UCL Policy Lab


Building a new framework for foreign policy and development with Moazzam Malik

1 March 2023

Moazzam Malik is a Managing Director at the World Resources Institute, former British civil servant, diplomat, and Ambassador to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor Leste, and Honorary Professor of Practice at the UCL Policy Lab. He spoke to James Baggaley for the UCL Policy Lab magazine.

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This article originally appeared in the UCL Policy Lab Magazine.

Moazzam Malik is a Managing Director at the World Resources Institute, former British civil servant, diplomat, and Ambassador to Indonesia, ASEAN and Timor Leste, and Honorary Professor of Practice at the UCL Policy Lab. He spoke to James Baggaley about the future of British foreign policy and why he believes the UK can play a positive role in the world.

Moazzam Malik is energised. He has spent almost 25 years representing Britain, working for governments of all stripes in support of the “UK’s national interest”, and collaborating with international partners to address global challenges. Today, he believes that mission, the one he’s spent a lifetime fulfilling, requires rethinking and renewal.

He worries that in failing to building on its strengths, the UK is falling short in its global role. 

“Britain’s a great place,” he says. “We have some of the best universities in the world. We have creative industries – in music, art, and fashion – that are the envy of the world. There’s incredible innovation in industry. There is a lot at which we are brilliant. And so, even as economic power shifts east and we head into a multi-polar world, where the UK will be in 2030 or 2040 is potentially very exciting.”

With Britain facing economic headwinds at home, Moazzam Malik thinks it’s important to recognise that British foreign policy can enable national renewal.

“We can be a country that brings people together, that has an exciting, fresh, modern offering to the world,” he says. “But that’s different to the Britain of the World Wars. The UK’s openness and diversity, sitting in Europe, between Asia and North America, means we can be a bridge-builder, a country that helps the world solve the challenges that threaten the security and prosperity of all our people. In some sense, we need to let go of our past to free our imaginations for the challenges and alliances of the future. Of course, our future is rooted in who we are and what we are, but we must face the future. I think that’s a really exciting prospect for us.” 

Moazzam Malik knows all about inspiring stories. His father was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to north London in the late 1950s as an “economic migrant”, escaping a life of poverty. The battle against the intolerance and racism of the 1970s wasn’t easy. After finishing school and winning a place at university, Moazzam says he was determined to do something with his life that could give others – in the UK and in developing countries - the same chance at a better life. “I wanted to create opportunities for change and allow people to realise their aspirations, in the way that my family had.” he says.

He joined the newly created Department for International Development (DFID) in 1997 as an economist. The New Labour government was seeking to transform Britain – and Clare Short at DFID was seeking to transform how Britain and the world did development. Malik was recruited to help shift the UK’s trade policy from a tool of mercantilist corporate interests to a driver for development and wider prosperity.

“DFID was a signal that Britain would try and do something different in the world after a long period of conservative rule,” he says. “It was a privilege to be part of that movement for change.” And he is proud of its achievements. Although widely seen as a British success story and a world leader, DFID was merged with the Foreign Office in 2020 by Boris Johnson.

Whilst Malik is passionate about all DFID did, he has little time for going back over the debates on the merger. He’s focused on the future of both British foreign affairs and development policy. 

“The abolition of DFID, or the merger and incorporation of DFID into the Foreign Office, reflects where Britain is today - a country that is unsure of its place in the world as we navigate Brexit,” he says. “It reflects the deep uncertainty that we face as a country. We need to reflect on that and work out how we re-bottle that spirit we had in 1997 for a world that is changing fast.” 

Malik is clear that DFID reflected what Britain and the world needed at that stage, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Similarly, today he believes it’s time to ask big questions about what we want from our Foreign Office. And that’s why he seems energised by the conversations he’s having in his new role as a Visiting Professor at the UCL Policy Lab.

“The interesting thing about the Lab is that it’s a collaboration between different departments in the university. In dealing with global challenges like climate change, inequality, and conflict, no single discipline has all the answers,” he says. “Bringing people in from different disciplines to talk across their boundaries and learn from each other is key.” And it’s not just the knowledge of academics that he sees as key.

“UCL is in London and is a global institution, so it can play a global role in convening these conversations, bringing together academics, policy-makers and activists,” he says. “We can’t just dream up these answers in London; they have to be dreamt up in collaboration with people from across the UK and around the world, especially those fast emerging countries that will shape the 21st century.”

What’s clear from talking to Moazzam Malik is that he’s not given up on Britain, nor its role in the world. Why would he? After all, he’s seen Britain at its best. And he seems unwilling to let that best simply be a thing of the past.

Read the latest edition of the UCL Policy Lab.