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. Additional photos, video, and transcripts will be posted on the IPDGC website shortly. Follow us on Twitter for more announcements!
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.
by Brad Gilligan
Last month, advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights deployed thousands of supporters to the grounds outside the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in two landmark cases. A Pew Research Center poll demonstrates the dominant frame being deployed by media to tell the story. “Growing Support for Gay Marriage: Changed Minds and Changing Demographics,” the headline reads.
While the pro-equality campaign in the U.S. may represent a real sea change in our national public opinion, other countries’ perspectives vary by degrees. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department annually documented the status of LGBT people around the globe in its report on human rights practices. Memorably, Clinton said in a speech at the United Nations that “gay rights are human rights.” These remarks were coordinated with a memo from President Obama in the same week that detailed the first ever US government strategy to deal with human rights abuses against LGBT citizens abroad.
In parts of the world, perils faced by LGBT citizens are well known: In Uganda, the parliament proposed a bill which would make some homosexual acts a crime punishable by death. While in New York, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously commented “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” And in Russia, parliament is considering a nationwide ban on ‘gay propaganda’ to minors—in the same year that international attention was drawn to members of the feminist, pro-LGBT, punk-rock collective Pussy Riot after they were jailed by the Putin government.
When the State Department promotes gay rights abroad, cultural diplomacy acts as one of the primary drivers of that agenda. Cynthia P. Schneider describes the relationship: “Public diplomacy consists of all a nation does to explain itself to the world, and cultural diplomacy—the use of creative expression and exchanges of ideas, information, and people to increase mutual understanding—supplies much of its content.” Through partnerships with regional and local civil society groups, the Department engages communities in dialogue about the value Americans ascribe to all people, no matter who that person is or whom that person loves.
Not to say that the U.S. does not receive its own share of criticism for its domestic LGBT policy: an interactive display from The Guardian documents the variability of gay rights, state by state. Until a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, sodomy laws remained on the books in 14 states. Today, others still prohibit adoptions by gay couples or permit dismissing workers on the basis of gender identification.
To focus on the theme of LGBT rights, and the practice of cultural diplomacy worldwide, I began with a small exercise in role reversal: How does one country (I selected Canada) work inside the U.S. to promote its foreign policy?
In 1995, a review of Canadian foreign policy granted culture new status, erecting it as a third pillar in the country’s diplomatic priorities, beside security and the economy. The report praises its culture as a potent force for the nation’s international reputation. “Our principles and values—our culture—are rooted in a commitment to tolerance; to democracy; to equality and to human rights”. Among the recommendations made in the document, it elevates the potential of mass media (e.g. television, film, and radio) in particular to reach audiences outside of Canada’s borders.
Like the BBC, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) operates as a public entity. The government approves and funds programming consistent with the mandate to, among other stipulations, focus on Canadian content. For instance, the broadcasting license for MTV Canada requires that a minimum of 68% of daytime and 71% of prime time programming be of Canadian origin. The network describes itself as offering a “distinctly Canadian interpretation of the MTV brand across multiple platforms,” in 171 territories around the world.
One such program, airing since 2009, is 1 girl 5 gays. The 30-minute talk show sees host Aliya-Jasmine Sovani asking 20 questions about love and sex to a rotating panel of gay men from the greater Toronto area. Toronto holds a reputation as a vibrant center of gay life in Ontario; Church Street, especially, has a rich cultural history and has been depicted before in popular media exported south of the border.
Logo TV, a US gay and lesbian-interest channel, picked up 1 girl 5 gays in 2010. The first season increased ratings in its time slot +55% compared to the network’s Q4 2010 average.
Pew’s poll, referenced earlier, found that roughly a third (32%) said their views changed because they know someone who is homosexual. Mass media may well be another variable at play, subbing for physical one-to-one contact. The show builds relationships on this principle, between the host and panelists (and the audience by proxy).
A rudimentary content analysis of episodes from 1 girl 5 gays’ first season begins to generate a map for how dialogue can be used to strategically shift opinion about LGBT rights. In any one episode, an average of five questions conjure pointed images of gay sexual experiences (“Do you have a gag reflex?”) while the remainder are interchangeable to hetero- or homosexual couples (“If your sex life was a colour, what colour would it be?). The majority have nothing to do with sex at all (“Whose autograph have you asked for?”).
