The Pearson College London Debating society were honoured to be joined by Kanbar Hossein Bor who shared with both students and staff, his journey from refugee to British Diplomat! Kanbar's story is inspiring and we got the chance to find out more:
Who inspires you?
On a personal level my mum! Every time I think my problems are difficult, I remind myself that she, like many others now, came to the UK as a single mother, not speaking a word of English, forsaking her family and educational background and not knowing anyone. She had to re-start her life over again. This puts all my problems into perspective! I also find the writings of the Sufi poet Rumi to be a wonderful treasure trove of inspiration. Writing nearly 800 years ago, he captures so eloquently the challenges we as human beings face and how through love and a search for truth (and the odd glass of wine!) we can find answers (often nestled deep within our being).
What does your role entail?
Currently I am on full-time Arabic language training for my next role in Egypt with the Foreign Office. I am due to finish my training at the end of this year. My last role was as Acting UK Ambassador in Liberia during parts of the Ebola crisis.
What motivates you to do your job?
I have always been fascinated about how complicated the world is and the incredible diversity in terms of people's values and cultures. I now have the privilege to work in an environment in which this innate sense of curiosity and desire to understand is rewarded. Most importantly, I believe that the UK can and does play a positive role in the world, and the ability to try and make a difference matters to me.
What was one of the most important moments in your journey from refugee to diplomat and why?
For me the most important moment is probably arriving in the UK! In this regard, the welcome I received in primary school in Southampton was incredible. As someone who couldn’t speak English and unsure of how things worked, this welcome left an indelible mark on me about the openness of Britain and the amazing sense of opportunity it provides.
Can you relate to the Syrian refugee crisis? How?
Of course, indeed I think everyone can at one level relate to the human desire to better one's life and the lives of those you love. For me, it reminds me of how extraordinarily lucky I am and the huge debt of thanks I owe to the UK and the people here. I also naturally understand the concerns associated with major influxes of people. It’s important during these times to remind ourselves of the values that not only make this country great but enable it to continue to be a place of sanctuary and openness, where peoples differences are respected. Conversely, and in equal measure, this necessitates respect for the pre-existing values of the UK so that the UK can continue to be a place of sanctuary and openness. It takes effort on behalf of everyone to ensure our values remain resilient.
What career advice do you give aspiring diplomats?
My advice is go for it! It's an amazing job. The path may not be straight forward, but keep persevering. In my case, I was a barrister and then joined the Foreign Office as a legal advisor before transferring to the mainstream diplomatic service.
Some people presume that the UK diplomatic landscape is dominated by white males, what are your thoughts on this?
Well, statistically it is true, especially at senior levels. Naturally, the FCO is not immune to developments in wider society and for the most part successful people in our society tend to come from a certain demographic. However, just as in society more generally, the FCO is changing and consciously aware that more needs to be done to improve the makeup of the organisation, at all levels, so that it is more representative of our society. There are now a number of excellent role models for both women and those from a minority background in terms of senior UK diplomats.
How do you think your background influences your ability to represent the UK?
For me, having experienced different notions of identity I think I have learnt to question assumptions and see problems from different perspectives. In my view this ability to understand different perspectives (and be seen to acknowledge these differences) is essential to winning people’s trust as part of a frank and respectful exchange of views. Indeed, overcoming these problems and starting a dialogue is often the first challenge of diplomacy.
A huge thank you for Kanbar for his time and sharing with his his incredibly insightful journey!
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