Reaching a wider audience (above: a cat listens to the live broadcast of the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4 at the British base in Basra Palace, 2006)

Friday, 8 May 2009

Citizen Diplomacy

It is clear to me that since I left the Diplomatic Service, not only do I still represent my country, but that I can sometimes do it better. Similar to the way that community journalists (bloggers) are often more trusted than traditional print media (which is plagued by “agenda”) an individual has credibility. An individual is independent, not in the pay of the state, and the way they represent their country may be more subtle and more giving – they may be involved in sport, business, or culture for example. As a social entrepreneur, an artist and a writer I have been able to engage with people at a more genuine level. Using my trip to Afghanistan last year as an example, I was finding out more about Afghanistan than I would have been able to from behind the closed doors of an Embassy and I was listened to far more than if I had been an official. And yet I never lost my British-ness, nor pretended to.

Last week Twitter lead me to discover the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy who say “Citizen Diplomacy is the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations, “one handshake at a time.” Citizen diplomats can be students, teachers, athletes, artists, business people, humanitarians, adventurers or tourists. They are motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue”.

I am not sure about having the “right” to help shape foreign relations, but the responsibility is there for sure. Yesterday I visited a local school in rural Hertfordshire, to talk about my experiences as a British Diplomat. As a result of talking to the US Center, I changed it a little and had great fun talking with a bunch of 10 year olds about how they felt about the countries they had visited, how they could represent Britain (and why it was important), and what people other than Diplomats represented their countries. Some insightful quotes:

“When I saw people hitting their children in one country I went to, I thought that they must not be very nice people”

“It is best not to get drunk too much when you are in another country or people will think British people are all silly”

“If people came to our village they would think we were very friendly – unless they met the teenagers!”

“People who fly planes and work at airports are like Ambassadors really”

This week, I am going to explore what the British government are doing about Citizen Diplomacy. I know they have a programme which promotes British Islam abroad. They have specific reasons for this, but I don’t think it is going nearly far enough to promote this diverse, multicultural, smart nation to which I belong. I’ll let you know how I get on.


Katharine said...

Thanks for your blog.. keep writing this important stuff. I am a budding PD scholar and interning for State this summer. I have a PD Blog of my own experiences. I am hoping to have such a rich background as you.

Caroline Jaine said...

Thanks Katherine, I will try and keep it up!

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