Dr. Walter Roberts, a veteran U.S. diplomat and pioneer of U.S. international broadcasting, died the end of June. This obituary is by Charles H. Dolan, Jr., a former vice chairman of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which Dr. Roberts served on.
Dr. Walter Roberts, an American diplomat and scholar who pioneered the practice of public diplomacy through radio broadcasts to Nazi Germany during World War II for the U.S. government died June 29 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 97.
Dr. Roberts was born in Austria and was educated at the University of Vienna. In 1938, anticipating Hitler’s aggression in Europe, he (and his soon to be wife Gisela) left Austria and went to Great Britain on a scholarship to Cambridge University, from which he earned his Ph.D. In 1940, he emigrated to the U.S. and was working as a research assistant at Harvard Law School when the U.S. entered World War II.
While walking across Harvard Yard he was approached by Professor William Langer, who, with ties to the government said, “Walter you are fluent in both English and German, your country needs people like you to help with the war effort.” Without hesitation, Roberts signed on as one of the first employees of the newly created Office of the Coordinator of Information, which later became the Voice of America, in New York.
This early public diplomacy effort included broadcasts into Germany, starting in February 1942, called “Stimmen aus Amerika” (“Voices from America”) and included the pledge: “Today, and every day from now on, we will be with you from America to talk about the war. The news may be good or bad for us. We will always tell you the truth.” Throughout the war years and during the allied occupation, he was responsible for broadcasting credible news reports of both the successes and failures of allied efforts in Germany.
After eight years of service with Voice of America he was transferred to the Austrian Desk of the Department of State in 1950. While there he devised a way for the U.S. Government to make use of the its holdings of then unconvertible Austrian currency into a useable form while, at the same time, demonstrating the value of what would become “public diplomacy.” He employed the currency to fund the prestigious “Salzburg Seminar in American Studies.” He served on its board for over forty years. It continues to this day as the Salzburg Global Seminar, an innovative public diplomacy project that supports regions, institutions and sectors in transition.
In 1953, he was appointed Deputy Area Director for Europe in the newly created U.S. Information Agency (USIA). In 1955, he was a member of the American Delegation to the Austrian Treaty Talks that culminated in a State Treaty, signed in Vienna by the four occupying powers (U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union) on May 15, 1955 which ended the occupation status of Austria and restored its independence.
In 1960, he was appointed Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Yugoslavia where he frequently interacted with President Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslav revolutionary, Communist and leader of the non-aligned movement. Tito was very impressed with Roberts’ diplomatic skills and his scholarly knowledge of the complexity of the cultures and history of the Balkans, and invited Walter and his wife Gisela to many social functions.
With an impeccable memory not just for diplomatic issues but also the finer things in life, Roberts recalled, “Tito impressed me as a gracious host and an informed conversationalist. Witty at times, he seemed to enjoy recalling past events. He was elegantly dressed; his suit appeared tailored on London’s Savile Row.” Roberts’ recall for such details was extraordinary. Only several months before his death, he wrote about a dinner party he attended with Tito in the early 1960s at which the featured wines were “a Croation Cabernet and a Slovenian Riesling.”
Roberts was assigned as Diplomat in Residence at Brown University in 1966, and in 1967 he was transferred to Geneva to serve as Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. In 1969, he was appointed Deputy Associate Director of USIA and in 1971 was elevated to the Associate Director position, then the senior career post in USIA.
In 1973, his book Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945 was published; it was praised by Foreign Affairs as “the best book on the subject.” It was highly controversial in Yugoslavia and banned as it shed light on Tito’s ambiguous relations with Nazi Germany. As a testament to its longevity, it was reprinted and released in the former Yugoslavia last year. In 1974, he received the Distinguished Honor Award from USIA. He retired from the U.S. Government in 1974 to take the position of Director of Diplomatic Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). His influence on America’s approach to public diplomacy is demonstrated by the fact that while he left the Foreign Service almost thirty years ago, he continued to be a major influence on the practice of public diplomacy until his death.
In 1975, he was called back into government to serve as executive director of the Board for International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. In 1985, he retired for the second time from the U.S. Government and was appointed diplomat-in-residence at George Washington University, where he taught a course on “Diplomacy in the Information Age.” He presciently predicted in a 1986 New York Time article, “The communications revolution is going to be a major headache for the Soviet Union.”
A testament to his expertise in the practice of public diplomacy was the fact that two Presidents from different parties appointed him as a member of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. President George H.W. Bush made the initial appointment in 1991 and President William J. Clinton reappointed him in 1994.
