Showing posts with label Public Diplomacy - Instruments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Public Diplomacy - Instruments. Show all posts


5 Public Diplomacy trends to watch out for in 2017

The world indeed looks very different as we start into the New Year. The rise of the conservative narrative across the world culminating in the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of United States ushers in very interesting times. 2017 might also be seen as the 'Big Crunch' of globalization. For PD enthusiasts, I have identified the following trends to watch out for:

1. Rise of RHETORIC:This year will be a year of competing narratives. Rhetoric will take centre stage as debates in the international stage would be fueled by nationalism than anything else. The focus of PD would be to secure validity for a certain school of thought more than "attracting" audiences.
2. POWER will take centre stage: This year might be turn out to be the best year for the PD profession. Instead of being seen as a 'good to have' function within foreign offices, PD might emerge as a major player in enhancing 'power'. As states vie for legitimacy and influence in a world that would be fragmented, instruments of PD and tools would be used in a more strategic manner instead of doing it adhoc. Among other things, it might mean more budgets. This will be an interesting puzzle for PD theorists to examine and how it would influence the evolution of the discipline.
3. PAID MEDIA will be the new normal: States will find ways to increasingly use paid media to create influence. There might be some ethical considerations in here, but what I am trying to say is instead of relying on 'earned' or 'owned' media, PD Divisions will be more proactive and rely increasingly on paid content. The 'post truth' era demonstrated to all of us the power of 'fake news'. More advanced media societies are more vulnerable to such influence and the reliance on paid media by the minor powers might be an increasing trend.

4. RISE OF THE OTHERS: The others, I mean the 'Non State Entities' would emerge as a significant instrument of PD policy. In some cases, they might want to create narratives and engage audiences on their own that would help their cause and may compete with state narratives.
5. Change in TONALITY: The 'feel good' will give way to the 'feel strong'. We will see a marked difference in the tonality of communication. 'Impress' will give way to 'Influence' and 'logic' will trump (pun intended) 'sentiment'. 2017 might be a year of great debates!

This year is going to be interesting. Trust me on that one!

-Suggestions/Critiques welcome.


Gaza: This is not the story of Hamas. This is not the story of Israel.

So much has been written about Gaza. So much about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We grew up watching it on TV, reading it in news magazines and it doesn't catch our attention anymore - nothing has changed.

Its tiring to keep yourself updated about the conflict like its tiring to keep yourself updated about Kashmir. From books, news stories, academic papers, discussion groups, information flow is relentless and overwhelming - but nothing has changed.

We are reading about it again. Any news report I pick up on  Gaza crisis today might read the same as it read in 2008-09. We continue to read the same stories.

A very engaging post by Dr Rhonda Zaharan in the CPD Blog - 'Gaza in the First Person'  - looks into this problem of narrative very well. The whole context of the conflict, its perception and communication by parties involved - Hamas & the Israeli state - and the framing of it by international media.

Dr Zaharna states,
"Israel now vows to stop the rockets “once and for all.” I shudder at the political and moral implications of what this means, even if it were militarily possible to silence 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. For me, this is about more than whose story wins."
She calls Gaza "a piece of of the world densely populated with human misery" and talks about how the siege of Gaza has become a prison for the 1.8 million people of Gaza. The "one-point-eight" whose stories we never hear. What is it like to dream, hope and imagine under a lifelong siege?

Gaza crisis is always framed in the context of Hamas, Israel and legacy of colonialism - while the world has changed tremendously.
Pic from: Roomee Times

There's a ban on storytelling about Gaza with numerous media restrictions, the latest being a ban by Israel on radio adverts listing names of children killed in Gaza. No wonder the stories are always the same.

One wonders how is it possible in a modern society to accept such regulations, how does an ally of the "greatest democracy on earth" deny freedom of expression to some. Especially when the Israeli state itself doesn't deny itself the right to an international public relations campaign to shape public opinion in its favor.

This isn't about the story of Hamas. This isn't about the story of Israel. 

