Thomas Debass, the Acting Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State, discusses significant work achieved by partnering likeminded organizations in order to find effective solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.
Governments set policy. Policy is propagated by propaganda. As propaganda’s force is felt, it is met with counter-policy and counter-propaganda from opposing governments. In this tug-of-war, an uneasy equilibrium prevails. Diplomacy is one means for a state to execute policy and project power. War is the other. In a free market economy, business is not subject to state policy -- business does not project state power -- even if many times there is an alignment of state policy with business interest. Therefore, through its products and services, a business can act as an unofficial ambassador. Through its cultural and commercial embassy, business can supply the feedback necessary to formulate effective state policy. In a digital, on-demand world it will be increasingly invited to do so.
American business displays a sensitivity to the world's varied constituencies that is lacking in U.S. foreign policy. Through localization, American products enjoy wide cultural latitude. More often than not, however, U.S. diplomatic efforts are resisted. Allow me to present an example from within my own industry--online media. Studio One Networks specializes in syndicating independent editorials bundled with branded sponsorship. Wherever our content goes, our sponsors go with it. One of our partners is a leading multinational producer of consumer packaged goods. In 2008, we began working with the brand to reach the 11- to-15-year-old teenage girl audience in six different countries: Mexico, Russia, Germany, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. The brand recognized that to reach the pre-teen and teen audiences effectively, intrusive banner ads would not resonate. Instead, the feminine care brand would need to begin a conversation with these girls on their terms. The question for the brand was how to become a trusted information provider to young women in different countries. Together with the brand managers, Studio One conducted extensive market research to learn about media conditions, nuances of teen behavior and interests, and cultural attitudes towards puberty in the target markets. Our editors partnered with local journalists and editors to assemble a panel of international teen girls to create a program that would offer a consistent brand message, but localized on a country-by-country basis to ensure authenticity of voice and sensitivity to regional distinctions. The result was Girl World Daily, an interactive online magazine that speaks to teen girls directly in a voice they can trust.
What happened next was interesting. Studio One's syndication model allowed Girl World Daily to create partnerships with editors and media in-country. This created an international bridge of communication and camaraderie. For example, we worked closely with Hello! magazine's Spanish-language site, Hola.com, to better format our program's look and aesthetic to reach the Mexican audience. The editor was delighted by how prompt and responsive the implementation was. Similar sentiment was expressed in European markets, France and Germany in particular. These partnerships have evolved into relationships, but to my point that business can go where state policy cannot: these local editors now entrust content creation to, and rely on, an American company for help in implementing their business model and extending its reach in their own countries, in their own cultures, in their own markets. This is, in effect, diplomacy on demand. The question is: Can this serve as the basis for a revised model of diplomatic action?
Here is the thesis of a media practitioner. The revised model for diplomatic action should observe the same rules that have found success in the commercial world of persuasion. The model would therefore reflect the understanding that single-source (statist) propaganda is rapidly losing its force and that foreign constituencies have many more choices than to accept willy-nilly the mandates of U.S. policy. Therefore, the new model begins with a sound understanding of the influence it seeks to extend, refuses to be a propaganda machine, and will become instead a conversation-starter; a set piece; a wonderful and rich coffee-table book of culture-graphics that engages and respects the prospective consumer of U.S. policy.
Diplomacy, like the media, will fragment in the coming years. Indeed, in the short time since I presented these thoughts in a speech last spring we have seen Wikileaks humble both the State Department and the military. If state propaganda can be so easily exposed (and if war is deemed too costly), then businessmen and women engaging in diplomatic action may become the best couriers of a renewed, progressive U.S. foreign policy: a policy that stands a chance of establishing our collective security.
Andrew Susman writes from New York City. He is the CEO of Studio One Networks, an internet content company that helped pioneer internet content syndication for mega brands and major media partners. Today Studio One reaches more than 200 million viewers globally through more than 1000 media partners in 17 languages.
The traditional business of development aid has evolved considerably from its post-colonial “official development assistance” model dominated by developed country actors largely driven by bilateral and political interests, into one where a myriad of actors operate on different levels. These actors include new donors from emerging markets and a host of regional and multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, the European Union and regional development banks. They count single-issue entities such as the Global Environment Facility, which addresses challenges around climate change, or the Consultative Group for Advancing the Poor, which focuses on innovations in micro finance. Not to mention the ever- increasing number of private actors including corporate foundations such as the Gates Foundation, large international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), national NGOs and individual philanthropists coalesced around specific causes and initiatives. As a result of this expansion of players, the amounts of aid earmarked for developing countries has continued to grow in value.
Where is the private sector?
Amidst all these do-good organizations, we hardly ever think of the private sector as an official development actor. Despite the obvious, the private sector has for the longest time been seen as irrelevant or at best a sideshow in the development process, a scene dominated by donor governments and recipient governments.
Cold War politics meant that in many developing countries capitalism and the profit-making objective were seen as suspect; state policies did not actively encourage a thriving private sector and where they did, they too often enabled enclave-type activities in commodity sectors such as extractive industries or agriculture divorced from the needs of local populations, infrastructure and supply chains. The inter-connection between development policy and the role of the private sector was lacking in national development debates and strategies.
The end of the Cold War and the advent of market liberalization in the ‘80s ushered in a new era of public-private partnerships, privatization and entrepreneurship. The development world discovered the microfinance movement. Donors, governments and NGOs slowly began to see the poor as economic actors in their own right who could start and run businesses, borrow money and pay it back, rather than as passive recipients of aid.
The MDGs: opening the door
Yet when the member states of the United Nations met in September 2000 and committed themselves to the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) , historic quantitative and time-bound commitments to reduce poverty and improve education, health, gender equality, environment and infrastructure in developing countries by the year 2015, the private sector was still noticeably absent from the commitment process! It was not until 2005, five years into the MDG goals, that the United Nations conceded that with a fifth of the world’s population still living on less than $1 a day, governments would not meet the MDGs on their own. At this point, the United Nations released a report calling for the “unleashing the power of local entrepreneurs to reduce poverty in their communities and nations.” The report represented a major shift, with the UN and others encouraging and embracing the private sector as an important and legitimate development actor.
