Simon Draper's
August 2023 Update

On Saturday I returned from my final overseas visit as the Foundation’s executive director – a trip to the Philippines and Malaysia. The visit was primarily to attend the 36th Asia-Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur, but I also took the opportunity to connect with friends and partners of the Foundation.
Simon Draper with Nigel Chin, Asia Development Bank  and son of former Foundation Honorary Adviser Peter Chin

Simon Draper with Nigel Chin, Asia Development Bank principal counsel (and son of former Foundation Honorary Adviser Peter Chin) in Manila

The last time I was in the Philippines and Malaysia was pre-pandemic – 2018 for Malaysia and 2019 for the Philippines. A lot has changed. 

On this recent visit, I was struck by a sense of optimism in both countries – that they’ve put Covid behind them and are generally upbeat about the future. 

In Malaysia, the optimism was grounded in the strong economy and manifested in the KL skyline, where infrastructure projects held up by lockdowns are now in full swing, including the second tallest skyscraper in the world.  

In the Philippines, a change of leadership has ushered in a sense of cautious optimism 

When I was last in the country, Air New Zealand was talking about direct flights between Auckland and Manila, and while Covid scuppered these plans, connections between the Philippines and New Zealand are going from strength to strength. Our latest Perceptions of Asia research bears this out with New Zealanders feeling more warmly towards the Philippines than ever before – likely as a result of the growing Filipino community in this country and increasing people-to-people links.   

Convened by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, the Asia-Pacific Roundtable was a Track II event that brought together some 300 delegates to discuss a range of strategic issues impacting the region.  

 The tone of the conference was made explicit in the conference’s subheading An Age of Strategic Uncertainty’.  

I spoke as part of a session looking at the evolution of the Indo-Pacific as a construct and its implications on regional dialogue – providing a New Zealand and, as much as I was able, a Pacific perspective to the conversation.  

The trip also provided an opportunity to catch up with Asia Honorary Advisers Bill Luz, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, and Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak as well as academics, the Track II community, internship hosts, and media colleagues.

We (I travelled with the Foundation’s senior adviser Research Dr James To) were well supported by the New Zealand Embassy in Manila and the New Zealand High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.  

Simon presenting to delegates at the 36th Asia-Pacific Roundtable in Kuala Lumpur

In last month’s ED Update, I wrote about catching up with the Foundation’s New Zealand-based Honorary Advisers at meetings held in Auckland and Wellington. I can now announce the addition of four new Honorary Advisers to the team: Danny Chan, Lyn Lim, Simon Watt and Tania Te Whenua.

While I won’t get to work with them in their new roles, I have had the pleasure of working extensively with all four over the past few years – with Danny, Simon and Lyn as a Board members and Tania during her tenure as the Foundation’s Māori adviser. Knowing them as I do, I know as Honorary Advisers they will continue bring a great deal of wisdom and insight to the Foundation. 

There are a lot of people I would like to thank, and I will do my best to reach out to as many of you as possible, but I’d like to take this opportunity to express my particular gratitude to Dame Fran Wilde and the Board, Asia and New Zealand Honorary Advisers and, of course, Foundation staff. I’d also like to acknowledge the former Board chair, the late John Luxton, who in his warm, welcoming way provided me with wise counsel when I started at the Foundation. 

It would be fair to say that when I took up the role as executive director in 2015, I didn’t expect to be here eight years later, but the Foundation has a way of pulling you in. There's something about this organisation that captures your commitment.  

As I approach the end of my time here, I've been reflecting on what has truly defined these past eight years. In my reckoning, it's the incredible individuals I've got to know and the friendships I've forged along the way.

At its heart, the Foundation’s role is about fostering connections – bringing people together to develop ties between New Zealand and the peoples of Asia. It’s incredible mahi to be part of, made even more significant through listening to stories of transformative experiences we've facilitated.  

"Life changing" is a term frequently heard at and attributed to the Foundation. After my eight years here, I can proudly join the ranks of those whose lives the Foundation has changed. It has been the best job I have ever had. 

We often communicate to grantees and collaborators that once relationships are formed, the connection with the Foundation becomes lasting. Consequently, I expect that this won't signify the conclusion of my ties. 

I’d like to finish up with the well-known northern whakatauki that is so apt for conveying the mahi of the Foundation and my sentiments on leaving: He aha te mea nui o te ao?  He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. 

Nga mihi nui, 

Simon Draper.