This is about the story of one-point-eight, the conflict is about their future, their destinies. This is also about the the story of the people of Israel -"what do they want". I wonder if we hear their stories at all, if we ever will. I doubt if institutional media will ever be able to tell these stories given the context in which they operate.

I hope communication scholars like Dr Zaharna find ways of empowering the people of Gaza and also (why not?) the people of Israel to communicate their stories.

I am sure the world will listen as the narrative takes a new turn.


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


Japan's aggressive PR to bolster colonial claims

Japan's Cabinet Office last week released the results of  an opinion poll that considerably raised tensions with it's neighbor South Korea.  Tokyo's  first opinion poll on South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo, showed that six out of 10 Japanese view Dokdo as Japanese territory in terms of history and international law. Dokdo is also referred to as the Liancourt Islands or as Takeshima by the Japanese.

The survey is among Japan's numerous recent PR and strategic communications initiatives to publicize Japan's territorial claims at home and abroad. It was commissioned by PM Shinzo Abe who set up a new government agency tasked with such publicity initiatives.

                           View Larger Map
While it may not have created too much of a furore in media internationally - important regional publications of Asia Pacific like The ChosunIlbo, Yonhap News, The Hankyoreh, People's Daily, The Global Times etc. dedicated considerable space to the findings of the opinion poll.

It is said to be the Japanese government's first such opinion poll. Until now surveys were simply restricted to the Japanese media houses. This is the most significant takeaway from this development - the adoption of tried and tested PR tools and techniques to influence media and public opinion by a government. The sample size was not too significant, restricted to 1784 people - but the sensitivity of the subject and being commissioned by the government itself is what I guess made it newsworthy. 

The wisdom of carrying out such a survey can be debated, and this might be more targeted towards domestic political interests.  Nonetheless, media houses got what they wanted with tensions rising high between both the countries and the Japanese government got the eyeballs it was hoping for. South Korea, in the meantime, registered its protest and in a strongly worded statement, Seoul's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said,
“We sternly protest the Japanese government’s decision to use a opinion poll commissioned by the Japanese Cabinet Office as a pretext for yet another provocation regarding Dokdo, a territory that is clearly South Korean on historical and geographical grounds and by international law, and strongly urge it to halt such actions at once. It is deplorable for the Japanese government to continue coming out with these absurd claims about Dokdo. Such ahistorical behavior will pose a serious obstacle to the future-oriented development of South Korea-Japan relations and reconciliation in Northeast Asia.” 
I would be interested to find out about the reaction on social media. Readers help!

A communication approach for the United States in the Middle East

Reuters today filed a story with the headline: “Western embassies on alert as Muslim anger simmers over film”. As I read the news, picked up by all major newspapers of the world, my thoughts go back to the Arab Spring when it started. With the fall of dictators, there was hope all around. Finally, the Middle East seems to be opening up to newer possibilities. I remembered my college history lessons and felt that newer possibilities may not necessarily be what we think or want them to be. A year later, the mood has changed indeed, in US and also in the newly liberated and fledgling ‘democracies’ of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The recent crisis has actually increased the importance of communications for the United States. It’s a new reality, an uncertain environment. The luxury of stable dictatorships to engage with is no longer there. Unpredictability will reign.

I believe communication and engagement efforts of United States should just focus on 3 things:

  1. Institutionalize internal ‘dialogue’ on foreign policy: Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”. Americans, for the power and influence they wield over the world, are surprisingly ill informed and inward looking. Maybe it results in situations where responsible exercise of influence becomes difficult. Maybe it’s time to institutionalise a process by which Americans realise the depth and breadth of their engagement across the world and what it means for the average American. It’s time the West learns to ‘make a point without making an enemy’.
  2. Do not roll back ‘engagement’: Policymakers should not operate under the premise that being democratic doesn’t mean a natural affinity to American values and way of life. Political systems are reflective of local milieu, and democracy in Middle East will look radically different from, say, in India or US. For example, India and US differ strongly on their approach to 'Freedom of Expression' but both are successful democracies and free societies. This calls for consistent monitoring of conversations and constant engagement The bad news is that in person engagement becomes tougher. The good news is that social media seems to work very well in the Middle East as demonstrated again by the crisis!
  3. Communicate ‘Access’ and ‘Proximity’: Explain to audiences how an open society enable access to free societies abroad, be it the West or United States, where Muslims have lived and done well. Create narratives for the ‘indivual’ and not ‘sermons’ for their ‘societies’ on how a partnership with the United States can better their lives.
What do you think?

