U.S.-NZ Youth Council Diplomacy in Action Conference in Wellington

Guest post by, Isabelle Walker, a member of the 2017 U.S.-NZ Youth Council.

This October 17th and 18th I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 U.S.-NZ Youth Council Diplomacy in Action Conference in Wellington. The conference, hosted by the U.S Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), was a unique opportunity for emerging leaders to learn from and network with leading professionals in both government and business, with a majority being U.S. government exchange program alumni. 30 Youth Councilors from across New Zealand met in Wellington with a range of alumni to share insights on how the U.S.-NZ relationship has evolved and potential strategies to strengthen it in the future.

The two-day conference kicked off with a series of seminars covering a wide array of pertinent issues for budding professionals, diplomats and entrepreneurs.

Fulbright alumni Jennifer Curtin (University of Auckland) and Malcolm McKinnon (Victoria University) led a highly interactive workshop in which teams of councilors were challenged to come up with practical strategies for pressing international policy issues. With issues ranging from trade to tackling state-driven violence, all Youth Councilors worked collaboratively in order to present their solution to address these complex issues.

Malcolm McKinnon and Jennifer Curtin discuss international policy issues faced by both New Zealand and the U.S.. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.
Malcolm McKinnon and Jennifer Curtin discuss international policy issues faced by both New Zealand and the U.S.. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State.

My personal highlights of the conference were workshops concerning regional stability in the Pacific and cyber security. Colonel Jim Bliss (NZ Defense Force) and Colonel Jamie McAden (U.S. Defense Attaché to New Zealand) brought fascinating insights into the practical reality of responding to security threats, while U.S. Embassy Political/Economic Counselor Demian Smith offered a diplomatic perspective on the way New Zealand and the United States collaborate to find solutions to these issues.

A lively and intense question and answer session resulted from the workshop on cyber security where Anthony Byers (Ministry of Justice), Lynda Hinds (U.S. Embassy Political/Military Officer) and Andy Prow (‎CEO and Co-Founder, RedShield Security) discussed this ever-growing security threat. Having representatives from the public and private sector made for a balanced and engaging discussion of how cyber concerns might be resolved or avoided.

Colonel Jamie McAden, Pol/Econ Officer Demian Smith and Colonel Jim Bliss discuss challenges and solutions to issues in the Pacific. Photo credit: US Department of State.
Colonel Jamie McAden, Pol/Econ Officer Demian Smith and
Colonel Jim Bliss discuss challenges and solutions to issues in the Pacific. Photo credit: US Department of State.

The afternoon concluded with a workshop on innovation and entrepreneurship. Andy Covington (U.S. Embassy Economic Officer) and Mike Hearn (Executive Director, American Chamber of Commerce in NZ) brought an American perspective, highlighting what they perceive to be possible avenues into Silicon Valley and other entrepreneurial arenas. Andy Prow and Dan Khan (Kiwi expert in ‘New Venture Development & Acceleration’) brought a ‘Kiwi’ focus, encouraging Youth Councilors to use the individuality that comes from being a New Zealander to their advantage on the international stage.

Having the opportunity to listen to these leading professionals and, most importantly, ask questions, was an opportunity that I felt privileged to be involved with.

Gail Brown, former journalist and wife of U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown, gave a short presentation on the importance of networking and emphasized that everyone is an ambassador of something, whether it be for their school, their work, their community, but especially for themselves. Networking is a crucial avenue for building relationships – and this event was great practice for the establishment of many more connections in the future.

AmCham NZ’s Mike Hearn facilitated much of our discussion and emphasized the importance of strengthening international and interpersonal relationships. With this in mind, Tuesday evening was dedicated to an informal networking session in which Youth Councilors were able to connect with leaders from throughout the day as well as a dozen AmCham business representatives. Being able to converse with individuals who hold positions that many work towards over a lifetime was invaluable to aspiring young leaders.

In talking with my fellow Youth Councilors, there were several things that made this conference so unique and beneficial. The focus on content and the acquisition of practical skills was truly valued by all the participants in this transitional phase of our lives – we are always interested in ways to expand our insights into our prospective careers and futures.

2017 U.S.-NZ Youth Council Diplomacy in Action Conference in Wellington
2017 U.S.-NZ Youth Council Diplomacy in Action Conference in Wellington

The conference also featured incredible diversity, seeing men and women from a wide array of cultural backgrounds come together in pursuit of a common purpose. But the most inspirational element was connecting with other Youth Councilors, meeting other driven, passionate and highly intelligent emerging young professionals all eager to learn from and help each other in pursuit of our goals.

I look forward to whatever the future holds for both the U.S.-NZ Youth Council and U.S-NZ relationship.