AFR Weekend: How youth dialogues are creating a pan-Asia cohort of young leaders

ACYD and our very own Fiona Lawrie are front and centre in AFR Weekend: 'How youth dialogues are creating a pan-Asia cohort of young leaders'

Includes Fiona's pearls of wisdom:
1: Learn the language
2: Spend time on the ground
3: Spend time in Chin

Here's her story.

In 2007 Premier Wen Jiabao, the then premier of China, had invited one student from every university in Australia to China to meet him and Chinese youth, travel around the country and visit key sites. I was the University of Melbourne representative. A group from that trip recognised we needed to foster Australia-China engagement through young people, and the Australia-China Youth Dialogue was born.

I applied to participate in both the inaugural and second ACYD but was unsuccessful. Third time lucky, I was selected because I was working in water-risk management in Beijing. The following year I was brought in to run the ACYD and I’ve been managing it since. This year will be our sixth dialogue and will be held in Brisbane. We have sponsorship from some of Australia’s largest companies, the federal government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia-China Council and leading Australian universities.

At the age of 11, I moved to Singapore and attended the Australian International School for seven years – Mandarin was compulsory. Living in Singapore made me feel very connected to China – it was when China was opening up to the world and I recognised my fluency in Mandarin could come in handy one day. I became quite obsessed with the culture after I travelled there with my parents when I was 12 and I’ve been back at least twice a year.

I moved to Beijing to help establish and run Thirst, a China-based water conservation organisation. As manager of strategic development I worked alongside the CEO [Mina Guli, one of The Australian Financial Review and Westpac100 Women of Influence in 2013] and led a large team to engage people in water conservation initiatives in China. From that work I was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Global Shaper.

An Asia-capable workforce is key to greater engagement. Companies need to take the time to get to know China; understand the nuances of WeChat and Weibo, spend time meeting the right people and making friends. Through the dialogue, we break down barriers through Chatham House rules sessions with experts and when that doesn’t work, karaoke!

The idea with ACYD is that in 20 years’ time, ACYD alumni will be running their countries, largest companies and more successful creative organisations. The ties delegates make during the activities are the spark, but it’s our hope that the fire burns for a long time.

To view the full story, including another two Australia-Asia young leaders, see here.