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


The Mindset of Indian Bloggers

I talked about the emergence of blogs in India as a form of commentary in my previous posts. Earlier, I was of the view that maybe the presence of a free press and proliferation of media platforms have in fact relegated bloggers to the background, unlike in societies where there are limits to freedom of expression. This is true especially in the space of "issues" where the ability of bloggers to influence public discourse happens to be limited. Nonetheless, niche blogs in the space of culture, technology, marketing and business do wield significant influence today in India and, as professional communicators, we engage with this lot quite a bit. In fact, we encourage brands to engage with bloggers all the more, simply because their influence permeates across different social networks

In this context, the latest executive report from MSLGROUP India that tried to gauge the mindset of bloggers - towards brands, media and technology. The ‘2012 Indian Bloggers Mindset Survey’ shares insights on how bloggers are shaping opinion, how brands are engaging with them as well as the opportunities and challenges before brands when it comes to building relationships with these key digital influencers.

Among the key findings of this survey are
  • Facebook and Twitter are emerging as the top preferred social platforms to connect with bloggers in India. Google+ is the (non-Facebook, non-Twitter) social network bloggers spend the most time on, while Pinterest is fast emerging in popularity
  • CSR campaigns are the most recollected digital campaign
  • Conventional brand ambassadors like Aamir Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan, still make for the favourite brand ambassadors
Kudos to the team of Karan Bhujbal, Tanay, Nikunj, Radhika, Ragini, Deepti, Anamika  who conducted, compiled and completed this survey!

2012 Bloggers Mindset Report from 20:20 MSL

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


@IndianDiplomacy posts on Twitter

India's Ministry of External Affairs' (MEA) is known to be quite active on Twitter compared to other ministries. The ministry also used Twitter quite productively for the evacuation of Indian nationals from Libya during the NATO led war.

@IndianDiplomacy currently has 26, 774 followers with 1,855 tweets posted till date. Indian diplomats and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), as well, routinely tweet on foreign policy matters now. As one of the followers, I  receive regular updates from the ministry on my Twitter feed. One can't help but notice that most tweets remain in the form of notifications or announcements and are primarily in the 'broadcast mode'. While this is not bad in itself, in order to leverage Twitter, or for that matter any digital platform, it helps to switch to the 'engagement mode' where an action or a response is sought to a post and more and more two way communications happen. It may be a good idea to personalize it a little bit and not make it look like an information window of the government. While one may find lot of interesting information or updates, most of the times one may get the feeling 'so...why should I care?' This  is the question @IndianDiplomacy should seek to address. What is also required is better usage of hashtags and even some basics such as usage of etc.

I personally think former Foreign Secretary and current Ambassador to United States, Ms Nirupama Rao is doing a fabulous job on Twitter. Not only her posts have a personality but the tone and overall nature of tweets are very engaging. Her Twitter handle is @NMenonRao. How do we add personality to a Ministry? That is another interesting challenge altogether.

Some useful resources:
Suggestions/Critiques welcome

-- Madhur

Survey of attitudes by India's PD division

The Public Diplomacy division of Government of India in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, is conducting a survey of attitudes with regard to India's foreign policy. It is a survey of 'elite attitudes' - given that fact that it is a survey of international relations faculty in Indian academic institutions - and is a first of its kind exercise undertaken by the PD division.

