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.