The Business Call to Action
The trend toward private-sector-led development quickly gained momentum, resulting in the launch of the Business Call to Action (BCtA) in 2008 by the Secretary General of the United Nations and former Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom. At the launch, Brown declared: “the BCtA is a landmark opportunity for global business leaders to come together to develop new and innovative ways to spread growth, prosperity and opportunity across the world.”
Indeed, at a time of record economic growth in developing countries covering Brazil across to China and with foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to developing countries including sub-Saharan Africa continuing to rise, can we afford not to prioritize the role of the private sector in development?
As the CEO of Anglo American recently noted, “The amount that we spend each year in procurement from emerging market economies is comparable to the aid budgets of the U.K., France or Germany. It’s a huge sum of money and a massive development opportunity.” 
The BCtA is a “landmark” event in the journey of international development for two reasons. The first is that the BCtA does not approach private sector companies asking for money, nor does it get them to do things that do not come naturally to them. The BCtA encourages companies to do what they are meant to do best: make a profit, innovate and grow their business. The difference is that companies are challenged to implement their business activities in transformative ways that integrate the poor – as producers, suppliers, distributors or consumers of affordable and appropriate products and services, or through what is increasingly termed as “pro-poor inclusive business.”
BCtA companies: who said development doesn’t pay?
This proposition lends itself to opportunity. Witness the outrageous success of mobile telephony, primarily a communication and entertainment tool in the global north but now a development instrument in the global south, used for everything from simple payment transactions and tracking health services to making transport payments and providing valuable agricultural information to rural farmers. It is estimated that adding an extra 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts GDP growth per capital by 0.8 percent. And mobile telephony operators are smiling all the way to the bank: Vodafone’s low-cost payment platform, M-PESA, run by its Kenya subsidiary, Safaricom, accounts for 20 percent of the company’s revenues in that country, while bringing affordable financial services to millions of Kenyans.
Even established multinationals such as The Coca-Cola Company have found ways to increase their market share while investing in development. Coca Cola’s 3,000 micro distribution centers (MDCs) employ more than 13,500 people in Africa by replacing expensive fleets of trucks with micro entrepreneurs who know their communities intimately and can mover smaller quantities of inventory more often. The model has increased revenues for Coca Cola, and improved incomes for MDC owners and entrepreneurs, of which 30 percent are women.
In India, LifeSpring Hospitals is tackling MDG 5, which aims to reduce maternal mortality, by rolling out affordable maternal health care to 82,000 women from low income households over the next five years. A partnership between Hindustan Latex Limited (one of the world’s largest condom makers), the Indian government and the New York-based social private equity Acumen Fund, LifeSpring Hospitals is an example of the “hybrid” companies and innovators recently described in the Economist that are “turning the world upside down” through taking risks and digging down deep to understand and respond to local market needs.
Companies that were previously thought to be on the other side of the development fence are demonstrating how they can lead the way through best practice. Anglo American, the mining company, has committed to creating 25,000 new jobs in up to 1,500 small businesses over seven years, by supporting small businesses in mining communities in South Africa, and extending the model to Latin America. Combining training in business management and loans from the Anglo Zimele Fund, the company’s investment in local enterprises empowers local communities in a sustainable fashion while creating new opportunities to diversify the company’s sourcing; some 20 percent of the small businesses benefit from supply chain contracts with Anglo American.
Coalescing not dividing: a new model for development effectiveness
But the other story behind the BCtA is who is behind it. The BCtA is effectively supported and managed by four historic bilateral donors: the U.K. through its Department for International Development (DfID), the U.S., through the United States Agency for International Development, Australia through the Australian Agency for International Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The UN system’s main development arm, the UNDP, and three international networks that engage business on sustainability and social change round out the partnership: the UN Global Compact, the International Business Leaders Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative.
The collective action of these eight BCtA partners combined with concrete action by BCtA companies creates an energy and pool of expertise that holds the potential for true and sustainable transformation.
The eradication of poverty through inclusive economic growth is possible. Technology and knowledge are not lacking.
There are still substantive barriers to inclusive growth and it will not be an overnight process. We still need to shift traditional, short-term mindsets of company managers or shareholders; many developing countries suffer from weak policy and regulatory environments; we need to massively increase the availability of innovative financial instruments to stimulate inclusive business models, and improve market knowledge on the habits and needs of the poor.
Unleashing entrepreneurship means recognizing our common potential. Ending poverty is everyone’s business. The BCtA demonstrates how under the right conditions, profit and aid can create infinite possibilities.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Natalie Africa heads the Secretariat of the Business Call to Action (BCtA), a global partnership initiative aimed at promoting the role of the private sector in eradicating poverty through commercial, core business activities. Africa joined the BCtA from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), where she innovated and ran projects aimed at promoting women in business through access to finance, business training and supply chain opportunities. Africa has also worked in international finance, diplomacy and the non-profit sector. She holds an M.A. in international relations from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and a B.A. in history from the University of Lyon III, France.
 For more on this subject, see Trends and Issues in Development Aid, Homi Kharas, Brookings Institution, 2008,
 ODA is scheduled to reach historic highs in 2010 at $126 billion, while private aid from NGOs could be in the range of $58-68 billion a year: idem
 Zahid Torres-Rahman, Developing the Private Sector’s Role: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/business-dfid-poverty-development-sustainability
 Unleashing Entrepreneurship: Making Business Work for the Poor, Commission on the Private Sector and Development Report to the Secretary General, 2005
 BCtA brochure, 2009
 Dialogue on “Accelerating Progress towards the MDGs through Inclusive Business Models”, New York, 2010
 The Economist: A Special Report on Telecoms in Emerging Markets, September 26 2009
 Vodafone source
 Business Call to Action Case Study, 2010
 Business Call to Action commitment 2010
 The Economist: The World Turned Upside Down, April 27 2010
 Business Call to Action commitment, 2009
 For more on this see Jane Nelson, Harvard Kennedy School, Expanding Opportunity and Access: Approaches that harness markets and the private sector to create business value and development impact and BCtA: Barriers to Progress: A review of challenges and solutions to Inclusive Business Growth
 The MDGs: Everyone’s Business, UNDP 2010
What does it mean to say that "business" has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities. A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but "business" as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense. – Milton Friedman, The New York Times Magazine, September 13, 1970
In 1970, Milton Friedman declared, “The business of business is business,” reigniting the debate on the role of the corporation in society. While the primary responsibility of publicly-traded companies is to increase profits, the digital age and the complexities of globalization have forced multinational corporations (MNCs) to view their exposure more broadly and weigh more carefully the factors contributing to their bottom line. These concerns have spurred a corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement demanding that firms account for a triple bottom line that considers people and the planet, as well as profits. Ultimately, this calculus drives business strategy while attending to the needs of employees, customers and communities, as well as the environment, in order to generate revenue.