It is currently also being conducted at the first National Conference on International Relations - Shifting Sands: India in the Changing Global Order, in New Delhi, India. The introduction to the survey states, 
"... there is relatively little understanding about what Indians take to be the nature of international politics, and correspondingly, how their power and influence should be used. This survey seeks to help better understand Indian attitudes on the role of power, order, force and justice in international politics. How will the interplay of long-held beliefs, India's vision of itself, the rise of new actors and institutions and India's changing relationship with the West influence India's worldview and role in global affairs?"
It will be interesting to see the results of this survey, which has good news potential as well. The conference in itself is a first time initiative by the PD division to create a forum for Indian academics, policymakers and practitioners of international relations to meet, network and exchange ideas.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Public Diplomacy and the new media landscape

            Public Diplomacy practitioners today deal with a dynamic media landscape. Enabled by technology, ways and means for media production and distribution has changed rapidly. Coupled with this is the decline in revenues, resources and  credibility of traditional corporate media giants worldwide. Media today is localized, customized, fragmented, often real time in its distribution, while it is more inclusive, cross cultural and diverse in its production. Besides, there is no longer an 'official credible source,' it can be simply anywhere!

(Jake Horowitz, Co Founder, PolicyMic)
     A new media project in this context is PolicyMic. Founded by Harvard and Stanford grads, Chris Altchek and Jake Horowitz, this website is an online platform for news and debate on policy for the younger generation by the younger generation. The portal claims that it stands for the spirit of debate to counter partisanship in traditional media and facilitate, "real conversations about real issues." 

         I spoke to Jake Horowitz and Hanqing Chen, Assistant Editor, PolicyMic, to understand the project better.

        "There is a lack of representation of young voices in media," said Jake. He said content at PolicyMic focuses on young people's perspective on issues. The content can range from head-to-head debates, opinion pieces, enterprise reporting, multimedia stories all produced by a new generation of voices. "PolicyMic offers real engagement from multiple perspectives all across the world," he said.

      The website currently boasts of nearly 400 writers contributing from more than 20 countries around the world, including from countries like Estonia, Latvia, South Africa and the Middle East. 

      There are four writers from India and Jake said that the Lok Pal Bill was a topic widely discussed on the portal. 

          PolicyMic's attempt to build engagement is unique. 

       The more a reader/contributor participates by responding to articles, sharing ideas and receive endorsements on contributions, the more 'mics' (credits from others) one can accumulate  The more 'mics' one accumulates the more one can do or say to develop an audience and eventually become a 'PolicyMic pundit'.  

                 "We are trying to make Twitter meet The Economist" said Jake. 

              "It is designed to be a little like a video game where they have to comment on stories and have to be voted in order to move to a different level. In each level, you can do more and say more," he said.

(Hanqing Chen, Assistant Editor, PolicyMic)
"The idea is to find a fun system with the smartest contributors," added Hanqing.

        "Success and prestige on our site won't be driven by how loudly you speak, but by how thoughtfully you participate. We believe in debate, and we've built features that allow you to challenge others you disagree with," claims the website in its 'About Us' section.

       Hanqing said that comments on contents are received every 6 to 7 minutes on the website which is reflective of its potential to influence.
    From a PD perspective, Jake believes that the portal is an effective "cross boundary" discussion forum on policy and international affairs. 

     These are early days for PolicyMic, as its founders focus on creating a stable revenue model and source funds. However, media such as these offer both an opportunity and a challenge to PD practitioners. While in terms of reach and targeted engagement it can promise a lot; the challenges are in monitoring, crafting messages and responsiveness.
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur

Public Diplomacy and 'national rhetorical competence'

