In this Career Spotlight, we have the privilege of speaking with His Excellency Mr Gregory Andrews, Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, about his career across public policy and foreign affairs.
Mr Andrews currently serves as the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, accredited to nine West African countries in total, including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. He was most recently Assistant Secretary, International Organisations Branch. He has previously served overseas as First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Beijing.
In Australia Mr Andrews has served as the Threatened Species Commissioner, Department of Environment and Energy; Senior Adviser, Office of the Minister for the Environment; Assistant Secretary, Department of Climate Change and Energy; CEO, Indigenous Community Volunteers; and Assistant Secretary, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
As Australia’s first Indigenous High Commissioner and Ambassador to Africa, he is particularly passionate about how Australia can share its 60,000 years of Indigenous history and cultures with Africa. From wildlife protection to arts, there is much to collaborate on and share across the region.
Mr Andrews holds a Master of Arts (Foreign Affairs and Trade) from the Australian National University, and a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Newcastle.
Going back to the beginning of your career, what did you study at university?
I did my first degree in economics and econometrics. I was a bit of a mathematical modelling nerd. But I also had a strong interest in environmental economics and comparative economic systems. While studying at University, I also worked in a chicken abattoir to fund myself. I didn’t really like that work, but it paid well and also helped me connect with real people.
You’ve had a fascinating career working across various areas within the sphere of public policy, especially in environmental and social policy. Are there any skills you honed in your previous roles that you find particularly useful as an Australian diplomat?
I learned the most in my career when I was Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner. In addition to learning a huge amount about ecology and Australia’s stunning animals and plants, I really honed by communication skills. I learned quite quickly in that job that lack of public awareness and engagement was the biggest threat to our wildlife. So I used media and social media to get the message out that saving species was saving what it was to be Australian. The power of social media, when used positively, is something I learned in that job and which I apply every day here in West Africa.
What does a day in the Australian High Commission in Accra look like? How does it compare to your previous postings?
Every day as the High Commissioner is different and brings with it a surprise. Sometimes the highlight of my day is giving a speech or meeting a particular person. But other times, the thing that touches me is the face of a child with a disability smiling at me through the window of my vehicle at the traffic lights. One of the best things about being a diplomat anywhere is the awareness I get every day of our common humanity. I may be in Ghana. I may look different. But I feel the connection with real people. My two favourite events this week were representing Australia and giving a speech about equality at the opening of Ghana’s first ever safe space for the LGBTIQ community here. The other was taking the Japanese, US, Canadian and Indian Ambassadors bird watching on the weekend with the Ghana Wildlife Society.
What has been your greatest professional achievement so far?
That’s a hard question. Sometimes it’s the seemingly small things that give me the greatest satisfaction. Like a few weeks ago when I visited a community of people who had survived leprosy and sat down with them on the ground and told them I was sorry that society stigmatised them. Or when I invited elderly ladies who usually pick up rubbish to earn a few dollars per day over for tea at the High Commission and sat by the pool with our feet in the water together. These are the things that give me the deepest satisfaction. In former roles, at a higher policy level, I used to get a lot of satisfaction paying Australia’s peacekeeping and other bills to the United Nations. And of course, my time working in Indigenous affairs and on conservation was very rewarding.
What is it like being the ‘first’ in a particular field or role? What does this mean to you?
I don’t mind being the first to do something. In terms of representing diversity and overcoming disadvantage. I think its powerful. As a small boy I grew up in poverty and with domestic violence for much of my childhood. I like the fact that my role and position can say to other people “you can do this too”. From a diversity perspective, I think its important that Australia’s foreign service reflects the diversity of our nation. I’m proud of my Department and particularly its head Secretary Frances Adamson for being such a strong champion of diversity.
Finally, what attributes do you think make a great leader? How can young professionals hone these attributes for their career?
I think the most important thing for strong leadership is to set an authentic example. That’s what I try to do every day. Of course, like everyone, I make mistakes. But I always try to do my best and be authentic to myself and with others. If I set a good example, others will join me. If we look at leadership from a behaviours perspective, then I think that means everyone in every position can play a role. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can set the example and do what is right and what is inspiring to others.