Especially notable, the show frequently inserts a question in the final segment looking inward at the program or at common LGBT experiences: “How do you feel gay men are represented on this show?” “Does the pride parade reinforce stereotypes?” “If there was a pill to make you straight, would you take it?”
Statistical wizard Nate Silver points out how demographics and population density are likely indicators of support for same-sex marriage. It would be overdrawn to say 1 girl 5 gays answers this problem intentionally by increasing the opportunities for exposure to discussion of LGBT experiences; but, as a byproduct of capitalism (i.e. the proliferation of broadcasting in the U.S. via for-profit cable TV), the amplification of Canadian commitment to tolerance aids the cause of LGBT rights in the U.S., and represents one instance of successful cultural diplomacy in action.
Brad Gilligan is a graduate student in the Media and Public Affairs program at the George Washington University.
by Katherine Cincotta
The Miss Earth Pageant: A prime example of cultural diplomacy used to increase awareness of environmental issues, or a standard beauty pageant that only pays lip service to environmental issues?
The pageant, held annually in the Philippines, has two primary goals. The first is to “…have its candidates and winners actively promote and get involved in the preservation of the environment and the protection of Mother Earth.” The pageant winner, chosen from a group representing nearly 100 nations, agrees to commit a year of service promoting environmental projects around the world, such as cleaning up beaches or planting trees with a community.
In prior years the pageant did a fair job of incorporating environmentalism into its production. The 2008 pageant, for example, included montages of the contestants’ projects, as well as questions directly related to the environment. In 2012, however, much of the environmental focus in the pageant had been cut down. There were several shorter montages of contestants mentioning their environmental goals briefly. Overall, the pageant generally progresses as any other would, with an assortment of clothing changes, and not much else. The sole question asked of the contestants in the 2012 pageant was: “what would you consider your defining moment as a woman?” Consistent with the rest of the pageant, the word “environment” was barely mentioned in the responses.
The second goal of the pageant is to “…showcase and promote various tourist destinations.” The promotion of diverse destinations would give each location an opportunity to showcase how they are specifically impacted by environmental issues. Thus far attempts to hold the pageant in locations outside of the Philippines have generally fallen through. Going into the thirteenth year of the pageant, Miss Earth has only successfully been held outside of the Philippines once; when it was held in Vietnam in 2010.
As one of the largest pageants in the world, behind Miss World and Miss Universe, Miss Earth has the potential to draw a large audience. In addition to the potential economic benefits, hosting the pageant would allow a country to highlight its culture, as well as its own specific environmental concerns. For example, if the pageant were held in Haiti, the country could convey their struggle with natural disasters and how they have been impacted by climate change.
Climate change is currently one of the most pressing environmental concerns globally. Many of the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as Bangladesh, Malawi and Madagascar, would benefit from hosting Miss Earth to draw attention to the concerns and cultures of their small country. Assuming the pageant airs internationally, it has the potential to reach millions of viewers. This begs the question, which countries actually broadcast it? The Miss World Pageant is viewed by an estimated 2 billion people a year globally, and over 1 billion watch Miss Universe. The numbers on Miss Earth, meanwhile, are much more difficult to track down. Though the pageant claims to be one of the largest in the world, how many people globally are aware that it exists? What can be done to increase its viewership?
One reason that Miss Earth may not yet have reached its full viewership potential is funding. Of the five main sponsors of the pageant, Hewlett Packard is the most notable. As one of the Top 25 “greenest” companies in the world according to Newsweek, HP has the ability to influence and collaborate on pageant events. If other green corporations were similarly willing to sponsor Miss Earth, the necessary funds may allow the pageant to be held in a variety of locations, and to reach its full potential as an environmental public diplomacy platform. Other companies that made Newsweek’s list include Google and McGraw-Hill, two companies that would be able to use their marketing platforms to help promote the pageant.
