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Hertford College launches John Porter Diplomacy Centre

Humza Jilani speaks to Hertford Principal Tom Fletcher

This year, Hertford College inaugurated its John Porter Diplomacy Centre, a key part of the Hertford 2030 aspiration to prepare students for “life, work, and citizenship, and to be on the frontline for a better society.”

The Centre emerged out of conversations between Hertford College Principal Tom Fletcher, a former British Ambassador to Lebanon and foreign policy advisor at No. 10, and John Porter, an alumnus of Hertford who matriculated in 1971 and was the namesake of the John Porter Charitable Foundation. Porter passed away in 2021.

The John Porter Diplomacy Centre, a unique effort among Oxford’s colleges, will train students in diplomatic skills, connect different parts of the Oxford ecosystem working in diplomacy, encourage people-to-people partnership-building, and support the creation of scholarships for refugee leaders to come to the University of Oxford.

Two particular notes from the conversations between Fletcher and Porter animate the current vision for the John Porter Diplomacy Centre: approaches to the peace processes of the future and supporting the development of young peoples’ diplomatic skills.

“When it comes to the peace processes of the future, we want to know where we need to invest time and energy now to prepare for moments of tension and friction in the world,” Fletcher told Cherwell.

John Porter’s desire to support a Diplomatic Centre stemmed, in part, from his experience watching a 1988 BBC clip of Nicholas Winston reuniting with dozens of children he had helped rescue from Nazi Germany. In total, Winston assisted in the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II.

“He was just struck by seeing an example of such an extraordinary effort to transform peoples’ lives and wanted to support something that would continue that legacy,” Fletcher said of Porter.

They are partnering with the Oxford Refugee Centre, headed by Professor Alexander Betts, to support refugee scholarships. They are also studying different points of “intervention” on a refugee’s life journey that can ultimately help them come to Oxford and succeed.

Fletcher also strives to use the Centre as a platform to discuss what “peace” means in a world where that term has become highly contested.

“We are looking at peace with our planet, with climate change. We are looking at peace between the government and Big Tech, and peace with tech itself. We are looking at peace between migrants and host communities. We also look at peace between generations, to heal the wounds of history and ensure that we do not pass on inherited conflict and inequality,” Fletcher told Cherwell.

“We are a Big Tent, but not a big building. We are not trying to duplicate or replace what is already going on at Oxford, but instead we want to connect the dots between different parts of the Oxford ecosystem,” added Fletcher.

With such a wide-range of topics and interests within the Centre’s wheelhouse, Fletcher naturally envisions that they will take an expansive view of what constitutes success.

“I look at 2030, and I think that if we can get together a sort of reunion of everyone involved in this project up to that point, from senior ambassadors to ministers to military people to humanitarians to students, and that we can say that we directly contributed practical ideas and time and energy to some really important peace processes, I would consider that a success,” said Fletcher.

“We cannot write the script of where people will go, but we can give them the tools to apply themselves to amazing things,” he added.  

Image Credit: Hertford College

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