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Saturday, 23 March 2019 12:08 am

Meet London’s woman in Wellington, Laura Clarke


London’s woman in Wellington Laura Clarke

For one day, 17-year-old Serenity Bruce left her nana’s Rangiora goat farm to experience being British High Commissioner.


The real High Commissioner, Laura Clarke, wants Serenity and young women like her to see diplomacy and any other field as a possibility.

“I think any walk of life, whether you’re looking at business or diplomacy or politics, or science and technology and engineering and maths, it’s really important that you have a range of people going into those areas, that you diversity of thought, diversity of background.”

Ms Clarke says it’s important for underrepresented groups, like women, to see themselves represented.

“There’s a risk always of this little voice in your head that says ‘not for the likes of us’.”

Ms Clarke decided to run the competition for a young woman to spend International Women’s Day with her.

“It was very hard choosing someone, because we got so many applications.

“In the end Serenity came, I think she absolutely loved it. She said that it was a very different world to hers, because she lives on her Nana’s goat farm in Rangiora.”

The competition is going to be a yearly occurrence while Ms Clarke is the High Commissioner, a job she started at the beginning of this year.

Ms Clarke has previously described herself as a career diplomat.

“The reason I love being a diplomat is that is combines two things. One is really big issues, big strategic thinking, things that really matter, global politics, war, peace, climate change,” says Ms Clarke.

“And then the people side of things, because as a diplomat you really need to be able to think, but you also really have to build those relationships, and be able to make friends and build networks.”

She has worked in diplomacy and foreign affairs since 2002 but New Zealand is Ms Clarke’s first posting as High Commissioner.

“There’s something nice about being the boss,” Ms Clarke jokes.

Her goal while in New Zealand is to build as close a relationship as possible between Britain and New Zealand.

“That’s a really big picture thing, but I would break that down into three areas.”

The three areas are trade and investment, working with New Zealand on the world stage, and learning from each other on domestic policy.

“There’s so much we can do to learn from each other, and I think that’s a really valuable area where we can save a lot of time and trouble often if we look to see what a friend and partner has done in a particular area.”

Ms Clark says the most challenging issues she’s worked on are those involving conflict. She reflects on working on Sudan prior to its referendum on South Sudan becoming independent.

“That was a time of great hope but subsequently things have not gone so well there.

“Sometimes there’s the sense that you work really, really hard but ultimately there are so many players and so many factors that diplomacy can feel a bit frustrating, that you work really hard but actually seeing the results is often very difficult.”

In an increasing global world, international conflict is beginning to affect everyone, for example the recent Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Ms Clarke says the joint statement made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters on March 16 was very much appreciated.

“It was very clear in its condemnation of the attack, it’s attribution to Russia and solidarity with the UK.”

A few weeks earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern joined Ms Clarke on “Tea with the High Commissioner”, a podcast run by the High Commission.

During that podcast, Ms Clarke asked Ms Ardern about her experience with self-doubt, what is sometimes called imposter syndrome.

Ms Clarke has acknowledged that she, like most people, has experienced self-doubt in the past.

The British High Commission. Photo Supplied.

“Apparently about 70% of people have some sort of imposter syndrome.”

“I used to think that the only reason I am doing well in my career is because people like me, this sense that, you know, I’m good with people, people like me and therefore I was somehow fooling people.”

She says it’s important to work out what you are actually nervous about.

“Is there something you haven’t done before, and you think, oh, I’m not going to be any good at that, actually gripping that and dealing with it and practicing and building your skills.

“And then there’s also something about filtering feedback, because if you listen to all feedback it’s just exhausting.

“It’s about looking after yourself, I think, working out where you need to improve, and developing a really good narrative of what your strengths are.”

Ms Clarke says she also believes there are societal aspects which help re-enforce people’s self-doubt.

“It’s about people thinking beyond their immediate surroundings and thinking about what they can do in the world.”

“I think that’s really important.”

After all, diplomacy is about people, no matter where they are from.

Anybody can aspire to be a diplomat, even a girl living on her Nana’s goat farm in Rangiora.

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