In addition to funding, another constraint that would prevent some countries from hosting Miss Earth is cultural barriers. In particular, many Muslim countries (such as Bangladesh) have outlawed pageants altogether. Though it may not be possible for every country to host the pageant that does not mean citizens of every country cannot get involved. In 2003 Miss Earth made headlines when Miss Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, became the first Afghan woman to participate in a beauty pageant in 30 years, particular notice was given to her participation in the bikini portion of the pageant. In moderate countries, could it be possible to adapt the pageant to fit cultural norms? As the main goal of the pageant is spreading environmental awareness, could it still be effective? It may be beneficial if the pageant was first held in more liberal and environmentally conscious societies, such as Brazil so that smaller or somewhat more conservative countries could see the benefits that the pageant can bring with it.
Because pageants are popular globally, and young girls aspire to be like pageant contestants, Miss Earth could create a platform for environmental diplomacy, particularly for the younger generations. Perhaps in part due to funding constraints and cultural barriers, the pageant unfortunately has not yet been able to reach its full potential public diplomacy and awareness-raising potential. In turn, the pageant overall currently seem somewhat superficial.
If changes were made, Miss Earth may have the potential to act as a subset of Cosmopolitan Constructivism, which Cesar Villanueva Rivas describes as “constructing long-lasting friendly relations among states by inviting their societies to learn from each other in the construction of cosmopolitan cultural attitudes.” In other words, with increased funding and more emphasis on environmentalism during the show, the Miss Earth pageant could allow people of different countries and cultures to establish common environmental interests or concerns. Could this realization of shared goals in turn lead to the creation of a platform on which environmental collaboration could take place?
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
by Max Entman
In the last decade, the definition of cultural diplomacy has been expanding. This expansion has been especially noticeable in the realm of the culinary arts. The recent launch of the “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership” by the U.S. Department of State is one of many examples of this phenomenon. Though food has featured to some degree in traditional diplomacy for centuries, these new initiatives go beyond state dinners to harness the power of food as an instrument of cultural engagement. Beyond creating sustained cultural engagement around food, these new efforts can also play an important role in raising the profile of policy challenges that align with the interests of a new generation of culinary diplomats.
Why this focus on food now? One key reason is the explosion of the celebrity chef phenomenon during the past decade. Around the world, chefs have stepped out from the behind the stove to become media moguls and full-fledged entertainment personalities. This raises the question of how particular chefs may fit into existing thinking about the impact of so-called celebrity diplomats. Professor Andrew Cooper has done the definitive work in this field. In a recent article on the topic, Cooper suggests that “the feature that does more to define celebrity diplomats than anything else is their focus on access to state leaders and key ministerial and bureaucratic policymakers.” As a result, Cooper argues that only three celebrities – Bono, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie – have achieved true celebrity diplomat status, whereas other politically active celebrities are merely activists. However, the emergence of a variety of renowned chefs as government-affiliated advocates may challenge this assertion.
The person that best personifies this new chef-as-diplomat archetype is José Andrés. Based in DC by way of Asturias, Spain, Andrés is widely credited with popularizing Spanish cuisine in the U.S. In addition to a growing restaurant empire and successful TV shows in the states and in Spain, Andrés is a leading member of the State Department’s American Chef Corps and the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization that seeks to combat hunger. Andrés was also recognized recently as an “embajador de la marca de España” (honorary ambassador of the Spanish brand) by the Leading Brands of Spain Forum, a government-affiliated organization.
In both his adopted home and in his country of origin, government officials have taken note of Andrés’ leadership in both the culinary and development fields. For the United States, Andrés is a valuable partner because his gastronomic renown and his personal commitment to addressing development challenges make him a strong non-traditional advocate on development policy issues including the alleviation of hunger. In essence, his fame for haute cuisine can be leveraged to raise the profile of development issues (e.g. clean cookstoves) among audiences that may not be moved to action otherwise. For Spain, as his brand ambassador award suggests, Chef Andrés serves a simpler nation-branding
function by elevating the worldwide prestige of Spanish cuisine. These examples suggest that Andrés
has the very type of access which Professor Cooper says is the defining feature of celebrity diplomats, if perhaps at a lower level than Bono. Though Andrés is the most prominent example, numerous other chefs have developed similar relationships with government leaders that open the potential of their serving as diplomatic actors.