Milton Friedman was correct at the basic level: without sustained profits, corporations cease to exist. But since his vigorous defense in the New York Times, the business landscape has drastically changed. Since the turn of the millennium, U.S. courts have moved towards bestowing upon corporations the privileges of personhood. This was apparent with the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on the case of Citizens United, which allowed unlimited campaign contributions by corporate entities. The highest court also agreed to hear the case of a company asserting a right to "personal privacy." In the ruling on FCC vs. AT&T in 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit noted that
“Corporations, like human beings, face public embarrassment, harassment, and stigma."
“Only people can have responsibilities,” wrote Friedman. But if corporations are imbued with more of the privileges of people, do the responsibilities of personhood follow?
Today, the public holds corporations more responsible for their social and environmental impact. In the industrial age, physical goods, their production, by-products and disposal drove the demands for socially responsible behavior. Like the products themselves, the collateral damage they caused was physical. Employee safety, benefits and labor rights led to standards and regulations. Less obvious was the long-term damage caused to the environment, the scope of which we are only now beginning to fully understand.
Dioxins dumped decades ago are just now surfacing in breast milk and body fat, their cumulative effect causing skin lesions, brain damage and cancer. In these instances, the latent effects and disconnect between cause and effect is a delayed feedback loop that is hard to identify, rectify and compensate for.
However, in the information age, physical ruinations are not the critical concern. Instead, the devastation concerns personal information stored in the cloud, on servers scattered across the internet.
The advent of the digital age has allowed companies to consider information as exchangeable “materials” -- how personal data and social relations are turned into economic relations. Where you are, what you did, what multimedia you recorded and what you published are goods in this new economy. With new goods come new responsibilities about which consumers and corporations are still unclear and ill-equipped to manage.
The definition of “public” has changed as well. Businesses now deal with multiple publics consisting of an array of stakeholders across international boundaries with competing demands and varying cultural definitions of social responsibility. Each of these publics has the ability to influence how a business achieves its objectives.
What might a company do to stay on course, with respect to CSR? While individuals depend on their consciences to drive their decision-making, it is unclear whether corporations have a systemic conscience built in as a critical guard against what would otherwise be considered psychopathic behavior.
Many corporations have attempted to present their guiding principles and values in the myriad of mission and value statements developed at off-site meetings. Payless ShoeSource values the democratization of fashion. Zappos is about “delivering happiness” to the world. HCL Technologies puts employees first and customers second while DaVita values accountability and fun.
Google’s mantra is now famous and widely known: “Don’t be evil.” Stating it is one thing, but conducting business with it as a corporate conscience is another. A motto like Google’s can only serve as a bumper guard against excessive overreach. Even CEO Eric Schmidt was sanguine about this when he declared, "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."
Herein lies the conundrum.
Acting responsibly toward employees, communities and the environment does not ensure profitability. However, lack of such responsible behavior incurs the wrath of consumers and watchdog groups, inevitably putting the bottom line at risk.
Social activists and media outlets are able to rapidly highlight reputation, morale and regulatory problems that can quickly erode profitability. Technology and rapid communication allow a new breed of media-savvy stakeholders to champion their definition of social responsibility, and hold corporations accountable. Add to this equation the complexity of globalization requiring corporations to abide by sovereign laws of nations whose values may conflict with their own, or their stakeholders. This was observed quite clearly in 2003, when human rights activists exerted pressure on several Western oil companies that ultimately pulled out of Sudan.
To act responsibly and create a profit, corporations must balance their own values, the demands of stakeholders, and the politics and policies of the host country; clearly, the job of a strong super-ego. This perfect storm prompts the question, “Socially responsible to whom?”
Historically, concerns about social responsibility focus on ownership, the environment, labor issues and philanthropy. The results of these efforts are concrete and visual. In 1977, when India demanded that Coke reveal its secret formula and share ownership of its Indian divisions, Coke acted in the best interests of their shareholders and stopped doing business in India. When ForestEthics, an activist organization, wanted Victoria’s Secret to print its catalogue on enviro-friendly paper (paper developed using sustainable forestry), the nonprofit flooded the Internet with pictures of scantily clad models holding chain saws. Nike, Gap and others faced charges of child labor and unfair working conditions, whereas now, they work closely with NGOs to assess and alter their practices. DaVita, a $6 billion kidney dialysis firm, opened treatment centers in developing countries with the aim and support to make the centers self-sustaining. Philanthropy is frequently used by MNCs for positive public relations value. One need look no further than a company’s web site for images of smiling children standing in front of company-sponsored schools or employees in jeans feeding starving refugees.
The economic rationale for many of these CSR issues is clear. In India, Hindustan Lever Ltd. created a project that used micro-financing as a means of economic development and market penetration. Other examples would be Colgate’s and Pepsi’s efforts to clean up Indian water supplies. Colgate’s motivation is to sell toothpaste, clean water being a necessary ingredient, and Pepsi requires clean water to produce soft drinks (presumably to supply customers for Colgate toothpaste). Higher standards of living create new markets. Reducing carbon footprints saves money. Treating employees well increases productivity and counters boycotts. Philanthropy buys good will and, as in DaVita’s case, provides test markets for expanding locations.
