Career Spotlight Series III: Yousif Abu Agla- Diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
The Career Spotlight series aims to shine a light on people from a range of different academic backgrounds and career pathways beyond the less traditional ones to inform, inspire and empower others to explore their own interests and talents. I’m constantly inspired by so many people around me who have taken the leap, challenged the status quo and pursued their passion which in some instances is different to what they studied at university. So, I’m hoping I can share their own accounts and stories to help you on your journey. To find out more about what inspired this, check out the launch blog here.
The third guest featured on the Career Spotlight blog series is Yousif Abu Agla, a seasoned Diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Republic of the Sudan) currently serving as the Director of the Office of the Assistant Undersecretary for Political Affairs. Read on to learn more about why he chose to study Economics at university, his short experience working in consulting, his current experience of working in Diplomacy, challenges he faced along the way, how he overcame them and advice for people considering starting a career in Diplomacy.
Why did you choose to study Economics at university and how did you find it?
From an early age, I was more inclined to humanities, rather than the science stream, which made it easier for me to decide which subjects I would elect during high school for my Matriculation and IGCSE Examinations. After that, and as the years went on, I became more interested in subjects like History, Economics and Literature. And when I applied for university, I was certain that I wanted to further my studies and knowledge in the field of Economics and was fortunate to be accepted at the prestigious University of Khartoum.
During my university years, I decided to specialise in International Relations and from then apply to work at an international organisation or UN agency. Coming back to Sudan for University, after a number of years of living abroad, was demanding in itself, as I had to adjust to the environment as a whole and the Arabic Language, as a medium of study. However, I learnt to embrace the challenge and enjoy the amazing diversity that the University of Khartoum is well renowned for, and I managed to excel and graduate with an Honours Degree.
Furthermore, I completed my Masters degree (part-time) at the University of Nottingham during my stay in Malaysia. This certainly wasn’t an easy task, juggling between work and my postgraduate studies. I chose the course on International Development Management, as it combines the disciplines of International Relations and Developmental Studies. I thoroughly enjoyed the different modules taught during the course especially Global Political Economy, the Politics of International Law and Field Technologies
How have you applied your major in your career field? And what are other courses that you took or wish you would have taken that would have added value to your career?
Well for me, the major that I completed is certainly beneficial in my current career, as I gained the practical tools needed to better understand and analyse the world around me, and actively became a critical thinker.
Usually, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, throughout its history, opens the applications for the position of entry level vacancies “Third Secretaries” for the graduates from the disciplines of : Economics, Political Science, Law and Arts (Linguistics). In some years, they may expand the required disciplines to include: Computer Sciences and Engineering and Business Administration amongst others. The main requirements, prior to the application process include: providing proof of the Sudanese nationality, attaining a “Second Class Upper” or “ Very Good” grade at the B.Sc. degree level as a minimum, completing the national service and a certificate of good health.
So, for people who are generally interested in pursuing such a career, they can focus on these disciplines and also further enhance their skills in the field of negotiation, mediation, peace-building, multilateral conferences, climate change conferences, international law and other writing skills proficiency.
How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey and what you do currently.
Unfortunately, after graduating, I didn’t have the sufficient work/training experience to apply for the UN offices in Khartoum.
This remains one of the main pieces of advice I can give the younger generation, to best utilise their summer holidays in applying and finding training opportunities which are aligned with their future career prospects. It’s never too early to start looking for opportunities before you graduate.
So upon graduating, I served my national service (12 months) at the National Centre for Diplomatic Studies and simultaneously completed a professional diploma (4 months) in NGOs management from the University of Medical Sciences and Technology and studied French Language at the Institut Francais de Khartoum. I then applied for the position of Third Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the start of 2012. The recruitment process for the Foreign Service continued for over one year. There were many applicants and the selection process involved two interviews and a written exam. Also, they only take a few candidates and the applications open every 3-4 years depending on the needs of the Ministry. So, to be accepted almost two years after my graduation was a blessing and it paved the way for a clearer professional and academic career path.
But preceding that, I worked for a short spell (one year) in the private sector, as an Analyst in a Business Consulting Firm, where I gained more knowledge in the field of business administration. It was an interesting experience to say the least, as it was my first actual JOB! In addition, to the on the job training, the soft skills that I attained during that short period were invaluable. Subsequently, I had another offer from a Multinational Telecommunication Company here in Khartoum, but when I received the call from the MFA, I knew then where my true calling was.
