Sébastien F.W. Brack Senior Advisor, Kofi Annan Foundation and European Institute of Peace

Posted: 12 August 2022

Sébastien Brack, former pupil of Round Square School UWCSEA (1994) and Oxford University graduate, currently works as Senior Advisor to the Kofi Annan Foundation and the European Institute of Peace. Sébastien is also a contributing writer for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Sébastien has dedicated his career to humanitarian field work, conflict prevention and resolution, and electoral crisis management and mediation. He advises governments, international organisations, political parties, and citizen movements on measures to prevent or resolve political crises or conflicts, especially around elections. Sébastien’s work and Spirit of Adventure have taken him across the world. In fact, during his nine years as a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he worked to bring hope and safety to people in eight countries in crisis or at war in the Near East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

“(At the ICRC) we saved countless lives, gave the many prisoners we visited protection, hope, and the medicine they would not otherwise have had. We maybe even prevented some atrocities. But it was a far cry from the heroic humanitarian role I had imagined. We did good, but we could do no better.”

Working outside of his comfort zone is second nature to Sébastien. However, his resilience, courage and tenacity were tested time and time again during his time in the field.

“I was shot at, kidnapped, caught malaria, and hauled over the coals by a government minister who wanted to expel me from his country.”

Although demanding, Sébastien reflects on how his experience of humanitarian work has enriched his understanding of what it means to be human. He believes that although he began his journey with a desire for adventure and service, the experiences he has had have been personally transformative.

“The biggest reward of those many years ‘in the field’ was certainly the human experience. I don’t know how many people’s lives I actually ‘saved’, but I certainly learned more about the world, about life and about myself than I had ever imagined when I joined the ICRC. I applied for a job but had a life-changing formative experience instead. I had set out to change the world, but of course it was the world that changed me.”

Reflecting on how he could broaden his impact on the world and take a break from his nomadic lifestyle, Sébastien returned to Europe and entered the world of politics. Although he feels that “politics suffers from a terrible reputation”, he firmly believes that through politics it is possible to make changes that often prove impossible in humanitarian work. However, with both politics and humanitarianism, he feels that “it is only in getting involved that one can hope to change things.”

In 2012 Sébastien successfully managed his party election campaign for the French abroad, which resulted in his party candidate being elected. Following the success of the election, Sébastien was invited to join a small team supporting Nobel Peace Prize laureate and catalyst for peace, Kofi Annan. His team was involved with Kofi Annan’s post-UN work, initially a Political Officer, Sebastien later became Kofi Annan’s Senior Political Advisor.  He found working with Kofi Annan “extraordinary” .

 “Kofi Annan was part elder statesman and part global icon, which meant I followed and prepared him for both negotiations between heads of state and socialite events around the world.”

Once more Sébastien had occasion to reflect on what it really means to be human. He takes us back to the time he walked beside this inspirational individual who embodied the Spirit of Democracy and the Spirit of Internationalism.

“I never ceased to be amazed by Kofi Annan. He walked with kings without ever losing the common touch and was a peerless mediator, acting with gravitas, integrity, and empathy. I thought I was going to get a master class in diplomacy at his side, but it was much more than that: he was a role model of humanity”.

Sébastien believes that the values-led education he received at UWCSEA also had great impact. It was there that Sébastien first experienced an education that valued engagement and action for the greater good. His experiences cemented a belief that work was about making a difference in the lives of others, and not just about “earning a living.” Sébastien explains that at UWCSEA there was an outward looking focus that enhanced students’ global understanding and cultural awareness. There was an expectation that students would use their skills to support others.

I think having to build rapport with people from very different backgrounds to find solutions to problems was an invaluable skill I picked up at UWC, among other places….  We regularly had speakers come in to talk about “global concerns”, share experiences of practical initiatives that they had taken to help the poor, or the environment, or foster peace. We did social service every week. It just rubs off on you.” 

As a Third Culture Kid, Sébastien had lived amongst many cultures as a child. He believes that this exposure to difference, and particularly his time in boarding school at UWCSEA, developed his Appreciation for Diversity and understanding of the importance of character.

“I think that sharing the lives of classmates from around the world (I was a boarder) also helped break down barriers of race, religion, and class. When you live, play, study, work with, and sometimes depend on someone, you judge them by the content of their character, not the rest.”

After graduating from school, Sébastien studied International Relations at Oxford University and Diplomacy at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. It was during this time that he realised that not everyone’s experience of school values was the same. The values and teachings he had been immersed in as part of his UWC education were not typical.

“It was only later, when I realised most of my classmates at university did not share this paradigm, that I understood it was a special bequest from UWC.”

As a final message he would give to his younger self, or to teenagers today, Sébastien talks about love and the importance of looking outward for opportunities to help others.

The key to happiness and success in life is paradoxically not to focus on your own happiness and success. It is by loving others and serving a greater good – be it your family, your community, your country, the planet, or indeed God – that you will find meaning and fulfilment.

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