The motivation for these actions is clear, but with the accelerating rate of digital expansion, another issue is coming to the fore. With the advent of the information age, privacy is emerging as a new frontier in social responsibility.
Privacy issues differ from traditional CSR concerns, in that privacy is abstract. As a consumer’s concern, the concept of privacy is intractable to most users of information services. That is, until a privacy breach becomes real, as when credit card numbers are released, private correspondence is revealed or stalkers lure victims over the Internet.
But what is similar is the “delayed feedback loop” in which direct consequences of decisions are separated in time and space from their causes. Privacy issues amplify the principles of CSR and become fertile ground for the question, “Socially responsible to whom: activists, host nations, shareholders, corporate values, or customers and end users?”
The complexities of these types of relationships have been tested through the experience of American information technology companies attempting to do business in China, such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google. The effort to craft a responsible strategy in the face of multiple governments, customers and cultural climates has resulted in a fascinating laboratory that is the dot-com industry in the People’s Republic of China.
Google in China
In 2005, China’s search market, with an audience of 300-400 million Internet users, represented a natural strategic move for Google. With its heavily-censored media and Internet industries, China’s policies seemed to completely counter Google’s corporate mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
In earlier years, other Western dot-coms made missteps when it came to privacy. Yahoo! entered into China quite early (TK) in a high-profile partnership with China’s B2B powerhouse, Alibaba. In 2005, however, Yahoo! became the target of great criticism when Yahoo! China handed over location information to the PRC authorities about journalist Shi Tao regarding his Yahoo! Mail account, the result of which landed him in jail for 10 years.
In this case, what could a corporation do when asked to comply with the sovereign laws of the land? After all, a foreign company operating in the United States would have to comply with a U.S. court-issued subpoena to reveal personal user data to the FBI. But in China, where due process and the right to privacy are rare, one has to question whether a foreign company, knowing these risks, should set up shop in the first place.
This was the situation facing Google in 2005 when it started its China operation.
In an effort to be responsible to both the demands of China’s sovereign laws and its own corporate values, Google introduced only some of its well-known services. With reasoning similar to Yahoo!’s when it first launched, Google stated as its rationale, “The decision in 2006 to enter the PRC market was made with the belief that benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results” (Google official blog Jan 12, 2010).
But there was a big difference from Yahoo!’s approach.
Google did not launch anything that required its servers in China to store the personal user data of its users. Ads, music and search did not require retention of private information, so those were the earliest to appear on domestic (China) servers. Other products such as mail and messaging were also available, but were hosted on servers outside of the PRC.
Through this careful selection, Google did not have the private data of users on China’s soil, and therefore could not be required to hand it over to the authorities.
Although it was an imperfect compromise, and one that still draws criticism from human rights groups, Google’s move made waves. It abided by China’s regulations on content restrictions by framing their effort as providing a better customer experience. It claimed that uncensored search results would mean many of the links on search engine results pages, when clicked, would not work, which would lead to a bad user experience.
Google’s public policy statement at the time reflected this uneasy tension.
“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.” Google official blog Jan 27, 2006
Under this policy, human rights in China, Falun Gong, Tibetan rights and many other controversial stories would be blocked.
The more pressing issue was that if Google delivered unfiltered search results, it would be in violation of China’s content standards. This would be a clear act of social irresponsibility in the face of stringent domestic Internet regulations, which China’s citizens have, surprisingly, expressed support for.
One feature that Google did add, in a move quite different from those of other companies, was a warning message at the bottom of each search page:
“In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown.”
Even by this small measure, Google was increasing the transparency of search. There were significant ripple effects in doing this, as other search engines in China started putting the same caveat on their search result pages. While it may have been a small adjustment, users were potentially being made aware of “known unknowns.”
This uneasy state of affairs continued until late 2009. But in January 2010, Google reported on its official blog that it experienced cyber-intrusions originating from China-based computers, resulting in targeted attacks on their corporate infrastructure and possible theft of Google’s intellectual property. It was of such great concern that Google announced a reconsideration of its entire China strategy.
In an unusual public display of corporate contemplation, the official Google blog had legal counsel David Drummond reflect on the events:
“We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists… we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.”
Google saw its social responsibility extending to users of their system, human rights advocates or otherwise, and the need to protect their privacy.
Then, in unprecedented fashion, Google threw down the gauntlet.
“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered -- combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web -- have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”
Shortly after, Google altered its services and redirected search users in China to Hong Kong, where search results would not be filtered by Google, although sensitive content would still be blocked by China’s Great Firewall censorship system.
The blog post was remarkable in that it sought to simultaneously explain Google’s rationale and reiterate its values to multiple stakeholders including China’s government, NGOs and customers on both sides of the Pacific. It is hard to imagine many other companies – Yahoo!, Microsoft or otherwise – that would engage in such public and transparent dialogue about their corporate mindset.
In the end, to whom was Google being socially responsible?
To their shareholders the move is perhaps cause for concern. Since the blog post, Google’s market share has slipped from roughly ⅓ to ⅕ of China’s search market. The accolades from human rights NGOs and China’s elite Internet users, however, have been largely positive. An argument can be made that in a censorship-laden country like China, the financial returns from search may be minimal, while the good will arising from being seen as a leader in the battle to protect users’ privacy rights may prove to be a long term win.
Or is social responsibility even the issue?
We assigned the above case to students and asked them if this is a case of a company acting with social responsibility. Many responded vehemently that this is not an incident of social responsibility but rather an instance of a corporation making a wise decision in support of its business strategy. We agree.
However, we believe this is not an instance of “either or” thinking (either they were responsible to themselves or their stakeholders), but rather an instance of “both and” thinking. This was a company acting with social responsibility and in support of its own business strategy. The sensibilities in this case are the sensibilities MNCs face as they negotiate their way through the physical and digital world of the 21st century, juggling the needs of stakeholders and host countries along with their own needs. The cornerstone of this juggling is the new frontier for public diplomacy.
