Matthew Allen is Sustineo’s newest recruit. As a Principal Consultant (Research), Matt brings a wealth of experience with over 20 years’ working as a social scientist specialising in the Pacific Islands region, especially Melanesia. In his short time with Sustineo, Matt has already been a great addition to the team. In an interview with Sustineo’s Ellis Mackenzie, Matt discusses how he ended up at Sustineo, what he hopes to achieve and what makes him tick.
What drew you to Sustineo?
In short, Sustineo’s people, its unique market position and its core values. I have known quite a few people who have worked at Sustineo over the years, all of whom I have a great deal of respect for. I’ve known Sustineo’s current CEO, Tom Sloan, for several years now and have always been enormously impressed by his drive, passion and professionalism. He reached out to me a few years ago to ask my advice about a challenging research ethics scenario that he was working through for a project in Solomon Islands. In my experience it is rare that consulting firms pay such close attention to ethical considerations, so I said to myself at the time that Sustineo looks like a firm to key an eye on. My subsequent engagements with Sustineo only worked to strengthen my impression that the company is genuinely committed to ethical and culturally appropriate approaches to applied research, and to developing enduring partnerships with in-country counterparts; all of which are so critically important in the development space, in general, and in the Pacific region in particular. Sustineo’s current (but by no means exclusive) focus on applied research and evaluation work in the Pacific is a very good fit with my own expertise and experience, as are the sectoral areas that we are working across in our Pacific portfolio. Having been predominantly university based for the past decade or so, I feel that Sustineo offers me the opportunity to have a greater ‘real world’ impact: to contribute in more concrete ways to positive development outcomes for the Pacific region.
What do you hope to achieve during your time at Sustineo?
In the immediate term I hope to be able to add value to our existing portfolio of work in the Pacific. A core element of Sustineo’s approach is to achieve excellence across all of our professional activities, and I hope to contribute to the excellence of our work in the Pacific. In the longer term, I hope to assist in growing our Pacific work: to work with new clients and partners, and to deepen and widen our sectoral engagement. Perhaps most importantly, I look forward to working with the Sustineo team to find new and innovative ways to strength our unique partnerships approach to working in the Pacific.
You have worked extensively in the Pacific. What has been your biggest learning experience from this work?
Well there have been so many that it is hard to narrow it down to just one! The greatest lesson for me is probably the one that has been hardest to learn because it has forced me to critique elements of my own past research practices and approaches. I’m referring here to the whole area of research ethics in cross-cultural contexts and the critically important agenda to ‘decolonise research’ (which, in turn, is intimately bound up with the broader imperative to ‘decolonise development’). In my view, much of the Pacific research that takes place in Australia continues to be largely ‘extractive’ in nature, and this needs to change. It is a big challenge because the issues are systemic, and, to be fair to researchers, they can often only decolonise their approaches as far as funding organisations will allow them to. That said, there is scope for agency, including in ‘pushing back’ on funders; convincing them of why approaches need to change. To circle back to what has attracted me to Sustineo in the first place, I believe that we are market leaders in culturally and ethically sound approaches to Pacific research, and our long-term relationships with Pacific partners are absolutely central to this.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
I wish I could tell you that I am an accomplished concert pianist (or competent musician of any type!) or that I dabble in art and poetry, but alas no. I did used to play the drums, in a rather rudimentary fashion, in a succession of rock-n-roll bands in Canberra in the early to mid 1990s, the first of which was called ‘Mal’s the Drummer’ (Mal being a nickname that has followed me around since school – an abbreviation of M. Allen – some people still know me as Mal!). Suffice to say that none of these bands ever made the ‘big time’, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
Well to the extent that there’s a fine line between passion and obsession, then it’s definitely fishing. All types of fishing, from the gentle art of fly-fishing to the somewhat more direct approach of spearfishing. More broadly, I love everything to do with the ocean: ocean swimming, body surfing, breathing it in and just looking at it. So far none of my kids have shown any interest in fishing, but I haven’t yet given up on our two-year old daughter!
What was the last book you read?
To be completely honest, it was ‘A History of Lord Howe Island’ which I read when we were fortunate to spend some time there recently. An extraordinary place with a very colourful history!