Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts


What makes China's Public Diplomacy effective

            India made considerable progress in Public Diplomacy in the last decade and we have extensively chronicled that in this blog. Soft power seems to have become a mainstream consideration for the policy wonks of South Block. This is a worldwide trend, a natural consequence of the media revolution that we are witnessing. Even closed countries like China are now trying to reach out to audiences overseas. This is where it gets interesting. How does India public diplomacy compare with the Chinese initiatives?

                Lately Indian soft power has been exerting its influence in China through Bollywood with the success of films like Dangal. This even led to some Chinese commentators to opine that when it comes to Public Diplomacy India has a huge advantage because of Bollywood’s popularity world over. While cultural diplomacy has always been the India’s forte, but we are not sure if it in any way confers a huge strategic advantage to India. 

            This blog has often talked about how it is important for Public Diplomacy to contribute to strategic foreign policy goals – the key question that needs to be answered is “How do we want the influence we generate to serve national priorities?” Looking at Public Diplomacy from this lens China might be miles ahead! There have been lot of initiatives by China which successfully garnered influence for China internationally – the love for Chinese food not included.

Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

               Exchange diplomacy is where China seems to be doing very well. More specifically educational exchange. The Chinese leadership are beginning to view ‘Education’ as a key driving force for the country’s future development. While the number of students and universities have increased, China’s educational sector is now increasingly marketing itself as an attractive destination to students, faculty and researchers abroad. 

                  The number of international students in China have increased manifold and is close to 500,000 now as per China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We need to see this also in the context of the number of students China sends to universities abroad every year. Apart from opening universities to international faculty, China is also introducing English language programs at Tsinghua University and also at Peking University. Coupled with initiatives such as the Yidan Prize, China seems to be on track to make education a strategic component in its soft power arsenal.  

               Prof. Nicolas Cull from the Center of Public Diplomacy in the University of Southern California, in 2009 had correctly highlighted the strength of China’s exchange programs in his testimony before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Educational exchange programs foster relations and build a network of influence that is generational. Closer to home, if one considers the affinity of Indians for United States, a lot of credit would go to American universities and educational exchange programs. This creates a relationship that is very organic and inherently strong as it involves cultural immersion and experiential learning. For the time that you are abroad as a student, you get to become ‘the other.’ As a country that boasts of a formidable intellectual tradition, India can do wonders to become the ‘thought leader’ of the world, like it was for most of human history. But we need to close the gap with China first and, Bollywood cannot accomplish that.

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash


No discussions in India on US State Department's 'Country Report on Terrorism'

       The US State Department’s ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ received considerable news coverage in India media last week. The reason being, the report's finding that India witnessed the third highest number of terrorist attacks in 2016, which is just behind Iraq and Afghanistan. To the surprise of many, Pakistan was behind India in the fourth position. Almost all media outlets in India carried this news. While the news was covered, discussions on the issue following the news were few and far between.

The report stated that India registered a total of 927 terror attacks in 2016 with the highest percentage, not surprisingly, were from Jammu & Kashmir (19%) which is fast sliding towards becoming the latest haven for Islamic fundamentalists in South Asia.

The country reports on terrorism can be found here.

          This is not something new. Different research findings in the past, including that of the Global Terrorism Index have consistently put India among the top 10 countries most affected by terrorism. While such reports and consequent reportage in news media is a more recent phenomenon, the scourge of terror has been mainstream news in India since 1989. If there is a country that can be considered a repository of knowledge on dealing with terrorism, it is India - not something to be proud of but - this is how it has been.

           While the release of the 'Country report on Terrorism' received good visibility in news media, it was disappointing to note that there were not many follow up informed discussions on the topic. Developments such as these are great proof points for the Indian state to strengthen it's own point of view in the international fora with regards to terrorism. We haven't seen it happen yet. It is also of strategic advantage on issues pertaining to internationalization of bilateral disputes such as that of Kashmir. Indian media, can be a great ally, given its dynamism, reach and influence worldwide to give shape to this debate. 

Hopefully soon!


Of social media, anti-rationalism and low expectations

 'Social Media Detox' is good. I say this to all those of you who checked on me to figure what happened to my blog and where was I to be found on social media. If you write on a topic that is not necessarily mainstream, the 'noise' in social media and the content blitzkrieg, indeed gets to you.

We tend to lose sense of what's important and what's not, what's relevant and what's not.

photograph of Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine
Recently,  I got a taste of what I was missing as my reading habits became increasingly 'social'. It was on a long flight back to India where I happened to pick up the TIME magazine as I settled on my seat after dinner. Years ago I was a regular reader of the magazine and was now shocked to see now how much the magazine had shrunk!