Susan Resnick West is an Associate Clinical Professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Dr. West specializes in organizational change and effectiveness. Her current research focuses on communication mechanisms to deal with the complex, multistakeholder problems of integrating corporate responsibility and sustainability. Dr. West has been an active consultant to a wide variety of organizations including among others Asian Development Bank, Alliance for Redesigning Government, Barclay's Global Investors, Cedars Sinai, Chevron, Dream Works, Hospital Council of Southern California, Hitachi Data Systems, Invisible Children, Northrop Grumman, Price Waterhouse Coopers, San Diego Union-Tribune, University of Iowa, US Department of the Navy, Westin Hotels and Xerox.
Andrew Lih , is an Associate Professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Mr. Lih is a new media researcher, consultant and technology author. After a decade in academia as a professor of journalism and media studies, he spent two years researching and writing the book The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia (Hyperion 2009), the only nonfiction narrative account about the online community that has created one of the most influential Web sites in the world. He was previously an assistant professor of journalism and new media at the Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Studies Centre.
Usually, when someone hears the word “diplomacy,” they think of the government. Who can blame them? Diplomacy has long been the province of old men in dark suits and red ties, and before that of elite members of society trusted by presidents, emperors, and kings. But now, particularly with the rise of inexpensive personal communications technology, vast changes in the mainstream and other kinds of media, and an evolution in how consumers interact with and make decisions about “brands,” this is changing.
Public diplomacy is the formal and proactive practice of governments communicating with citizens in foreign countries through diverse forms of media, events, and other engagement. Such activities may include broadcast radio, specially tailored films, and educational programs. But while public diplomacy is still widely thought of as being performed only by governments, there is a good deal of value in applying many of its principles to corporations and indeed other entities like non-profits. It especially makes sense when a brand (broadly defined) could be perceived as large, monolithic, and out of touch with the common person.
While my job title is not formally “public diplomat,” I have been incorporating some of these ideals into my new role at the Microsoft Corporation, by any standard a large entity with a global reach into science and technology, research and development, jobs and commerce, a wide range of government policy and related issues, and numerous philanthropies, causes, and movements. Yet despite this influence, while the company has a tremendous number of customers and fans, at the same time a fair amount of other consumers have a negative perception of the company for a variety of reasons, or they simply don’t think about it very much. One of my roles is to conduct positive activities of value for communities of consumers in order to, yes, change the perception of Microsoft – but also to improve those communities in the process.
Diverse Backgrounds Yield Good Public Diplomats
For a good part of my career, I was a scientist researching how animal behavior is controlled by genes and neurons. Building on that foundation of critical thinking and an understanding of complex behavioral systems, I received a fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006 and was able to conduct science and technology policy research at the Department of Defense for a few years. That experience opened my eyes to everything from the inner workings of military organizational behavior to how social technology is changing how the government conducts its operations.
After my three year stint at the Defense Department, I did a lot of thinking, reading, and writing. I taught a university class about “entrepreneurial journalism,” and consulted some private sector clients about how emerging technologies are changing and democratizing media, marketing, and other specialties. During that period, I also consulted with Microsoft about what I now see as a public diplomacy effort run out of their U.S. Public Sector division based in Washington, D.C.. The division is responsible for Microsoft business across federal, state and local government, higher education and K-12 markets, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. healthcare market.
In my role as Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement, I conduct a number of activities, not all of which are germane to this article. But with regard to my public-facing activities, I think of much of it as corporate public diplomacy. From a business point of view, my role differs in many ways from traditional public relations or public affairs, which despite a recent influx of new technologies still mainly involves “providing information for the public” at its core. Corporate public diplomacy, on the other hand, involves actively shaping the communications environment within which corporate activities are performed, and reducing the degree to which misperceptions complicate relations between the company and its customers. In my view, this complex mission is conducted using what I call “innovative social engagement.”
I don’t think I could have arrived at this role through more traditional routes like studying technology, business, journalism, or marketing. None of those routes provide the skill set that, in my opinion, are required for corporate public diplomacy. One must understand enough business to work within one, but not so much that one loses empathy for outsiders. One must have enough knowledge of technology to use it for various purposes, but not so much that one is unable to speak to people at a basic level about it. One must have public speaking and writing skills, but also be able to adapt those to company goals. A corporate public diplomat should be an insider and outsider, independent and dependent, creative and conservative, all at once. And they must above all be agile enough to know when to switch between behavioral states.
When people ask me how I got where I am with a doctorate in animal behavior, I often think, “Really?” – It’s all animal behavior.
What is Innovative Social Engagement?
When people ask me to explain my job, I often tell them that they can get the 30 second version, or the 30 minute version. That’s largely because corporate public diplomacy, as I see it, amalgamates many aspects of other people’s jobs, re-packages them in novel ways, and then adds some unique skills on top of that. Simple, no?
The simple way to start is to tell you what it is not. After observing many people whose jobs variously involve public relations, marketing, communications, advertising, technology, sales, and “being digital natives,” let me describe what corporate public diplomacy is not “merely”:
It’s not merely leveraging my personal brand to promote a corporate brand, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely using social media platforms to connect with audiences in the public sector, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely making social connections with influential people in real life, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely engaging people complaining about the company online and conducting after-the-fact customer service, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely creating public relations events to get people’s attention, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely developing word-of-mouth marketing campaigns or helping the company go against type and poke fun at itself, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely chasing the coolest, latest trends and incorporating them into strategies, nor reviewing cutting-edge tech gadgetry, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely reporting live from events nor interviewing people inside the company on video (something like what Robert Scoble famously did for Microsoft), though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely being a product evangelist, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely measuring the effect of online communications on customers, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely creating a blog and writing about the best ideas or latest news or providing the most value to the most people, though that’s part of it.
It’s not merely creating new online opportunities for product sales, though that’s part of it.
My vision of corporate public diplomacy via innovative social engagement includes many if not all of these things, but it is not simply one or a few of these things. My charges include creating lasting and meaningful experiences for audiences, engaging willing participants in my work-related social activities, creating emotional responses with Microsoft brands of relevance to the public sector, volunteer sector, and general public good, transcending brand expectations to add value to people’s lives, and generally being remarkable (in the vein of Seth Godin) to specific people I desire to engage with and even influence.
