The Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono has appointed its first woman CEO – Suzannah Jessep.
Announcing the appointment, Foundation Chair Dame Fran Wilde said that Ms Jessep is expected to bring a fresh look and style to the leadership of New Zealand’s premier non-government organisation focusing on relationships with Asia.
“We had a strong field of several dozen applicants for the role, many with substantial leadership experience in business or the public sector. We looked for a candidate with a deep understanding of foreign policy in relation to Asia, but also the ability to understand and communicate with the Kiwis who are part of our extensive experiential programme – entrepreneurs, emerging business leaders, sports people, artists, foodies and journalists,” she said.
“Ms Jessep ticked all these criteria. She has a history in diplomacy, having held posts in India and Vanuatu, but also has a background in the creative sector and will bring a marriage of skills and strategic thinking to the role.
“For the Foundation this is also an important appointment because Ms Jessep was an internal candidate, demonstrating that the recent growth of the Foundation has provided career prospects for staff,” Dame Fran said.
Ms Jessep drove the recent refresh of the Foundation’s “Seriously Asia” programme and managed its regular survey and commentary on New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia since joining the organisation as Director of its Research and Engagement programmes five years ago. She also organised the Foundation’s extensive programme of “Track 2” informal diplomacy, regularly leading groups in bi-lateral and multi-lateral dialogues throughout Asia-Pacific.
Since 2021 she has chaired the Ministerial Strategic Advisory Group on Trade and over some years has been in advisory board roles for several New Zealand internationally-focused NGOs.
Dame Fran described Ms Jessep as being values driven, articulate and with a strong intellect and personal drive. “She has all the characteristics we need to lead the Foundation in a time of increasing complexity in the regional security environment and societal challenges emerging in all countries following COVID. New Zealand’s future is inextricably bound up with that of Asia and we need to understand and interact with its various cultures. In this environment the Foundation must be at the top of its game.”
Ms Jessep replaces outgoing leader Simon Draper, who left the role a few months ago to take up a diplomatic post. Dame Fran noted that Mr Draper had introduced new initiatives and taken the Foundation to an increased level of activity, providing a strong platform for the future.
Founded in 1994, the Asia New Zealand Foundation delivers a range of programmes designed to forge valuable links to Asia and equip New Zealanders with first-hand experiences in the region. It has offices in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch.