Simon Draper’s March 2023 Executive Director’s Update

As we head into the third month of 2023, the Foundation has been busy reconnecting with Asia now that borders are well and truly open and a sense of, dare I say, ‘pre-Covid normality’ has returned to international travel.
Simon Draper (right) Suzannah Jessep ((third from right) and Sri Lanka Honorary Adviser Senaka Silva meeting officials in Sri Lanka

Simon Draper (right), Suzannah Jessep (third from right) and Sri Lanka Honorary Adviser Senaka Silva (left) meeting civil society representatives in Sri Lanka

I’m writing this update from Sri Lanka, where Foundation director Research and Engagement Suz Jessep and I have touched down for a few days in what is the first Foundation engagement since the establishment of a New Zealand diplomatic presence here in 2021.

We’ve been meeting with contacts – including our Honorary Adviser Senaka Silva - to discuss initiating Foundation opportunities in Sri Lanka and growing our pool of Asia-based experts.

In particular, we are looking at establishing a Track II (informal diplomacy) dialogue with a Sri Lankan think tank, to help build connections and gain deeper understanding of the issues and challenges facing the country and wider region.


A group photo of about 25 people made up of Foundation Honorary Advisers, Foundation staff and board members and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta

The Honorary Advisers meeting in Singapore

Prior to Sri Lanka, I spent  week in Singapore with other members of our senior leadership team at our Asia Honorary Advisers’ hui.

Our Honorary Advisers are a group of distinguished people who work in various sectors across Asia and advocate on our behalf across the region - providing the Foundation with insights and advice so the decisions we make are well informed.

As with a lot of international stakeholder engagement, the Singapore hui was the first time in several years that we have been able to bring our Asia Honorary Advisers together for an in-person meeting.

We were joined by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta, who is chair of the Honorary Advisers’ network, and by our Board of Trustees.

It was pleasing to see a sense of collegiality and common purpose between our Asia Honorary Advisers, and I was once again reminded of the importance and value of maintaining face-to-face connections.

Over the course of the meeting, we discussed a range of issues impacting the region, including challenges around inflation, climate concerns, labour markets and the erosion of the rules-based order.

The main takeaway was that we are likely to be in for a bumpy ride in terms of international relations over the coming months and years.

Our Honorary Advisers encouraged the New Zealand Government, supported by Foundation activities, to continue to stay engaged in the region – particularly through people-to-people connections, and particularly during times of international tension.

Foundation staff members listening to a man speak at a meeting

Topics of discussion at the meeting included challenges around inflation, climate concerns, labour markets and the erosion of the rules-based order

Another Foundation activity currently underway in Singapore is our Leadership Network's Singapore Hui, with members touching down last week to commence a week of briefings, hui, field visits, cultural experiences, and leadership-building activities. The visit is tailored to showcase connections between Aotearoa New Zealand and Singapore. For the members involved, it is an amazing opportunity to build confidence and connections in this important Asian hub.

Over the past fortnight, some more of our business interns have returned to the shores of Aotearoa from their summer internships in Asia, with placements at Nutrition Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services and CJ Cultural Foundation coming to an end.

You can read the most recently published intern's article in the sidebar of this webpage, in which they reflect on their internship experience with KPMG in Ho Chi Minh City. We will be publishing more articles from the interns over the next few months. Reading these articles really highlights to me how truly lifechanging these internships can be, and the value they bring not only to the individual intern but to New Zealand as a whole.

There is a busy schedule of activities happening back onshore as well, especially in the arts, with the Foundation-sponsored Aotearoa Art Fair taking place in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland next week.

Also coming up in the arts space later this month is the return of WOMAD, after two years of Covid disruptions.

The Foundation is involved in WOMAD as part of our commitment to developing New Zealanders' knowledge and understanding of Asia through the arts.

We’re excited to be supporting three works at this year’s festival: Pandit Ronu Majumdar and Jayanthi Kumaresh, who will present classical works from both the North and South of India; Pakistan’s Rizwan Muazzam Qawwals, who are top practitioners of a 500-year-old Islamic musical tradition; and Korea’s ADG7, who combine traditional instruments and folk singing with contemporary elements.

It’s an eclectic mix that demonstrates the rich diversity of Asia, and it all weaves into the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s mission of presenting Asian art forms to New Zealand audiences. There’s nothing like art to connect people and break down barriers, especially after a period of restricted travel.

 Mā te wā

 Simon Draper