Some Examples of Corporate Public Diplomacy
About a year ago when I wrote a blog post announcing and describing my new Microsoft role, I wrote that I’d be doing at least seven things immediately:
(1) Interacting with and socially empowering the other members of the seven-person Applied Innovations Team;
(2) Discussing my opinions about science and technology in the public sector and continuing to be a thought leader there;
(3) Experimenting with new pre-sale information and social technology, often beta or free products that potentially have a public sector role;
(4) Showing the human side of Microsoft and engaging audiences through multimedia channel content production and other online activities;
(5) Participating actively in the public sector communities of government, education, and healthcare;
(6) Measuring and understanding public sentiment about Microsoft using innovative techniques;
(7) Acting as a competent resource for senior Microsoft decision makers, corporate partners, and customers, and public sector decision makers.
To some degree or another, I have been doing all of these things. But life in a newly-created role is always a bit different than you imagine after you take time to understand what is, and is not, happening inside a huge organization, and figure out your role within it. Thus, during the past 10 months or so, in something akin to a “think-and-do tank” mode, I’ve been creating and promoting fresh, innovative ways of engaging different audiences. These engagements – online and offline – tend to leverage Microsoft’s existing strengths, applied in novel ways. Here are three examples, in brief.
An online magazine, SECTOR: PUBLIC
While there is certainly some good writing on different aspects of new technology and the public and volunteer sectors, I recognized a need for an overarching publication that leveraged Microsoft’s natural intellectual assets to provide thought leadership on all aspects of technology and innovation, and how they are changing the business of the public and volunteer sectors and empowering new forms of public service and social change. I edit this online magazine, named SECTOR: PUBLIC, and manage a group of writers from the company. We are obviously pro-Microsoft, but the stories are written with the audience in mind, and encompass ideas that go beyond strictly Microsoft products and initiatives.
An event series, Geek 2 Chic
This initiative recognizes that while Microsoft is very good at reaching certain kinds of customers – mainly very large, complicated institutions – we don’t necessarily do a good job of reaching out to certain types of influential communities, artists and fashion mavens, for example. Geek 2 Chic began as a fashion show to attract Washington, D.C. fashionistas to us in a genuine way – by showing off great styles in partnership with Bloomingdales, and having a fun social event around that (which also raised money for a good cause). But the trick was that all the models were “geeks” and we were able to highlight their terrific work during the show. This is evolving into a more general series that may involve cocktail hours, fashion shows, and intimate workshops, all designed to help “chic” people learn how to be more geeky in ways that help them with their careers. Here, our natural strength is that through Microsoft networks, we know many of the geeks that can give advice to chic people; thus we can structure creative networking opportunities for all involved that are also fun.
A networking space, Project Pivot
Another need I recognized is that entrepreneurially spirited people often don’t have great places to work. These people are also often interested in public good and social change, and are tech-savvy to some degree. In a few cities like San Francisco and New York, this group is better catered to, but in many others like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles, they are less so. Leveraging the excess office space and wi-fi that Microsoft has in many of its buildings, I am just about ready to launch something I’ve tentatively named Project Pivot, which is a private, invite-only entrepreneurial co-working space (starting in Washington, D.C.) that also has members-only benefits like luncheon speakers and a private discussion board. Not only does this provide great things for this community – office space, networking opportunities, free coffee – but it also helps Microsoft better understand what this group of talented young people is doing in their communities, and how our technologies might help them as well.
Corporate Public Diplomacy: One Year In
It’s a little too early to say how successful these efforts will be. But I have been forming a set of mental “design principles” which govern how I decide what a given engagement might be. I’m not prepared to write them up at the moment (and they’re outside the scope of this article), but one of them certainly is that I think about what the audience needs before I think about what Microsoft needs. Once I know who an audience is, and understand what their needs are, I look at how Microsoft’s assets – financial, human, other – might be deployed to serve those needs.
It’s one thing to talk to audiences and try to influence them. Anyone can say whatever they want. But the way to gradually change the communications environment around a brand that many people already have an opinion about, is to be somewhat selfless and provide genuine value which resonates with that audience. Actions speak louder than words.
Mark D. Drapeau, Ph.D. is the Director of U.S. Public Sector Social Engagement for Microsoft Corporation, where he engages audiences at the intersection of technology and innovation and the public and volunteer sectors. He is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine SECTOR: PUBLIC, which provides thought leadership on these topics. Prior to joining Microsoft, Dr. Drapeau was an adjunct professor at The George Washington University, an Associate Fellow at the National Defense University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. in animal behavior from the University of Rochester and the University of California – Irvine, respectively.
-“The dinner went well. The guest of honor didn’t sneeze. We were lucky.”
This comment was heard after a dinner at the U.S. State Department, where senior administration officials hosted a dinner for a delegation beginning a week of high-level meetings. The guest that didn’t sneeze was the senior person, allergic to flowers. Even though there were flowers on the tables, there were no sneezes.
It wasn’t luck that the guest was comfortable. Research by the protocol staff had discovered the allergy and found flowers that wouldn’t cause a problem. Thanks to the staff’s work, no headlines appeared announcing that dinner at the Department of State made a visiting dignitary sick.
At first, reading this story seems to confirm the stereotype that protocol and the work of protocol officers is simply about flowers, menus and seating plans. But to focus on those tasks is to miss the purpose that drives these activities. Robert W. Frye, former Chief of Protocol of the U.S. Distinguished Visitors Bureau of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, explained it clearly: “protocol is the art of creating a distraction-free environment that facilitates the complete and open exchange of information to resolve issues and build relationships in global business and international diplomacy.”
Protocol and diplomacy operate together. In a sense, protocol exists so that diplomacy, the practice of international relations and dealing with people across borders and cultures, can take place. This is true whether we are considering traditional diplomacy at the nation-state level or today’s broader view encompassing public, corporate and citizen diplomacy. Protocol is the partner.
