BA (Hons) (Otago)
The ability to make connections and collaborate, and understanding the value of an interdisciplinary approach were skills Amanda Ellis learned at the University of Otago and has put to good use in an international diplomatic and development career.
Amanda is currently the Special Advisor for International Programs and Partnerships to the President of the East West Center. The Center is an independent, non-profit organisation with funding from the U.S. Government to promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the U.S, Asia and Pacific.
Now based in Hawaii, Amanda’s previous roles include New Zealand Head of Mission, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Special Envoy for the New Zealand Prime Minister to Francophone Africa, Deputy Secretary and Head of the NZ Aid Programme and senior roles at the World Bank, International Finance Corporation and Westpac .
Going to Otago was the only choice for Dunedin-bred Amanda. “It didn’t even cross my mind to go anywhere else”.
“That’s partly because in Dunedin there is such pride in the University and such great collaboration between town and gown. Also the fact that it’s the oldest university, and it has the best reputation for research.”
Moving across the city into North Dunedin seemed like a huge adventure at the time however, she laughs.
Amanda had decided at a young age she wished to have a career in international diplomacy and development. She wanted to study a language and either law or economics, knowing a first class honours degree and a language would be her entry into the foreign ministry.
The collaborative community that comes from a large group of students living in the same area gave her skills in addition to the French and Economics she chose, “plus, connecting with a full range of people across many different disciplines has been so helpful over the years”.
For example, when Amanda was asked to do a version of her best-selling Random House book on women in business for New Zealand, she immediately thought of other Otago grads she’d stayed in touch with.
As important was the literature dimension to her study, she says.
“It really taught us to make linkages and develop skills in in-depth analysis and attention to detail that are very useful in diplomacy and international development.”
It wasn’t all academic for Amanda during her time, though.
“I have so many amazing memories, but I guess the fondest would be the incredible arts programme at Otago.”
“You didn’t need to actually be studying drama to be included in productions, which was great. There was a real opportunity to be involved and that’s part of the all-round Otago experience – being able to engage in the arts, play sports, and also study interesting topics.”
Only at Otago can you get a “really grounded experience”, Amanda says.
“It’s an affordable, fun student experience with both excellent facilities and faculties, but it’s a very genuine, no airs and graces, quintessential Kiwi experience.”