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Recap: The STEAR Dialogue: In Conversation with James Crabtree

The 20th September saw the launch of The STEAR Dialogue, a more informal events series where we invite special guests to come in to talk about their personal and professional experiences; to hear their takes on culture, activism, and the world at large; and to give their advice for young people getting started in their field.

The series started with a bang with James Crabtree, the Executive Director of the IISS in Asia. With a published book to his name, and a wealth of experience in policymaking, journalist and academic settings, James’s answers to the rapid-fire questions and Q&A were particularly insightful. Early on, he shared the importance of being numerically literature, even if the aim is not to go into a data or numerical-driven career, and shared an academic recommendation: that everyone should try and take at least one class in political philosophy (admittedly, not everyone gets to study under Michael Sandel!).

More broadly, James impressed upon the audience the importance of good writing, as both a tool of practicality and inspiration. When asked what he would do if he did not have to sleep, he shared his love of reading, and an ambitious target of reading fifty books a year (perhaps a future participant in STEAR’s book club in the making).

The second half of the panel was largely devoted to hearing and learning more about the think tank industry as a whole. The Q&A session kicked off with a question about widening participation in the think tank sphere, particularly in terms of moving beyond a male-dominated focus. With unpaid internships becoming less and less accepted, James shared optimism about a future where diversity is not simply a ‘nice-to-have’, and instead is led by proactivity at every level of a think tank.

When it came to recruitment, one of the overriding (and reassuring) messages of the event was a simple one: age is not a barrier. Our audience was told that it is far more important to have specific, relevant and applicable knowledge than it is to be older and have a raft of degrees (though they are important too!), and stressed the importance of building breadth along with research depth, both in terms of a professional network and research scope.

As a final closing statement, James reminded us once more to be passionate about what we do, and to translate that into our work life.

For more information about IISS Singapore, check out https://www.iiss.org/contact-us/singapore

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About the Speaker:


James Crabtree

Executive Director at IISS–Asia


James Crabtree is the Executive Director at IISS–Asia. James plays a leading role in organising the annual IISS Shangri-La Dialogue and the IISS Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-La Sherpa Meeting, as well as the IISS Fullerton Lecture series. He also leads the growing IISS research team in Singapore focused on the Asia-Pacific and contributes to IISS publications. Prior to joining the IISS, James was a Singapore-based author and journalist, and an Associate Professor of Practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His best-selling 2018 book, The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age was shortlisted for the FT / McKinsey book of the year. Prior to academia, James worked for the Financial Times, most recently as Mumbai bureau chief, and has written for a wide range of global publications. He also worked as a senior policy adviser in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was educated at Harvard and the London School of Economics.



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