Avatar photo

Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

Part of UK in Brunei

3rd May 2013 London, UK

A Surreal Commonwealth Journey: From Brunei to New Delhi to London

On Commonwealth Day (11 March), as High Commissioners in Bandar were gathering inside the Legislative Council building for our celebration with Pehin Speaker, one Bruneian was flying the flag for the Sultanate inside Marlborough House, at the celebration graced by Her Majesty The Queen. By publishing Fatin’s guest blog here, I have a strong sense of completing a circuit in the Commonwealth network, through which the energy of young Bruneians will flow increasingly, I hope.

My Commonwealth journey began when I went to New Delhi for an envisioning workshop in November 2011 to represent the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Brunei (YEAB). The two day workshop brought together entrepreneurs from eight Commonwealth- Asia nations for the first time. We realised we needed to create a platform that would link us together and enable us to work together more meaningfully towards promoting the spirit of enterprise. This led to the founding of the Commonwealth-Asia Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE), Commonwealth’s inaugural entrepreneurs alliance. Within those two days, we created a charter and established the framework for the alliance henceforth sealing our commitment towards a common goal.

CAAYE Young Entrepreneur Summit 2012

As part of our pledge, we converge every month virtually and every six months physically to continue our rapport and ensure progress. In our first interim meeting held in Kuala Lumpur in July 2012, Ms Katherine Ellis, Director- Youth Affairs from the Commonwealth-Secretariat flew from London to join us. Her visit provided us with the recognition of the alliance’s importance to the Commonwealth. That December, we headed to Mumbai bringing a delegation of entrepreneurs to CAAYE’s first Young Entrepreneur Summit. The 3 day meet brought together 200 young entrepreneurs to network and build business linkages. The outcome was a jointly prepared set of recommendations to improve the ecosystem of youth entrepreneurship in the form of an official communiqué that will be submitted to member Governments through the Commonwealth secretariat. I was joined by five young entrepreneurs from Brunei.

Talking to Prince Philip

Last month, I joined my Commonwealth colleagues from India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Pakistan to a once in a lifetime opportunity in London for the Commonwealth Day Reception on 11th March held at the historical Marlborough House to meet Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip and accomplished figures from the various Commonwealth countries. During the few days in London, we made our way to the House of Lords for the CEC’s Commonwealth Day Symposium on Education and Enterprise where our Founder President, Dr Rahul Mirchandani introduced our alliance and our unique peer ‘network of networks’ structure. We also attended several meetings including one with the Secretary General of the Commonwealth.



Overall, the whole commonwealth experience has been a journey of learning and discovery. I can only see with optimism, the tremendous potential that the Commonwealth of Nations of 54 countries and 30% of the world’s population can achieve. To me personally, Commonwealth has come to mean family and commitment and I ponder with curiosity the contributions I can to make to shape our future with the experience, knowledge and networks I have gained.

P.S. Never have I imagined that I would ever say “I went to London to meet the Queen”. Even today, I still continue to rattle in disbelief!

About Rob Fenn

Rob Fenn has been Head of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department since March 2014. His last formal responsibility for human rights was in the mid 1990s, when he…

Rob Fenn has been Head of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department
since March 2014. His last formal responsibility for human rights was in
the mid 1990s, when he served as UK Delegate on the Third Committee of
the General Assembly in New York (with annual excursions to what was
then the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva). Recent celebrations of
the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the post of UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights – a resolution he helped pilot through the
GA – came a shock. The intervening 20 years have flown: in Rome
(EU/Economics), in London (Southern European Department), in Nicosia
(Deputy High Commissioner) and latterly in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Julia and their two sons loved Brunei, where British High Commissioners
are made especially welcome. The family’s activities included regular
walks in the pristine rainforest, expeditions upriver to help conserve
the Sultanate’s stunning biodiversity, and home movie making (in Brunei
it is almost impossible to take a bad photograph).
all those saturated colours, Rob worried that the move back to Britain
might feel like a shift into black and white. But the reunion with
family, friends and colleagues, and the boys’ brave reintegration into a
North London school, have been ample compensation. Julia’s main regret
is that, now she walks on Hampstead Heath, she no longer has an excuse
to carry a machete (“parang”).
problem is summed up in two types of reaction from friends outside the
office. On hearing that he is “in charge of human rights and democracy
at the FCO”, some think it sounds like a vast job: what else is there?
Others think it sounds wishy-washy: not in the national interest. Rob’s
mission is to take the Foreign Secretary’s dictum that “our values are
our interests”, and help his colleagues translate it into action in a
world so varied it can contain both Brunei’s clouded leopard and the
civil war in Syria.

Follow Rob