It almost seemed like a pamphlet, the last few pages of a news magazine trying to hold its own against social media onslaught.

I don't really know how the magazine is doing in its digital format, but I as read through the stories, news analysis and updates it was the magazine I always knew - solid research, impeccable reporting, depth of analysis but most importantly stellar news judgement and news selection. The role of an editorial team in planning and presenting content was but obvious.

It's not the digital bit that I am wary about, but the social bit.

Social media not only makes us publishers of our content but also offers us more choices in terms of what we read. But our reading habits and information gathering skills again, sometimes, are limited by our awareness or the lack of it, exposure, biases and habits. We may not always make the best choices in what we read and sometimes, as I realized while reading the magazine on my flight back, it's good to have professionals to help keep our focus on topics that are important. We need our editors and reporters back and find a way to keep them at the job they do for us and not let the social media deluge take over completely.

The competitive noise of social media has its own place but is definitely not an answer to everything. I leave you with this editorial from the The Washington Post: The Dumbing of America, by Susan Jacoby that has interesting insights into how the proliferation of video content potentially affects how we make sense of our world.
"(We are) danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations."


4 tips for an effective outreach into India

"The new circumstances in which we are placed call for new words, new phrases, and for the transfer of old words to new objects"
- Thomas Jefferson 

This year’s been difficult for India. From economic policy paralysis, corruption of a scale unheard of earlier and a rapidly depreciating Rupee, it is not a very happy situation. Nonetheless, given the country’s strong institutional framework, its influence in South Asia, commitment to a democratic tradition, size of economy and size of population, attempts to engage with India (politically, socially, culturally or for business) will continue. Besides, India underwent a lot of changes in the last two decades and is a very different country today. 

For an effective communications outreach into India, remember to factor in the following:
I. AUDIENCE: Youth will be the primary drivers of your message. Find ways to engage with them on almost everything. According to the ‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills,’ a report published by IRIS Knowledge Foundation in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, every third person in an India city is a youth and by 2020 the median age of the country will be 29 years. See INDIAN YOUTH PORTAL of the Government of India :
IIMESSAGE: Localize your message and content for India; for each of its regions. India has a long tradition of assimilation and a composite culture. We like to give our own shape to stuff. Remember to package it audio visually, sometimes it helps to overcome barriers presented by linguistic diversity or illiteracy.
III. TONALITY: Aspiration is what it should represent. Irrespective of geography or socio economic standing. Here I would like to draw the approach of Harvard Professor Dominique Moisi’s much criticized work - “The Geopolitics of Emotion” - where he maps the world according to three primary emotions – hope, fear and humiliation.
 IVMEDIUM: Do not forget alternative media, the ubiquitous mobile phone and social co-creation. The mainstream press and journalists remain important but the monopoly over production of viewpoints is  broken and so is the monopoly over the medium. Also remember access to technology and media in India is often ‘informal’ – people without the means or know-how still manage to access through friends, family, community groups etc. See this excellent slideshare presentation below by Mohit Chhabra: 

      Indian digital consumer from Mohit Chhabra

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Why is Chappel whining again?

Greg Chappel today mutilated memories. Of a game, of victories, of celebrations, of a culture, of Australia. His disturbing comments on Indian psyche, Indian culture was uncalled for and coming from a sportsman - known primarily for physical prowess and 'effective hand-eye coordination' or something like that - reflected a lack of intellectual capacity. Unfortunately, his comments take us back to a time when we were discussing in India about 'White Australian' bias against people of color, including Indians. This was just after a spate of violence against Indians in Australia. Sons of Australia, it seems, rarely do their country proud. Maybe their parents would do well to exercise more control.

Chappel's dismissal of the colonial experience of India as something inconsequential was really alarming. 
"Poms really taught them how to keep their heads down"
This is Chappel's sense of history of one of the most brutalizing experiences in human history. The indigenous population of Australia too were victims. Of Chappel's ancestors. The British violated every principle of the rule of law and gentlemanly conduct they tom-tom about to colonize through craft, not might. They did it again, just before the Iraq war, shamelessly lying to the world. They only understood force, and blood; they did not understand non-violence. They left.

What does Chappel or Australian cricketers think is the ideal way for Indians to conduct themselves? What is their frame of reference? Who has given them the right to do it for us?Why should we? No, we will not sledge, no, we will not behave like juveniles in a cricketing field. Remember two of our most mild-mannered and gentlemanly cricketers crushed your team at Kolkata in 2001? Maybe its not required. Maybe its not the Indian way. We have won two World Cups, been the number one Test team, won the T20 World Cup, we have done it all following the Indian way. Why should we be like you? Why should your way be the only way? 

