The Australia Indonesia Awards celebrate the contributions of those who provide inspiration and enhance understanding between Australians and Indonesians. AIYA is chronicling the achievements of these Career Champions in a series of interviews with this year’s finalists and winners. Today we hear from sports enthusiast and consultant Paul Mead.

Source: Twitter

AIYA: Tell us a little about your career.

PAUL: I spent eleven years in the New Zealand Army as an Engineer Officer. I spent a lot of time serving overseas, including in Vanuatu, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste. Through my time overseas I gained a great deal of understanding on working effectively with people from different cultures. I learnt the challenges of trying to achieve a common understanding through language barriers, but also the shared understanding of success.

Upon leaving the Army I became a teacher and then worked in the sport industry. Both career changes have been focused on helping people learn and bringing people together.

What brought you to connect with Indonesia?

My connection with Indonesia was more recent. Living in Darwin since 2010, Indonesia is literally on our back doorstep. Our family has had many trips to Bali and this introduced me to the Indonesian people and language. I know that many Indonesians will say that Bali is not a true reflection of the rest of Indonesia, but I do know that it helped me reconnect with my love of working with different cultures.

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to be selected onto CAUSINDY and in 2016 returned as a mentor to CAUSINDY. It is through this program that I gained a deeper understanding of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia and saw the real opportunities to build stronger relationships, particularly through sport.

How do you use your Indonesian experience in your current occupation?

I work for myself as a sports consultant. Sport is like a universal language. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you drop a soccer ball or a cricket ball and bat for example, then most people know what to do with it. Sport helps to bring people together and connect, despite the challenges of language or cultural differences.

So, I enjoy taking these sport experiences and using them to build connection and people to people relationships, whilst overlaying education or economic benefits over the top. Sport is a powerful motivator to get people together to connect.

How did you find your current job?

The program Diamonds in the Rough was a program I worked on with a good friend, Narelle Gosstray. Narelle is a well-regarded coach and official within the baseball world, and passionate about projects that create change. I had just come off the 2015 CAUSINDY and wanted to explore how to build on what I had learnt and experienced. A DFAT grant was open, so we created the program and were successful in gaining funding now for two years.

The program takes our Australian Emeralds (Baseball Australia’s national women’s team) squad members, over to Indonesia to work with girls over a period of 1 – 2 days. They act as mentors, coaches and role models, not only in teaching the game of baseball, but also in leadership and confidence activities. Baseball is predominately a male sport, with females pushed to play softball. Our program encourages girls to play baseball, showing them that they have choices by using our female national representatives as role models.

Making choices in what sport you play is analogous to making choices in life and what career you want to follow. We hope that through our program and the ongoing connection with our in country partner who continues to run female baseball programs, that we will develop strong Indonesian female leaders, who have a connection with Australia.

What do you enjoy the most — and least — about working in relation to Indonesia?

The thing I enjoy the most is the food! The thing I like least is Jakarta traffic!

What are your thoughts on the future of the Australian-Indonesian relationship in the field of sport?

Indonesia is fast becoming involved in the hosting of major sporting events. Jakarta is hosting the 2018 Asian Games and this is likely to be an amazing event. There is a lot of expatriate support to develop non-traditional Asian sport capacity, not only in Indonesia, but more broadly across Asia. The development of athletes through a sport pathway is required to start at the grassroots level. Australia has extensive experience in the development of participation pathways, through to gold medal success.

It is through this experience from Australia and the opportunities available in Indonesia to develop sporting pathways that the relationship through sport can be further developed. The proximity between the two countries offers ongoing sport competition options that are cheaper and easier to access for each country, when compared to travelling to Europe or America.

I see a lot more knowledge transfer and competition exchanges occurring between the two countries in regard to sport over coming years.

What advice would you offer to youth interested in sport?

There are plenty of opportunities available, you just have to look. I was lucky enough to experience different cultures and language from an early stage in my career and it has certainly broadened my perspectives.

Those early in their career would benefit highly from a position outside of their comfort zone, whether this was a paid of volunteer nature. The benefits gained far outweigh the financial cost.

Given the opportunity again, what would you do differently?

The one thing that I have never taken up is the learning of a second language. My Bahasa [Indonesia] is almost non-existent and for all the travels I have done around the world I have relied on interpreters or a complex act of miming out what I need or where I am going! If I was to start again, I would learn languages from the outset.

We would like to thank both Paul and the President of the Australia Indonesia Association of NSW, Eric de Haas. You can find Paul on Twitter and LinkedIn.