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My best gift as a diplomat is my curiosity, my interest in better understanding people and places

Interview with Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Mr Matthew Field

Excellency Matthew, how does it feel to be an ambassador in Bosnia and Herzegovina in these turbulent time?

I am incredibly lucky to be representing my country, in a place as remarkable and interesting as Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I was first appointed to the role, I felt a little overawed by the impressive individuals that have worked here, in the Embassy, with the UK military, in the OHR and more – all of them committed to the success of this country. There is both a sense of responsibility and an excitement that I get to work in a great team, with brilliant citizens in many areas of life. This is an opportunity hopefully to make a positive difference, for the UK and for BiH. Finally, there is also that chance to explore and enjoy this country with my family, to see it through their eyes. That is what gets me out of bed each day

Your Excellency Mr Field who has influenced the way you practice diplomacy?

I’d say the way I approach my job starts with the values I learnt growing up, the way my parents raised me. Neither of them does anything like this career, but they taught me how to treat other people, with respect and consideration. Since becoming a diplomat, I have had the chance to observe and learn from some amazing colleagues, to see how they approached the job, to try to copy their energy and engagement. Early in my career I actually came to Sarajevo to observe Matthew Rycroft, then Ambassador and now the top civil servant in the UK Home Office, and I saw the power of someone determined to do good things for both the UK and BiH. I really see the importance of having great role models, and one of the best recent trends in the FCDO has been a big rise in the number of women in senior positions – people like Karen Pierce, who worked on the Western Balkans and is now our first female Ambassador in Washington. Then there are the great diplomats I get to work with here in Sarajevo, my Ambassadorial colleagues from Italy, USA, Sweden, OSCE, EU and many others.

During your long and impressive overseas career, what is the event or experience that has given you the most personal satisfaction?

This has been an amazing career, and I am grateful for the opportunity to live in places like Japan, Croatia, Brazil, and now BiH. I really enjoy that complete immersion in a new subject, a new language, and new place. That enjoyably steep learning curve, when things are at their most confusing and new, followed by gradually getting to understand a new history, culture and people. Then when you do understand these things better, being able to find ways to help companies, to support NGOs, to unblock political problems, and to partner with people who themselves want to make a positive difference. One of my recent highlights has been creating a group of ten youth advisers, from all across BiH, who together help me to understand how better to tackle issues important to young people. It is always an energising conversation.

You are very committed when it comes to human rights, peace and security. Why are these topics important for you?

The right to live in peace and security, to fulfil yourself and be free of discrimination and prejudice, these are universal. I think these are values which are important to many people, all around the world. I was able to match them with my career both at Oxfam, the international NGO, and then working as a diplomat. There are simply too many examples of these rights not being enjoyed by everyone. Right here in BiH, these values define the work of the UK Embassy, a small but really group of motivated individuals who want to see this country and its people succeed.

Once you said: "...diplomacy has been a more interesting and challenging career than I could imagine." Is there anything you regret for not having continued in your career?

I try not to have regrets, having had so many fantastic opportunities, and with so many still in front of us. We do not know where we as a family will be going next, and that is exciting, if a bit unsettling, in itself. One of the challenges is to make sure we still have connections back in the UK, that our children know their grandparents and other family well, especially during the pandemic. This takes time and effort, but is so much easier now thanks to modern communications.

Excellency Field you hold a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies, a Masters in Japanese Studies and a Masters of Business Administration. How these fields improves your diplomatic career?

One thing that is clear from these very different studies is that I have trouble sticking to just one thing! More positively, you could say that I am interested in lots of different aspects of the world, and that I practise lifelong learning. I do believe in a ‘growth mindset’, seeing our capacities and abilities as things that are not fixed but can be improved and practiced at any age. I am still learning now – my bedside table is always piled high with books, and I have just signed up for an online course in coaching and mentoring. Curiosity is the best quality for any diplomat.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind about Oxford?

Oxford was a great city to grow up in, easy to get around, but full of interesting history, open spaces and people from all around the world. I really enjoy going back there, to see family and friends of course, but also to just spend time in.

Your Excellency what are you gifted at?

Tough question. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly gifted at anything, though I enjoy music (listening and playing), being active outdoors, cinema, and reading lots of different writers from around the world. I think my best gift as a diplomat is my curiosity, my interest in better understanding people and places.

I love your Instagram account. What is your target audience and how do you try to connect with them?

The public side of being an Ambassador, and social media in particular, was completely new to me in this role. I think it is completely normal for British Ambassadors, indeed it is expected, to use LinkedIn, Twitter and other channels, to explain what we do, to have a two-way conversation with the public. I also learn a lot by following other people on social media. What I try to do with Instagram is pull back the curtain on my life here, to share some of my enthusiasm and take away some of the mystery of being an Ambassador – and the audience for that tends to be younger, less professionally-focused than the other channels, people we still really need to reach.

After The UK left the EU, have there been any major changes in the UK’s diplomacy? What changes do you foresee?

Since I started this role as UK Ambassador, I have always welcomed the chance to explain what Brexit means for relations with BiH. If anything it has seen more not less of the UK here, more of our programmes, our support, our engagement, and our focus on helping build a better country. Of course it is not for me to tell citizens or politicians to join a club we have just left. But the kinds of reforms that people tell me they want to see, and which we support – better public services, less corruption, fairer opportunity, no-one above the law – help on that path too. There are some changes in focus, but our effort remains at least the same. Our soldiers may have left EUFOR, because there was no legal basis for them being able to stay, but we have refocused those soldiers and other support to the NATO team in Sarajevo. I am really excited about how much there still is for the UK, as a friend of BiH, to do here.

How the COVID-19 crisis has changed the life of the embassy overnight? How do you motivate your colleagues working with you?

Of course COVID19 has had a huge impact on us all, both professionally and personally. For the last year, most of the Embassy has been working from home, most of the time – though I sometimes think it is more like living at work! We have to juggle this with home school, and trying to keep things as normal for our kids as possible, like many others. I have to say the Embassy staff have been fantastic throughout, adapting quickly to this new arrangement, still finding ways to deliver everything the UK wants us to achieve here. I have learnt to do much of my job virtually, including even live TV, and that challenge continues. The approval of vaccines means there are better days ahead. Until then, we must all continue to respect measures, keeping ourselves and those around us safe.


marko vukojevic

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