The recent House of Commons vote on Syria raised important questions about Britain’s ability to play a continuing role in shaping global developments.
Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council, talks about ‘soft power’: the UK’s secret weapon in the battle to retain influence around the world.
We may no longer have the world’s biggest armed forces or its largest economy, but Martin Davidson argues that our nation’s cultural assets – our arts, education, values and language – mean we can still play a critical role in international affairs.
Martin Davidson took up the role as Chief Executive in April 2007, having been Deputy Director-General since September 2005. Martin’s commitment to international relationships has been a constant feature of his career, since as a young English graduate he went to Hong Kong as Administrative Officer, taking the high-level decisions on the running of a town of a million people.
When he joined the British Council as Assistant Representative in Beijing in 1984, British Council China was an operation of 6 people working in a converted bicycle shed at the British Embassy. In those days it was illegal for a Chinese national to speak to a foreigner.
Martin played a pivotal part in building this fledgling presence up to its present strength of more than 230 people in four state-of-the-art offices. Martin himself was responsible for opening the South China office in Guangzhou and returned to Beijing in 1995 as Director of an operation fast establishing a reputation in an environment where understanding the Chinese way of working is fundamental. He speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin.
He has also held various posts in the British Council’s Geographical Directorate with responsibilities that have included South East Europe, in a particularly troubled time in the region’s history, the Middle East, East Asia and the Americas.
Martin was born in Lowestoft in 1955. He graduated with an honours MA in English Language and Literature from St Andrew's University. He is married with 3 children.
He is a Governor of Goodenough College and Board Member of the Great Britain China Council.