2015 · issuE 4
How did your career begin?
I came from an Oxford science and medic
family and I thought I wanted to be a doctor.
Half way through my degree, studying Natural
Sciences at Cambridge, I realised I had
more fun reading the newspapers, travelling,
learning languages and talking to people than
sitting in a lab peering down a microscope. So
I joined the Foreign Office as I thought they
would pay me to do this, which they did. That
was 1988. Since then, also I’ve worked in the
European Commission, and for Rio Tinto,
before coming back here in 2013.
Shortly after I joined the Foreign Office, they
tested my language aptitude and told me which
jobs I could bid for that had hard language
attached. I decided I didn’t want to learn
Chinese or Japanese as it seemed like you
would spend half your career there. I didn’t
want to do Russian as you could spend a year
learning it and never spend any of your career
there if you got kicked out in a visa tit for tat
on Day 2. And Greek was too close to home –
I wanted adventure. So Burmese was all that
was left on that year’s list. All I knew about
Burma was some photos of houses on stilts and
girls with white thanakha paste on their cheeks.
Is it unusual for a woman in
Myanmar to hold a Directorship
In Myanmar, there are a lot of Myanmar
women heading up local NGOs, and running
their own businesses. There are also a lot of
women professors, and technocrats. What’s
lacking is MPs, Ministers and senior officials,
since so many people in those positions come
from the military. For me, being a woman has
always felt like being an advantage. I was the
first female British Ambassador here, and at
the time, the youngest ever Ambassador the
UK had sent anywhere.
AMinister once asked me if Britain had sent
a woman Ambassador so that his government
couldn’t bring itself to be horrible to me. I said
I’d served my time as a Hag at the Dragon,
when there were about ten girls in E Block and
over a hundred boys, so nothing they could do
to me would be tougher than that.
What are the particular challenges
that this role brings?
This country is currently running on
adrenalin which is exhilarating but
exhausting. What the Centre is trying to
do is raise awareness around international
standards and best practice around
responsible business – which means
respecting human rights, not paying bribes
etc. The economy here has been so badly run
and corrupted for decades. Suddenly change
is happening. There’s a desire to do things
differently but not much understanding
of how. This week’s challenge is working
with hotels to build an alliance to stop
sand-mining taking a grip on Myanmar’s
best beaches. Next week, it will be working
with labour activists to improve pay and
conditions in garment factories. The main
challenge is having enough time to pursue all
Long term: Do you plan to stay
in Myanmar with your family
for the long term or will you return
to the UK?
My husband is a Myanmar artist and a public
figure. He’s currently plastering the arms and
taking the stories of other former political
prisoners like himself, for a multimedia
(OD 1975) is the first Director of the new Myanmar
Centre for Responsible Business, based in Yangon.
A former British diplomat fluent in Burmese, Vicky draws on seven
years of living in Yangon, and has vast experience of Myanmar,
international relations and working on responsible business issues
within the private sector and government. The Centre will provide a
trusted, impartial forum for dialogue, seminars, and briefings to relevant
parties as well as access to international expertise and tools. Vicky
about her extraordinary career and life in Myanmar.
dragOn in BurMa
A Show of Hands
about five hundred down with a couple of
thousand more to go.
It’s a privilege to live and work in a
country where as an individual, what you
do can lead to a systemic difference. Like all
parents, I am constantly worrying about my
seven year old daughter’s education options.
She goes to a good private primary school,
even if it’s not the Dragon. She eats noodles
for breakfast and snacks on fried crickets. I
am supplementing her Asian experience with
box sets of Horrible Histories and Harry
Potter. Which is all a way of saying I’m torn
and I don’t know yet whether we will return –
or in my husband’s case, leave again.
What advice would you give
to a young Dragon hoping have
a career in the Foreign and
It’s a fascinating job, but it’s very competitive.
To get in, there’s no one subject to study or
language to learn, although it doesn’t hurt to
learn Russian, Chinese, Farsi or Arabic before
you join. Take every opportunity to learn a
language that the FCO gives you. Don’t give
up on the idea because you are worried about
whether you can juggle a peripatetic lifestyle
and family life. There are many different
career paths, and you are always free to leave
and do something else.
What do you envisage for
We are going through a bumpy time in
2015 with the run-up to what will be a hotly
contested election. I worry that when I look
at countries in the region, I don’t see many
examples of sustained democratic transitions
which have lifted people out of poverty but
protected the environment and their distinct
cultures. I hope this country will be different.
On the positive side, ‘Repats’ are still
returning which is a good sign as they bring
skills and a refusal to accept the status quo,
having lived in countries where government
functions and is accountable. And there is
still a buzz and an optimism that positive
change is achievable.
“I was the
here, and at
the time, the