Spotlight: Where are our volunteers now?



Young Australians in International Affairs (YAIA) is a youth-led, volunteer run organisation, which means that as well as providing opportunities for young Australians with a passion for international relations, development and foreign policy, our success depends upon a team of hard working volunteers.

To celebrate YAIA's fifth anniversary, we spoke to four young professionals who have successfully launched their careers in international affairs - and who once volunteered with our organisation.

Hannah Wade, Senior Trade and Investment Advisor, Austrade


Before joining YAIA's team, what were you doing?

Prior to joining YAIA I was working as a Lawyer at international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright in Sydney. I was working mainly on large corporate mergers and acquisitions for international clients investing in Australian businesses in the technology and life sciences sectors. While my work did have a significant international element, most of my professional networks at the time were based around young lawyers initiatives or groups, so I applied for the Sydney Branch Director role at YAIA to increase my network of fellow young professionals interested in international affairs (as well as to make sure I kept up to date with trends in foreign policy!)

What did your role at YAIA entail, and how has this helped you in achieving success in your field?

My role at YAIA involved managing a group of volunteers in order to deliver events and initiatives in Sydney. This included regular networking drinks, knowledge-building events such as panels featuring international speakers and Australian thought leaders, social functions with an international flavour (like attending the Sydney Film Festival!), and a Future Leaders Series on cyber security. This Future Leaders Series involved a series of successive workshops for a select group of young professionals interested in international cyber relations and issues, drawing expertise from experts from the University of Sydney, EY, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Commonwealth Bank. Some of the other key speakers we facilitated included hosting the former Consul General of the US and former CEO of AmCham Australia, Niels Marquardt, at one of our panel events, as well as the dynamic CEO of Australia China Millennial Project, Andrea Myles. My role at YAIA has definitely helped me to achieve success in my career and in my chosen of international trade and engagement - in particular, my experience in leading events, managing a team and liaising with high ranking diplomats and business people placed me in great stead to secure my current position as a Senior Adviser at Austrade (I'm pretty sure I used practice YAIA examples in my interview!) Perhaps even more significant however are the relationships I built through my role - being connected and part of the core YAIA team means you form deep relationships with a group of incredibly driven, diverse people who share an interest in understanding the international climate and Australia's place in the world. I love following the achievements of my fellow alumni (and those still at YAIA too!) - it is great to see such passion among young people in Australia for international affairs.

What's your advice for students and young professionals in achieving success in international affairs?

It took me a little while early in my career to understand that the value of attending networking sessions is not just in making new contacts, but also in hearing and understanding different experiences. Learning about someone's career path, or their Masters thesis, or their experience working in other countries, can really help you consider different options and opportunities. Everyone has an interesting story to tell (and at YAIA events, they've already identified that they're interested in international affairs!) The other piece of advice I would give is to just keep putting your hand up for opportunities - don't let the rejection emails get you down, because eventually there will be an opportunity that really suits you and it will all be worth it!

Sophie Qin, Policy Graduate, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Before joining YAIA's team, what were you doing?

I was studying a Master of International Relations and had just returned from an exchange semester in the UK. During uni I worked casually in retail, but I was eager to gain international relations-relevant experience to complement my degree. YAIA's Fellowship Program provided a rare opportunity for students to publish regular analysis on their areas of expertise, which was hard to come by in 2015. YAIA's structured Fellowship Program was uniquely empowering and gave me confidence to have my analysis of international issues published. My appreciation of this program saw me go on to manage it as YAIA's Publications Director.

What did your role at YAIA entail, and how did this help you in achieving success in your field?

Being Indo-Pacific Fellow involved remaining abreast of developments in the region and producing an 800-word blog article once a month for six months. Having to choose an interesting issue every month significantly deepened my knowledge of topics from Jokowi's foreign policy to SSBN submarines. I believe this experience helped me gain my internship at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (where interns do a lot of writing), and built confidence in my written and analytical abilities.

