Cultural Diplomacy in the Commonwealth


4I am fortunate – well, I think that’s the right word – to serve in two Commonwealth roles:

  • since 2004, I have served as a Commonwealth Scholarship Commissioner, and since 2009 have had the privilege of being Chair of the Commission; and
  • in 2011 I was appointed as Chief Executive Officer, and since 2012 have been Secretary General, of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation.

At times, this gives rise to interesting comparisons – being Chair of one Commonwealth organisation, whilst Chief Executive of another!

Rarely, though, do I write specifically about the Commonwealth.  There is so much that could be written!  One day, I must definitely write something substantial on the subject.  However, an invitation to give a lecture on cultural diplomacy in the Commonwealth for the Academy for Cultural Diplomacy at the Romanian Cultural Centre in London on 10th July provided an opportunity to present some of my thoughts on the subject.

This identified six main challenges facing cultural diplomacy in the Commonwealth:

  1. A failure to understand each other – emphasising the immense cultural diversity that exists in the Commonwealth, as well as the remaining arrogance of so many of the privileged across the Commonwealth
  2. The dominance of an economic mentality – highlighting a world driven by simplistic economic imperatives, and the need to recalibrate our values to focus more on social and cultural agendas
  3. A damaging emphasis on the individual rather than the community – to be balanced by the need to reassert our responsibilities to each other rather than simply human rights
  4. The need for wise leadership – and the reticence of the metropolitan power.
  5. Failures of the international aid system – that have left many Commonwealth countries both poor and also focusing on economic growth rather than how to address inequality
  6. A lack of understanding of the huge potential of the Commonwealth – including its many shared values, its basis on Common Law, and the fact that its members are drawn from every continent.

In overcoming these challenges I suggested six practical ways forward:

  1. The need to focus more on ways of developing shared understandings – focusing especially on shared cultural values and the critical importance of agendas for peace
  2. A recognition of mutuality of interests and benefits – focusing on common interests and mutual benefits rather than competitive advantage
  3. It does not just happen – it is essential to spend considerable effort in fostering a coherent diplomatic strategic vision
  4. Recognition of the costs of cultural diplomacy – and therefore the need to quantify the very considerable long term mutual benefits of such diplomacy
  5. The potential for digital technologies to support new social networks and relationships between citizens and states.
  6. Balancing diversity with uniformity – and the need for clarity of cultural rather than simply economic agendas.

In conclusion, I emphasised that:

  • we must reassert the value of cultural diplomacy
  • we need to explain more clearly why the Commonwealth really matters
  • the common-weal is ultimately more important than individual success
  • we must invest more in the youth of the Commonwealth
  • we need to explore innovative ways through which ICTs can help foster shared values within the Commonwealth

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