In 2009, he received the Voice of America “Director’s Special Recognition Award”. While officially retired, he continued to write prolifically and speak on public diplomacy. In 2005 Roberts helped establish a Public Diplomacy Institute at The George Washington University, and generously created an endowment in his name for what is now the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communicatin
His work as a great communicator was recognized in a March 22, 1986 New York Times article which opened with, “It is Ronald Reagan who is known as the Great Communicator. But in the capital, the Government communicator with what is probably the longest and most comprehensive tenure is Walter R. Roberts”.
In his final major public appearance, at the Public Diplomacy Council Fall Forum last November, Dr. Roberts told an audience of more than 250 members: “On February 1, 1942, American public diplomacy was born. That was 72 years ago, seven weeks into the war… I have no idea what future communications media will bring to us, but of this, I am sure: that international broadcasting will continue to exist because it is an integral part of public diplomacy, and public diplomacy, of course, is an integral part of diplomacy.” There was resounding applause.
Dr. Roberts (born to the late Ignaz and Elsa Rothenberg) is preceded in death by his beloved wife (Gisela Katherine) and is survived by three sons (William, Charles and Lawrence) and daughters in law (Patricia, Valerie and Shavaun), 7 grandchildren (Sherra (Fritz), Chelsea, Trevor, Matthew, Kevin, Katherine, and Mark, and two great grandchildren.
On February 12, multiple peaceful-turned-violent protests erupted in the major cities of Venezuela. These rallies conducted by university students have snowballed into a national conflict between the state and its citizens. The students were pacifically voicing their discontent against the government for the innumerable injustices currently plaguing Venezuela. The mandate to arrest these students turned highly controversial and thus incited the monumental manifestations, teeming with violence, that have taken place over the past few weeks. The nation’s president, Nicolas Maduro, commanded militarized police authorities to inhibit the protests, which has regrettably resulted in many injuries and deaths.
These incidents simply add further lines to the long list of mistreatments of citizens by the Venezuelan Government. Although international media has been scant as the crisis unfolds internally, manifestations and pleas for support have now reached a worldwide audience.
However, as we know there are always two sides of the story. Instead of addressing or planning to resolve the issues tormenting Venezuelan citizens, President Maduro’s tactics included a massive campaign to portray his government, at least attempt to, as victims of a conspiracy plan to overthrow their regime.
Venezuela’s public diplomacy abroad
This week, President Maduro’s administration began strategic movements to diffuse their two important messages: first, that information reaching international audiences regarding the situation in the country has been manipulated and exaggerated by media agents; second, to convince the international public’s opinion that the United States is partly to blame for the instability in the country due to their intervention with internal affairs through supporting the opposition.
These approaches have been used both domestically and internationally. Within Venezuela, it has been easier to manipulate due to the government’s ownership over the majority of communication outlets, and the immense oppression of information over private or international ones.
One of the main global venues used to broadcast these messages are Venezuelan embassies throughout the world; mostly through their social media pages. Additionally, just this week the Venezuelan Chancellor for external affairs, Elias Jaua, has commenced a global tour in search for support of the current government and more broadly the continuation of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Have their public outreach efforts been effective?
The problem with Venezuela’s credibility is the shocking and inspiring number of demonstrations taking place in the country, as well as the increasing momentum gathering world-wide denouncing the events and actions taken by the government. What is being protested against President Maduro’s administration transcends above local needs; citizens demand fundamental democratic principles.
For instance, 1) media repression and the current control of information and media outlets, 2) Oppressing freedom of assembly by using militarized security force against protesters, and 3) jailing his opponents such as the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These tactics, historically used by authoritarian regimes, have made it difficult for President Maduro to hide violations and defend his so-called democracy.
The social, political, and economic conditions in Venezuela are favorable to the development and continuation of large-scale protests and discontent with the government. However, it is the hope all Venezuelans to see their government actively working towards the amelioration of the country’s conditions, rather than actively seeking international approval and support of their 15-year failed socialist revolution.
The United States’ role
The structural conflict that has allowed for institutionalized state violence is due in part because all opposition groups or organization voicing the smallest criticism against the Venezuelan government are silenced, rebutted, punished, or censored by the government or its supporters. Thereunto, the United States government is indirectly forced to opt for ambiguous remarks and denunciations against Venezuela; carefully wording its discontent against the actions and the situation as a way to avoid accusations of “invading in internal affairs.”
