Cultural Diplomacy, in the field, public diplomacy

New Wine in Old Bottles: Relationships in Public Diplomacy

Participants at Ground-breaking Pakistan-India Bloggers’ Conference Hosted by U.S. Consulates in Karachi and Lahore


Take Five’s blog post series on Public Diplomacy in the Field — Part Two

Background:  As a State Department Fellow at GWU’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC), I’ve observed that a frequently missing piece of the academic puzzle is concrete discussion and analysis of what public diplomats actually do in the field.  And considering that U.S. public diplomacy remains significantly field-driven, this feels like a major gap. 

Thus a blog series is born.

As noted last week, the series showcases current field reporting highlights in U.S. public diplomacy work – through the lens of key PD principles and themes. Today’s theme is Building Relationships.  Last week’s was Opinion Leaders. Future topics will include: Messaging Creatively; Crisis Zones; Arts as Communication; and more. 

As always, readers, I welcome your interest and feedback.


New Wine in Old Bottles: Relationships in Public Diplomacy

Academic proponents of the “new public diplomacy” emphasize relationship building over the one-way messaging approach perceived to have dominated public diplomacy in the past. “The new public diplomacy moves away from — to put it crudely — peddling information to foreigners and keeping the foreign press at bay, towards engaging with foreign audiences” notes Jan Melissen (p. 13).  RS Zaharna, in “Mapping Out a Spectrum of Public Diplomacy Initiatives” (here, p. xx)  argues that “within [a] relationship framework, education and cultural exchange programs, cultural institutes and cultural relations represent a category of initiatives that use culture as a vehicle for building relationships.”

Meanwhile, Mette Lending (Section I) takes the broad view that “cultural exchange is not only ‘art’ and ‘culture’ but also communicating a country’s thinking, research, journalism and national debate,” and “the traditional areas of cultural exchange become part of a new type of international communication and the growth of ‘public diplomacy’ becomes a reaction to the close connection between cultural, press and information activities, as a result of new social, economic and political realities.”   Finally, from Melissen again (p 22), “…the new emphasis on public diplomacy confirms the fact that the familiar divide between cultural and information activities is being eradicated.”

There is much to consider in the above concepts, and even more so in the detailed elaboration of these  ideas that all three scholars and many others have brought to discussions of the “new” public diplomacy.

One caveat, however, is that these ideas are presented as new prescriptions for action, whereas the U.S. — perhaps unlike most European states — has long intermeshed its international information programs with cultural diplomacy, its messaging efforts with relationship building, and its arts exchanges with an emphasis on civil society development.  Thus, at least to this veteran PD officer, the “new public diplomacy” seems perhaps more like a fully-developed ‘Platonic Ideal’ of what we have long practiced, rather than something qualitatively new.

Nevertheless, it is certainly true that the 21st Century has intensified the importance of bringing a relational, interactive, mutually productive approach to international affairs, and specifically to public diplomacy.  As Joseph Nye explains in his seminal 2004 work Soft Power (p. 4-5), “[On the level of]  transnational issues like terrorism, international crime, climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases, power is widely distributed and chaotically organized among state and nonstate actors. … [This is the set of issues that is now intruding into the world of grand strategy.”  And Brian Hocking (in Melissen 1999, p 31) had previously characterized the “growing symbiosis between state and non-state activities as ‘catalytic diplomacy’ in which political entities act in coalitions rather than relying on their individual resources.” 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also cites such developments, noting that “we are living in what I call the Age of Participation. Economic, political, and technological changes have empowered people everywhere to shape their own destinies in ways previous generations could never have imagined.”  And the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft plan elaborates, explaining that “the U.S. is responding to shifts in international relations by … complementing traditional foreign policy tools with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft that fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world.”

It is in this context that Take Five continues our series on U.S. public diplomacy in the field, with the following examples from recent months – highlights distributed by the Office of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine (noted with *).

They are grouped according to specific concepts drawn from the scholarly works mentioned above, with the goal not only of showing how “new public diplomacy” principles are already being put into practice, but also of generating thinking on how PD could be even better informed by academia’s powerful and  insightful ideas.

In other words, how the “new wine” of relational thinking can fill up the “old bottles” of long-valued program tools to create 21st Century public diplomacy with an exceptional bouquet.

