Anote Tong is the former president of Kiribati and a famous ‘climate warrior’. After becoming a Chevening Scholar in 1987, Anote maps out the surprising path he took into politics and how he succeeded in focusing global attention on the human dimensions of climate change.
Leaving conflict and finding community with Chevening in the 1990s
Dr Mina Brajovic is the Head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Office in Montenegro. She became a Chevening Scholar in 1999, studying Law at the University of Cambridge at a time when her country was recovering from conflict. Almost 25 years on, Mina reflects on how her aspirations for building a better world have changed over time, as well as the key learnings that have stayed with her from her Chevening year.
‘Many things have changed since I applied to Chevening on a national, regional, global, and personal level – but one thing hasn’t changed, and that is my passion for fairness and contributing to a world where no one will be left behind.’
Mina’s drive to apply for a Chevening Scholarship was fuelled in large part by this passion. Even as a child, she says that she was acutely aware of any signs of unfairness or injustice that surrounded her.
‘When I was applying for the scholarship, my hope was that I would develop my competencies, my skills, and my knowledge to help my country to build a more just and prosperous society. I wanted to advocate for the rights of those who were vulnerable.’
At the time when Mina was applying for Chevening in the late 1990s, her country of Montenegro (then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was still recovering from years of conflict, isolationism, and sanctions.
‘Those were exceptionally difficult years. To come from that context and end up in the UK, where everything seemed to be set up for students like me, where everyone was supportive and happy to help – it was an extreme culture shock for me. That experience marked my whole life.’
Mina had been right about Chevening helping her to build up her competencies. She says the knowledge she acquired in that one year, learning together with and from some of the brightest minds in the world at the University of Cambridge, was ‘immense’. It was a sort of ‘voyage of discovery’, which helped her to look at the world with new eyes and develop a different attitude to acquiring knowledge.
‘Back at home we were taught one view on the subjects we studied. But at Cambridge, I was suddenly confronted with three or four different opinions on the same subject. I remember my consultations with Professor James R Crawford, one of the most eminent “masters” of public international law, and how he was focused on teaching us how to think, not what to think. It helped me realise that it was not a matter of right or wrong, it’s about thinking creatively outside of the box and searching for the truth. It’s about building up sound arguments based on the evidence you find, and then presenting those arguments, while respecting different opinions.’
Beyond the more practical skills and knowledge that Mina learned at Cambridge, she says that one of the most critical learnings she carried with her from that year was the importance of empathy and community.
‘Whenever I felt nostalgic about home during my Chevening year, I was amazed by the kindness, support, and the capacity to listen and care that I found at Cambridge. It showed me that if we really want to see this society flourish and prosper, we need to care about each other and support each other.
I didn’t feel like a foreigner in the UK, I felt I was part of a community. I felt at home. I was respected, supported, and welcomed. It meant that my Chevening year was not only one year spent with the best students and best professors from across the world, it was a year of finding lifelong friendships and a family for life.’
When Mina returned home after her Chevening year, she says she had experienced such a boost in her confidence that she was able to navigate the ongoing challenges that remained in her home country. The pace of her career growth also quickened. She was offered a job with a US consulting company, running the World Bank Health Sector Reform Project, and eventually landed her job at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
‘For many people [who knew me], joining WHO seemed like a sharp change from working in law. But these worlds share common goals. Just as a lawyer advocates for the rights of others, WHO helps people to exercise the most fundamental of human rights: the right to health. I believe that no one should be left behind in our societies, and I continue to be motivated to serve the world’s most vulnerable.’
Staying true to her childhood ambition to build a more fair and just society, Mina sees the issue of translating the theoretical concept of universal health coverage into practice as the greatest challenge of our time.
‘We live in an epoch of globalised economy and society. We witness deepening inequalities, unprecedented climate change and environmental degradation, growing insecurity, and a sense of hopelessness, even among the young who often face a more uncertain future than that of their parents. These challenges are a risk to humankind. We require new and global solutions, and we require strong leadership to make the transition to a more sustainable, safer, and healthier future for all – just as the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for.’
What gives Mina hope that we can still make progress in these areas?
‘Collaboration, partnership, and dialogue. There are many things happening in today’s world that can kill this sense of hope, especially when one examines the breakdown of trust in institutions – including health institutions. But it is only together, as a humanity, that we can tackle these challenges.
Only if we nurture knowledge and only if we support young people to strengthen their skills and their competencies can we really hope to manage the very complex challenges that our society is faced with.
So, my message to the next generation of Chevening Scholars is to be passionate about investing in knowledge and excellence. The world needs visionary and knowledgeable people to help realise economic, social, and environmental goals for the benefit of all. And knowledge is a resource that grows when shared. Only with knowledge, and a sense of responsibility, will you help your community to thrive and become resilient. And only in strong communities do resilient citizens live, who lead healthy, happy, and prosperous lives.’
Dr Mina Brajovic holds a Master in Law, European Affairs from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Medicine from the University of Ljubljana.
On 24 October 2023, friends of Chevening attended a special reception at Lancaster House to celebrate 40 years of Chevening.
Twenty years after her Chevening Scholarship, alumna Jerusa Ali now works as Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Jerusa shares her Chevening journey and her advice for new Chevening Alumni.