Yet, even when President Obama’s administration is selective in its statements, Venezuela’s government will take any hint of criticism as a window of opportunity to rally up “anti-imperialistic” sentiments among its supporters and the region. For example on February 17, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made his remarks about the situation evolving in Venezuela, President Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats from the country, claiming they were associated with and supported the opposition’s plot. Evidently, the United States responded with the same method. It is worth reminding the reader that the countries have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, proving the dire diplomatic relationships between the two governments.
The United States’ public diplomacy goals in this complicated situation should focus on defending its image among Venezuelans. Through this, the ultimate long term objective is the improvement of America’s reputation among Latin America’s left-wing countries.
Oriana Piña is a graduate student at the George Washington University pursuing a M.A. in Global Communications, with a concentration in Latin American Studies. She is passionate about democracy, diplomacy, cultural understanding and international affairs. Follow her at @OrianaIntl.
The below message was distributed to members of the public diplomacy community via e-mail on Feb. 18, 2014 by the State Department.
On my first morning as Under Secretary, I wanted to reach out to our many friends and partners who extend, amplify and inform our public diplomacy. You are valued stakeholders in the public diplomacy community and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share my vision for public diplomacy.
While I am new to government service, I feel I’ve been involved in a form of public diplomacy for much of my life as a journalist and editor. We are living in a new age of diplomacy and global engagement and America is leading that effort. As Secretary Kerry always says, “Diplomacy works.” Diplomacy can, and does, make the world a better and safer place, and every day, in thousands of different ways, America is engaged all across the globe.
Public diplomacy and public affairs have a vital role to play in our foreign policy and national security. We will continue to make sure that our public diplomacy is focused on advancing our foreign policy objectives and goals. To that end, I’m looking at a few priorities vital to our national interests.
First, two larger points about youth and technology that affect everything else.
Now some specific areas of focus:
Entrepreneurism: We are the entrepreneurial nation and our ability to innovate is one of our most valuable exports. It is also an integral and positive part of the American brand, especially with young people. Economic diplomacy is also a priority for the President and the Secretary. I intend to scale up programs that help entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world and connect successful American business leaders with aspiring entrepreneurs. We should be looking not only to promote economic opportunity but to do so among disadvantaged groups.
Educational Diplomacy: Higher education is one of America’s greatest strategic assets, and we must use it. Our educational institutions are laboratories of democracy, while English skills are critical to success in the new global economy. Our educational exchanges need to move into the 21st century and adapt to new technologies like MOOCs and new areas of expertise such as STEM so that they can continue their role as incubators of democracy. We need to use our leadership in technology and innovation to create young scientific and technological innovators – especially young women who have been under-served in this area.
Environmental Diplomacy: Secretary Kerry has stressed from day one that it will take nothing less than a global conversation to educate, inform, awaken and activate millions of people around the world about the environmental challenges the world faces – challenges which cannot be solved by any single nation. Whether it’s global climate change or the plight of the oceans, the Secretary is determined to help the President awaken our consciousness globally about a range of environmental issues. This requires a massive public diplomacy effort.
Countering Violent Extremism: It is vital to our national security that we provide people, particularly young people in at-risk environments, with alternatives to the misguided ideological justifications for using violence. We must confront distortion with reality and rebut lies with truth. We will expand and coordinate the State Department’s worldwide efforts to counter radicalization and combat violent extremist messaging.
Professional Growth: We cannot succeed unless our people are prepared and supported to succeed. It is critical that public diplomacy be valued as a core element of our overall foreign policy mission and that our public diplomacy professionals receive the training, resources and institutional recognition to ensure success in that mission. We need a new 21st century tool kit for public diplomacy. I am passionately committed to the growth and development of our profession.
These are big issues that require a focused alignment of resources, and sustained effort. I aim to reinvigorate public diplomacy, ensure our practitioners are on the forefront of technology, and keep public diplomacy an integral part of our larger policy goals. I am keenly aware of the robust contributions you can bring to our mutual interests. So I welcome your thoughts and seek your support. You are part of a broad public diplomacy network and your partnership is critical to successful, dynamic American public diplomacy. I look forward to meeting and working with you in the coming weeks.
Tara Sonenshine, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and currently a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs will address the United Kingdom’s House of Lords “Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence” via videotape on Monday, December 16 at 5:15 p.m. London time (12:15 p.m. Washington time).
The live testimony will take place at the British Embassy in Washington. The evidence session is public and a verbatim transcript will be posted on the British Parliamentary website shortly after the oral evidence session at this link: http://www.parliament.uk/soft-power-and-uks-influence. The Select Committee was formed May 16, 2013 to examine how soft power reflects national interest.
