Showing posts with label State Department. Show all posts
Showing posts with label State Department. Show all posts


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!

Social Proofing and Public Diplomacy

Much has been written about the US State Department spending USD 630,000 to "buy millions of Facebook 'likes' on it's Facebook page. A story by AFP in the Indian newspaper Mint reported the following,
"A scathing report by the department’s independent watchdog took the coordinators of its social media outreach policy to task saying it needed to “direct its digital advertising to specific public diplomacy goals ...
The report by the Office of the inspector general found that two advertising campaigns launched in 2011 and 2012 cost some $630,000 with the “goal of building global outreach platforms for engagement with foreign audiences by increasing the number of fans... on four thematic Facebook properties.”
Many in the bureau criticize the advertising campaigns as ‘buying fans’ who may have once clicked on a post or ‘liked’ a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further.."
While the idea of directing tax dollars to buy Facebook 'likes' may seem atrocious to many but the criticism is not fair. While the amount spent may be debated, but the buying of 'likes' reflects the State Department's astute marketing sense and aggressive style - which is good. It also shows an understanding of the concept of 'social proofing' that matters in digital marketing,
"an attempt to guide user behavior by showcasing social influence. Facebook ‘Like’ is the most common example"
A higher ratio of Facebook Likes implies higher influence, popularity and more often than not influences others to explore. People are more likely to engage with a page that has already received large perceptible acceptance. 

While some may feel that the ideal scenario is to build the fan page organically; it is time, effort and resource intensive and promoting the page can take much longer. Also, keep in mind that it is dependent on posting meaningful content ... and achieving the level of streamlined collaboration that is required to source content within a bureaucracy, and the vastness of the State Department, would have made organic growth difficult.  Nonetheless, by making its page dynamic and reaching out to a larger group, specific public diplomacy goals would have been realized by more engagement. 

Similar to 'Likes' on Facebook,  Twitter following is another example of social proofing. See the following infographic from social selling university on the practice of buying Twitter followers. Do I see Obama?

Suggestions/Critiques welcome.

-- 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

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