It is with personal regret but warm wishes that I announce the retirement of Stewart Beck, President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. Stewart leaves his role this month after seven years leading our organization.
Stewart’s tenure at APF Canada has paralleled a crucial period in Canada-Asia relations, one in which the Asia Pacific’s ascendency as the new centre of gravity in the global economy and global geopolitics was entrenched, not as a process but fact. An early adopter of the importance of establishing linkages and networks with this dynamic region while simultaneously bolstering awareness of the opportunities and challenges the ‘Asian century’ represents to Canadian stakeholders, during his time as our President and CEO, Stewart has successfully positioned APF Canada as a leading interlocutor and catalyst for enhanced engagement with Asia.
His work in connecting innovative ecosystems on both sides of the Pacific, building the Asia Business Leaders Advisory Council into a robust international network of 10 Asian economies, supporting the development of international talent and its mobility, and establishing ‘Asia competence’ as a vital component of Canada’s curricula and corporate training represent just some of Stewart’s many achievements in assuring Canada’s success and prosperity into the next century.
We are indebted to Stewart’s vision and commitment for propelling us to our present position as Canada’s leading research centre on Asia. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to wish Stewart all the best and thank him for his many years of service to Canada, the Foundation, and the advancement of Canada-Asia relations.
In the Q&A that follows, I have also asked our APF Canada staff to invite Stewart to reflect on his work with the Foundation since joining us as President and CEO in 2015.
– The Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Chair of the Board, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
A candid conversation with Stewart Beck, who retires in August 2021 as President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, in which he reflects on his seven-year tenure at the helm of Canada’s leading research centre on Canada-Asia relations.
APF Canada: Stewart, looking back at the past seven years and your role as President and CEO of APF Canada, what would you say are the four areas where you feel you’ve really moved the dial or had the greatest impact?
Stewart: First, China has always been an important player in Asia, but Asia is so much larger, and we have been able to bring more focus to ASEAN and India. Second, I'd like to think that, really, success in almost any endeavour is dependent on the networks that you build. I think (the Asia Business Leaders Advisory Council) is a good example of a new network we have built to promote Canada’s relationship with the region. Another example is how we have built the Distinguished Fellows into a more vibrant network. We've added experts from the region and the U.S., and they are contributing to the excellent body of work coming out of the organization. It is not that Fellows did not contribute in the past, but it certainly has developed and evolved into a network that is really quite important.
Third, we are doing more now than just trade and economic work. With the emergence of China and its impact globally, we needed to adapt to the new geopolitical reality. We have been saying Canada needs to diversify, and the Foundation has a role in explaining the strategic elements of that process. I believe we have been doing the type of catalytic research to inform the conversation and to help Canadians understand the challenges and opportunities.
Finally, and consistent with the last point, the work we have been doing on digital innovation and the importance of this for Canada in Asia recognizes a leadership role we can assume on digital governance and standards. Canada is more than a commodity exporter, and we are globally recognized for what we are doing in AI and machine learning. For example, in Asia, this translates into opportunities for Canada in critical areas like energy and food security, health care, and technologies and business models for aging populations.
Over my seven years here, I hope the Foundation has been able to move the dial on the role and importance of Asia and how essential it is for the country to build the Asia competence necessary to succeed in the Asian century.
APF Canada: Back to that move from trade and investment into the more geostrategic space. At the beginning of your tenure, would it be fair to say that you did take more of a mercantile approach, that you, in fact, moved us from a think-tank to a do-tank and then toward more of a strategy-tank, if you will?
Stewart: I always wanted to make sure we were a catalyst and not compete with other think-tanks. Finding our own lane is important in how we differentiate from others. I would say we do applied research where we seek to add value for our stakeholders. I’ve already talked about digital innovation, but it is a good example of the research we’ve done on governance, standards, and policies in North and Southeast Asia and the opportunities that exist for Canada and Canadian companies. We have done similar work on bringing digital governance and data trusts to precision agriculture in India.
Of course, we’re not Global Affairs Canada. We don't have offices on the ground. They're the ones who should be thinking strategically and acting tactically, but our role is to bring these issues to their attention. We can add our strategic perspectives, but our stakeholders are the implementers.
That's essentially set the stage for what I was trying to do over the seven years of my tenure; how do we become a catalyst? How do we make things happen? What's the chemistry that we add? What's the secret sauce in all the things that we do? That’s why when you think about our 2015 strategy document, Building Blocks for a Canada-Asia Strategy, we put ideas out there that were catalytic with the hope they would be incorporated into policy. And some of the ideas appeared in Canada’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, such as making Canada an international talent hub.
There is a progression from the 2015 paper to the 2020 paper, Canada as a 21st Century Pacific Power: Toward 'Broad Diversification' in Asia, from a mercantilist approach to a geostrategic/geopolitical approach. Not that we could have predicted the impact of the election of Donald Trump in 2016, but there was a need by 2020 to reorient our approach to China and the region. And gain a better understanding of the geostrategic environment and its impact not just on trade but on the larger political and societal relationships with the region.
How we approach our APF Canada communications and brand is fundamentally different today than seven years ago, and it’s related to the changing demographics of our society. We no longer focus on traditional media outlets; we believe to have a lasting impact, we need to satisfy the information requirement of a younger, more diverse population.
My hope is that the work we’ve started to build Asia competency by introducing Asia modules in the K-12 curriculum is expanded beyond B.C. to other provinces in Canada. This is the long-term play and, if it happens, our understanding of Asian cultures and norms will grow to meet the relevance of the region. But most importantly, it will recognize that we are more than an Atlantic nation but a truly multicultural country with an Asian diaspora that is fundamental to our growth and global success.