Ms. Sonenshine will be addressing issues related to the use of “soft power,” “hard power” and “smart power” and how public diplomacy is utilized with respect to international policy. Questions will be posed by the Chairman and other members of the Committee who are all Member of the House of Lords.
Ms. Sonenshine has high level experience in both government and the media, having served in the White House, State Department, and as Executive Vice President at the United States Institute of Peace. In earlier years, she was Editorial Producer of ABC News Nightline and a Contributing Editor at Newsweek. At her current position at George Washington University, she writes on a variety of topics related to public diplomacy and international relations.
On Tuesday, distinguished ambassador Thomas Pickering spoke at GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs (on his birthday, no less!) about his experience on the advisory panel that investigated the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, as well as Russia, Iran, and the future of U.S. public diplomacy.
The talk was part of the Third Annual Walter Roberts Lecture, which brings in prominent figures in public diplomacy practice and academia to speak on relevant issues of the times.
Tara Sonenshine, who spoke at the Second Annual Walter Roberts Lecture, responded in a blog post on her sentiments in introducing the ambassador. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and current Professor of Practice at GWU, PJ Crowley, was also in attendance, as well as Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, who led the conversation with the ambassador.
Some tweets from the event:
Happy birthday, Amb. Thomas Pickering! #PickeringPD The room is singing!
— IPDGC (@IPDGC) November 5, 2013
TP: We did everything we could to see that the mistakes (from Benghazi) were not repeated #PickeringPD
— IPDGC (@IPDGC) November 5, 2013
— Philip J. Crowley (@PJCrowley) November 6, 2013
Thank you to all who attended. Please visit our website for a video and transcript of the event here.
By Robin Terry
In February of this year, Philip Seib, who is the Director of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, wrote a blog post entitled “Climate Change, Terrorism, and Public Diplomacy” regarding a relatively unheard-of reality that public diplomacy must respond to. This reality was recognized by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and is being made a top priority by her successor, Secretary John Kerry. This reality actually makes up three-quarters of our planet’s surface, and yet is one of the most fragile resources in many places in the world.
Water diplomacy is coming into its own as the world’s population mushrooms to 7 billion and counting. Kerry is already making climate change and a focus on oceans a major priority for his tenure at the US Department of State, disregarding climate change skeptics by declaring that the ocean system “is interdependent, and we toy with that at our peril.”
What makes public diplomacy important on this issue is that water is an indisputably essential and globally shared resource. Secretary Kerry recognizes that water diplomacy must be approached with delicacy to build bridges and maintain open communication (dialogue) to share and foster synergy, instead of becoming a battleground over threatened resources and an opportunity for imperialism. Seib writes, “Public diplomats representing nations such as the United States have long recognized the importance of water diplomacy. For years, the Peace Corps has worked with local communities around the world to ensure safe water supplies….” Global community projects centering around wells and water safety as well as water conservation practices in drought-stricken regions have proven to be effective tactics to bring about economic prosperity and an increased quality of life, and have also had an important public diplomacy impact by generating awareness and urgency, and highlighting cooperation. But what will bring about lasting change to the big picture? Will Kerry’s top-down approach to one of life’s most precious and fundamental resources deliver a vital answer?
Secretary Kerry’s call to rally around the growing problem that is water security is coming out of the gate as a collaborative effort in a deep bay of the Southern Ocean in Antarctica, the Ross Sea. Secretary Kerry is aiming to create the largest marine protected area on Earth. These lofty ambitions, if successful, will create a foundation of conservation, collaboration, and global security in the frontier of water diplomacy. The biodiversity standing to be given sanctuary amounts to over 16,000 species including whales, penguins, and seals (fauna diplomacy, anyone?) over roughly 890,000 square miles. Secretary Kerry is extending an olive branch of scientific opportunity and setting a conservation precedent that could provide capital for future public diplomacy goals. New Zealand is already on board in establishing the joint proposal and 23 other countries will announce their stance in July.
Water diplomacy caters to a very specific and absolutely requisite part of every human’s life. Therefore it is conceivable that a top-down emphasis on water diplomacy that encompasses major public diplomacy elements can have a significant effect. Other public diplomacy tactics such as educational or culinary diplomacy are collectives of bottom-up, separate attempts to address a big-picture issue. While this does not mean that these tactics are ineffective (I staunchly believe the opposite), it illustrates the diversity of approaches and the deliberate angle that such a fundamental resource, water, demands. Kerry appreciates how important this issue must be treated and is addressing the void that water diplomacy has played in the public diplomacy conversation as of late.
