14 Nov An inspiring interview to Katherine Hadda – Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at U.S Embassy
We’re pleased to have the opportunity to talk to Katherine Hadda, the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Rome.
A Senior Economic Officer with 27 years of experience, Ms. Hadda was most recently an Associate Dean at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI). As part of her portfolio, she supervised economic training at FSI as well as all civilian training for Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict areas. Ms. Hadda has also served in China, Taiwan, the UK and New Zealand, as well as the State Department’s East Asian and Pacific and European bureaus, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, and as a fellow in the U.S. Congress.
You have an impressive amount of experience, and you’ve worked in situations of political and economic tension. What is it like working in countries that are going through a crisis?
In my career there was one case which is Afghanistan and another one which was China right after Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989, although I was in the south of China, but it was pretty tense as well. So, when it comes to dealing with economics in conflict zones it really depends on the state and on the type of crisis.
In China, for example, I was doing visas, it was my first job; I had an interest in economics, but I was not working in that field yet, but I talked a lot to entrepreneurs, mini entrepreneurs, because at that time the Chinese government wouldn’t allow people to have private businesses unless they hired fewer than 15 people. The private market was very small… and now look at China.
Right after Tiananmen Square there was a feeling of tension in China, and that affected some foreign investors that were interested in the Chinese market and caused them to change their mind for a while.
Afghanistan was a completely different situation, as it’s a war zone, and even though China in ‘89 was still a communist country – not a free market country – they had a memory of a market economy and they had many Chinese people overseas who would become their investors.
In Afghanistan, interestingly, they are extremely entrepreneurial people, and the tragedy of the nation isn’t just war: it is that they have discarded half of their population, which is women. As long as women are not part of the economy that is going to be a drag on their economy. What was difficult about trying to do economics in Afghanistan was that because of the security situation I was never able to get out of a car and go to a local market and see what things were like. I was allowed to leave the embassy very often compared to a lot of people, but I wasn’t able to talk to a lot of people on the street.
Your work has taken you all over the world, enabling you to get to know very different cultures. How has this affected the way you work?
The first thing you learn is that it is true that there are distinctive countries, but look at Italy, and think of how many Italian cultures there are here.. you can look at people like the ones that are here in Copernico, high energy entrepreneurs, and compare yourselves to other more cautious people.
For my job, it definitely helps to know a country and understand what’s rude and what’s offensive to people. Most of all, however, I have learned to look at people as individuals, even if they’re in their same culture, because we tend to get in a trap when we judge each other depending on culture.
Taking the example of China and Italy, you would be amazed at similarities that I feel exist between these two countries. You are both very organized around family, very organized around food and organized around not causing offense.
This brings me to an example from America, and again I have to be careful because there are many Americas! In NYC, where I come from, many of us tend to be quite open and blunt around things and this causes a lot of people from other parts of the country a sense of discomfort. But when people say New Yorkers are rude, I argue we’re just more honest actually.
Which culture affected you the most in your career?
There are many cultures that affected me, China and England for example, but in both cases I was prepared, I knew what to do and what to avoid. The culture that affected me the most in my career, believe it or not, was New Zealand. It’s a tiny country, four million people, with one million people living overseas, and I thought they would be like us: they’re a New World country.
When I got there they gave me a reception, and at the ceremony I gave a brief speech and said something like “I’m so glad to be working here, I can’t guarantee we will agree on every issue, in fact there will be some on which we’ll disagree, but I also know we will work productively together to resolve the issues” – we were having some policy differences with New Zealand at the time so I tried to speak positively about the overall relationship.
After the reception one of my local staff came to me, she was very honest, and told me that many people got offended and upset by what I had just said, because I assumed conflict. In that moment I understood that this little place was not what I had assumed.
It was the biggest case of culture shock that I ever had. Bigger than China, bigger than Italy or anywhere, but I also learned from that culture more than from any other. My New Zealand friends often joke that If you ask a New Zealander to do something for you and you tell them you need a favor, they will go to the ends of the world to do it for you. But if you tell them they have to do something for you, they won’t.
And guess what, I realized most people in the world are like that. If you need something because of a problem you’re having, most people will actually want to help you. If, instead, your attitude is that of a superior person who knows better than others, people won’t do the same task. To me, this was the most inspiring lesson, and it works 90% of the time; the other 10% of the time, you have to be from New York.
How has your experience in Italy been so far?
This is one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had so far; people are so open in Italy and so warm and generous. The one thing I feel about Italy, said with the greatest respect, is that you’re also very self-critical. That is good in a way, it’s a very fine quality to have, but you can really take it to an extreme. What I find so inspiring is when I meet people determined and motivated, as they are here.
When I look at Copernico I feel there’s a piece of history being made. You are doing amazing things to affirm your culture by trying to channel certain positive aspects of the culture instead of focusing on the negative.
You’re enabling change and growth, and to me that’s beautiful – well done!