It is the practices and customs known as protocol that convey the respect and sensitivity to others that diplomacy requires, whether it’s in negotiating treaties, cultural exchanges or business partnerships. We observe how people interact. We note the outward signs of diplomacy that are really protocol in action. What we see is organized and orchestrated by protocol professionals who, unless there is a problem, are invisible and silent.
Although few people even know that protocol officers exist, the position has been an integral element of US diplomacy for almost 100 years. Each President selects a Chief of Protocol who holds the rank of Ambassador and whose appointment must be confirmed by the Senate. The current US Chief of Protocol is Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall, appointed in August 2009.
It isn’t only the federal government that has a Chief of Protocol. Within the United States, protocol officers operate at all levels of the government: national, state, county and city, and within the branches of the military. They play meaningful roles on university campuses, in museums and major corporations.
Protocol is important for governments throughout the world. Protocol and Diplomacy International – Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA), the first international association of protocol officers, has more than 200 members representing 20 countries.
If these protocol officers play a silent and invisible role, then what do they do? What is protocol on a day-to-day basis? The following is a list of some of their responsibilities:
Preparing briefing books that cover history, culture and protocol of the countries involved in visits or destinations for travelers;
Developing a visit plan that reflects the interests/preferences of both their principal and the visitor;
Coordinating with the staff of the visitor;
Selecting menus that are appropriate for the time, place, and guests;
Creating seating plans that show the appropriate honor and respect to the guests;
Selecting, wrapping, and sometimes delivering gifts taking into account the personal interests and culture of the recipient;
Coordinating with security services ranging from the US Secret Service to local law enforcement to ensure an event that is safe and runs smoothly;
Writing speeches to be delivered by their principals;
Assisting Ambassadors, Consuls General, and Trade Commissioners in their city to engage with local leaders.
A former deputy chief of protocol said her office learned to coordinate with everyone hosting meals for a visitor. With that additional step, no guest of honor would eat salmon (or chicken) for every lunch or dinner during a four-day visit.
But Protocol activities aren’t always hidden from view or as successful as our opening story. The Obama administration has had several missteps. One that created international headlines revolved around the choice of gifts for (then) Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Why the fuss? It was perceived that the gift given did not show honor or respect to the Prime Minister or the relationship between the two countries.
The gift that caused the uproar? Twenty-five DVDs selected by the American Film Institute, viewed by some as way of marketing American films rather than recognizing an interest of the Prime Minister. The selection was in sharp contrast to the gift presented to President Obama: a pen set for his desk made from the wood of a warship that was used to help eliminate slave trade, a sister ship to the one used to make the desk in the Oval Office.
When you consider these gifts from the point of view of protocol, of setting the stage for diplomacy and relationship building, the American choice seems surprisingly impersonal. We can’t know who selected the gifts or why. We only know how it was perceived.
While this story reflects the events at center stage of global diplomacy, it should serve as a cautionary tale for all of us. It tells us that all our actions, not just our words, carry meaning and shape the interpretation of our intentions. Increasingly, we all build international relationships. We connect globally through our work, travel, writings and conversations. We deliver messages about our business, our country or about ourselves. We are diplomats. Therefore we must create an environment our companies, our organizations and ourselves that allows diplomacy to take place. In this day and age, it isn’t enough to be a diplomat. We must be protocol officers too.
Lanie Denslow is the founder and principal of World Wise Intercultural Training & Resources and International Director at The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. A well known speaker on the topic of global business protocol she is also the author of World Wise What to Know Before You Go and co-author of Working with Americans. You can contact Lanie at email@example.com.
Nature Air, in its 10 short years of existence, has already left a mark on the aviation industry, thanks to a strong, ingrained commitment to innovation and conservation. The company–the result of an alliance between Travel Air, a 10-year-old charter airline in Costa Rica, and Naturegate, an ecotourism consulting firm–emerged in 2001 from a strong spirit of adventure and responsibility to protect Costa Rica’s diverse habitats.
Nature Air became a vital facilitator for tourism growth in Costa Rica by opening routes to eco-destinations previously reached via half-day journeys in a 4x4 vehicle. As the country developed into an ecotourism Mecca, Nature Air dedicated its resources to researching the sustainable potential of an airline. In 2004, the company took action to offset 100 percent of its annual carbon emissions by funding the preservation of rainforest land and essential biological corridors in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula through a government-certified program called FONAFIFO (Spanish acronym for National Forestry Financing Fund).
Tackling aviation through green-colored glasses lends Nature Air a unique image that distinguishes it from the competition and evokes an emotional response from consumers. The public embraced the airline’s sustainable, nature-oriented brand, which persuades like-minded consumers to fly responsibly and prefer Nature Air over competitors.
The airline has won numerous international awards including the 2009 National Geographic Geotourism Challenge, Condé Nast Traveler’s 2010 World Savers Award, the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 2009 Tourism for Tomorrow Award, and the Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Innovator Award in 2008.
Despite Nature Air’s size, the green airline concept went viral because the company followed the pillar of wisdom that is: you can’t spend years theorizing about change – you have to go out, take educated risks and make it happen. The company’s strategy seeks to address the following concerns on a micro level, while serving as an example that the same is possible on a macro level:
Cleaning the Skies
Problem: Airlines are responsible for 3.5 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere every year.
Solution: Purchasing legitimate carbon credits.
Environmental consulting firm Naturegate, treated Nature Air like any of its other sustainable tourism projects. They conducted studies through local universities, met with government officials and researched the overall green climate of the country. It was not a process of reinventing the wheel, but rather finding the right wheel to propel their vision– in this case the Costa Rican government’s newly created National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO). Since the airline uses the same amount of jet fuel in a year that a transatlantic New York to London route uses in a single week, the investment required to counteract their carbon emissions was manageable. To date, the airline has conserved about 750 acres of rainforest land, compensating for more than 35,000 tons of carbon emissions. The ratio is determined by a detailed greenhouse gas life cycle assessment of both ground and air operations.
All of Nature Air’s pilots are trained in eco-responsible flight procedures, including managing time on the runway and optimizing routes and flight plans–efforts that have increased fuel efficiency by seven percent. The airline’s ground equipment is also run on biodiesel, derived from used cooking oil collected from employees and local restaurants.
