An original version of this article was published on Young Australians in International Affairs. It has been republished here with permission.
Jane Aslanidis GAICD is a Global Executive, who influences key decision-makers in strategic programme and policy direction. She is respected for her unique perspectives, her balance of technology and innovation with international relations, and her ability to turn ideas into investible action.
Jane has earned a strong reputation as a top-tier principal consultant and team leader in the United Nations system in New York and Rome, Boston Consulting Group in London and PwC in Sydney. She is a Board Member and holds a Masters from the University of New South Wales. She is an Author for international and UN publications and a Mentor to innovators at startup accelerators and universities.
Jane has been recommended for “her influence, contribution and advocacy for women's leadership. Jane is one of these rising stars - the next generation of female leaders in Australia.” She is recognised for her recent work as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate with the UN World Food Programme and co-designer of The Earthshot Prize spearheaded by Prince William.
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To begin with, would you mind telling us what you studied at university and the valuable lessons you took from your study?
I studied a Bachelor of Commerce, and after a few years, added a Master of International Relations – both at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney.
In my classes, I learnt the value of building relationships with other students and the importance of mentors. Long-term friendships were forged and we learnt how to work together, give and receive feedback in safe spaces, and explore scenarios in international affairs, international business and economics. Being guided by mentors helped me navigate my studies and they’ve looked out for me ever since.
What was motivating you at university? Have your motivations changed or endured throughout your career?
I am motivated to serve my local community and explore issues that have meaning and impact on many people and cultures across the globe. Much of the work I do sits at economic, technology, political, climate and humanitarian crossroads.
At university, UNSW not only supported my motivations, they helped me to find a sustainable balance between full-time work, study and getting involved in the university community.
This support shaped my time at UNSW and in giving back to the community that embraced me; I sat on the university’s academic board, leading a team responsible for shaping the university’s future.
Being a local community leader gave me the confidence to leave Australia’s shores and work with global organisations on global issues – such as emerging technology, gender equality, food systems, conservation and the environment. I bring both the global and the local to all that I do, and I think this is why my motivations have endured throughout my career.
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How do you see international affairs, technology and innovation intersecting? Why is this important for young Australians aspiring to work in a global-facing role?
I am fascinated by the human experience. My interest in international affairs has led me to understand that history can provide perspective on this. Namely, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Through the lens of emerging technology and innovations, new or improved ideas, solutions, technologies, processes and ways of working are transforming the way we relate to each other. The pace of innovation in the past 30 years is extraordinary - the World Wide Web, social media and mobile phones not only help us stay connected to loved ones, global careers can be built using these three tools.
Then when you look to the 30 years ahead of us, we’ll see radical changes to the Internet’s infrastructure, breakthroughs in quantum computing changing the way we can engage with artificial intelligence and data science, supply chains transformed and a brand new digital economy where we buy and sell goods. These are only a few examples of the extraordinary opportunities ahead for young Australians in global-facing roles, and it is important because there will be some who are extremely comfortable with change, and others who shun any notion of it.
I’d like to encourage young Australians to embrace emerging technologies, innovative ideas and solutions. Especially embracing the new and unfamiliar when working in international affairs. When you do, remember that with great power comes great responsibility – for humans and the natural world.
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Where did you develop your passion for climate action and sustainability? How have you been able to pursue these passions on an international stage?
I think growing up in Australia gives you a unique appreciation of nature and its powerful force – from the ocean to the rainforest, reefs, the desert and more. Australia has it all.
From a young age, my favourite pastimes have been swimming and surfing at the beach, followed closely by hiking through national parks. However, I also remember the first feelings of disgust at the mountains of litter collected at my first beach clean up, witnessing hundreds of trees cut down and concrete poured in their place, and speaking with local farmers with tears pouring down their faces, devastated that imported produce is being sold at a fraction of the price, driving them out of business. Small personal experiences that began to shape my worldviews.
At school, the Duke of Edinburgh Award contributed to turning this inner drive and appreciation for the natural world into action. As I started my career, I quickly learnt that to make real progress in climate action and sustainability, you have to advocate that the environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin.
Early in my career, profit-driven leaders I came across were quick to discourage me from pursuing climate action, advising me that there were more profitable endeavours than taking care of the rock we live on. While this sort of talk was, and still is tough to hear, I have come to recognise that a business case can and should be made when changing the nature of the conversation. Investing in our climate, conservation of the natural world leads to game-changing innovations that firm up national security, create resilient homes and supply chains, and improve the quality of our air, oceans and land. This is where I dedicate my energy, drive and passion when working in Australia and the international arena.
You have had some incredible career successes, including winning a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN Food Programme, and co-designing the Earthshot Prize. What personal career highlights stand out to you?
Prizes are a great focal point to spotlight and scale solutions, create positive change and inspire us all to shoot for the moon and even if we miss, land among stars.
I am happy to share that as I have progressed over the 12 years of my career to date and as I look ahead, there are many more advocates than detractors these days, from heads of state all the way through to the grassroots level.
The personal career highlight is really in the incredible, kind people and motivated teams I’ve been privileged to work with to date.
You have worked as a principal consultant and executive for an international consulting group, and also held senior leadership roles in the United Nations. What valuable experiences have you drawn from both of these roles?
It’s in the art of finding the real problem, and defining its story, that visions succeed. By nature I am driven to navigate, innovate, influence and advocate. The joy I receive is discovering answers and seeing what’s possible with them, because turning ideas into action is necessary if we’re to create a better world.
At the same time, making decisions based on a strong value set, not just a data set, and being self aware enough to share my own values when developing a team, is so important. I’ve intentionally sought opportunities where I can be bold, real and do work that is aligned with my principles.
The people and relationships fostered have greatly informed where I am now. Navigating and learning how to adapt to many cultural norms has enhanced the value I place on using empathy to create understanding and the importance of diverse thinking to solve big problems.
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What benefit could young people get from gaining experience on Boards or in corporate governance? How can it assist with a career in international affairs?
Sitting on boards can be a great way to take on opportunities that come up outside of your regular work or study. Being a non-executive director assists with building your commercial knowledge, exposure to a breadth of personalities and skillsets and learning how to negotiate and make decisions. When working in international affairs, these are important areas of practice.
Ten years ago, my first board experience was with the United Nations Association of Australia. Working with the UNAA Young Professionals introduced me to an extraordinary group of people with shared values and aligned principles (UN).
To further my learnings on corporate governance and commercial knowledge (including financials, legals, risk and strategy), I am a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD). I have sat on a number of boards focused on education, emerging technology, climate action and sustainability. To this day, these board cohorts are valued allies in my professional and personal life.
What is your focus for the future?
To lead both global and local ideas into investible action, so that I can continue to serve my local community and explore issues that have meaning and impact on many people and cultures across the globe.
Finally, what advice would you give for young people starting their career in international affairs?
Read widely and weirdly. Challenge yourself to be open to new perspectives, ideas and solutions. Whether you take a generalist or specialist career path in international affairs, keep your horizons broad.
Be self-aware, not self-important. I am so proud and encouraged to see that young people are standing up for themselves and our collective future in real, authentic ways.
Be kind to yourself. Failure and rejection are essential parts of the process, don’t forget that. Look at your future with optimism, hope and empathy.
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