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U of T Scarborough alum starts up as Canadian High Commissioner in Tanzania

In his new role, Ian Myles (BA, 1991) says that he hopes to help promote transparency, integrity and responsiveness in government.

Ian Myles’s passion for international development began one night when he was watching television.

“I was 17 years old. We were watching scenes of major famine that were happening in Ethiopia at the time,” says Myles (BA, 1991). “As a teenager it really caught my attention. I wanted to learn more about how that happened and what led to such huge disparities in the conditions people lived under in different parts of the world.”

Myles went on to study International Development Studies at U of T Scarborough. Most recently, he has been appointed as Canada’s High Commissioner in Tanzania, providing strategic oversight for programs there including development, diplomacy, immigration, trade, consular and administration.

“My education at UTSC was grounded in reality. The program gave me the opportunity to gain field experience before I went on the job market.”

Prior to his current role, Myles represented NGOs and the Canadian government through various roles. He contributed to the 1992 UN Earth Summit by working for a coalition of Canadian and international youth environment and development organizations to formulate a “youth position” for the conference. He’s also worked for organizations like CARE and Global Affairs Canada (formerly known as the Canadian International Development Agency prior to its amalgamation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2013) - where he served for seven years as an Environmental Specialist. Then in Ghana, Myles worked as the Deputy Director for Policy and Planning for the Canadian development program there.

In Tanzania, his office is focusing on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Their upcoming projects center on three main areas: health, education and sustainable economic growth. Specifically, they are helping to improve maternal and newborn child health and teacher training in the country’s public schools. Helping small business owners with accessing financial services and providing Tanzanian students with demand-based vocational training are also on their agenda.

“In my view, the most critical element is promoting government systems that are transparent, that have integrity and that respond to the needs of societies in a way that allows everyone to have a voice,” says Myles. “Where that does not happen, a lot of improvements we make remain quite fragile.”

When he first started working in development, providing services as a substitute to government programming was the norm. Now, organizations focus more on creating environments that empower governments to, eventually, provide services on their own. Myles says that this will reap more long-term and permanent improvements. That being said, he realizes that there is still more work left to do.

“Given the scale of the problem it’s critical to understand how to take those good ideas and make sure that they get picked up and propagated at a scale that can affect outcomes for a nation and not just a village,” says Myles.

In the beginning he had a much more naïve and simplistic understanding of development. Now he understands the complexities of his work and the importance of considering each country’s unique set of constraints, opportunities and cultures. For instance, one of his office’s campaigns is to help bring an end to forced child marriages in Tanzania, where roughly two out of five girls are married before their 18th birthday.

“This is something that’s deeply rooted in culture. It’s not something that as external people we can easily come and change. But we can certainly do what we can to help those advocating for change,” says Myles.

For those interested in international development, Myles says that it’s helpful to have a broad range of understanding, something that he gained through his education at UTSC.

“The program at UTSC forced everybody to take a little bit of economics, biology, soil science and political science. We had an understanding of how these different things work together.”

And in a field where it takes years and even generations to see the impact of one’s efforts, the most important thing is passion.

“Follow your interests. Choose something that truly speaks to you. In improving the livelihood for people in developing countries – there’s almost an unlimited number of ways you can do that,” says Myles. “There’s no tried and true formula that takes a country struggling to meet the needs of its people and allows them to meet all those needs.” 

© University of Toronto Scarborough