Water diplomacy encompasses national security, climate conservation, multilateral operations, and the (secret weapon) positive animal interest angle on a grand scale. By giving such a large-scale issue the stage and attention it deserves, will Kerry’s top-down approach prove more effective than the project-based approach used by other types of public diplomacy? Will public diplomacy associated with large-scale reform and change increasingly become the answer in our globalized society?
by Kate Mays
Looking at only the gender makeup of the Ugandan government, one could make the argument that Uganda is doing pretty well with gender equality. Women make up almost 35% of its current parliamentary members, and in 2011 the 9th Parliament elected its first female Speaker. Further, Uganda was ranked 28th in the 2012 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report for political empowerment (compared to a rather shoddy 55th place showing for the US. Of course, gender parity in government is only one of many metrics to judge how equally genders are treated within society.) And the gender parity in Uganda’s government representation right now exists primarily because of a gender quota, which was included in the 1995 Constitution, and stipulates that each district must elect a female representative (to date, there are 112 total).
I am not going to delve into the pros and cons of Uganda’s gender quota – that discussion would be divergent and has been done effectively elsewhere – but it is an important premise on which to evaluate the Ugandan government’s approach to gender equality. Namely, one that embraces gender mainstreaming principles, which gained a lot of momentum after the 1995 Beijing UN Conference on Gender and Development, and continue to be practiced and implemented by some governments, the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations.
Uganda does not have a sterling history in terms of its treatment of women. In the economically dominant Bugandan culture, it is commonplace for women to kneel down before men as a respectful way of greeting them (men do not return the favor, neither to women nor other men). Patriarchy pervades Ugandan culture – this post from the WomanStats blog has a good description of the gender roles. In James Lull’s definition of culture, he emphasizes the “extreme repetitiveness of everyday behavior” as the foundation for culture: “Cultural redundancy produces and reproduces meanings which form the bases of coordinated social interaction.” While the act of a woman kneeling for a man in greeting might only seem like an odd, outdated cultural tradition, the societal manifestations of the patriarchal custom are more insidious. According to statistics from the Uganda Women’s Network, 60% of Ugandan women experience gender-based violence. While this has been the focus of some more-recent legislation, it will likely take more than a few laws to reverse the culture and improve on the kind of gender inequality highlighted in this figure.
However, even if the situation on the ground, culturally within the society, is still grim, embracing the language and principles of gender mainstreaming signals to the international community that the Ugandan government acknowledges that gender inequality is a problem that needs a solution, and shows that it is at least making strides to address it. (Uganda has a Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development; it also crafted a National Gender Policy in 2007). For all of gender quotas’ potential deficiencies and possible exploitation, it is, I would argue, a step, and one that signals a commitment to being open to take further steps.
In his piece on Cosmopolitan Constructivism, Cesar Villanueva Rivas notes that “that the ways in which [countries’] identities and intentions are constructed abroad count.” Gender mainstreaming, at the very least, signals an intention, and helps to foster an environment of promoting women’s empowerment. As a result, countries like Sweden, Norway, and the US have shared knowledge and resources with Uganda, through direct engagement with the government in helping to craft gender policy, as well as through Ugandan universities and the numerous NGOs in the region.
What does this mean for Uganda’s cultural diplomacy efforts around women? I would argue that there is a lot of potential for Uganda to stake a bigger global claim on some of the issues it has been working on domestically. Many countries in Africa have adopted gender quotas and are still struggling with similar obstacles to societal and cultural gender equality. Using the NGO infrastructure that already exists, Uganda could coordinate with women’s groups like the Pan-African Women’s Organisation and FEMNET (the African Women’s Development and Communication Network) to host a summit or forum on women in politics, with particular attention paid to leadership and advocacy. A similar program, the African Women Leaders Project, was held in 2008, but it was also run by outside organizations. Although a seemingly intangible detail, if such initiatives come from the African countries themselves it gives them a real power. Further, it would show that Uganda is not only open to accepting the “cosmopolitan” values of “tolerance, friendship, and respect,” but is also “internalizing” these values.
In his piece, Rivas cites Alexander Wendt, who identifies three “degrees” of internalization, the third being “legitimacy,” which is “the most developed of these actions pursued by states, since it emerges from the state’s principles and convictions.” Wendt uses the framework of “friends” and “allies” to differentiate the modes with which countries interact; “friends” is a longer-term relationship in which countries “join a process of common understanding and societal exchanges, step by step.” Within this framework also emerges the idea of a “Self” and an “Other.” Wendt marks progress by how a state can “identify with other’s expectations, relating them as part of themselves.” In the third degree of internalization, “Self is not self-interested but rather it is interested in the Other.” In this case, I would say the “Other” is both Ugandan women as well as countries abroad. Uganda should act for women’s empowerment in recognition of what their “expectations” are for being treated equally, and internalize that goal of equality as one of its own.