An interesting article in the People's Daily Online quoted head of the Foreign Affairs  Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Zhao Qizheng, that China needs to enhance its "national rhetorical competence." The article stated,
"Speaking at a meeting on Thursday, he (Zhao) said senior officials in China are now more aware of the need to communicate effectively with the rest of world. Stressing on the importance of enhancing "national rhetorical competence" - the ability Zhao said is highly important to express the country's unique features effectively, and it is the key to successful public diplomacy, he added."
This is an interesting piece given its focus on 'words', 'expression' and 'conversations' as being crucial to any PD program. The same article quotes China's Vice Foreign Minister, Fu Ying as saying that, 
the job of talking and expressing oneself through public diplomacy has an integral role in China's future development. "We have been doing well on the development front, and we are facing an even better new decade. Now we need to talk better, to make our messages clearer to the world. That can not only help form a better environment, but also boost the nation's confidence," she said.
The Chinese apparently are working on the messaging - tone, semantics etc apart from just 'laundering information.' The focus it seems now is how does China express itself? How does it talk to the rest of the world that would enhance its influence in the global stage? In human history, this period will be seen as the  'age of conversations' and the Chinese are right in recognizing the need for 'national rhetorical competence'. As Zhao said,
"China cannot always be the gentleman who works more but talks less in the present world flooded with information."
 Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur


Measurement and evaluation of Public Diplomacy

As India's Public Diplomacy Division brings structure and strategy to Indian PD efforts it is also important for the PD division to have systems in place that can evaluate these efforts. This is not easy. The U.S. National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication (2007) is a comprehensive document that sums up the importance of evaluating PD. In acknowledging the difficulties involved in evaluating PD efforts, the document states,
"As Edward R. Murrow once observed, no cash register ever rings when a mind is changed. The impact of information and education programs that touch the emotions, beliefs, intellects and allegiances of diverse audiences around the world is often difficult to gauge, especially when any public diplomacy activities may only produce long-term, rather than immediate, impact."
There are some obvious difficulties associated with measuring PD. Some obvious reasons are:
  1. The gestation period for results of PD efforts tend to be long
  2. Mostly the desired outcomes, measures and concepts tend to be intangible
  3. What derives from the above is the fact that it is difficult to achieve the 'cause-effect' relationship It is difficult to ensure continuous, sophisticated 'tracking' as it is done in communication campaigns. The reason maybe lack of tools, large sizes of samples and databases in terms of numbers as well as spread etc
  4. This in itself makes it a very time, labor and cost intensive process

Nonetheless it is important that evaluation is given a priority to ensure dynamism in PD strategy. According to Prof Eytan Gilboa, Director, Center for International Communication at Bar Ilan University, 10% of PD budget should be dedicated for evaluation and evaluation efforts should be a built in component of any PD strategy.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- Madhur



Australia: Needed proactive, sensible and sensitized communication

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The Australian High Commission in New Delhi is doing a United Colors of Benetton. The walls of the embassy building and the visa office look like giant billboards with happy and colorful pictures of “Australians” - of different races, national origins, skin color - being displayed. Huge billboard size pictures all, happy and together, with the words “Multicultural Australia” in bold. There were pictures of Asians, Africans, Arabs, Anglo Saxons and also Indians. This did not exist earlier, definitely a first in the capital, as the Aussies try to look coherent in their denial of racist attacks on Indians in Australia.

The straight talking Aussies suddenly are defensive and fumbling for answers in the face of a relentless campaign by Indian media. Australia’s image has never been so badly dented in India. In all their official communication, the Australians have denied that these attacks are racist, and, an attempt is being made to club them with regular street crimes. Then, they announce a person of Indian origin (Peter Varghese) to be the next High Commissioner to India, also announce that they are sending the largest contingent to Commonwealth Games in India and put up billboards on embassy walls to counter the negative publicity. Despite all this, there was a 46% drop in student applications to Australian campuses from India this year. India contributes the most to Australia’s $ 15 billion education industry.

Where the Australians are going wrong is in their failure to acknowledge the possibility of a ‘pattern’ in the violence. This acknowledgment is lacking in all their communication (which has been very few) to Indian media. It is not a question of whether the country is safe or not. Rather than denying the possibility of racism altogether what should be communicated is that the Australian system is sophisticated and sensitized enough to grasp the nature of the problem and then deal with it. The comments by the Victorian Police Commissioner on safety statistics do not help and one wonders why is he speaking to the media at all? Discrimation/racism exists in every society and all claims to the contrary is total B******* … everybody knows that, especially Indians who live amidst diversity and conflicts all their lives. Anybody who has ever lived in a different culture also understands that some form of Aversive racism exists in every society. It’s human.

