Breaking glass ceilings: British Ambassador Laure Beaufils

Published October 21, 2021, 2:44 PM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Our newly-installed British Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines Laure Beaufils is ready to break several glass ceilings with her appointment.

As the United Kingdom’s foremost representative in our country, and this on a year when we celebrate the 75th anniversary of UK-RP diplomatic relations, Ambassador Beaufils is the first woman to fill the post. Half French, and a mother to two, she’s also happy to be defying stereotypes, and being a living example of the ethnic diversity, the gender and cultural inclusiveness, of modern Britain.

Explaining her name, pronounced “Lore Bough-fees,” Ambassador Beaufils was smiling and animated. “I am half-French, half-British; and to be honest with you, it has, in the course of my career, raised a few eyebrows. In modern Britain, we have names from all over the world, and I’m as British as any of them. Just that my surname is less traditional,” she said. “But I like that, I take pride in it, because we don’t all have to be the same, same origins, same background—and it doesn’t mean I’m any less able to do the job or less effective. Challenging stereotypes like that is always useful. But I’ve also had very amusing pronunciations of my name, which always gets a giggle from the children, who, by the way, I speak to in French, as my husband doesn’t speak a word of French; and so I do, as otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity. But it does get a few questioning looks when people see the British Ambassador speaking in French to her children.”

President Duterte with Ambassador Beaufils

Her appointment comes in the midst of very challenging times. “COVID will dominate my engagement here; at the very least, over the first year of my stay,” she said. “My job will be to work with colleagues and friends in the government of the Philippines, civil society, and business in the Philippines, on economic and social recovery, across health, climate, education, but beyond that too. A lot of the help on health is clearly defined, supporting and enabling the access to vaccines here, AstraZeneca in particular. We’ve donated about half a million vaccines, and facilitated far larger numbers, including through COVAX, where we’re a key founder and contributor. But we’ve also done a lot of virtual round tables, sharing experiences and learnings, and policy engagements between experts in the UK and the Philippines. Hopefully, this all demonstrates to the government of the Philippines that we really want to help, and be part of the solution.”

Trade, according to Ambassador Beaufils, will remain a key priority. “It has been hit by restrictions in movement and visits in particular, so it is down a third from what it was pre-pandemic. It used to be over £2 billion a year. But when I speak to British businesses here, it’s encouraging to note that they’re still positive about the long-term prospects here and they see significant potential for more growth,” she said. “I’m talking about the big British household names that are here, like Unilever, HSBC, GSK, PruLife UK, Standard Chartered, Diageo or Shell—and there are others I haven’t touch base with yet.”

Ambassador Beaufils also spoke of the UK no longer being part of the European Union. “On the trade policy side, we have been busy engaging all over the world with what me might develop to replace the European Union’s General Scheme of Preferences (GSP+),” she said. “As we’ve left the EU formally, we will develop our own trading scheme, which will enable us to reduce trade barriers on some goods, and make changes to rules of origin too.”

A strong advocate of climate action and accountability, the British ambassador sees climate change as a cornerstone of her posting. “That is our #1 priority across the world. We are hosting the UN Top 26 Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and we’re absolutely determined to make that a success. So we’ve been spending a lot of time engaging with partners all over the world to think about how we can collectively increase our ambitions, and put our money where our mouth is to deliver on those ambitions.”

Presentation of the British Ambassador’s credentials to the President, Oct. 20, 2021.

She believes that the Philippines can play a leadership role in light of its coal moratorium, which she considers “really progressive.” “We view it as an important political statement, which we celebrate. So thinking about the energy transition here is really important,” she said. “On the oceans, we are co-leading an alliance called the ‘30 by 30’ initiative, which seeks to protect 30 percent of the world’s oceans and 30 percent of the world’s land by 2030. Of course, the oceans are of particular relevance here. We’ve now got the scientific evidence to show that protecting 30 percent of the oceans will reverse some ecological damage, maintain fisheries, and protect livelihoods.”

While this is UK policy, Ambassador Beaufils cares passionately about these issues on a personal basis. As individuals, she believes we all have to act. Previously, she led teams looking at climate change adaptation and deforestation.

The ambassador has an MA in Gender Development. She has insights both on the progress and failures of gender equality pursuits in the world. “As a rule, it’s important to note that while there are steps back sometimes, from the gender perspective, and the development and poverty perspective, there’s also been huge progress around the world,” she said. “From a legislative perspective, most countries across the world have got much stronger and equitable legislation than even a decade ago. So we shouldn’t just focus on the negatives… But despite the progress, yes, there remain significant challenges to gender equality across the world, including in my own country. Violence against women and girls is a case in point. I think it’s terribly important that we continue to talk about these challenges, continue to shine a light on them, and work on finding sustainable solutions.”

She spoke about enjoining men in the crusade. “I think it’s important for us as women to have men champion women’s rights. We need to educate our sons, just as we do our daughters, to be thoughtful, respectful, to not discriminate between boys and girls. Ultimately, it is not about women and women’s issues exclusively, but about the kind of society we want. It’s great that girls all around the world, thanks to social media, can see what’s happening elsewhere. The images coming from Kabul recently, the women taking to the streets to defy the Taliban, how inspirational is that?”

When the restrictions are lowered, Ambassador Beaufils looks forward to meeting Filipino youth, whom she finds so creative and dynamic, whether in the arts, fashion, film, or music or as entrepreneurs. Seeing that British youth is similarly predisposed, she sees a wonderful world of opportunities there. She loves how the young are still so driven by values, with unbridled creativity. She recently met with Chevening scholars headed to the UK and she found it such a treat interacting with them.

The British Council has two very interesting initiatives on this front that’s she’s so happy to be supporting. One is Kamustahan, an online exhibition across the UK and the Philippines, and looking at Filipino migrants in the UK and asking them what it meant to be a migrant, through a very interesting lens—Art. Then there’s Together Apart, which is in partnership with the National Museum of the Philippines, another online exhibition.

In celebration of the 75th anniversary of RP-UK relations, Ambassador Beaufils has plans to “work on an enhanced partnership, focusing on big thematic issues we can work on together. To set this in motion, there are five main dialogues planned—on climate change, consular issues, security issues, on trade and business, and on politics,” she explained. For the ambassador, it’s about building on what we have already established, and gathering pace to make our relationship stronger for the benefit of people in the Philippines and in the UK.

The ambassador is proud of the many Filipino health workers in the UK, around 30,000 at last count. She met with some of them before coming to Manila, when visiting Chelsea and Westminster hospitals, and found them so inspiring. She was happy to say that one was recently appointed director of Nursing in a big Public Health facility in Sussex. It’s not just about the UK enjoying their services, it’s also about the UK investing in them.

Working on her fluency and accent, Ambassador Laure Beaufils will surprise you with her Pilipino. She’s picking up new words by the day. She has tried a Jollibee burger, but back in London. Ambassador Beaufils is committed. She’s spirited. She’s passionate, a refreshing gust of Lake District mountain air.