What do you do?
I co-founded (with Philip Young) and run Future Foreign Policy, an independent foreign policy think tank for the next generation with the aim to equip young people with the skills, experience, and connections to kick-start and further their careers in the industry.
How did you get there?
We started Future Foreign Policy as an online blog when I was studying my MSc Degree in SOAS. Throughout this time we spoke with professionals in the industry and realised that there were no platforms that effectively connected young people who are passionate about foreign policy and have bright innovative ideas with decision makers in the field. In addition, there is a real demand from the industry to know what the next generation think about key global issues and UK’s future strategic direction. We decided that we could take Future Foreign Policy much further and add real value – so the idea of an International Affairs Think Tank for young people was born. I then applied for the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa to establish FFP and was sponsored by SOAS who saw it as a world-class innovative idea that could play a part in influencing the industry.
What does a “typical work day” entail?
As I am running all aspects of the organisation, including editorial, sales, events, operations, and business development, my working day varies depending on what I need to focus on that day and week. Usually my day starts with editing our online articles and web maintenance, then moving on to sales and outreach. If we have events in the pipeline I also focus on fleshing out the programmes and networking for venues and speakers. I tend to end my day doing something creative, such as developing new ideas for events and research programmes, working on marketing materials or engaging with our community through social media channels. As network and reputation is key to any start-up, my time is also involved in meetings with professionals in the field to introduce FFP, discuss potential partnerships for collaboration, or gaining advice and insight into how we can best add value to the industry. I am a firm believer that if you identify the gaps and challenges in an industry, you can reflect and provide innovative solutions, getting your organisation to a stronger position in the long term.
Why did you decide to launch a think tank rather than join one?
With FFP, we know that there is a great opportunity to fill a gap in the market, adding value to both young people who are looking to develop their careers, and the industry itself. This is something I strongly believe in because of the huge potential that young people demonstrate regularly through their involvement with us and other organisations inside and outside of International Affairs. FFP provides a platform for them to interact, for their ideas to connect, and for young people to obtain the skills needed to break into the industry. This type of comprehensive forum is much needed, and we want to be at the forefront of injecting this energy, dynamism and passion into the policy making process.
Personally, I decided to challenge myself to launch FFP, knowing that it will be a steep learning curve. I knew that the experience and skills I would gain from running all aspects of an organisation like this would be significant. I have the opportunity to develop a comprehensive, rounded set of skills, from leadership and communications, marketing and sales, business development, networking, events planning and programme management. The responsibility of building out a great network of supporters and advisors from scratch is invaluable to my personal career development and allows me to put my own creative stamp on the International Affairs world.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your job?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing an initial idea come to life and knowing that we have made a real impact on our community of contributors and supporters. For example, when our contributors are asked to submit policy papers to a high level international meeting, when their ideas are praised by senior diplomats and when they visibly progress in their writing skills through writing on our blog – it shows me the tangible value that we can bring to the table. Also, when industry professionals see us as a breath of fresh air in the debates we hold and ideas our contributors provide, it reflects that we are building something exciting that has a growing reputation in the field.
As I really enjoy the creative and interactive aspects of my job, I’ll have to say the least rewarding aspect would be working on the operational and administrative tasks, however they are essential and highly transferable skills that will undoubtedly help us to grow as an organisation and definitely tunes into my very organised personality!
You studied International Relations and International Development at university – how does it help in your job?
My academic knowledge and interests have helped me in various aspects of my job: in editing our contributor’s articles, in communicating with industry professionals to identify key topics and research programmes we can embark on, and in understanding the complexity of the policymaking process. It also allowed me to understand the importance of injecting young people’s perspectives into the decision making process. In addition, the research and writing skills help me to identify bright and focused individuals who add value to our content and build our reputation, and help me to guide them in their writing style and quality of work. Ultimately, it allows me to understand the challenges of entering into the world of international affairs and identify the key programmes we can run to benefit those looking to break into the industry.
What advice would you give to somebody who would like to do a similar job?
The first thing is to talk to your audience to see if there is an actual gap in the market for what you want to do, and find the best ways you can fill it. Then establish a group of advisors with experience and connections in the sector, who can guide you along the way and help you formulate a long-term strategy for growth. Be prepared to take on multiple roles and learn quickly, and most importantly be patient, as it takes time and work to establish an organisation and its reputation, particularly in this field.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
To be patient and not be disappointed or disheartened if people do not buy in to what you’re doing straight away. You need to build up a portfolio first, and it takes a lot of effort and time before you can reap the rewards. I’ve learnt to just keep going and remain motivated in the process – if you keep an eye on where you want to be and how far your organisation can grow to, you can always find a solution to the challenges ahead.
What is the mistake you wish you hadn’t done?
When we first started building up FFP we spent a few months focusing on just trying to get angel investment, but instead we should have focused on building up a supporter base and getting a few events and projects going. This may not be applicable for every start-up organisation, but for us, it would have been much better use of our time to focus on building our network further.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
It’s difficult for me to choose one role model, as I am constantly inspired and motivated by all the people I’ve studied and worked with. In particular, I’ve seen and worked in a number of youth-led initiatives that have developed into great organisations that are now influencing debate and the policymaking process. Their innovation and dedication have greatly motivated me and have given me the confidence to take Future Foreign Policy further.
What is the role of entrepreneurship on foreign policy?
I believe entrepreneurship can play an important role on foreign policy throughout a variety of channels. It can create wider engagement with the general public on foreign policy decisions, allow the injection of innovation and fresh thinking into the policymaking process and debates in general, and help to identify and prepare young talent in the field. The international affairs industry is often slow moving, abject to change and can be restricted in where its core ideas and research comes from – I think the innovation, imagination and energy of entrepreneurship – with the right guidance – can be a powerful tool that will have a long-lasting, positive result.
What do you look for in the Future Foreign Policy writers?
We are looking for passionate and intelligent individuals who are analytical and naturally inquisitive, who are able to take a complex issue and construct a well-informed opinion piece. Their writing style and technical skills are something we are here to help them improve over time, so a passion for foreign affairs and an analytical eye are generally the most important characteristics.
Why is writing an important skill for people who want to work in foreign policy?
The ability to communicate ideas clearly and effectively is crucial in getting your voice heard and in persuading people of the value of your ideas. It helps you to formulate and exercise a structural way of thinking, so that you can influence decision-making by articulating an effective and well-informed argument or solution.
Future Foreign Policy launch event
16 November 2013
Thomson Reuters, London
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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