India: the world’s most populous democratic country with one of the largest economies. Africa: a largely developing continent attempting to work itself out of vast poverty and violent conflicts. Both have large youth populations, a desire to play a stronger role in international markets and, importantly, an interest in each other.
In early April, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sponsored a two-day collaborative workshop in New Delhi known as “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future.” The purpose of the forum, held on April 4-5, was to bring together the youth (defined as those under 30 years old) of two populations that have a mutually growing interest in each other to fashion solutions to the many shared development challenges faced by India and Africa:
“The initiative [was] born in 2011 out of recognition of shared sensibilities, histories and intertwined cultures between India and the African continent. The connection between India and Africa, home to an over-two-million-strong Indian diaspora, has been ‘a continuous process of socio-cultural and economic exchange.’”
Given these similarities, why the targeted focus on youth? As previously mentioned, both India and Africa have considerable youth populations. According to statistics from the CIA World Factbook, the median age in India is 26.5 years, while the median age for countries in Africa ranges from 15.1 in Uganda and 18.9 in Zimbabwe to 25.3 in South Africa and 28.1 years in Algeria. The young populations, as Manoj Kohli, head of the International Business Group for Bharti Airtel, explains, are very attractive, especially when considering “the western world, Russia, China, Japan are all graying.” Navdeep Suri, joint secretary of public diplomacy in India’s MEA, said, “The driving vision of the program is to unleash the enormous energy of young people, to encourage their powerful creative ideas and to enable them to be facilitators of this process.”
As described on the website, “INDIAFRICA: A Shared Future is a unique people-to-people initiative that aims at engaging multiple stakeholders in India and Africa through contests, fellowships, discussions, events, collaborative projects and cultural exchanges.” During this workshop, a total of 72 Indian and African youth (36 Indian and 36 African individuals), coming from a wide range of disciplines, pitch and debate “their views on challenges and opportunities in areas like energy, environment, healthcare, education, culture, creative exchanges, tourism, governance, food and nutrition in their respective regions…”
Public diplomacy, in the past few decades, “has been widely seen as the transparent means by which a sovereign country communicates with publics in other countries aimed at informing and influencing audiences overseas for the purpose of promoting the national interest and advancing its foreign policy goals.” This—what one might call public diplomacy in the modern sense of the word—was put forth by the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy. The definition is useful in the sense that it is broad and fairly encompassing, but how does INDIAFRICA fit within it?
At its core, INDIAFRICA is an initiative that might be defined as “little c” cultural diplomacy, a narrower subcategory of public diplomacy. Using Dr. Emil Constantinescu’s definition, cultural diplomacy can be defined as “a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity…” INDIAFRICA fits perfectly within this characterization and has the added element of youth involvement. Rather than convening a forum for business and government officials, INDIAFRICA brings together two youth populations in the name of building positive first impressions and tapping on the energy, creativity and enthusiasm–rather than the demonstrated expertise–these groups have the potential to generate.
INDIAFRICA lumps different categories, such as business and culture, together in the same package. The initiatives taken on by this enterprise include building democratic developmental institutions; establishing governance networks in areas such as agriculture, micro-finance, entrepreneurship development and healthcare; generating employment; creating “profitable partnerships”; funding the future through Indian soft loans to its African partners; and finally “building trust and mutual respect and building relationships.” And participants tackle these strategies in a number of ways—not simply the two-day workshop. INDIAFRICA promotes India-Africa collaboration through a series of contests: 1) Business Venture, 2) Poster Design, 3) Photography, and 4) Essay Writing, each attributing to a cultural diplomacy niche.
