Building A Vision: A Masterclass with Sir Simon Fraser

Albert Salimov is a third-year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Nottingham and is currently an intern assistant for Alex Norris MP. As part of the Parliamentors programme, he has co-created Young Network, a youth enrichment programme specialising in equipping young people from underserved communities with professional skills through six free weekly sessions. He is passionate about diplomacy and debating, presiding as publicity officer for his university’s UN Society and organising and chairing at international Model UN conferences. Badminton is another passion of his, having led the UoN Men’s 5th team as captain in 2023. Last June, he volunteered in Nepal as a school teacher in a development project and enjoys making a positive difference in his community.

With the Induction still fresh in our memories, it was great to exchange our hellos in the lobby of Flint Global before the Political Fish began their first Masterclass of the Patchwork programme with Sir Simon Fraser GCMG. The Masterclass provided us with a unique opportunity to speak with a former diplomat and civil servant about Simon’s extensive career and to hear his wisdom on the importance of leadership, transferrable skills, global affairs, and career advice. 

It was a great privilege to begin our first Masterclass with somebody with such a wealth of experience. Simply put, Simon began his career at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1979 before serving in diplomatic posts, most notably in Baghdad, Damascus, Paris, and Brussels. He then served as Director-General for Europe and Globalisation and later as Permanent Undersecretary at the FCDO. Because of his background, I had so many questions I wanted to ask, and I was looking forward to hearing about his experiences working overseas and about current global affairs. 

When discussing Simon’s past career prospects, the importance of reserving ones energy was mentioned. To do this, we need to know how to switch off to allow our minds to rest and our energy levels to replenish. I think this is crucial as life will always have its ups and downs, and the same is true for the workplace. To have energy in reserve, we allow ourselves more opportunities to excel in our responsibilities and help those around us who are struggling. As a current second-year university student, I know that things will only get harder, so whether I’ll be writing my dissertation, working on a group project, or meeting future work deadlines, it was encouraging to hear this topic being discussed so that we can be prepared for when life throws its biggest challenges. 

The Masterclass also covered current global affairs that are causing significant ramifications to our lives. Indeed, we are living through a precarious time – things are moving more quickly, whether it’s the climate crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the rise of Artificial Intelligence, or the geopolitical rivalry between China and the USA, an echo of the not-too-distant Cold War rivalry.  The discussion surrounding this topic reflected the need to always show empathy and to understand each other, especially because history tends not to move in one direction. The importance of knowing what you want and knowing that this will always change as time progresses was definitely something that will stick with me. This may require us to do something that’s required of us to get where we want to be in the future. Because of this, I’ve realised the importance of long-term vision and decision-making, adopting it into my approach to increasing my university experience and aspiring future career journey at the FCDO. Such an approach has boosted my motivation and confidence in looking ahead. 

It was an incredible privilege to begin our Patchwork Masterclass journey with Simon as our first tutor. What made the Masterclass even more valuable was how relatable Simon was in his delivery and his interest in what we thought as candidates. His wisdom and accomplishments gave us so much food for thought and I’m grateful for the time and advice Simon shared with us in kickstarting our Patchwork journey.