At Post asks practitioners to break down the mechanics of public diplomacy. In this interview, PD’s Leah Rousseau spoke with Robert Glasser, Secretary General of CARE International.

1.  Definitions of public diplomacy, including the role of public diplomats, abound. What, in your own words, is your job description?

It would be promoting coherence and providing leadership among diverse entities to maximize our humanitarian impact.

2. What activities are imperative to doing your job and reaching your PD goals?

A lot of things. First of all, understanding the trends that shape poverty. Understanding that we need to connect directly with the work on the ground and in the field, with people living in poverty and humanitarian emergencies; firsthand experience with those things and contact. Interacting with fellow practitioners and other practitioners like Oxfam and Save The Children. Understanding the pressures CARE International members are feeling- such as CARE USA and CARE UK and shaping an influential practice and policy in CARE on the ground with the UN the public and so on…

3. Describe a recent project that is demonstrative of your organization’s PD initiatives.

Our advocacy is probably a good example of that. During the global financial economic crisis of a year ago, when real impacts started to hit, there was not a lot of information for the public on what that meant for those already living in poverty.  We consulted with our major country offices to discuss the impacts they were beginning to see. Then we circulated that information for other members to share with their host government to inform them of the situation as it pertained to their most vulnerable populations. We held meetings with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and press to state and to inform our own programmatic efforts in developing countries, to get the word out on what is happening to poor people around the world. We draw on our networks to help inform our advocacy worldwide. Our immediate connection is with our country offices, but not just them.

4. How does your organization establish its public diplomacy goals? Who sets the priorities? Is there an emphasis on specific issues or regions?

In a way, those primarily are started at high levels that start as a CARE initiative strategy for three to five years. Specific initiatives like advocacy have their own strategic communication plans drawn out on the ground and are known to focus on issues from the country office. Then we form coalitions with other groups that are dealing with similar issues. We develop a strategy to address the pressure points of those issues.

CARE USA’s focus—which has now been adopted throughout the organization—was to empower girls and women as a global initiative; as a means to empower our brand. It has been receptive as well as successful. Ideas develop in reaction to on-the-ground situations as they affect women and girls exposed to poverty and help to define the role they play in lifting their families and communities out of poverty. We rely on our network and rely on the on-the-ground knowledge compiled by our partners and country offices.

5. Who are your strategic partners, within and outside your organization – in executing your projects?

They can range greatly, especially in regards to those that are on the ground in developing countries. Local NGOs, government or communication leaders, micro-credit lending institutions, construction firms; they each serve different roles. Again, it depends on the government of the country and which part of the country we are working in—and who is available to help implement the programs we are working on.

In capitals, bilateral donors tend to be our strategic partners, such as DFID, U.K. Department for International Development, in the United Kingdom. Starbucks is a multinational company donor, USAID, large international non-governmental organizations and corporations that partner with CARE for CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives because they think it’s good for business. One example of such a partnership is with the coffee growers in some of the countries where we have country offices or programs, and since you want it to be a sustainable venture, CARE provides a piece to the puzzle to help ensure that those farmers are treated fairly for their crop by larger companies seeking to buy them and do business with the local farmers.

I cannot forget the individual donor who partners with us. Relatively small amounts compared to our other partners, but they are important donors too because without them we can’t do what we do. Also, organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are increasingly global partners because they do so much to improve the lives of people around the world that we find them doing their work in the same areas in which we work.

Finally, other agencies, like World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam and of course, the United Nations are our strategic partners in many of our initiatives because they are who we encounter on the ground in many places. Most of the funding and aid delivered in a crisis is spent through international NGOs already on the ground after coming through the UN, and provides organizations the ability to carry out emergency services and day-to-day operations.

6. What is the most constructive piece of advice you have received for practicing public diplomacy?

Well I think one is recognizing an opportunity, because often with diplomacy, when trying to achieve something, timing is everything. Certainly you can achieve your goals with hard work, so it’s a real art to recognizing an opportunity and step back to observe what’s going on around you and recognize when the time is right for taking an action that will result in your having a good impact. Timing is really key.

More traditional things like understanding the situation, knowledge, and listening skills so you understand what is motivating key actors, can help you in bringing about a change for those you are trying to impact. You can then develop a relationship to work through the issues with an element of trust and no hidden agenda.

7. Share a personal experience (good or bad) about PD in practice. Something that was surprising, interesting or otherwise influenced the way you practice public diplomacy.

Ok, that’s a good question. In one country I used to work in, I guess one interesting thing is the influence of culture on doing public diplomacy. You know, I’m Australian. One U.S. colleague—a quite senior environmental officer in the Clinton Administration—came to Australia and she asked me to have coffee because she was failing in her objective. Australians are quite relaxed and don’t get too excited about things and the U.S. way of doing things is very in-your-face; and “c’mon everybody let’s do this…!” There was a cultural imbalance that became apparent over our discussion because I could see why she was unable to meet her objective, which was getting more people involved on an environmental initiative she had been sent to plan and execute. It was really quite funny seeing how culture played a large role in blocking her—and I suspect that she never really was able to see or understand that.

At an earlier job, I was in a senior position in ministerial form, at a dinner with key members of a neighboring country, having a meeting on key issues that affected us both. The foreign ministers from the other country stuck around after dinner and our ministers left and missed the biggest opportunity for a conversation that would allow them to understand the motivation of the ministers- it really took place after the others had left. If they had stayed for a few beers they would have been able to learn about the politics behind their policies. The lesson in that is timing. It’s a recurring issue that you need to keep your eyes open for opportunities and build personal relationships- the timing is in creating that. These are the important things to keep in mind when doing public diplomacy.

Dr. Robert Glasser is the Secretary General of CARE International, one of the world’s largest non-governmental humanitarian organizations, based in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Glasser is responsible for coordinating work of the Confederation, which is composed of 12 national members engaged in emergency relief and long term development work across the globe. Dr. Glasser has been working for CARE since 2003. From 2003-2007, he was the Chief Executive of CARE Australia overseeing aid programs in countries including Cambodia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, and

Jordan. Prior to coming to CARE he was Assistant Director

General at the Australian Agency for International Development

(AusAID). Dr Glasser has also worked on international energy and environmental policy for the U.S. Department of Energy and on peace and conflict issues at a number of institutions, including the Cornell University Peace Studies Program and the Centre for International and Strategic Affairs at the University of California. He has published on a number of topics, including environment, peace and conflict, and development.