The disparity in how women are treated in Ugandan society and how they’re treated in the government’s official gender policies is problematic because it sends a mixed message to other countries. Tolerance, friendship, and respect have to start at home, in order to be credibly projected to the rest of the world. Just as gender quotas project a positive image, it is important for Uganda’s reputation abroad that Ugandan women’s lives continue to improve.
The above post is from Take Five’s Student Perspective series. Kate Mays is studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University, looking at themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and writing on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and communication.
By Max Entman
In a recent speech at the 2012 Institute for Cultural Diplomacy conference, former Canadian Minister of Foreign Trade Stockwell Day argues that cultural diplomacy can be used to advance certain broad principles that can help alleviate poverty around the world. Day posits that the existence of three essential freedoms – of enterprise, of religion, and of self-determined governance – can dramatically increase the likelihood that a given country will help its citizens out of poverty. Day suggests that the promotion of these principles by developed countries in developing countries is a cultural-diplomatic mechanism for sowing seeds of prosperity. Day’s assumption of consensus on these principles may be flawed, but it begs the question: is there a way for states to better coordinate cultural diplomatic efforts to achieve shared goals like poverty alleviation?
One answer to this question would be to create a new network of cultural diplomats that crosses national boundaries. Ideally, this “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a diverse, collaborative network with the primary goal of sharing best practices in channeling cultural diplomatic efforts toward helping people in need. Admittedly, foreign ministries of many countries might have concerns about sharing their approaches with diplomats from other nations. However, cultural diplomacy is not a zero sum game. The whole point of such an initiative would be to find ways that the cultural diplomacy efforts of multiple nations can have positive impacts that are mutually reinforcing, not undermining. Such a network would take years to build, and would likely require the financial and organizational backing of an existing NGO in order to get off the ground. The potential benefits would dramatically outweigh these costs.
In recent years, much has been said about the power of “network public diplomacy,” as enabled by the Internet and other information and communication technologies. However, even advocates for this more relational approach have begun to recognize that it is not a catchall solution for all of the problems facing public and cultural diplomats. Professor Rhonda Zaharna of American University recently identified four fallacies in the prevailing discussion of “network public diplomacy.” In essence, she argues that “network public diplomacy” as an overarching concept is not valuable when it lacks specificity, and further that the network model is not always the best approach in all scenarios. In this spirit, let me be clear about the specific type of network approach I am proposing. In Zaharna’s typology, the “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” would be a “network of collaboration that strives to generate value-added information” for its members and the world at large. It would achieve this by leveraging the insights of its diverse membership. This network structure would not mean a dogmatic adherence to a “network communication” model of public diplomacy by members of the network.
In his 2002 book Elusive Quest for Growth, William Easterly argues that investment in the generation of knowledge has become especially valuable in the age of globalization, as knowledge is more likely than ever to leak from one person to another. These leaks can lead to “virtuous cycles,” which can dramatically speed economic development in poor countries. Cultural diplomats and the governments they represent are in a position to aid the creation of more of the “virtuous cycles” that Easterly discusses. Through networked collaboration, a “Conference of Cultural Diplomats” could amplify the effectiveness of existing cultural diplomacy efforts, while simultaneously spurring innovation. Moving beyond the zero sum cultural diplomacy paradigm will likely be difficult, but the rewards will be worth the trouble.
Max Entman is a graduate student at the George Washington University. His piece forms part of Take Five’s series of student reflections on aspects of cultural diplomacy as communication.
by Anna-Lena Tepper
Former NBA player Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea came to many as a surprise. Along with an entourage of fellow basketball players from the performance group Harlem Globetrotters, Rodman went to visit the most oppressive country in the world, but his intentions weren’t politically motivated. His mission was simply to share the joy of basketball with the North Korean people. In his few days there he did not only initiate several friendly games between American players and North Korean teams, but he also had several friendly encounters with the country’s dictator Kim Jong Un. He left with a great impression of the country and its people and they also seemed to have enjoyed his visit. Upon his return to the States, Rodman’s advice to the President was that he should just call his Communist counterpart to sort things out. This sounds almost too good to be true and very easily done. The question arises, if maybe this approach might yield better results than the ones initiated – or in the case of US-North Korean relationship “non-initiated” – by the international community. After all, Rodman managed to have friendly encounters with one of the US’s biggest enemies.
