Interview with Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke: “I love Pakistan and want to have the opportunity to return. Of course, the attraction is the warmth and generosity of the people. I had the opportunity to visit last year, a week before the national elections. We partner with a women’s leadership initiative called ‘She Can Lead’, and met some incredible women in villages and towns. Islamabad is a planned city, which seems counterintuitive in this part of the world, and so is quite attractive. But going to Hyderabad, you get a real feel for what it must be like in different parts of the country. If I had the chance to go back I would go north up to the Himalayas and see the beauty of the country – before it becomes too popular!
Helen’s top tip for holidaying in Pakistan
To go to a country like this, it’s best to have contacts on the ground – it is not always stable. The joy of working with Oxfam is that we have national staff who love their country and want to share the beauty and the challenges with me.
Something she always packs when she travels
I always make sure I have a TV series downloaded on the iPad. With lots of travel, sometimes it’s too hard to read a book, and a short burst of a seasonal show at the end of the day can calm the mind and still tell a story.
A destination on her bucket list, for future travels
It is such a big world, but I would love to explore more of the Middle East – history, architecture, geography and politics all in one spot. I spent time in Lebanon last year – an incredible small country with a complex history and enormous extremes of inequality – but in Beirut you can go from the ocean to the mountains in half an hour!
A travel disaster – or near-miss – which stays in her mind
My worst travel disaster is missing a connection. It happened one year travelling with my husband when we had connecting flights from Sicily to Rome and then back to Melbourne. We both had critical business meetings to return to, and the unsuccessful fight with the desk in Catania to say yes, please check the baggage all the way through to Melbourne, meant a sprint with cases to the international terminal in Rome, only to have missed the connection by minutes! Thank goodness for travel insurance!”
About Dr Helen Szoke
Dr Helen Szoke is Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia and a strong advocate for foreign aid and international development, human rights, gender and race equity.
Her distinguished career accomplishments includes leadership of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as Commissioner, and the Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission. She was awarded the Order of Australia in 2018.
Dr Szoke has also held numerous honorary and governance roles with nonprofit organisations, and has received awards and recognition for her work over many years in human rights, governance, public policy and leadership.
Helen was there at the starting line at Lysterfield Park early yesterday morning cheering on more than 2,800 people (700 teams of four) walking 100 kilometres in the @OAusTrailwalker to support the cause of a just world without poverty.
The walk, which takes place over 36 hours, started at Lysterfield Lake on Friday, climbed up and over Mt Dandenong and then wound its way through Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, supported by over 600 volunteers, before finishing in Fairfield today. Helen has done the 50-kilometre version of Trailwalker in the past.
To sign up for next year’s Oxfam Trailwalker, go to trailwalker.oxfam.org.au/
Main image: Hyderabad, Pakistan: Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke visits an event celebrating the “She Can Lead” Program, during a visit to Pakistan. The She Can Lead Project supports the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan, focusing on gender responsiveness in electoral processes; promoting women’s political emancipation and leadership; and ensuring their equal participation in decision-making, utilising established Women Leaders Groups.