Each of the four contests has a theme that aligns with some larger cultural phenomenon. In the 2012-2013 contests for instance, the theme for Business Venture Contest was “Entrepreneurial Solutions to Address Developmental Challenges,” the Poster Design Contest’s was “What does Freedom mean to you?” the Photography Contest’s was “Communities in India and Africa” and the Essay Writing Contest’s was “How can India and Africa collaborate to co-create a brighter future?” These themes align well with the ‘universal norms’ of democracy and innovation, while suiting INDIAFRICA’s aim to help shape the future of these two geographies through their respective youths. They emphasize the culture of both India and Africa while still moving them toward more global political and developmental environments. Suri surmised this point by noting that the multidisciplinary contest series help “create a platform for talented and young Indians and Africans to exchange ideas about emergent realities, successes and challenges and explore future collaborations in business, design and culture.”
The beauty of INDIAFRICA lies within its configuration, which includes strategic as well as shared considerations. The Indian government has increasingly viewed Africa as a realm of opportunity for furthering its commercial interests, and the “leadership of Indian and African nations have set a bilateral trade target of $100 billion by 2015.” Kohli said that his company alone has invested $13 billion in Africa, plans to invest more and has already recruited about 7,000 employees in the continent. Although cultural diplomacy is rarely conducted in the name of self-interest, it is worth noting that India’s interest in Africa extends beyond purely strategic self-interest and that the country considers this initiative as a means for achieving shared policy goals. Both geographies (both the governments and national companies) “work jointly to help in capacity building, knowledge sharing, job creation and other areas.” The similar and shared foreign policy goals lends INDIAFRICA to being seen as a joint collaboration, benefiting all involved.
“A large workforce with fewer children to support creates a window of opportunity to save money on health care and other social services; improve the quality of education; increase economic output because of more people working; invest more in technology and skills to strengthen the economy; and create the wealth needed to cope with the future aging of the population.”
This window, known as the demographic dividend, can be addressed through initiatives such as INDIAFRICA that bring together the young people in the name of a better future. For young participants, who may or may not be true opinion leaders in their home societies yet, this forum provides the ultimate learning model as well as a safe venue for the sharing of ideas. Further, this particular program not only allows youth to address development challenges and think of solutions early on, but it is also acts as the foundation for the future relationship between the two geographies.
In his piece, “Schools, Hospitals or Cultural Relations?” John Worne outlines the “crude version” of the International Relations Positioning Spectrum (IRPS), a continuum that illustrates international relations as falling somewhere between aid and military power. As he defines it, the IRPS is “giving, helping, sharing, boasting, shouting, fighting.”
However, just as people have different conceptions of what “culture” means to them, a (cultural) spectrum, of sorts, can also vary in meaning. For example, Nick Cull, in his response to John Worne’s spectrum, argues that a more appropriate spectrum might fall: “listening – facilitation – exchange – cultural diplomacy – broadcasting – advocacy.” When using this spectrum in analyzing diplomatic efforts, though, understanding Cull’s classification of cultural diplomacy is crucial. As Cull defines it, cultural diplomacy is “an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment through making its cultural resources and achievements known overseas and/or facilitating cultural transmission abroad.” In this sense, his definition most closely aligns with Worne’s “boasting” in the sense that an actor is promoting, or projecting, its own society to others.