1) “Public diplomacy builds on trust and credibility, and it often works best with a long horizon.  It is, however, realistic to aspire to influencing the milieu factors that constitute the psychological and political environment in which attitudes and policies towards other countries are debated.”  (Melissen 2007, p. 15)

* Ambassador Eisen Marches in Prague Pride Parade and Delivers Remarks:  Ambassador Eisen and a group from the U.S. Embassy marched in the 2nd annual Pride Parade in Prague on August 18, 2012.  Parade participants walked from Wenceslas Square to Střelecký Island accompanied by floats with music and dancers. This event supported Embassy Prague’s goals to promote tolerance and protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights.  Ambassador Eisen took the opportunity to emphasize that “one of the many reasons why relations between the Czech Republic and the United States have flourished over the past century is because of our countries’ shared values regarding human rights.”

* Historic Encounter between Indigenous Peoples of the USA and Paraguay:  Public Affairs Section Asuncion hosted a Native American dance group from Arizona, the Yellow Bird Apache Dance Productions.  The group met with Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) alumni and their indigenous communities in Paraguay. In partnership with the Ministry of Education’s Indigenous Schools Department, the group traveled across Paraguay to meet, sing and dance with the Enxlet, Nivacle, Western Guarani and Pai-Tavytera communities. They also met with the governors of two provinces who welcomed their presence and encouraged more outreach to their indigenous populations.  The visit provided some moving encounters between the Original Peoples of North and South America that broke down barriers, built bridges and encouraged development initiatives.

 * Art Without Artificial Boundaries: Embassy Celebrates Freedom of Artistic Expression: More than 300 musicians, filmmakers, photographers, artists, designers, actors and other guests gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on July 11 to celebrate freedom of artistic expression.  This annual Embassy music festival provides talented Belarusian musicians an opportunity to perform despite restrictions imposed due to their political views or social activism.  This year’s event featured, in addition to musical groups of various genres, several artistic exhibitions and showcased a documentary about the challenges that Belarusian musicians and other artistic personalities continue to face.  Such restrictions are “incomprehensible for a country in the center of Europe in the third millennium,” noted Chargé d’Affaires Michael Scanlan.

* Positive Coverage of Cairo ‘Open Mic’ Event:  At least five television stations and newspapers covered an ‘Open Mic’ sexual harassment awareness event at the U.S. Embassy Information Resource Center in Egypt last week.  More than 80 people from different backgrounds and ages discussed harassment on Cairo’s streets and at the work place, as well as solutions.  Both women and men spoke courageously, giving personal context to the growing problem and demonstrating the need for change.  Participants expressed an interest in future cooperation with the embassy on the issue, and the Facebook event page became a discussion board on which the dialogue continued.


2)  An intermediate-advanced “second tier” approach involves programs that “encompass social groupings such as institutions, communities, or societies. … The benefit of integrating foreign participants at this level is that not only do they take partial ownership of the program, but they can provide valuable cultural knowledge and indigenous connections.” (Zaharna, p. 94)

* Smithsonian Spark!Lab Opens in Ukraine:  On September 5 Ambassador John T. Tefft opened the Smithsonian-Lemelson Center’s Spark!Lab, a month-long exhibit at the Art Arsenal Museum (Mystetskyi Arsenal) in Kyiv supported by a Public Affairs Section grant.  Smithsonian-Lemelson Center Deputy Director Jeff Brody and Ukrainian Ombudsman for Children’s Rights Yuri Pavlenko also participated in the opening.  This is the first international exhibit of Spark!Lab, which encourages kids to conceive, design, build and develop their inventions in an interactive laboratory.  Over 200 educators, students and young volunteers were on hand for the opening, which was covered by major television stations.  Thousands of students are expected to visit the exhibit, which is staffed by volunteers from local universities who are trained by Lemelson Center education specialists. Spark! Lab is the Public Diplomacy contribution to the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission’s Science and Technology Working Group.

* Consulate Istanbul Hosts Iftar for the Neighborhood:  Approximately 500 people joined the U.S. Consul General, the Sarıyer Mayor, several Sarıyer City Council members, neighborhood muftis and imams, and American Consulate families for an Iftar on August 15.  The dinner received praise in local media and by Mission Turkey leadership as one of its best public diplomacy events, demonstrating U.S. respect for Turkish culture and thanks to the Consulate’s neighbors.

