Avatar photo

Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

3rd July 2013 London, UK

Breaking the Sound Barrier with BEDB

Here’s an inspirational Guest Blog from a friend of ours at the Brunei Economic Development Board. I’m delighted that Dina Omarali had such a useful time at this UK-organised conference in Singapore, alongside my colleague and Deputy High Commissioner, Sunny Ahmed.

I have already had a chance to discuss with Deputy Minister Dato Ali Apong a plan to bring some of these speakers to Brunei, including the “Fastest Man on Earth”. Watch this space!

First of all I would like to convey my sincere gratitude to the British High Commission to Brunei Darussalam for giving me the opportunity to post an article on the British High Commissions’ blog regarding my view on the Innovation Forum: UK-Southeast Asia Innovation, Design and Technology Forum which was held on Friday, 7th June 2013 in Singapore.

It really was a golden opportunity for me!

On Thursday, 6th June 2013 I arrived in Singapore to attend the Innovation Forum. Since I am not tech-savvy, I thought it would be a long and tiresome day. Surprisingly I was wrong; in fact, very, very wrong. It was the best conference that I have attended yet.

It was very well organized, besides the fact that it was hosted at the impressive Arts Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands, the contents were excellent, the speakers were both engaging and inspiring; and to make it even more fun, the emcee was fantastic.

The conference was kick-started with an interesting inaugural speech by Lord Green, UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, followed by remarks from H.E Mr Teo Ser Luck, Singapore’s Minister of State for Trade and Industry.

After that we heard a number of great invited speakers including Mr Iain Gray, Chief Executive of Technology Strategy Board, UK, a serious yet funny Dr Raj Thampuran of A*STAR, Dr Geoff McGrath, Managing Director of McLaren Applied Technologies, Mr Paul Priestman of Priestmangoode, inspiring Ms Caroline Plumb, Chief Executive Officer of Freshminds Group, persistent Mr Matt Johnson, Co-founder of Bare Conductive and not forgetting the fastest man on earth, Mr Andy Green, Wing Commander of Bloodhound SSC who was the first person to break the sound barrier on land.

All the speakers were very engaging and inspiring. However if I had to vote for the top three speakers whom I think would be able to best inspire our youngsters, especially students and aspiring young entrepreneurs, I would give my vote to Ms Caroline Plumb, Mr Matt Johnson and Mr Andy Green. Their experiences shared during the forum were so amazing and definitely inspiring.

I feel that the courage Ms Caroline Plumb showed as a fresh graduate, and against the advice of Sir Richard Branson, in setting up a new company with the aspiration of becoming the world’s most respected research and recruitment consultancy was very inspirational. Her story is a great lesson for those who aspire to set up a business but do not yet have the courage to do so.

I was also very impressed by the persistence and perseverance of Mr Matt Johnson and his fellow postgraduate friends from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Their dedication, even after numerous unsuccessful attempts, to transform a nearly impossible idea into a great discovery of conductive paint using their kitchen as a science lab, is a fantastic living example of the importance of never giving up. And one which I hope will inspire our innovative students to work hard in transforming their own ideas to become real and marketable products.

Last but certainly not least, I felt Mr Andy Green’s aspiration to improve his record as the fastest man on earth by attempting to pilot a supersonic car at the amazing speed of 1,000mph in 2014 and 2015!, is a truly inspirational story to motivate our youngsters to aim high and to make the impossible possible. The video he shared during the forum was priceless!!

I am very thankful to the British High Commission to Brunei for giving me the chance to meet these great people, and I really hope that others may hear their stories and be inspired by their journey too.

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