On September 19th, the Canadian International Council – Toronto Branch, in partnership with the Young Diplomats of Canada, hosted a joint conference at the Munk School of International Affairs. The goal was to facilitate dialogue and disseminate information on developing a career in international affairs. The conference offered an original structure, focusing on both the personal career-building experience of the speakers, and offering real-life case studies that young professionals might find themselves encountering during their careers. By breaking into small groups for the case studies, delegates had a chance to collaborate and deconstruct the cases, working as a team to find and present solutions. Supplementing the case studies with individual career advice from all five of the speakers made for a well-rounded conference that appealed to both the practical and personal aspects of career development.
Former Ambassador, Professor Alex Himelfarb was the first speaker of the day. He emphasized a humanistic approach to career development and working within international affairs. “Real social capital with diplomacy is relationships…it is absolutely critical to bring humanity to the diplomatic table or you will not succeed.” He highlighted three main attributes that need to be fostered in order to be successful as a public servant: humility (admit you don’t know enough), humanity and humour. This humanistic theme was mirrored in his case study: how to maintain relationships between Canada and Italy after the Milan Consulate shut down. Groups came up with solutions that took into consideration the employees being laid off, Milanese business relationships and maintaining media transparency throughout the process.
Robert Baines, Corporate Development Officer of the NATO Association of Canada and Executive Director of the Canada-Albania Business Council, presented a case study on corporate social responsibility. This was an opportunity to learn key anti-corruption concepts and the mechanisms through which governments engage in corruptive behaviour. He also shared his own career journey, starting off as an intern and working up the ladder, having to prove himself along the way. As he was developing his career, he said “yes” to opportunities, even if he wasn’t sure he could do it, because he knew he had the ambition and drive to succeed when facing new challenges. Through succeeding with new opportunities, Baines was eventually promoted and asked to take on more responsibility and higher positions. Baines’ final advice for working your way up the career ladder: “identify someone ten years ahead of where you are, and see how they got there.”
Tina Sweeney, Public Engagement Officer for Ontario at Cuso International, was the third speaker of the day. Her case study involved gender and cultural issues related to international development. Throughout her presentation, she emphasized the importance of volunteering, stating it as “not only a means, but also an end in itself…Society needs more than financial investment.” She discussed the value of volunteering in an international capacity, but also the importance of looking to local organizations, as there is a lot of need within our own communities.
Henry Lotin, who has served in the public service for thirty years, was the fourth speaker of the day and offered the final case study. He has been part of a vast array of international assignments, including in trade and economic policy, commercialization reconstruction and human rights. He discussed his various assignments as well as the “importance of telling the truth to those in power.” The case study he presented focused on themes such as policy evolution and political versus civil responsibilities, as well as the role of economic sanctions in effecting political change.
In a slightly different presentation format, the conference ended with Hussein Hirji, Foreign Affairs Officer for DFATD, who discussed his work experience and gave a candid overview of the process it took for him to get there. He emphasized the importance of continually being connected with your work, and maintaining a growth mentality towards your career: “keep engaged and keep reading, especially the stuff you don’t agree with; remain intellectually engaged on a variety of interests.”
Becky Carpenter, Social Media Assistant, Canadian International Council – Toronto Branch