* Ambassador and American Rabbi Meet Young Muslims in Cameroon:  Ambassador Jackson addressed members of the Cameroon Muslim Students Union (CAMSU), the most influential Muslim youth organization in the country, at their annual conference in Douala.  … [T]he Embassy has had relations with CAMSU for over a decade and its president is a recent International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alum.  The Embassy also supported the visit of Rabbi Abraham Ingber, Founding Director of Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University in Cincinnati, as a speaker at the conference.  Rabbi Ingber was invited to the conference by CAMSU president Ismail Boyomo, who met Ingber during his participation in the 2012 IVLP program on Religious Tolerance and Interfaith Dialogue.


3) “[C]ulture does not appear to be the only vehicle nor do cultural programs constitute the most sophisticated relationship-building strategies.”  (Zaharna, p. 86)

* TechWomen Mentorship Program Commences in San Francisco:  From across the Middle East and North Africa, 41 women leaders in technology arrived in California on September 5, to begin a five-week professional mentorship program with their American counterparts.  Professional mentors come from over thirty technology companies in Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco area including Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Oracle, which hosted an orientation for the group.

* TechCamp Launches in Senegal:  Embassy Dakar Public Affairs and Economic Sections helped launch the first-ever global TechCamp in Africa.  After an opening reception with remarks by Ambassador Lukens and tech guru Marieme Jamme, TechCamp took off for two packed days of interactive sessions around mobile agriculture, or “mAgriculture.” Participants interacted with 71 different agricultural non-governmental organizations (NGO) and learned from 20 “technologists,” including 10 international trainers. Agriculture is crucial to Senegal’s development.  87% of the population owns a mobile device, while only 20% have direct access to the Internet.  Getting the NGOs to learn about and engage in mAgriculture can propel Senegal’s agricultural development. TechCamp gave the Public Affairs Section the opportunity to engage with new groups of young entrepreneurs and to showcase Senegal as a leading partner with the U.S. in high tech solutions to economic development.

* U.S. Embassy Brings Google Scientists to Brasilia: Proving that science is the international language of cool, young computer scientists from Google pulled in a crowd of 400 students at Brasilia’s Marista High School for an interactive presentation entitled “You Can Do Computer Science!”  U.S. Embassy Brasilia and its IIP-supported Information Resource Center sponsored both programs.  Just a few years out of college themselves, the Google scientists provided students with a great example of opportunities available to youth while demonstrating the role science can play in public diplomacy outreach.  The scientists also spoke at the Brasilia Science Corner, a joint project between U.S. Embassy Brasilia and the Brazilian National Council for Technological and Scientific Development.


4) Such programs also include “non-political networking schemes” — in which “PD officers in essence become network weavers.   Non-political networking schemes build relationships between like-minded individuals or institutions working on a variety of areas such as science, health, environment, or literacy promotion.”  (Zaharna, p. 95)

* Jerusalem Conference Connects Israeli Musicians with American Experts:  Embassy Tel Aviv connected Israeli musicians to the dynamic U.S. music market by bringing U.S. music industry experts to participate in various panels at the multi-day Jerusalem Music Conference.  Local and foreign professionals and artists enjoyed an interactive panel on the U.S. music industry and trends moderated by Cultural Affairs Officer Michele Dastin-van Rijn.  The conference, modeled on Austin’s SXSW, created a unique platform for networking and collaboration between Jewish and Arab musicians.

* South Asian Alumni Discuss Climate Change:  On August 29, Embassy Islamabad hosted a multi-country digital video conference for alumni of U.S. government exchange programs in order to engage across borders on environmental issues.  Alumni from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal discussed drought, solid waste, and potable drinking water.  There was a consensus that the younger generation should promote regional cooperation on environmental problems, and that alumni should work to raise awareness among youth.  Other suggestions included sharing data and technology, updating regional cooperation documents, increased dialogue among environmental professionals, the mobilization of civil society, promoting policy on climate change, and the participation of Afghanistan as a full member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation rather than in an observer capacity.

* Making a Difference for Women Entrepreneurs:  When IIP recently promoted non-governmental organization Ashoka’s “She Will Innovate” competition, a small business owner in Colombia connected with an Ecuadorian university’s entrepreneur club, which offered its web design and social media expertise for free.  Now the owner will soon have a website, thanks to IIP’s Spanish-language Facebook community for aspiring entrepreneurs, Iniciativa Emprende.