Each spectrum, regardless of their respective labeling, contains similarities that are interesting when applied to a case study, such as “Cultural Diplomacy in Africa: A Forum for Young Leaders.” Cultural Diplomacy in Africa: A Forum for Young Leaders (CDA) is a network of students, young professionals, and cultural practitioners from across the world “who share an interest in the African continent.” Housed and run within the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, the CDA believes in the significance of cultural diplomacy as a tool for policy and uses it to address the challenges currently faced in Africa. Further, the network “conducts ongoing activity aimed at supporting development and strengthening relations between different countries and cultural groups within Africa, and between Africa and external partners…[and] provides an opportunity to network and experience the vibrant city of Berlin.” The Forum’s objectives are defined as follows:
As is fairly evident in its description (and in its many objectives), the CDA Forum is composed of a number of cultural diplomacy programs and initiatives. First, the CDA Forum greatly focuses on the role of African leaders within its program. These speakers, involved in lectures and discussions include “leading figures from the fields of politics, diplomacy, academia, civil society and representatives from the private sector.” Each speaker is expected to bring his or her own insights on the theme of the Weeklong Seminar. These activities of the Forum seem to fall nicely under Worne’s “sharing” or “boasting” category of the spectrum, but the nature of program will obviously affect the classifications. For example, lectures might align more closely with “boasting,” while discussion-based programs involve more “sharing.” One note of importance is that Worne astutely observes that some words might be better suited for describing various activities than others. For instance, he states, “‘Exchanging’ is perhaps a more accurate term than ‘sharing’ because it is more actively mutual and more purposeful. ‘Telling’ is perhaps fairer than ‘shouting’ to encapsulate diplomacy and campaigning…The intent behind it and the way it is done make the difference.” Therefore, lectures may be better classified as “telling,” since speakers are sharing their insights and experiences, whereas seminars and workshops are more about the mutual exchange of information. In addition to the speakers, the program provides opportunities for the participants to network with other attendees and explore the cities in a new setting. According to ICD’s website, social and cultural activities range from film nights to debates to group dinners to visiting historical sites. Although these visits provide an outlet for the attendees to meet informally with one another, the ICD website clearly notes that during group visits, participants “are able to see the city from a different perspective. They will be able to experience all that Berlin has to offer, as well as partake in visiting Germany’s top institutions, including foreign offices, the city hall, the German parliament, and various embassies throughout the city.”
Looking at the program from this angle shows that the CDA Forum through Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, in addition to supporting efforts aimed at African civil society and its overall development, is also an opportunity to promote the German culture to participants. This element of the Forum’s activities would fall farther to the right of the spectrum—perhaps under boasting or shouting, but what components are necessary before an initiative is classified as ‘shouting’ versus ‘boasting’? Determining whether participants felt like a significant portion of the program was geared toward German society would be interesting to examine within this context. Worne notes in his piece that “at its best, cultural relations means more ‘helping and sharing’, less ‘shouting and fighting’ and maybe one day a less urgent need to ‘give.’
This is a fair point, but it’s difficult to know the relationship between these points within the context of the CDA Forum because there is little knowledge on the CDA Forum’s participants. Although the website classifies them as “students, young professionals and cultural practitioners,” there are great differences between the former category of students and the two latter categories.
Is this Forum primarily composed of students trying to learn and “take it all in,” or is it composed of individuals who can take the knowledge they learn and actually apply it in their home countries? Both classes are extremely important, and relationships need to be built with each group, but there is a difference when considering the short and long-term implications of exchange programs. Ultimately, when looking at the elements of the CDA Forum, each of the tactics could be placed at different points along Worne’s—and along Cull’s—International Relations Positioning Spectrum. The cultural diplomacy elements of the program attempt to build relationships with African leaders, create networks (and lasting relationships) among today’s young leaders, and even promote the German lifestyle and culture through history, tours and dinners.
Although I tend to believe that multidisciplinary initiatives with numerous aims might have a greater chance of success, do multiple aims have the ability to dilute the central, core purpose of an organization or an enterprise? Does the Forum’s focus on multiple areas mean that this particular initiative has a greater or less likelihood of experiencing success, or does the spectrum not matter not matter as much in the grand scheme of things?
The international magazine Monocole has released its third annual “Soft Power Survey – 2012,” an analysis in which states are judged by their ability to influence others through “attraction” rather than coercion. This survey both examines and seeks to push the debate on where soft power comes from as well as how to use it. Ranking first in this year’s survey—and taking the lead for the first time—is the United Kingdom.
As Monocle states on its website, “with current shifts in the global power balance, never has [the debate on soft power] been more relevant.” Britain placed first for a number of reasons, but as one commentator summarized:
“The Britain that the country has become was best summed up in the Olympics opening ceremony celebrating the national health service, birth of the World Wide Web, and Harry Potter. It united a nation that has often had trouble summing itself up, and was a brilliant advert to the rest of the world.”
Countries making the soft power countdown include Belgium for its consistency on business, diplomacy and education; Brazil for its “peace-loving citizens;” Finland for its problem-solving professionals; and Denmark for its popular music, art, architecture and design.