I’m currently a diplomat (Second Secretary) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Republic of Sudan). Quite recently, I was appointed as the Director of the Office of the Assistant Undersecretary for Political Affairs, which is more of an executive function as opposed to the other bilateral, multilateral, technical and administrative departments.
Prior to that, I completed more than a year and a half at the Asian Affairs Department, in charge of the China Affairs Desk, which I held since returning from my first post abroad at our Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November 2018. The main tasks involved overseeing and reporting on the developing issues in China and its foreign relations in addition to the regular diplomatic tasks that are entailed with enhancing the strategic relations between both our sisterly countries.
What do you like most about your job?
With the ongoing and never-ending changes in global geopolitics and contemporary issues in the local, regional and international sphere, it makes the tasks of our Ministry, which stands at the forefront to ensure, safeguard and maximise the core national interests of our country, more important and essential.
If you ask me, every day is a new opportunity and challenge to better serve the Ministry and my country at large. This is the most satisfaction that I get and one of the main reasons why I enjoy my job.
What does an average day at work look like?
Well, that depends on various factors. Mainly if I’m abroad or here at the headquarters in Khartoum, I’m mostly reviewing the latest news locally and internationally and if there are any meetings then I need to prepare all the required documents, follow up certain issues of concern with the relevant authorities and make sure nothing is left unsettled.
To what degree did you parents’ impact or influence your choice of degree or career? If your parents weren’t supportive initially, are they more convinced now?
My family has been and will always remain my support system. I’m quite fortunate to be surrounded by my parents and siblings whom I revert to when making major decisions and discussing the best possible options. They have been nothing short of understanding, reassuring, and helpful.
I don’t like the cliches, but one of my main inspirations and role models in my life is my father, and coincidentally, the career path that I chose, is similar to the one in which he served in during his long and illustrious professional career up to his retirement in the year 2018. He served as a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Sudan) from 1971 in several posts and capacities both abroad and at the headquarters and retired as an Ambassador in the year 2008, thereafter he served for over a decade at an International Organisation. During this period, he has attained numerous medals of honour and accolades and was a true servant for his country. He engraved in us the true meanings of honesty, benevolence, humility, and compassion.
We learned, from our younger days, to love and represent our country wherever we go and to apply ourselves in our studies and always excel in whatever we pursue.
Both my parents never forced anything on any of us at the household, coincidentally, each one of my four siblings chose a different career path.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your industry? How has COVID-19 impacted your role?
Like the different sectors, in Sudan, the Foreign Ministry was quick to adapt to the health regulations that were passed by the government to contain and tackle the spread of the novel corona virus (COVID-19) nationwide. Presence at the workplace has been limited to certain departments, meetings with foreign delegations altered to webinars, and visits abroad for training and meetings postponed.
This unexpected change of events has increased the digitisation in the workplace and the efforts to attain foreign aid to contain the virus.
What’s your advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in Diplomacy?
From my modest years of experience, the advice I would pass to students and other people is:
Knowledge is Power (Education and Training) - I always feel I’ve gained valuable information from: reading books, newspapers, listening to the news and podcasts, watching documentaries and movies. In the field of diplomacy, expanding one's skills and knowledge is of paramount importance. There are no skills that are “useless” and a person needs to learn to be a team member with the ability to excel in diverse settings as well as keeping up to date with the new technology and latest news. Picking up new languages and looking for courses that compliment one's major ( e.g. International law, political economy…etc.) will be very beneficial for any graduate seeking to work in the multilateral diplomacy arena.
I have participated in numerous training programs in the field of diplomacy and have acquired along the way, a set of practical skills and useful knowledge, but what remains the most significant part of these training opportunities is exchanging experiences with the other participants from other countries.
Your actions reflect your values, work ethics and morals - Being in a professional and disciplined career that requires tremendous amounts of reliability, integrity, cooperation and communication skills, one has to learn to harness these traits from an early stage in his career and exert an effort to always improve on them. In addition to building respect and trust amongst one’s peers and having the right attitude in the workplace - dedication and determination- to enhance one’s productivity as well is also important.
Volunteering and taking action - Volunteering changed my life in many ways, and I believe that if each person identifies the causes they’re passionate about and starts taking action, they can certainly effect positive change in their community and the world at large.
Offering essential assistance to worthwhile causes, people in need and the wider human community, will spark others around you to follow in your footsteps.
As well as the personal development that is attained, one can expand his network which could be beneficial for his/her professional career as well.
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