There is a convergence of strategic interests between both the countries. The bilateral relationships, trade, people to people contacts have never been so good. Both have an interest in the stability of Asia and preventing Chinese dominance of Asia. Besides, Australia too wants to be seen as a part of the Asia Pacific Community rather than being seen with the western bloc. However, the Australians need to be proactive and communicate better and LOOK SENSITIZED in the media. Their communication now seems more like defensive posturing or just plain gimmickry.

(Source: Mail Today)

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.



Potential of text messaging for Public Diplomacy in India

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Of all the different mediums that are available for practitioners of Public Diplomacy to engage India, mobile phones remain underutilized. Mobile phone penetration in India is huge. It is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world with companies adding over 15 million users every month. As of March 2009, India has 392 million mobile phone users. This figure is expected to reach 500 million beginning of 2010, and by 2015 the country is expected to have a billion plus users.

With the high penetration of mobile phones, text messaging has become an important tool to educate, inform, mobilize, engage Indians. India’s recent elections saw political parties using text messaging for campaigns. Civil society groups too have made innovative use of text messaging. A campaign that comes to mind is Sachche ko Chune, Achche ko Chune (Vote for the Honest, Vote for Good People), by the Association for Democratic Reforms, or ADR, a non-governmental organization (NGO). This was a SMS campaign that lets you send a text with your zip code, and, ADR sends the latest information about one’s constituency and the candidates contesting elections. NDTV’s campaign seeking text message signatures from the public to build pressure on government’s prosecution machinery, in the high profile Jessica Lal murder case, is also well known. Corporate groups already are making good use of text messaging in customer servicing from placing requests, generating feedbacks to paying bills etc.

Recently, Google launched its SMS text message service in India,, (already available in US) for mobile phone users who wish to find out information from Google about business listings, movie showtimes and other local or web information by sending queries to a specified number from their phones. Apparently, mobile phone users who do not have web browser or Internet access via their phones can still ping Google for information via SMS.

Mobile phone, especially text messaging, is growing as a preferred mode of communication in India. Cellular operators, too have been really enterprising with their tariff plans and handset prices and in India it is very normal to see a petty shopkeeper or a rickshaw puller flaunting a cellular phone. The potential for engagement is tremendous through this medium for creative minds.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome

-- Madhur


"Indian Portrayal of terror wins accolades across Arab nations" - Outlook magazine (India)

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Interesting article in the Outlook magazine on Bollywood's reach and influence in certain regions of the world. Most importantly, entertainment industries like the Bombay film industry ( I hate using the word "Bollywood." Hindi Film industry or Bombay Film industry seems a better term) play an important role in portraying a non-western point of view to contemporary happenings. It also reflects India's soft power prowess.

Read it here: Al Hind: a Relook

New York’s (The movie) Middle East Success Story

  • Released in theatres in UAE and Bahrain with 32 prints
  • Took one of the biggest openings for a film in the region
  • Grossed US $1.5 million in the Middle East box office
  • Pirated DVDs of the film spread widely in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia
  • Estimated to have lost over a million dollars to piracy across the region
  • Opening film at the Cairo International Film Festival 2009, the oldest and most significant film festival in the Middle East
Enjoy the read!

-- Madhur


Pesta Blogger 2009: Broadening the scope of Public Diplomacy

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As we discuss the need & possibility of broadening the understanding of Public Diplomacy in India, there have been some interesting developments around the world with PD 2.0 worth taking note of.

Last week, I received this interesting bit of information from the US state department that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, is sponsoring Pesta Blogger 2009 - Indonesia’s only national-level bloggers’ gathering for the second consecutive year. The bloggers gathering took place on Oct. 24, 2009 in which four US bloggers including Arsalan Iftikhar, prominent American Muslim blogger and Mark Frauenfelder, founder of a leading technology blog participated. The US embassy in Jakarta has also been sponsoring a series of blogging workshops in 10 cities across Indonesia attracting more than one thousand people. The idea is to encourage people to blog and impart the principles of citizen journalism. U.S. Ambassador Cameron R. Hume said: “The Embassy is proud to support and sponsor Pesta Blogger for the second year running. Freedom of expression is an integral part of any sustainable democratic system. Indonesia has a strong, vibrant democracy, and the robust growth of its blogging community indicates this.”

