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Former diplomat and foreign policy advisor, Tom Fletcher CMG, delivers Fraser Lecture

Former diplomat and foreign policy advisor, Tom Fletcher CMG, delivers Fraser Lecture

We were honoured to welcome Tom Fletcher CMG, to deliver this year’s Fraser Lecture. Tom spoke to our current Sixth Form, invited guests and members of staff on the topic of diplomacy and shared the Ten Skills Required to Thrive in the 21st Century.

Tom is Principal of Hertford College, University of Oxford. He was previously the foreign policy adviser to three UK Prime Minsters: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron (2007-2011) and the UK’s Ambassador to Lebanon (2011-15). In 2022, he published a book, Ten Survival Skills for a World In Flux, which seeks to highlight the key skills and capacities which individuals and communities need to foster, steward and develop for life now and in the future.

At just 36 years of age, Tom became the youngest person to become a diplomat when he was appointed as the UK’s Ambassador to Lebanon. He shared insights into a typical day in the life of an ambassador and reflected on a particularly frightening occasion during the Syria conflict in 2013 which saw him pen a letter to his two young sons imparting wisdom, values and life skills he would wish to share with them should he not make it home. Luckily, the letters remain filed away, but this exercise started a ripple effect which would shape his career enormously.

An advocate for the power of human connection in moments of real vulnerability, Tom recounted anecdotes from across his career which were rooted in the belief that the ability to see another person’s perspective is a superpower.

The nature of Tom’s occupation saw him witnessing geopolitics up close and allowed him access to many world leaders. The downside meant he had little time to spend with his family. He concocted a plan to produce a book containing life advice from all the powerful individuals he encountered, asking them to share their words of wisdom with his son, Charlie, who would receive the book on his 14th birthday. The very first contributor was JK Rowling, and the book contains advice from Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, George W Bush, David Beckham and Barack Obama, among others. Although the exact contents remain private to Charlie, Tom shared that should you distil the advice given by these successful and powerful people it would come down to three things: be kind, be curious and be brave.

Turning to the topic of the skills the next generation need to thrive in the 21st century, Tom used expertise from his work at the highest levels of international politics, education, activism and business to produce his book, Ten Survival Skills for a World in Flux, a practical manifesto to transform the way we learn, live and work together. Tom believes that in order to thrive in the twenty-first century, we must all understand the challenges coming our way, including climate change, mass migration, big tech and artificial intelligence, and start adapting, now.

Finishing his lecture, Tom asked all those present to think about the contents of a eulogy. You don’t hear about someone’s grades and their various promotions. You hear about someone who was a good friend, an ally, a parent. You hear about people being kind, curious or brave. He impressed upon the importance of aligning your life plans to these values in order to lead a more purposeful life. And he shared that these values are diplomatic values, encouraging Sixth Formers to go out into the world with these values at their heart and be a generation for change.

Phoebe L (S6) gave the vote of thanks on the day and reflecting on the Fraser Lecture, she said:

We all thoroughly enjoyed Tom’s lecture, it was especially interesting to hear about his personal experience of failures leading to some amazing experiences, along with reaching out in new ways, even if they might seem to be a bad idea. The key ideas: be kind, be curious and be brave, and how to be a good ancestor, will stay with us all for years to come.”

Commenting, Rector John O’Neill, said:

Tom’s Fraser Lecture was outstanding and the life experience and wisdom he was able to share with our young people just a few months before they finish their school careers was invaluable. In such simple terms he portrayed truly powerful sentiments around the skills humanity needs to enhance within an ever-changing world and provided every single one of us with much food for thought on how we can create and educate for a better future. Thank you Tom.”


For more information about Tom’s book Ten Survival Skills for a World In Flux, please visit his website here.