This actually smacks of aversive racism and an attempt to redefine the narrative. Trying to understand the native through your own prism and getting the 'other' to become like 'you' so that subjugation and superiority is complete. Yes Mr Chappel, British did that too and I am sure your ancestors did that in Australia, but hey it is 2012 not 1850. In your mind we are still the subject. You came on a civilizing mission as the coach of the Indian team only to realize that times have changed. Not on a professional assignment. Maybe there was a conspiracy against you, maybe you were being taken for a ride, but for you it was unfathomable that 'natives' do not listen to you anymore. I hope I am proven wrong, your remarks nonetheless, brings to my mind thoughts such as these. Of you, of Australia. It also brings to my mind an Australian verse. Yes, Australian,
No more woomera, no more boomerang,
No more playabout, no more the old ways.
Children of nature we were then,
No clocks hurrying crowds to toil.
Now I am civilized and work in the white way,
Now I have dress, now I have shoes:
‘Isn’t she lucky to have a good job!’
Better when I had only a dillybag.
Better when I had nothing but happiness
(*Noonuccal, ‘Then and Now’, in My People, (Milton, 1981), p. 91.)
When it comes to being respectful of cultures, Indian cricketers have behaved nearly impeccably in public glare, thanks to Indian parenting that Chappel scoffs at. Parents do and can teach a thing or two, including sensitivity and good behavior. Chappel apparently learnt nothing. Wonder what Chappel taught his kids?

Regarding the mental toughness of Indian cricketers, Chappel is very well familiar what it takes to make it to the final playing XI in a country of 1 billion, where everyone aspires to become a cricketer.  The sacrifices, heartbreaks, difficult playing conditions, lack of cricketing facilities, opaque systems - you have to really overcome all. Ask a Sehwag or a Munaaf Patel or an Irfan Pathan or a Dravid. They have all gone through that. I might be wrong, but I don't think any Australian cricketer can survive that. 

Isn't it time the Australian cricketing establishment clearly lay down rules of responsible conduct for current cricketers and ex-cricketers like Chappel, and, 'hammer' it into their heads (apparently they are all thick headed) that they need to behave responsibly because they represent Australia? 'Its just the Aussie way' doesn't help because Chappel's rants can be just dismissed as the 'Indian way' that he either takes or leaves but do not whine. Media loves the culture of sound bytes, do not feed them because they are only around until someone else comes up with a better one.

Chappel's book launch was a PR disaster for letting the press conference go out of control. India, today has a population of nearly 350 million English speaking middle class out of which even if there are 1 million  'readers,' that's a market you do not alienate. Indians are a proud lot when it comes to their culture and way of life and controversies like these can get you ink but trust me Mr Chappel, not the money. Should we call for a boycott of your book and exalt you to the status of a Rushdie? I don't know much about your writing abilities but what you have done is definitely Satanic. Have you, Mr Chappel, forgotten that the buyers of the world are now in India? Have you, Mr Chappel, forgotten that cricket and English language are two things we snatched away from your colonizing ancestors in England?

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


No Child Born To Die

I am currently involved in another advocacy project that aims to use social media to mobilize Indian citizens. This Right to Health campaign was inaugurated by acclaimed Indian actor Shabana Azmi, who is also the ambassador for the NGO, Save The Children that's running the campaign called "No Child Born To Die."

International NGOs seem to have more faith in the power of social media than most private sector companies. More than generating awareness, these campaigns are used mostly to build a soft pressure on the policymakers and government from the Indian middle class in urban areas. The No Child Born To Die campaign hopes to create a people's movement to demand better healthcare facilities for every mother and child in India by increasing the share of budget allocation for healthcare to 5% of GDP, from the current 1.1%.

The campaign runs on a webportal where one can sign up to show support for the cause. More the sign-ups the better it is. It will run parallel with a focused publicity campaign leading up to the Union budget 2012, demanding increased spend on healthcare by the Government of India. Last week, to give the campaign action a wider visibility among public and media in New Delhi, India, Save the Children showcased people’s support on a huge screen, 60 feet by 50 feet, mounted at the Statesman House, a landmark building, in the heart of New Delhi. This was a first of its kind stunt by an NGO in India.