The field of public or cultural diplomacy has received major academic attention over the last few years. People are not just studying public diplomacy, they also try to analyze, standardize, optimize, generalize, and define it. In an attempt to engage foreign audiences and develop a deeper relationship with them, based on shared interests and common ideas, governments spend millions of dollars each year to implement programs that can facilitate these engagements. However, despite countless highly sophisticated programs – ranging from student and leadership exchanges to a variety of cultural events – that are tailored to different audiences, too often neither scholars, nor policy makers can determine a cause-effect relationship between the programs they implemented and approval rates abroad.
And then there is Dennis Rodman, who travels to North Korea without a plan and manages to leave the country a few days later and everyone, including the country’s communist leader that hasn’t had any friendly encounters with an American in as long as anyone can remember, is all smiley faces. No science behind it, just what seems like intuition, and it worked – apparently. However, some argue that Rodman’s visit was actually counterproductive, as his approval of Kim Jong Un directly legitimized his questionable leadership.
Still, the question arises if maybe American scholars are sometimes overanalyzing public diplomacy and therefore, often miss their set goals (or can’t detect it). Many argue that Dennis Rodman’s visit was just staged and now that he has gone nothing has changed. Those people have a point. Kim Jong Un has just threatened the United States with a nuclear war again. Politically, Rodman’s visit hasn’t changed anything. However, he still managed to open North Korea to an American visitor for a friendly encounter with the leader for first time in decades, and that is something neither politicians nor scholars have been able to achieve.
Fact is, public diplomacy needs to be very targeted in order to be successful, but at the same time, PD scholars and practitioners should also keep in mind that sometimes intuition is a good indicator of what is a good approach and what is not. Especially in the case of North Korea, maybe a mix of intuitive steps and targeted PD programs is going to lead to a change in the near, or not so near future.
Anna-Lena Tepper is a graduate student at the George Washington University, and is posting as part of Take Five’s ongoing Student Perspective series.
by Mercedes Bell
Access to quality education offers students in the Third World a chance to improve their lives, careers, and health, and can even give them the resources they need to improve their communities with economic growth and political stability. But without the tools to reach quality education, Third World students can’t enjoy these benefits.
In our organization’s first installment of this series, we discussed barriers to access in education, and the potential that lies in giving students and communities access to online and mobile resources. Even with growing worldwide connectivity, students need access and tools to get to them. Online learning centers, computers, tablets, and mobile devices can get them connected to life-changing and community-boosting educational resources.
(Note: You can find the third article in this series on distance learning here.)
Third World schools and communities can find great support in tech-equipped learning centers that provide full scale solutions for learning from laptops to teacher technology training. These centers serve not just students, but the entire community in learning technology, and learning through technology.
Programs like the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership (DCGEP) improve Third World schools with technology resources, as well as video programming and teacher training for implementing the program. These learning centers typically result in an increase in student learning as well as improved teacher effectiveness. But it’s not just students that benefit: the DCGEP program reports that the learning centers also increase community access to information overall as they function as informational hubs in the community.
Similarly, the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) creates community technology and learning centers in Africa, bringing tech labs to developing communities along with extensive programs and support. In YTF’s Owerri Digital Village, the foundation offers after-school programs that focus on developing technology skills and fostering interest in STEM fields. The village extends to educating the community with initiatives like RLabs, which gives students access to tech tools and education in ethics, sexual health, and personal responsibility. The students are also able to use social media to share personal stories and take advantage of health counseling.
The World Computer Exchange (WCE) provides not just computers and technology, but the support to make them useful in the developing communities they serve. Along with computers, WCE delivers educational content and curriculum on agriculture, health entrepreneurship, and even water and energy. The program also ensures that teachers will know how to use the technology and content by providing staff and teacher training, as well as ongoing tech team support.
Computers provide students with the best that educational technology has to offer. Laptops and PCs enabled with Internet connections, content, and software can give students the power to explore self learning. With an Internet connected computer, students are able to access every educational resource available online, from open courseware projects to educational tutorials. They can also be used to run educational software, making them the ideal learning tools for students in developing countries.
One Laptop Per Child is the most famous Third World computer program for students, and they’ve worked to create and donate affordable, rugged laptops to Third World students. Each child is able to enjoy their own computer as an exploration and learning tool, and sometimes, even a source of light for the home. The laptops connect to one another, and are able to share a single point of Internet access together. Power is supplied through a variety of sources, including solar and human power, and each laptop comes pre-loaded with learning software. More than 2 million laptops have been distributed to children worldwide through this program.