Among the top five countries are Sweden (considered one of the world’s friendliest countries), France (the home of exceptional culture and cuisine), and Germany (a European powerhouse with strong business brands and a popular soccer league).
The country the United Kingdom ousted for this year’s top role as a soft power nation was the United States, which was ranked first in 2011 for its unmatched cultural exports. “From Hollywood to country music to hip-hop,” the United States influence through soft power was unparalleled. Within this year’s “Soft Power – 2012” video, which briefly discusses the top 20 soft power nations, Monocole commended the United States for its vast humanitarian spending. As highlighted in the video, in 2012 alone, the United States spent $960 million on global food initiatives, $8 million on world health, and $480 million on preventing climate change. Making evident why the United States failed to place first in the rankings, the section ended by asserting that the “United States should rely more on these kind of investments than drone strikes to assert its authority overseas.”
In an interview with Daily Mail, Monocle‘s editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé said that “the importance of soft power was more important in global influence than at any previous period of history.” In a time when states might be more prone to flex their military muscle, soft power is a largely undervalued currency. Xenia Dormandy, a senior fellow and U.S. expert at Chatham House, told the Daily Mail she believes the United States “has a tendency to focus on the tangible and the concrete” rather than on using soft power as a bargaining chip.
Although the full list of the 30 countries on the 2012 ‘Soft Power’ list can only be accessed by Monocle subscribers, the top 20 countries are discussed in the previously mentioned video and Daily Mail article.
In a progressive initiative by the Swedish government, a Twitter account is now unifying citizens of all ages and circumstances through social media. @Sweden is a government experiment that entrusts the country’s Twitter account to a new citizen of the country each week. According to the ABC News blog, the designated tweeters are chosen by the “three brains behind the idea: the Swedish Institute, a government agency, Sweden’s official tourism website VisitSweden, and a Swedish communications firm called Volontaire.”
Though the national Twitter account was incepted in 2009, this endeavor was intended to revamp its purpose. The concept behind @Sweden is to promote a unique and diverse image of the country. Philip Alqwist, a creative director at Volontaire, told ABC News that the correlation between Sweden, one of the most democratic countries in the world, and Twitter, one of the most democratic tools in the world, presented an ideal outlet through which the Swedish brand could be exemplified.
Further contributing to the account’s uniqueness is the fact that @Sweden is completely uncensored, fulfilling its role both as an instrument of free speech and as a true depiction of the Swedish population. The “soft suggestions” according to the New York Times are that people not do anything criminal and that they label political views as their own. Although the lack of censorship subjects the account to typos and sometimes seemingly outlandish statements for a nation’s official social media forum, citizens who tweet for @Sweden are encouraged to be themselves. There is not one typical citizen of Sweden, so there shouldn’t be only one voice.
The Swedish project, which began in December of 2011, has already ignited a movement. After the launch of the “new” @Sweden account, @PeopleofLeeds, @WeAreAustralia and @TweetWeekUSA were each created, followed shortly by @CuratorsMexico and @BasquesAbroad. If projects such as these continue to flourish through social media and other outlets, it will be interesting to see whether they have the ability to stimulate international discourse a provoke further interests in the affairs of outside nations.
The @Sweden experiment typifies yet another instance of how social media has the ability to spark social change. As Nelson Bonner, founder of @TweetWeekUSA, @TweetWeekNYC and the Rotation Curation website said of his and similar undertakings in an interview with ABC, “Where I see this going is literally a revolution for world communications…What I wanted to do is to open a dialogue between people in the US about what’s going on in their country, and in the world.”
@Sweden embodies an endearing form of social media–a kind of civilian diplomacy–where, rather than having a state’s officials or diplomats interact with citizens, the country’s people act as the voice. It is not only the cornerstone of what may be a profound international social movement, but it also allows for a new form of insight into countries and their citizens, flaws and all…
Read more about the Swedish social media experiment at About – Curators of Sweden.