Tristram D. Perry at the US embassy in Jakarta (whom I had emailed) said that the state department is doing a lot with social media worldwide but in every country the strategy differs as per the local conditions. He said, “Different cultures and nations are unique in their use of technology, so that for example, in Indonesia, while Facebook enjoys almost 10 million members here (of a total 30 million people actually on the internet monthly or more frequently) podcasts or webchats are very rare. I can only really speak to Indonesia, but as you can see we are right on the ground floor of the most socially active segment of online society. For whether it is having an impact, I would have to refer you to the Pew Global attitudes poll.”

“Blogger relations” is commonly practised in corporate communications. I personally feel it’s innovative to engage bloggers and package it with promoting “freedom of expression” and “democracy” ( common themes in US foreign policy communications). This willingness to try different mediums, irrespective of the ability to accurately measure impact and facilitate discussions, conversations on topics of “one’s own choosing” can actually work wonders in advancing “influence”. Its an attempt to go beyond and being proactive.

Suggestions/Critiques welcome



Leveraging Web 2.0 to engage the Indian diaspora

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I have been writing about Web 2.0 and its potential (or the lack of it) as an effective 'engagement' tool. Last week I came across this really interesting Web 2.0 initiative by the Government of India to connect with the Indian diaspora overseas. Its called Global Indian Network of Knowledge (Global INK) which is a web portal for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

India has the second largest diaspora in the world (nearly 30 million strong) which meaningfully contributes to India’s development and progress. The World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief, recently found that in 2008, overseas Indians sent home $58 billion in remittances alone to India. Though the remittance flow has been consistent, FDI flows from the diaspora, however, is yet to grow in a substantial manner. The government of India, has woken up to the potential of what the diaspora has to offer, and, the need to build a framework to engage the Indian diaspora proactively to expand their role in India’s growth story. India now has a full-fledged Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MoIA), to look into policy issues and services related to the diaspora. Government of India, has also launched a PPP initiative Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) in collaboration with Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) to promote ‘diasporic FDI’ and tap the diaspora’s potential in contributing to India’s economic development.

OIFC, for its part, have launched an initiative called Global Indian Network of Knowledge (Global INK) which is a dynamic and interactive web portal for knowledge sharing and collaboration. The objective of Global INK is provide a platform that, “endeavors to turn into "brain gain" what was for long seen as "brain drain", by drawing upon the knowledge reservoir of the India Diaspora in diverse fields.” The Indian diaspora, especially the one spread across North America and West Europe, comprises of highly educated and qualified professionals, academics and entrepreneurs that can help India ideate, innovate, create and sustain the growth momentum. This potential was partly realized in the tremendous progress India has made in telecommunications and IT/ITeS sector. For example, people like Sam Pitroda were instrumental in the modernization and development of India’s telecommunications sector and was an important advisor in PM Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet. Global INK, therefore, aims to tap into this knowledge base. This is also one of the many initiatives of the government to ‘ready’ India to be a leading player in the knowledge economy drawing upon the skills, experience and knowhow of the diaspora in developed economies. (Another recent measure is the Global Advisory Council constituted in Jan 2009.)