Computer access that offers 1:1 tools for students is ideal, but even shared resources can be successful. Small islands in the Caribbean have found success in using moveable laptop carts that can be moved from one classroom to another. Instead of a stationary computer lab, the schools are able to integrate the laptops into classroom learning while making the most out of the resources they have.
Textbooks are typically in short supply in the Third World. A Brookings Institute study indicates that 3/4 of schools in southern African countries do not have a basic textbook for math or reading. Even those that do have textbooks may have outdated resources, as books are updated regularly, but Third World countries can’t afford the new books. They may not even be at the correct learning level, or relevant to the curriculum. With tablets and e-readers, schools are able to provide students with easily updatable devices that hold multiple books at once. The initial investment cost is higher than a single book, but thanks to donation initiatives and open resources, tablets and e-readers are a surprisingly capable learning resource for Third World students.
The Worldreader program shares Kindle e-readers and digital books with the developing world. As of February 2013, this organization has delivered nearly half a million e-books to sub-Saharan Africa. Each Kindle can hold up to 1,500 e-books, offers a long battery life, and takes advantage of digital subscription services, as well as open book projects like the Open Textbook Initiative. The Worldreader program also provides for the development and digitization of local books, and many of the books in the Worldreader program are from African authors. Students who participated in Worldreader’s Ghana pilot study showed a marked improvement on their English test scores.
The founders behind One Laptop Per Child have branched out to a new device: the tablet. Although OLPC has been successful, the program stopped short of teaching students how to use the devices. Now, through One Tablet Per Child, founder Nicholas Negroponte expects to see kids teaching themselves. As tablets are intuitively easy to use, children can quickly figure out how to interact with it. The low cost, solar powered tablet is designed to spread literacy and learning, and is delivered to children with no instructions, but pre-installed with educational apps and learning tools to be discovered. Children in the initial phase have responded as expected and show encouraging use. An average of 57 apps are utilized each day, and some children have already learned to recite the alphabet.
Initiatives like OLPC and Worldreader are doing a great job to spread technology and learning with feature rich ed tech tools, but there’s only so much these organizations can do at once. A strong alternative to computer and tablet devices is the ubiquitous cell phone. The International Telecommunications Union reports that many developing communities already have widespread cell phone connection and use, with 87% global saturation of mobile subscriptions. And, most of the world is able to access 2G or greater, with access for 90% of the world’s population. Clearly, mobile learning is a resource that is ripe for utilization.
Worldreader isn’t just providing tablets to Third World students; they’re turning e-books into resources that can be read on nearly any mobile device, even low end feature phones like the ones prevalent in the developing world. Partnered with app developer biNu, books and stories offered through Worldreader Mobile can be displayed on any device running Java, Android, or Blackberry in any language and even feature a translate tool. The books use minimal data, so readers save on bandwidth charges. Readers can choose from thousands of books, including public domain classics, short stories, and life-saving information on HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other health issues.
While most programs target students directly, UNESCO has started a project that educates Pakistani teachers through mobile phones. In addition to conventional training, the teachers will be sent up to 750 mobile messages on morality, health, language, and teacher training. Organizers believe that this unconventional training is faster and more attractive than other methods and hope that the project can be replicated globally.
Even without the use of a cellular or Internet connection, mobile devices can be powerful teaching tools. Fireside Pictures created a resource dubbed The Learning Village built simply on iPods, solar chargers, and pre-loaded videos that were sent to Haiti. The team created five videos in native Haitian language with information including shapes, colors, and the alphabet. These videos were loaded onto shared iPods and delivered to children. Before their use, students were given a pre-exam to measure their knowledge and shown how to use the iPods to watch the learning videos. One month later, the test was administered again, and the students showed an average score increase of 44% without any formal teacher present. The students even created their own informal discussion groups to talk about what they’d learned on the iPods, indicating that this learning resource proved to be small but powerful.
Initiatives spreading ed tech tools to the Third World are making a difference, but with assistance, they can do even more. Financial contributions, donations of used electronics, and even your time and talent are welcomed. Here’s how you can help:
Teachers and quality education are in short supply in the Third World. That’s why it’s important to maximize the resources that are available to young learners in these communities. The Third World just doesn’t have enough teachers to go around, but with ed tech tools, we can give teachers and students the resources they need to make the most of what they have.
A version of this article appeared on OnlineUniversities.com.