As social media becomes increasingly apparent in the lives of citizens throughout the world, its place in domestic and international political, social, cultural and economic affairs is also expected to become more prominent. There has already been much debate about the role social media played during the Arab Spring, and as various world events unfold in the years to come, social media’s capacity to incite change will undoubtedly continue to be a part of the analysis.
One such event that may act as a future case study is that of “Israel Loves Iran,” a campaign started by Israelis who believe that the “Israeli Iranian conflict has no real ground,” and is based on “nothing.” The group’s Facebook page, which was created less than two weeks ago on March 19, 2012, already has over 46,000 likes on Facebook.
The initiative, “Iranians, We Love You,” has surfaced at a time when the discourse around the two countries is centered on Iran’s nuclear progress and whether a preemptive strike by Israel against Iran is imminent. With Iran’s nuclear program looming and negotiations between various government officials taking place, these citizens have decided to take a visible, public stance opposing violent action and showcasing the need for soft diplomacy. Through this endeavor, Israel Loves Iran is shifting the focus from the respective governments to the Israeli people—the people who love Iran.
The group’s website is largely forum-based; it seeks stories from individuals that convey favorable feelings about Iran and asks for testimonies and stories about “the real Iran.” Although negative comments sometimes flare up, the discussions are primarily positive in tone. This outlet allows people of different nationalities to convene in a centralized location and find the beauty within each culture. The site also has pages entitled “Iran loves Israel,” “America loves Iran and Israel,” “Germany loves Iran,” and “Jews of the World love Iran,” which each feature testimonies and links to articles, videos, music, religious verses and stories about the mutual love shared by each of these groups.
Dispersed throughout the pages, one can find comments expressing the appreciation for the site’s creation:
“We love Israel too. No war!”
“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
“Give peace a chance; all we need is love…”
The Israel Loves Iran campaign is a public display of anti-war outcry. The cause behind this movement has the ability to gain vast momentum from the public, but–even with a strong backing–would it have ability to change the course of government action? Does it have the potential to change public perception?
The group’s members certainly hope so. As Ronny Edry, one of the individuals responsible for the “Iranians, We Love You” initiative told PBS Frontline reporter Neri Zilber, “We don’t want war. No matter what the governments are saying, on both sides, we are against it, since we are the ones fighting it…I think it is important that we raise our voices.” Through social media, Israel Loves Iran is trying to avert war and promote a lasting peace between the two nations.
Roughly three weeks ago, the Huffington Post blog featured an article that highlighted a program given too little attention in the public diplomacy debate—international visitor exchanges. Sparked by the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping to the United States, the article by President and CEO of the Meridian International Center Stuart Holiday highlights the long-term value of these exchanges.
This visit to the United States was not Mr. Xi’s first; he traveled to the United States for the first time in 1985 as a provincial official, where he studied Iowa’s agricultural policies as part of a Chinese delegation. According to the Huffington Post, the vice president’s warm feelings toward the United States were the direct result of his previous visit to the country 27 years ago. Although the visit lasted only a short amount of time, the time was sufficient to create a lasting impression of the United States and its people.
In a time when political tensions run increasingly high, programs such as these allow government officials (and, more broadly, countries) to develop long-term, meaningful relationships.
The State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), launched in 1940, has aimed and continues to aim to “build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.”
Over the years, the IVLP has hosted leaders from the public and private sectors as well as 330 current and former Chiefs of State and Heads of Government and thousands of cabinet-level ministers. As stated on the IVLP website, these visits “reflect the International Visitors’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States.”
In other words, these international visitor programs are mutually beneficial and can have a significant impact on all parties involved. “Exchanges offer an in-depth experience with a foreign country, its culture, its systems, and most importantly, its people. Exchanges provide a substantive and long-lasting connection.” This instrumental public diplomacy tool allows governments to establish connections with those parties it believes could become vital partners in the future.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, international visitor exchanges will allow us to form substantial connections across the globe, reinforcing those relationships already established and creating the core foundations for new ones.