A blog on the Prime Minister's recent visit and trade mission to South East Asia from Lisa Weedon, Director of UKTI Burma since January 2013
I’ve been lucky enough to have had my role in Burma for the last two and a half years. However last month I was given the opportunity to get to know another country in South East Asia. Did you know that Indonesia has 17,000 islands, a middle class of 45 million and by 2030 it is forecast to be the 7th largest economy in the world? I didn’t, until I started doing frantic research whilst waiting to board my flight to Jakarta.
I had been minding my own business back in London - a week of meetings with colleagues in UKTI HQ and British businesses interested in Burma - when I got a call from the Regional Director for UKTI South East Asia. The Prime Minister was going to Indonesia and unfortunately the Director of UKTI was poorly, was I willing to go and help out for a few weeks? Of course I was! Luckily my (wonderful) Ambassador was willing to release me so instead of boarding a flight back to rainy Rangoon I found myself on Thai Airways maiden A380 flight to Jakarta.
And so my Indonesian adventure began.
Delivering a VVIP visit is an enormous challenge; one Prime Minister, 3 Ministers, the National Security advisor, a Trade Envoy, heaps of important people from No10, 30 business leaders, a media pack and just 20 hours to show them the very best that Indonesia has to offer. However as I like to say to my team here, behind every challenge is an opportunity. For me the opportunity was to learn a lot about Indonesia and to learn it fast.
Luckily I had the full force of the fabulous UKTI Jakarta team to support me; their patience, good humour and incredible hard work were the magic formula when it came to making this visit happen. The rest of the British Embassy Jakarta are also a pretty awesome bunch; they welcomed me with open arms, fed me lots of Toblerone and provided me with a crash course in Indonesian politics.
It was thrilling to watch all our hard work come to fruition during the visit itself. My particular highlights were watching the Prime Minister deliver the closing speech at the UK/Indonesia Business Forum; hearing from the No 10 team that the infrastructure round table was ‘spot on’ and seeing the business delegation frantically networking with the Indonesian business community as we were trying to get them on the bus to leave.
Waiting nervously on the tarmac for the private plane to arrive, attending the State Dinner hosted by President Jokowi and charging through the streets of Jakarta as part of the VVIP convoy where some of the more surreal and spine tingling moments of my career so far!
Now I’m back in Burma and the whole thing feels like a bit of a dream. I won’t deny that it’s nice to have the occasional evening back and I’m not sad to have said goodbye to our ‘deliverables grid’ but I am missing the adrenalin and team spirit that this kind of project creates. Seeing the way everyone across the Embassy pulled together and supported one another made me very proud to work for the British Government. What an opportunity.