Being Publications Director involved running Fellowship recruitment every six months, managing 10 Fellows, running a blog, editing most nights, creating digital content and engaging stakeholders. It was a big responsibility, and my first experience managing and being entrusted to set strategic direction in my own patch. The most rewarding part was working with all the Fellows and seeing the Fellowship boost their profiles and career progression. They've all gone on to do amazing things and have become valuable networks. Another highlight was representing YAIA at a consultation roundtable for DFAT's 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper and speaking about young people's views on Australia's place in the world in front of bigwigs like Allan Gyngell and Ric Smith. As someone who's always been afraid of public speaking, that was certainly an experience that elevated my confidence in speaking publicly about international issues.

What's your advice for students and young professionals in achieving success in international affairs?

There are no longer defined parameters to what success in international affairs looks like and there are more opportunities in the field than ever before. Do have a strong situational awareness of the spectrum of opportunities in Australia and internationally, and be constantly thinking about what platforms, entry points and innovations might be available to you. Success could be starting your own blog, podcast or Twitter account (or all three) on your favourite international issue and becoming one of its authoritative voices.

I believe most things can be achieved through a combination of passion and hard work. Don't feel discouraged if you're not an expert on the South China Sea or a natural public speaker – you can achieve the same results and more by being passionate and working at it. International affairs is a crowded market, so it does help to carve out your niche or offer a fresh angle on an old issue. Seek out communications mediums, such as Twitter and online blogs. Make sure you're an effective written and verbal communicator. Build relationships with people whose work and leadership you admire. Spend as much time overseas as you can. Learn an Asian language. If you're passionate about international issues and work hard to engage on them, it doesn't take long for people to notice.

Matthew Holding, International Development Coordinator, Coffey


Before joining YAIA's team, what were you doing?

Prior to joining YAIA, I was in the first year of my Master of International Relations degree at Flinders University and was working in logistics for a library supplier company.

What does your role at YAIA entail, and how has this helped you in achieving success in your field?

As Director of the Adelaide Branch, I am responsible for overseeing the presence of YAIA in South Australia. I lead a team of volunteers to organise, deliver and host a range of events and projects in South Australia. As part of my role, I establish and maintain partnerships with high-level stakeholders across the academic, private, government and non-for-profit sectors. I work closely alongside other national directors and branch directors as part of the extended leadership team, to advance the strategic direction of the organisation. This role has helped me achieve success in my field by strengthening my understanding of the international affairs apparatus in Australia, diversifying my network of contacts in the field and giving me the opportunity to lead on fulfilling strategic projects in South Australia.

What's your advice for students and young professionals in achieving success in international affairs?

Always remember that not all roads in international affairs lead to Canberra, Grad Programs are not the only entry point into this industry and that you can find fascinating, rewarding ways to work globally in a wide range of industries in your home town. Keep yourself intellectually stimulated by following blogs, listening to podcasts and reading literature that strengthens your understanding of the current conversations around international affairs and challenges your pre-conceived notions of the field. Finally, always remember that most of all, your interest in international affairs should primarily be a passion, not just a career.

Jonathan Gordon, Adviser, Terrorism and Crisis Policy, National Security Division, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet


Before joining YAIA's team, what were you doing?

Before starting with YAIA's Melbourne chapter I was working as a consultant at EY, and had just come back from a six month internship in Washington D.C

What did your role at YAIA entail, and how has this help you in achieving success in your field?

I was the Melbourne Branch's Communications Officer. Because it was such a small team the role was really flexible, with lots of opportunities to help out with all aspects of running a branch. I was primarily responsible for promoting the chapter's activities, communicating with members, and drumming up interest in YAIA among uni students and young professionals. I also had the chance to help organise events and secure interesting speakers.

What's your advice for students and young professionals in achieving success in international affairs?

The best career advice I've ever received was to follow your interests. You'll have a lot of jobs over the course of a career, but long as you're stimulated and care about what you do, things will fall into place. (Also, don't be afraid to embellish in cover letters - we all do it).

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