Lambert Mbom

Three days of strategic planning, systematic sharing, coordinated networking and intelligent brainstorming marked the summit on citizen diplomacy organized by the Iowa based US Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD).

If one indicator of the magnitude of an event is the grandeur of the site hosting the event, then the summit etched its mark in excellence, by sheer dint of the humongous Grand Hyatt Hotel, where it lodged.

Over 600 people from 41 states and 39 countries gathered in the federal city at the Grand Hyatt to brainstorm on the theme: America’s greatest asset: American citizens partnering with the world to address global challenges of the 21st century. Such global challenges as the Environment, Poverty and Disease, Human Rights, Cultural engagement, Security (food, US and Global finance) were the major talking points.
The conference format was first a plenary session then break up sessions, which were either roundtables or task force. In all, there were 5 plenary sessions, 11 Task forces and 7 Roundtables.

In a sense, it was at the Closing Plenary that things came together as the seeming different and cacophonic asymmetries carefully pieced into a beautiful mosaic.

Prefatory remarks by Ann Schodde President & CEO USCCD set the tone for the ensuing discussions. She described the conference report just about to be released as “reflections of the work of outstanding leaders”. Coming at the end of the first decade of the second millennium, USCCD set forth a new challenge for the next decade namely: Double the number of Citizen Diplomats. The ultimate goal is to ignite a fundamental mindset change in the way we think of selves as American citizens. Drawing from an anecdotal paternal age-old admonition, she had received and kept jealously which advised that, we must make our home the center but never the boundary, Ann gave a distinct context to the work and mission of citizen diplomacy. We must begin to think globally and not only as citizens of the most democratic country. We have an earth to protect and not just a country.

To flesh out the recommendations of the conference were two seasoned erstwhile career diplomats, namely Honorable Ambassador Mark Johnson, founder, World Affairs Council of Montana and Honorable John Menzies, Dean, Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University. Honorable Menzeis availed of one of Churchill’s famous lines: Where we are today is certainly not the end but the end of the beginning. In a dialogal exchange, they delineated the following recommendations:
– Call for a global summit for citizen diplomacy in 2012 and US Center for Citizen Diplomacy should convene its stakeholders to make this happen;
– Explore and exploit opportunities for partnership by approaching and drawing in to the forum multilateral bodies like the UN, the EU, OECD, North Atlantic Council;
– Create outreach opportunities with faith-based organizations, youth, women and local states;
a) Outreach to the muslim world is particularly crucial and may be if given a similar opportunity like was given to Europe in the post World War II era especially given that in some of these countries citizen diplomacy is the only available diplomacy and should be vigorously exploited;
b) Engage the young people and encourage every young person going to college to take a check book and a passport;
c) A major stakeholder in this venture is the different states with whom partnerships must be established;

– Given “technology is the ontology of the culture” and holds an incredible opportunity, citizen diplomacy must be incorporate these new social media to stay connected and on the issues. The creation of digital communities is crucial.

– On development assistance – There was the recognition of the incredible role of NGOs and myriad of opportunities in the private sector. Participatory development with respectful involvement of recipients is a key principle to enhance.

– Entrepreneurial skills – businesses should do more in training, mentoring, leveraging business skills and best practices to promote global engagement.

– There was the dicey issue of immigration as a key component to the challenges facing citizen diplomacy. First the US must become culturally sensitive especially at Ports of Entry with its treatment of citizens of other countries coming to the US; then in its issuance of visas, even though progress had been made, a lot still needs to be done. If American citizens need to be safe abroad, Americans must show the example here. There was a clarion call for major immigration reform and not just anecdotal changes. There is the acute need for profound policy change.

– On Education, the stress was on the need for education reforms. There was an outcry that Americans are not being trained to be global citizens. The foundation of this must be laid in K – 12. Participants decried the lack of global competitiveness within classrooms, the sad expungement of social Studies and foreign language programs in many schools especially poor performing and/or cash-strapped schools. There was the tall call for the globalization of school outcomes.

Hon. Johnson ended with these sagacious words: There will be no foreign relations without any individual relations of trust. There individual relations of trust carry the weight of all relations; while Hon Menzies concluded with these words:There is only reason for doing something. All the rest are for doing nothing. The one reason to be involved then in this project is because it is the one thing to do. The greatest enemy to progress is inertia and not the lack of resources. Never take no as a given. Dare to try. Resist the inertia to do nothing.

George Atallah, Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, NFL Players Association then took to the rostrum. In his prefatory remarks, he emphasized that Sports in general has a global outreach as well as invaluable lessons for citizen diplomats. Such indispensable attitudes as team work, dedication, sacrifice and hard work stand out . NFL players are global citizens too and go beyond the pitch. The famed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees beyond the quarterbacking has a foundation Brees Dream foundation which is adorably an example of citizen diplomacy at work. Oakland raiders cornerback American born Nigerian Nnamdi Asomugha’s foundation Asomugha’s foundation impacting youth in the US and underprivileged orphans and widows in Africa through education and empowerment is yet another example. Most people identity NFL players by their names and numbers but now they need to be identified as persons, Mr. Atallah continued; USCCD provides this platform and hence going forward, NFL would collaborate with USCCD to have players as citizen diplomats.

Martin Davidson, CEO of the British Council, piggybacking on the sports analogy intimated that Sports is one of the most extraordinary forms of communication. The British Council, he revealed, engaged with USCCD 18 months ago in order to understand better, what is happening in the US and to bring an international perspective to the game – on laced with British Council’s global presence. With the USCCD, the British Council has a shared vision and a shared endeavor, Martin noted.

He reemphasized the need for a world forum for citizen diplomacy in 2012 and not just a vague and vain hope for cooperation.

Such a forum will share best practices and showcase best experiences, ways of funding, how to cooperate with multilateral and bilateral partners, how to use new media and engage young people.

For this to come through there is the necessity for active support of governments and also must encompass all around the world, be real and foster genuine interaction.

Above all else, such a forum must be committed to be a global reassertion of people – people engagement of the world’s issues.

To this end, he announced the commitment of Hon John Menzies – Dean of Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations, who had generously offered the campus of Seton Hall University for strategic planning meetings. They will coordinate an International think-tank to bring to fruition this conference.