Roger Mullin has engaged with numerous International Organisations such as UN agencies, SADC, the World Bank and individual governments throughout his career. This former Scottish MP is an Honorary Professor at Stirling University and has a diverse set of expertise where designing and running Technical and Vocational Education and Training Programs (TVET) is merely just a slither of what he is well versed in. Roger has spent 40 years promoting and implementing successful TVET programs across Scotland and Africa. His ability to navigate the different educational dynamics has equipped him with skills that set him apart from the rest. Coupled with his Humanitarian expertise with the Revive Campaign working on de-mining warzones, Roger is familiar with the many cultures and landscapes the African continent has to offer. Roger Mullin has experienced a renowned career that is impossible to cover in one piece of writing. Here we will explore Roger’s TVET experience and impact in Scotland and Africa. Throughout Roger’s career there exists a large degree of overlap of positions and projects that truly speak to his capacity and efficient understanding of his roles.
How did you first get involved in education?
Roger first entered the education scene in the late 1970s tutoring at The Open University and the University of Edinburgh and was appointed as a Head of Department at Stevenson College by the mid 1980s. Roger became more involved with Scottish policy for different Vocational training programs as he noticed the growing demand for effective vocational education, particularly for our youth. Roger then left his position and started his own research and consultancy firm where he worked with various educational bodies across the UK assessing the weaknesses in current vocational schemes. Roger was an advisorfor the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and wrote a paper for them critiquing the assessment process in competence based qualifications. He has consistently worked in his various capacities to reform vocational qualification schemes across the UK.
How did you get involved with TVET schemes in Africa?
Roger’s first project in Africa in 1992 consisted of reviewing the fishery sector in Namibia in partnership with a Scottish fisheries consultant. Following their report, the government invested in the first fishery college Namibia had ever seen — the Namibian Maritime and Fisheries Institute. This recommendation was based off one of Roger’s key philosophies of building the institutional capacity of a nation. “There can be no success where a company or organisation comes in, does the job and leaves. You need to build and transfer knowledge to the community; that is how effective change occurs.”
From Namibia where did you go and how did you get these projects?
Anyone working in Africa knows the power of word of mouth. Once the South African government heard about the work Roger was undertaking in Namibia they requested him to assess how to develop their staff at the Quintiles Science Park in Pretoria. Roger also worked with Icelandic colleagues in developing a fisheries and capacity building strategy for the Southern African Development Community (SADC, a group of 15 countries) to refresh its fishery approach and practice. As his reputation grew so did the demand for his expert services.
How did you get involved with International Organisations like the UN and Food and Agricultural Organisation?
“Word of mouth and the ability to respect and understand culture.” Roger attained his projects with the FAO, UNDP and the World Bank simply via word of mouth. “Building rapport is vital. It is important to engage with people as individuals at a human level. There must be respect and understanding of the other’s culture and the way in which they do business.” In one of the best of instances where Roger really engaged with his peers, he ended up being the best man at one gentleman’s wedding. “Once you build that initial relationship, then you may use your expertise objectively.” If you fail to build effective personal relationships, Roger believes you make doing business much more difficult.
Building rapport and being culturally aware is crucial to doing business in Africa and accomplishing your goals. What other advice would you give someone looking to make an impact on the continent?
Roger asserts that where one looks to make an impact and advise on any program — TVET or otherwise — the goal is not to write the report on the way there. It is impossible to make worthwhile change where one lands on the scene believing one knows all the answers and thereby fails to listen and learn. Often one’s perception of a situation from the outside becomes radically different once you step on the ground. “One shoe does not fit all, so we cannot expect to transfer knowledge effectively to different communities unless we adapt to local cultural norms.” Being open, understanding and a good listener are the main tools one needs to invoke when doing business and thereby importing change upon the continent.
You have spoken a lot about reform in Vocational Training, can you provide an example of some the reform you introduced in Scotland and abroad?
In 2001, Roger worked as an advisor to Scottish Parliament for its inquiry into Lifelong Learning. In 2011 to 2013 he was a special advisor to Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell working on the reform of the college sector in Scotland with a focus on Vocational Qualifications. He was responsible for the initiative behind merging numerous Scottish Colleges into larger regional colleges. For example, Roger helped facilitate the creation of Ayrshire College by merging Ayr College, Kilmarnock College and James Watt College. This change in the college system was needed to develop vocational education approaches to serve all of the people of Scotland. Roger’s achievements abroad may be seen most notably in the early research and subsequent recommendations to government that led to the creation of the Namibian Maritime and Fisheries Institutein 1996.
Education has always been at the forefront of your projects and policies. Can you please explain how you incorporated this into your work with the Revive Campaign?
The Revive Campaign works to encourage governments affected by landmines and improvised explosive devices to address the needs of victims. In 2016 while a Member of Parliament, Roger was invited to address an annual United Nations meeting in Geneva where he argued for more political priority to be given to the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons such as landmines and IEDs. In November 2019 , Roger attended a three day conference in South Africa considering the needs of Angola as it continues to seek to remove landmines. He was one of only two delegates specifically invited to address the humanitarian consequences of landmines and IEDs.
How and why did you get involved with SABA?
Roger was running a session at the Institute of Directors in Edinburgh discussing the opportunity to trade with Africa almost two years ago where SABA’s CEO, Frazer Lang was in attendance and the rest as they say is history. The two shared a mutual interest in trading in and with Africa and have since worked together with the High Commissioner to Namibia, Ms Linda Scott. Roger has proceeded to work with the High Commissioner and Namibia generally following the Namibia Heads of Mission meeting SABA hosted in November 2019. Roger has sought to assist the High Commission in identifying sources of PPE equipment for Namibia during the Covid-19 pandemic. As always, Roger has maintained a great connection with the High Commissioner and looks forward to pursing further relationships and projects with SABA.