In the piece referenced above, Andrew Cooper concludes by saying “[t]he major questions will be whether the small cluster of top-tier celebrity diplomats will expand, and whether they will supplement their fresh sense of energy with a repertoire of enhanced substantive content.” Although he is best known for his avant-garde interpretations of Spanish cuisine, Andrés’ substantive efforts to combat global hunger and environmental degradation suggest that the expansion of celebrity diplomacy surrounding development policy issues may be starting with chefs.
by Kate Shriver
First, there was Gangam Style, the epic YouTube video by South Korean pop sensation Psy that swept the world in 2012 and currently has over one billion views, making it the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Anyone who was anyone made a spinoff or parody of their own.
Now, there is the Harlem Shake. Here’s the premise: in an approximately 30 second long video a single person dances for roughly 10-20 seconds on their own (usually in a mask or helmet of some sort) while everyone else around them carries on with their own business, essentially ignoring the lone dancer. When the music “drops,” the video cuts to everyone in the room dancing basically just any way they want, though it typically involves a lot of gyrating, hip thrusting and a variety of masks, costumes and other props. The accompanying music is by US artist Baauer—and depending on whom you ask—the initial video was posted in early February by a group of young men in Australia, or it was posted by these guys somewhere else.
In reality, the Harlem Shake in its first form was a dance that characterized the New York neighborhood of the same name in the 1980s. This information aside, the modern day Harlem Shake has taken off at lightning speed with hundreds of new versions posted to YouTube every day. The craze is starting to wind down in the US and the West, though the fad has not come without a few brushes with the authorities: in the US, the FAA is investigating an incident which involves posted Harlem Shake video that appeared to show the crazy dancing taking place on a plane that was in flight. There have been reports of students being suspended for filming their own versions in school. In Australia, a group of miners were fired and reportedly banned from all mine sites after authorities discovered their Harlem Shake video, which they apparently shot while on their work site—in a mine! One of the most popular versions, with over 50 million YouTube views, was created by members of the Norwegian Army who are featured dancing around in the snow after breaking formation.
While the meme may be wearing out its popularity in the West, it is just beginning to get going in the Middle East: Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices (A VOA powered initiative) has compiled a list of Middle Eastern countries where the dance craze has gone viral, from Algeria to Yemen. But it is in Tunisia and Egypt—the hotbeds of the Arab Spring—where the Harlem Shake meme is taking on new meaning. The dance seems to have morphed into a form of social protest against the respective governments who have, in response, cracked down hard on some of those who created the videos.
In Tunisia, where there has been a split between secularists and ultra conservative Salafis since the fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over 2 years ago, a group of students at a high school in Tunis filmed a version of the Harlem Shake in which some students danced in their underwear, dressed up as Salafis with fake beards, or as Gulf emirs (among other costumes). The provocative nature of the dancing caught the attention of the Salafis, who decried the video as indecent. Minister of Education Abdellatid Abid, angrily denounced the video as indecent also, and ordered an investigation of the school’s principal. Skirmishes have erupted elsewhere in Tunisia as conservative Muslims attempt to stop youth from partaking in other Harlem Shake videos—with one student in coastal Mahdia purportedly receiving 12 stitches on his head after being beaten in one such clash.
A video linked to the original Tunis high school Harlem Shake video is titled “The Harlem Shake: Attacked by Salafis Edition” which appears to show a schoolyard where students are about to do the dance, and are then attacked by Salafis. In some of the skirmishes the Salafists have reportedly shouted at the students “Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israelis, and you are dancing.”
Only a few days ago a mass protest/Harlem Shake dance was planned in Tunis in front of the Ministry of Education. Thousands said they would participate, but the rainy weather appeared to have dampened the turnout, with only a few dozen students taking part in the protest with shouts of “freedom, freedom.” In a Washington Post report, students stated their own reasons for participating in the dance: one said the dance represented a way to vent and take a break from the stresses of the past year, and another reported that he wanted to take advantage of the newfound freedoms thanks to the revolution after years of harassment and repression. In additional reporting on the mass protest, a student said he was there to make the minister of education understand that he cannot stop the dancing – “This policy of suppressing rebellious spirit is no longer acceptable.” The initial video and the backlash have only served to produce even more Harlem Shake videos, and the meme and its meaning continue to flourish in Tunisia.
