Adele Mason's December 2023 Update

If I had to choose a word or theme that defined 2023 for the Foundation, it would have to be ‘reconnections’. The year was about reconnecting with our stakeholders in Asia and once again supporting New Zealanders to get back into the region after a three-year hiatus. It’s been a busy 12 months that began with a sense of cautious optimism and, as it draws to a close, we’re grateful to reflect on a year free of unexpected disruptions.
A group shot of Foundation staff outside the Mirimar Bowling Club in Wellington

Merry Christmas from the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono! 

Before I reflect on the year that’s been, I’d like to note the big news our Chair Dame Fran Wilde announced yesterday.

After eight years as executive director, Simon Draper returned to MFAT in August to take up a new role, which was officially announced last week – that of the New Zealand Ambassador to the EU and NATO. We wish him all the best and know he will do an amazing job representing New Zealand in Brussels.

Since August, I’ve been holding down the fort as acting executive director as we go through the selection process to fill the role on a permanent basis. The Chair announced that of the many great candidates who applied, the Board has selected our colleague Suzannah Jessep.

Suzannah has been with the Foundation as director of research and engagement since 2019. She joined after serving as New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Deputy Ambassador to Nepal and New Zealand’s Deputy High Commissioner to Vanuatu. During her thirteen years with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Suzannah served in the ministry’s Australia, Pacific and Europe divisions and in Antarctic and security policy.

As those credentials attest, Suzannah clearly has the experience and expertise to lead the Foundation going forward. She will take up the role in the new year. The Board has also taken the decision that the job title going forward will change from executive director to chief executive.

Back to 2023. As I mentioned above, this year was about once again putting feet on the ground in Asia. The first in-Asia events the Foundation held this year, and the first since the onset of Covid, were our Asia Honorary Advisers meeting in Singapore and the Leadership Network’s Singapore Hui in March.

The Asia Honorary Advisers meeting was the perfect way to kickstart a year focused on re-affirming our connections in Asia. Our Asia Honorary Advisers are a group of eminent people working in various sectors across the region who provide the Foundation with insights and advice, and advocate on our behalf. They’re our representatives on the ground in Asia when we can’t be.

Since those first two offshore hui in March, we’ve supported over 500 New Zealanders to experience Asia to make connections and develop their understanding of the region, including:

We currently have 14 tertiary students and recent graduates interning with companies and organisations in Asia with more heading off in the new year, including our first sports intern heading to South Korea to intern at the Youth Winter Olympics and our first media interns to head to news organsations in Asia since before Covid.

Watch a slideshow showing some of the activities the Foundation led and people we supported in 2023

One of many takeaways from the last three years for us has been a recognition of the importance of face-to-face connections. While online meetings have their place and were invaluable while borders were closed, there is no substitute for meeting in person.

In 2022, we decided to be early movers in returning to Asia and started with members of our leadership team and programme managers getting into the region to meet with stakeholders. Everywhere we went we were welcomed with open arms – there was clear appreciation wherever we went for making the effort to connect while travel was still complicated. This year has been no different – our visits have emphasised how eager people are to reconnect.

So, a busy year indeed and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in 2024.

Just to note, our last day of work will be Friday 22 December and we will be back in the office 3 January.

Have a great Christmas break.

Nga mihi nui,

Adele Mason