Wall of Fame at Statesman House, New Delhi

The need for this campaign was felt given the following alarming statistics on healthcare in India:
  1. Every 20 seconds, a child is dying in India due to PREVENTABLE diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. 
  2. India has the highest number of children dying, more than anywhere in the world.
  3. These children are dying even before they are five years old. According to a report prepared by Save The Children, every year, 1.73 million children die in India even before the age of five. And nearly one million of them die within the first month of their life. 
  4. India ranks lowest in public healthcare spending. South Asian neighbors like Nepal & Bangladesh spend more than India on healthcare.
  5. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that all developing countries must allocate five per cent of GDP on health. India's current spend is only 1.2 per cent with a goal to increase it to 2.7 per cent by 2017.
Do support the cause.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Understanding the Indian Digital Consumer

I attended a talk recently by business analyst & strategy consultant, Mr Mohit Chhabra, (currently, Business Head at Skillment Edu) on the rise of the digital consumer in India. Mohit, who is also closely associated with TED gave his audience great insights on the digital revolution that is sweeping the country aided by the penetration of mobile phones in India. Contrary to the general perception that social media/digital platform is an urban phenomenon what emerged during the talk and discussions was that the growth of the digital medium in India will, in fact, be pushed by demand from rural India. According to Census projections of 2010, Government of India, there are 164 million households in rural India - 70% of the population - and this group loves their mobile phones!

There are 3 Indias according to Mohit:
  1. The Metropolitan India
  2. Rur-ban India
  3. Deep Rural India (the group that loves their mobile phones the most.)
In a really interesting example, it was demonstrated that while consumers in India rarely pay (or prefer to pay) for their own education but when it comes to entertainment, have no qualms in spending. In 'deep rural' India, there is a huge demand for entertainment and it has been found that the favorite entertainment device for rural India is the mobile phone. This demand for entertainment according to Mohit will drive adoption of social media and rise of the digital consumer in India. Communicating to 'deep rural India' digitally is more effective if it serves this most important demand - something that communicators must be aware of - the plank of entertainment. I have included Mohit's presentation below:

Indian digital consumer
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Sri Lanka fails to counter alleged Channel 4 propaganda

The Asian Tribune recently made an interesting observation on Sri Lanka's Public Diplomacy capabilities. The article refers to the screening of the Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Field’, at the Capitol Hill on July 15. It says,
"...the foreign policy handlers for Sri Lanka in Colombo and Washington failed to use strategic communication and public diplomacy to remove this event from the headlines focusing on the man, McGovern, who has a record of maintaining contacts and supporting terrorist/guerilla movements whose main aim was to destabilize or overthrow democratically elected governments."
It further says,
"This writer who was in the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic outpost in Colombo saw how the American Foreign Service Officers anticipated events, developments and their impact in advance to take appropriate measures to use strategic communication and public diplomacy to act to advance American interests in Sri Lanka or her immediate neighborhood.
The foreign policy advisers of Sri Lanka’s presidential secretariat, those ‘experts’ in the foreign ministry or its overseas representatives need to attend the American Foreign Service Training Institute..."
Most South Asian countries are not very advanced communications societies and  bureaucracies therein may not always be adept at navigating the world of global media. For many it may not be worth the time. Sri Lanka is likely to feel the heat all the more in the coming few years with the international community and even Ban Ki Moon himself asking for genuine and thorough investigations into the alleged atrocities committed by the armed forces during the Eelam War IV. The Indian foreign policy establishment in the meantime are ambiguous in their response to the airing of the Channel 4 documentary and has refused to react/comment on the matter. (Read here: Lanka war crimes: No comments, says Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao)

-- Madhur 


US Educational Exchange programs in India

The role of educational exchanges in Public Diplomacy caught my interest since the discussion on Australia-India relations in April. When it comes to educational exchange, the United States has a strong recall in India (Nearly 100,000 Indians study in the US every year). It also contributed to building strong ‘generational bonds’ between both countries with a promise to deepen the strategic partnership further.

To explore educational exchanges between India and United States, I thought it worthwhile to meet with Ms Stephanie F. Morimura, Cultural Attaché for Exchanges, Embassy of United States of America, in New Delhi. Stephanie helped me understand the ‘policy connection’ behind educational exchanges between India and United States better. Stephanie received me at the American Centre and what followed was a stimulating discussion on the role of education in Indo-US relations.

Stephanie Morimura at the American Centre in New Delhi
Stephanie believes that educational exchange has a significant role to play in strengthening public diplomacy initiatives and furthering strategic goals. In the larger scheme of things, US educational exchange programs are congressionally-funded programs and very much a part of overall strategy of furthering U.S. national interests abroad.
 “Every country has strategic goals,” said Stephanie and for United States, exchange programs promote better understanding and cooperation among people of both countries. Eventually, Stephanie said it helps “cooperating better on a range of issues, including security issues, especially regional security.” It’s the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, under the Department of State that is the nodal body administering these programs worldwide. The money that is spent worldwide varies from mission to mission in support of specific goals of every mission.

