different countries and we are able to share our experiences from many years of work in the field - this makes the courses quite practical, rather than just academic or theoretical."
  Asia–Europe Foundation (ASEF) training in Geneva

Asia–Europe Foundation (ASEF) training in Geneva

"Without wishing to generalise, women diplomats may be more effective in situations where there's a perception that their male colleagues may pose a threat.  Women are not generally given to chest-thumping (metaphorically speaking) behaviour. "