An interview with Public Service Medal recipient - An Nguyen
Meet An Nguyen, the Country Manager in Vietnam for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. She was one of the few outstanding public servants awarded the Public Service Medal as part of the 2020 Australia Day Honours. Her passion and collaborative approach played a significant role in cementing the Australian-Vietnamese relationship in agricultural research. Speaking to her via telephone, we were able to get some valuable insights about her career journey and aspirations.
First, tell us about yourself briefly and how you came to join the APS?
I began in the Australian Public Service in 2004, as a public affairs manager at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi. I have a background in Communications with a Master in Communications for Development from the University of Queensland.
In that role I started to see, under the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) program, how Australian and Vietnamese scientists conducted useful research to help Vietnamese farmers improve their livelihood. This excited me and I applied for a job with the ACIAR program when the chance came. I was lucky to join ACIAR in late 2007.
Now tell us a bit more of your current role or the role for which you received the PSM? What was your first reaction to receive this honour? What does receiving this honour mean for you?
Since 2015, I have been the Country Manager of ACIAR Vietnam, responsible for facilitating a collaborative research program between Australia and Vietnam. I see myself as a matchmaker for these partnerships, someone who helps ACIAR Vietnam achieve its long term goals.
I remember my joy when I first saw my name on the Public Service Medal list. It's on a special day this year too - it was Australia Day, as well as the second day of the New Lunar Year. It all amplified when the messages congratulating me flooded in through email, social media... from hundreds of colleagues, partners and friends.
To me this honour is not only for my work, but also an acknowledgement of the contribution of many people: my team at ACIAR (from Hanoi, Canberra and over the world), officials at all levels of the Vietnamese government, colleagues at the Embassy, Australian and Vietnamese scientists and partners. I am especially grateful for my supervisor, Dr Peter Horne.
We are all proud to have received this honour, and we're encouraged to do even better.
Looking back at your APS career so far, what would you say is THE highlight? And what has been the biggest challenge?
I am fortunate to be a coordinator between Australia and Vietnam in research for agricultural development. One highlight is to manage the process of building a comprehensive strategy. We had to first reach a deep understanding of the needs for research and development of different regions and different sectors of agriculture in Vietnam. Then we combined it with Australia's expertise to create a 10 year vision. This is a more comprehensive strategy, requiring the contribution of more partners than ever before. It took us about a year to complete which has been approved by both governments.
In my position, the biggest challenge is to always maintain common ground with all stakeholders. Everyone has their own priorities. Sometimes it takes a long time for everyone to reach an agreement. But it is effort worthwhile.
Looking forward, what, in your view, can be improved or done differently in the APS to serve the public better? Where do you see yourself in the future APS?
I will loosely answer the question from ACIAR’s perspective, as my main experience in APS has been with ACIAR. Its mission is to raise knowledge on sustainable agriculture and increase productivity, for the benefits of partner countries and Australia itself through research partnership.
I want to emphasise "partnership" here. I think ACIAR is already doing a good job. I'm happy to see that ACIAR has started to focus on public communications in recent years by building a network of communications officers who work closely with ACIAR offices around the world.
In order for the public of Australia and partner countries to understand and support the program even more, we need to communicate well and tell our stories better. Our communication must change as our partners change. Vietnam used to be a poor country. Receiving international aid then was necessary. But Vietnam has become a middle income country. Vietnam together with Australia co-investing in a research program for the benefit of both countries is what we should do at this stage. In fact, Vietnam's financial contribution over the research collaboration has started to increase for our program. This is more about ownership of the program and that, we are working as equal partners toward a common goal.
For my part, I see myself continue support the program and do my best to maintain and get stronger commitment from Vietnam. I am looking forward to seeing even more tangible and beneficial results for agriculture industries of Australia and Vietnam.