Most of us who are familiar with Fulbright programs only, Stephanie said the depth and extent of engagement of United States in educational exchange is actually quite comprehensive. For a list of programs that are operational worldwide see the following link: Exchange Programs.
Stephanie talked at length about the International Visitor’s Leadership Program with India. “India has one of the largest programs,” she said. This is actually a demonstration of the deepening ties between both countries at the strategic level. The department’s website describes this program as, “The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program.  Launched in 1940, the IVLP is a professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders.” 

“Ms Indira Gandhi and President Pratibha Patil have been IVLP fellows,” said Stephanie.

The focus of current exchange programs with India is to build networks and sustain those to create an enduring relationship between both countries. This is a paradigm shift from earlier times where it just ended with facilitating an exchange. Stephanie talked passionately about newer domains that her department is moving into like social developmental projects. There are programs for youth from underprivileged sections (who otherwise do not have the means to travel to US) that give opportunities to them to visit the US for summer and year-long study programs. They are supported with a mentorship program when they are back in India and connected with other alums of various programs so that their development is continuous. “We do not want them to flounder when they are back,” said Stephanie of the mentorship program demonstrating a commitment for a long term involvement in the lives of these people and also an appreciation of their need for joining the mainstream once back from United States.

While the number of visitors from India is huge one of the challenges is the relatively smaller number of Americans who come to India to study. On an average, only 2800 students come to India from United States annually. Most of these come for short term programs. This is a significant barrier for both countries to overcome. “There are infrastructure constraints on Indian campuses and the support system for international visitors needs to be built up.,” said Stephanie.
However the potential for this partnership to grow is huge. “There is also a huge interest in U.S. Universities for partnership with Indian educational institutions and we are actively encouraging that.” She said that the US and India hope to hold a higher education summit in the Fall this year to build ties between educational institutions of both countries.
I asked Stephanie if educational ties contributed to India being listed as among the few countries where US has high positive mindshare according to a Pew Survey last year. “Mutual understanding is the key,” said Stephanie and agrees that educational exchanges enable a better appreciation of U.S. society, values and culture. Educational exchanges are focused on experiential learning and she said, “Nothing beats personal experience.”

Study of United States Institutes (SUSI) alumni

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


There's more to social media than Facebook and Twitter!

I was at an international PD conference yesterday speaking on the "Role of global media and how strategic communication can strengthen Australia-India relations." This was at an international conference - "Public Diplomacy in Theory and Practice: Culture, Information and Interpretation in Australian-Indian Relations" - organized by the Alfred Deakins Research Institute, Australia and Rajdhani College, Delhi University, India. The conference is being sponsored by the Australia India institute and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India. 

During my talk, I emphasized the role of conversations in shaping perceptions today and the potential of social media. It was interesting to field lot of questions, after my talk, that bordered on cynicism towards social media and the sphere of influence of web enabled platforms. In this gathering of academics and policy wonks, what I could not help notice was that social media was broadly understood to be 'Facebook' and 'Twitter,' and, the limitations of the these two social networking platforms to influence and engage. 

Conversations in social media do not necessarily happen on these two platforms. There are numerous other areas where debates are being shaped, opinions formed and perceptions created. Simplest example, that comes to mind, is the space for reader's comments on news websites. This is where people take action on news, engage in debates and express opinions. Consider the article below that generated 477 comments on the issue of violence against Indians in Australia. This is The Economist and not even a newspaper from Australia or India. This is an example of social media enabled conversation that can shape perceptions. How do we manage such conversations?

Regrettable facts

Thuggery mars a burgeoning friendship

Australia and anti-Indian violence

See article

Readers' comments

Reader comments on this article are listed below. The 15-day commenting period for this article has expired and comments are no longer being accepted. Review our comments policy.

1-20 of 477

EliasX wrote:
Jun 18th 2009 4:48 GMT
The Economist, like other media, fails to mention what kind of Lebanese-Australians are apparently attacking Indians in Australia.
Officialdom calls this a “law-and-order” issue, and the Indian press rants about “racism” in Australia. No one, it seems, is asking what kind of Lebanese these assailants are.
Are they Christians? Or, more likely, are they Muslims? The Indians are mostly, one would assume, Hindus. Maybe this is a religious issue? Muslims, given Islamic tenets regarding polytheists and idolators, have a long, sordid, intolerant, and murderous history of “Hinduphobia.”
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