Our roles as Foreign Policy Officer's at MFAT

Meet MFAT at the 2020 CDES Business and Law Expo!

Kiran Parmar

  • Foreign Policy Officer 
  • Bachelor of Science, Biological and Environmental
  • Postgraduate Diploma, Environmental Sciences 
  • Master of Science in Environmental Sciences, freshwater ecology and modified landscapes

What does your role entail at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
In the Trade Negotiations division, I contribute to Environment and Trade policy – including New Zealand’s policy inputs to the OECD Joint Working Party on Trade and Environment (JWPTE), WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (WTO CTE), and environmentally harmful subsidies in the APEC work programme. I am also the coordinator for the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS). The ACCTS initiative is intended to demonstrate in practical terms how trade rules can be used to support environmental and climate change objectives.

Did your career plans change as your studied?
My career plans changed multiple times throughout my studies! I initially came into university with no clue of what I wanted to do with my life or what career path was right for me. Occasionally, a particularly new, interesting, or unusual class, field trip or lecturer would lead me down a rabbit-hole as I undiscovered ideas or knowledge I had never come across before. As my worldview expanded, the type of work I thought I could do with my degree also expanded and now Environmental Science degree and work experience as an Environmental Scientist is just as valued as a Laws or Economic degree in Trade Negotiations.

How valuable was your internship for you as a student? How did this help you fine-tune where you wanted to head?
Internships are a great way to apply the theory from lectures into the real world. Personally, the internships I did over the five years of university were helpful for figuring out what I didn’t want to do in the long term, which is just as valuable when you are trying to find direction! The internships were valuable personal and professional learning experiences and working alongside people in the industry was really helpful for understanding what each role entailed. I view the internships I did as building blocks to support the kind of work I do now.

What would your advice be to students applying for a grad programme at MFAT?
As cliché as it sounds, the biggest advice I would give is – be yourself! You have done the hard work and have a great set of skills and knowledge. MFAT does a huge variety of work for all New Zealanders, and they want people who bring diverse views to the table. There is no “one-size-fits-all” for what makes an ideal graduate. Do your research on the type of work MFAT does, highlight what motivates and drives you and how you see yourself contributing to MFAT’s work. Applying for a graduate programme at MFAT - especially if you live in another city, can seem intimidating at first, but you will be incredibly welcomed and supported from day one.

Nikolas Black

  • Foreign Policy Officer
  • Master of Commerce in Economics 
  • Bachelor of Arts, Major in Economics and Minor in Mathematics 
  • Exchange Semester, Northeastern University Boston

What does your role entail at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
All Foreign Policy Officers are generalists; we rotate to something completely new every couple years. I’m currently in the Trade Negotiations Division, working on digital and services-based trade issues. My main projects are coordinating the implementation of the new “Digital Economy Partnership Agreement” between NZ, Singapore, and Chile (check it out!) and research into NZ services exporting firms.

Did your career plans change as your studied?
My career plan was predictably unpredictable. I started studying an engineering/commerce conjoint. The master plan was to design some app/rocket/device to make me very rich and retire very early. But, pages of trigonometry later, I decided that engineering just wasn’t for me.

After switching to arts, I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the Harvard National Model United Nations with UNYouth. As part of the trip, we toured around the USA to meet with a swathe of international organisations. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to work on these broad international issues. MFAT is the best place to start that journey for Kiwis, so here I am!

How valuable was your internship programme for you as a student? How did this help you fine-tune where you wanted to head?
During summer 2018/2019, CDES sent a bunch of students on internships to Medellin, Colombia through a Prime Minister’s Scholarship (PMSLA). I was one of those lucky ones. The opportunity for full cultural immersion was immense.

Within MFAT, the grad programme (“Foundations”) is just about to kick off. I’ve already made some great friendships within our cohort - these relationships are really the best part of being a grad.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years’ time?
We have posts all over the world. As a policy officer, one part of my job is to be posted abroad. While it’s only one part of what MFAT does, I can’t be more excited. In 5-10 years, I’ll have been living and working overseas representing New Zealand, which I think is rather cool.

What would your advice be to students applying for a grad programme at MFAT?
We need an enormous variety of people to work on an enormous variety of issues. Highlight your uniqueness; we draw strength from our diversity. If you’re angling for the public sector, explore the private sector with an internship - my ‘strategic design’ internship gives me an entirely different perspective. Finally, get comfortable with our values – Manaakitagna, Courage, Impact and Kotahitanga - they underpin how we go about our work.