* YAL Alumnus Spreads the Word on Youth Entrepreneurship:  Zimbabwean Young African Leader (YAL) Limbikani Makani, who participated in the recent Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., led a region-wide CO.NX-facilitated discussion on July 18. Makani, Founder and managing editor of TechZim, shared what he learned from his Mentoring Partnership with BlueKai, and urged African youth on-line to become leaders and leverage their innovative skills to boost the region’s economies. More than 240 online viewers from 17 countries tuned in to the live program. Embassies Accra and Zimbabwe and Information Resources Center Abidjan hosted viewing parties.


5) “[C]ultural relations as a wider concept now also include new priorities, such as the promotion of human rights and the spread of democratic values, notions such as good governance, and the role of the media in civil society.”  (Melissen p. 22)

* Embassy Sana’a brings “In Happy Yemen” Cartoon Series to Thousands of Children:  Embassy Sana’a finalized plans with the Yemeni children’s rights non-governmental organization the Shawthab Foundation for the distribution of 50,000 DVD copies of the cartoon series “In Happy Yemen” to schools and youth groups throughout Yemen, and for broadcast on Yemeni TV.  The series focuses on civic education themes including resolving conflict through peaceful means, with the objective of enabling vulnerable youth in Yemen to make informed, practical, and positive life choices.  Public Affairs Section Sana’a is also working with Shawthab to distribute Embassy-donated backpacks and school supplies to needy children.

* Building a Network of Change-makers in Nepal:  More than 40 young leaders participated in “Generation Change” programs sponsored by the Office of the Special Representative for Muslim Communities in Kathmandu and Nepalgunj (once the hub of the Maoist insurgency).  The program unites a global network of young Muslims working on community-based service projects, building bridges between people of different backgrounds and faiths, and countering extremist narratives.  Pakistani-American trainer Wajahat Ali guided participants in developing leadership, public speaking, goal-setting, and teamwork skills.  Participants developed ideas to combat educational inequity, pollution and climate change, drug abuse, corruption, and unemployment. Selected participants will receive Public Affairs Section grants to make their projects a reality.

* Consulate General Jerusalem’s “Wise Leader Summer Camp” Graduates 24 Youth:  On July 24, Public Affairs Section Jerusalem held a graduation ceremony for 24 participants in “The Wise Leader Summer Camp.”  The camp guided participants through the process of creating a youth government, writing a youth-based constitution, and representing the needs of young people without being directly involved in any party.  The concept of the camp was developed by ACCESS [English language] and Yes [youth exchange] Program alumnus Abdallah Khalifah, who presented his idea at the Alumni Networking and Engagement Seminar in Jericho last April.  The Royal Industrial Trading Company in Hebron hosted the ceremony.

* Caucasus Youth Council Seeks to Influence Policy Debate:  An ECA alumni grant enabled forty Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) alumni and young leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to gather in Bazaleti, Georgia for a four-day workshop.  The alumni established the Caucasus Youth Council (CYC) to lay the foundation for future cooperation based on the principles of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. The resolutions adopted at the CYC General Assembly will be sent to the South Caucasus governments to be considered when developing policy.

* ECA Arts Envoy Encourages Women’s Empowerment in NepalArts Envoy and mural artist James Burns of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program visited Kathmandu, from August 5-14, and conducted workshops and lectures on mural-making for over 200 local artists.  Also, 80-plus local residents participated in two days of “open painting” to help complete a public mural connected to Tewa, a philanthropic organization dedicated to empowering young Nepali women.

* ECA’s Institute for Women’s Leadership Broadens Horizons: Nineteen undergraduate women from Egypt, India, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan shared their impressions of the United States and the role of women in a democracy with Assistant Secretary Stock on July 27.  The women just concluded five weeks in the U.S as part of a Study in the U.S. Institute on women’s leadership. The students outlined their plans to become leaders in their communities after they return home.

* Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders Feature New Media in Journalism:  On July 20, Assistant Secretary Ann Stock addressed student leader participants in the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on New Media in Journalism.  These student leaders came from Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Palestinian Territories, and Yemen, and participated in a program at Washington State University.  SUSI programs span 5-6 weeks and include academic study, leaderships development, and community engagement.





  1. Pingback: Partnering with the Smithsonian: Seriously Amazing « Take Five - October 24, 2012

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