The OIFC website mentions that: “The online web portal, Global INK as it evolves, will be a framework of moderated communities catering to different focus areas. The Communities will provide a context to connect knowledge experts with knowledge seekers. Its key features are:

· It will provide a powerful search engine to connect quickly with the knowledge artifact

· The Communities will provide an array of collaboration tools such as blogs, forums, online resource databases, etc

· It will be equipped with advanced professional networking feature, ‘Connect’”

Its encouraging to see that the government of India seeks to leverage Social media/Web 2.0 and all its elements – search, network, discuss, connect – to engage the diaspora. I also feel this would also serve as the funnel through which OIFC, will eventually bring the diaspora ‘in’ for investments into India. I would be really interested to know if other countries, with a large diaspora, have initiated such measures. Take a look at Global INK’s website

Suggestions/Critiques welcome


Web 2.0 in Public Diplomacy - Strategic mismatch

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There's much talk about using Web 2.0 for Public Diplomacy nowadays. As I have written in this blog before, I am a bit cynical about its potential right now. It might be a strategic tool for some nations but may not be of use for some at all. There is indeed a digital divide in international relations with possibly interesting consequences.
Let's take the example of India. Internet penetration is low but the number of Internet users are very high. As of September, 2008, India had 45.3 million active internet users. This is according to the I-Cube [Internet in India] Study conducted annually by IMRB International and Internet and Mobile Association of India [IAMAI]. These figures were released in January 2009. The study also found that the number of “claimed” internet users in September 2008 was 57 million - "Claimed Users" being those who have used the internet "sometime" but not in the last one month. This is however, just 1/6th of just the Indian middle class. From the "Web 2.0 public diplomacy" perspective there may not be a mass potential here. I propose this argument keeping in mind one of the core objectives of Public Diplomacy - to influence foreign public opinion to bring about policy, behavourial, attitudinal changes in the 'targeted' nation state. Out of 1.2 billion Indians merely 45 million are active internet users! My guess is that these 45 million are not very active voters as well to be able to enforce policy changes. Voter apathy of Indian middle class is well known. To bring about changes in India, a communications campaign has to look at the vast underclasses, nearly 800-900 million of them, who also 'vote' and thus matter to the political elite.
But if we look at developed economies like US or Europe, internet penetration and usage are high. So, for lesser countries with the capability and knowhow ( I mean India, China & Brazil) it will be a lot easier to influence Europeans or Americans in a focused way with mass out reach. In a way, the strategic advantage actually lie with these countries rather than the developed West when it come to Web 2.0 Public Diplomacy. Being on the wrong side of the digital divide may be beneficial for these states. To illustrate further, we all know about Iran "twittering away" few months ago... but these twitterers are very minuscule and do not form the huge popular support base for conservative Ahmedinejad. (Read my blog post "Public Diplomacy & Social Media" in June, 2009.) For Iran, it is easier to reach and attempt to influence an American audience rather than for US to reach Iranians via Web 2.0. Naturally, the tactics have to be different and a realistic assessment of Web 2.0 potential has to be made for each country.
Web 2.0, nonetheless, can be used by US and the West to influence policy makers, lobbyists, academics & analysts in countries with low internet usage and this is where it can be most useful. I am not discounting the potential of Web 2.0 Public Diplomacy -- This is just an attempt to look critically at it's possible use in the world as it exists now.
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.
-- Madhur

Public Diplomacy & Social Media

How effective is Social Media as an instrument of Public Diplomacy? Much has been made out of the twitters coming out from Iran these days. Does this mean that social media is the new playing field? I doubt it though. f8dzbpx3ny
It can play a big role in developed societies ( Western Europe or North America ) but in developing societies the digital divide is huge. How do you reach out to those who have a limited idea or absolutely no clue about the digital world? Can you twitter away in Afghanistan? In Iran the "twitterers" are few and far between... People who twittered in Iran may not have the influence to mobilise or shape the ones that matter. The lower classes and the poor form the basis of Ahmedinejad's support courtesy his "populism."

In India for example the 700 or so odd millions that do not have access to the internet decides policies by the power of their vote. This recent election is a good example .. so was the last one. The well-off, the middle class, the internet users are apathetic to use thier vote anyway.

As a communications consultant I have found that whenever I was confronted with the problem of communicating in a diverse and class ridden society the radio has always delivered. Social media has its advantage in being "uncontrolled" but its disadvantge lies clearly in being able to target a select group only. It however remains a great tool for planning and organising. Only time will tell how the medium evolves in areas like South Asia, Middle east and Africa, Asia-Pacific etc.

-- Madhur
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