In Egypt, where there are strict public indecency laws, four pharmaceutical students were arrested after posting a video of themselves doing the dance semi-naked in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood. Students in Egypt have also posted videos of the Harlem Shake being done in front of the Pyramids (it is unclear whether the Pyramid video is the same one that resulted in the arrests).
Following the arrests of the four students, somewhere between 70 and 400 protesters showed up outside
the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to stage a Harlem Shake dance/protest. The dance was organized to be a peaceful protest of the ruling party and President Mohammed Morsi, and a lighthearted moment in an Egypt that is still reeling from its transformation. A unique twist in the Egypt story: a member of the Muslim Brotherhood created his own Harlem Shake video in response to the protest, in which he and other people wear masks featuring the faces of opposition party members. The video has apparently since been taken down.
What is particularly interesting about the way the Harlem Shake is being used in Egypt, is that the protest outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters was organized by a newly formed group called “The Satiric Revolutionary Struggle” which has
its own Facebook page with over 1,000 likes. The Verge reports that the group was started by 17 year old Mahmoud Tabei and three of his friends so that they could work on making political statements through humorous demonstrations. Tabei said that he had seven friends who died in the Arab Spring violence in Egypt and that another of the aims of the newly formed group is to raise morale and “refresh minds.” The next event the group is working on is a marathon that will start at the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (the party of deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak), and end at the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters. The Verge writes that “it’s a path meant to symbolize Egypt’s political trajectory from Mubarak to Morsi. Its message, according to Tabei, should be clear: ‘They are the same. Nothing has changed.’”
So what does all of this mean for cultural public diplomacy? It appears that the Harlem Shake meme was an inadvertent export of Western culture (particularly U.S. culture) that hit the Middle East and transformed from something that was initially fun and lighthearted, into something more meaningful and useful to politically active youth, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.
Can the US government or an NGO or another some other PD actor harness the power and popularity of the meme in any way? Perhaps a rapid response digital media team at the State Department could message words of support for the dancers citing freedom of expression? It certainly doesn’t look good for the either the Tunisian government or the Egyptian government to crack down violently on the dancers, so that is something that the State department could monitor and then respond to if necessary.
It could also be true that this type of super fast social media movement is impossible to control or use in any way for cultural diplomacy. It seems that in the ever important short/mid/long term goals of public diplomacy, and particularly cultural diplomacy, that this sort of meme presents an “instant” goal of some sort—something that can be recognized and addressed.
Where a real opportunity lies is with the newly formed Satiric Revolutionary Struggle group founded by an Egyptian teenager and his friends. This is a group with robust backing on Facebook, and something that could be assisted with support from the USG directly, perhaps through a program that brings comedy troupes or political satirists from the US to Cairo to teach the group some of the “tricks of the trade.” Or an NGO or other organization could reach out to the group and show them similar skills they could use, as well as other popular media they could use in order to satirize the government. It is obviously still quite risky to criticize the government in Egypt, so the newly formed group should also receive training on how to avoid conflict, etc.
Perhaps the most important point to consider in this case is the US and its foreign policy remain largely unpopular in much of the Middle East—so any overt help given by the USG could be outright rejected, or worse: it could be seen as foreign meddling likely to result in a total shut down of whatever initiative it was trying to assist with in the first place. Thus the name of the game is “indirectness” – assistance in the form of things the group may actually want or need (e.g. a good piece of technological equipment to assist with video production or editing).
Sure, the Harlem Shake is probably not a highlight of US culture that the government would choose to export: it is not a gem like jazz or classical dance or paintings. But it is something that has a wide appeal to a huge youth population in the still evolving Middle East, and it is something the USG could potentially use to provide “helping” public diplomacy.
Kate Shriver is a graduate student in the International Affairs program at the George Washington University with a focus on the Middle East.
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.