As a 6-aircraft airline, Nature Air’s founder Alex Khajavi saw the company as the perfect laboratory to prove the value of investing in carbon compensation on a small scale. Through operating modifications and investment back into the local environment, Nature Air has taken responsibility for the negative environmental impact, compensated for it, and turned it into a positive message.
Since they first took action, 87 other tourism companies followed suit by participating in the program. Around the world, more than 10 airlines have now made the move to become carbon neutral. Though this is just a first step, Nature Air addressed some of the biggest questions out there by taking risks and taking action, with a strong understanding of mission and vision backing their efforts.
Problem: As industrialized nations become more aware of their carbon footprint and feel the need to clean the air in the global North, they look to the global South, to the tropics, to protect the vast forests or ‘oxygen farms’, by enforcing conservation projects while ignoring the needs of the local economy and population.
Solution: The industrialized North must pay a fair price for the oxygen produced by forest conservation in the South.
Conserving large tracks of rainforest in regions like the Amazon and Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is only possible if we can show local populations that by protecting forests on private land they will be fairly compensated. The belief that oxygen farms in less developed nations must be created to compensate for the world’s pollution with minimal or no compensation needs to be revisited. The relationship between industrialized nations spreading their green ideology to the unexploited lands of the South is history repeated. Systems with economic benefits to create farms instead of the tradition choices of cutting, must be put in place for the benefit of the planet, without a negative impact on local economy. We need to diminish borders and invest openly in conserving the few rainforests that remain on our planet. However, conservation cannot function without social and economic responsibility.
Nature Air has developed a strategy in which economic, social and environmental areas are interdependent, and an integrated approach must be taken to guarantee success and sustainability. According to a study by the University of Costa Rica, locals with a good grasp of English earn an average of 40 percent more across all fields of work–from taxi drivers to doctors.
Based on this, Nature Air created NatureKids, a non-profit foundation dedicated to working with low-income families to develop the tools they need for self-reliant futures. Nature Air's role in bringing English-speaking clients to the far corners of Costa Rica, and its interest in promoting the growth and stability of the regions it flies to, made this program an ideal fit. Through English-language and environmental education, NatureKids works with Costa Rican communities to cultivate values of sustainability at a community level. With this education, the seed of sustainable tourism become planted in younger generations throughout the country.
Every Nation for Itself
Problem: Emerging nations have more land to protect than funding to support it, while industrialized nations let off more greenhouse gases than they have forests to compensate for them.
Solution: We must look beyond borders to solve the global problem of climate change.
International, regional and national efforts have been made to promote sustainable tourism, and the private sector is challenged to be part of this crusade. The Kyoto Protocol is seen as an important first step toward a truly global regime that will stabilize carbon emissions. The United Nations' Millennium Development Goals established environmental sustainability as goal number seven, with emphasis on the conservation of biodiversity. In June 2007, former President Oscar Arias stated that Costa Rica should and shall be the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2021.
Despite the commitment of the global community to instigate change, in many cases, our ability to dream and be innovative is limited. Governments need to look at the world from a broader angle in what is now a global neighborhood. The future is in alternative energy. Governments and inter-development banks need to lend their support to the research of biofuel and alternative energies through loans, financial assistance and the issuing of patents, just as they do in the pharmaceutical industry. The environment is an issue that concerns every living being on the planet. It is a long-term investment with infinite rewards and it is bigger than a single airline, corporation or government.
Climate change is a global issue that can be traced back to each individual man and woman. Our effort to slow the deterioration of Earth’s ozone comes down to teaching each individual how he or she relates to and benefits from conservation, recycling, waste management and green transportation. Though poor communities are more sustainable than our own in numerous ways, their immediate needs must be met before you tell them to not kill an endangered species for food, chop down a 40-year-old tree for warmth or burn their trash to keep their household sanitary and their farms disease-free.
Conservation is a task for many hands and endless funding. Corporate social responsibility is accepting the challenge on an individual level and making it a part of each company’s missions and goals, and a part of each employee’s training and mission.
How Nature Air has taken action:
Since Nature Air was first certified Carbon Neutral in 2004, the airline has compensated more than 35,000 tons of Carbon Emissions through donations to the government’s Forestry Financing Fund, which pays local landowners to conserve the natural ecosystem.
The airline improved the efficiency of their planes by 7% by reorganizing routes and strategic flight plans.
On the ground, the airline uses its own bio-fuel in more than 95% of ground vehicles and generators. The fuel is derived from used cooking oils collected from employees, local hotels and restaurants
Nature Air’s NatureKids Foundation seeks to give local families the tools they need to benefit from their natural surroundings without the need to destroy it. Through English and environmental education, the students come away better equipped for the changing economy.
Future plans: to promote green transportation in the urban center of San José with the construction of sidewalks and bike paths and cleaner running buses.
Alex Khajavi's career has taken him from haggling on Wall Street to fundraising in East Africa. A background in international finance and development and affinity for adventure led him to create his 2nd company, Naturegate, an ecotourism consultancy that headed sustainable projects in the Seychelles, Egypt, Fiji, Peru, Brazil, Kenya and beyond. Over a decade ago, he stumbled upon the tiny Central American country of Costa Rica where he purchased a small air charter company and turned it into the world's first Carbon Neutral airline, Nature Air. More information on Nature Air's carbon neutrality initiatives can be found at www.natureair.com/carbonneutral/ In addition, you may contact Mr. Khajavi with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
 FONAFIFO: The National Forestry Financing Fund is a government institution developed in 1996 under the Ministry of the Environment. Their goal is to pay small and medium landowners to take part in reforestation and conservation of their land instead of clearing the land for farming or logging. This service not only leads to the mitigation of carbon emissions, but also protects water resources, biodiversity, essential biological corridors and the local natural beauty.
 NatureKids is a Costa Rican foundation dedicated to working with low-income families to promote individual success and social development. Through English-language and environmental education programs, NatureKids collaborates with families to bring viable and affordable education to communities throughout Costa Rica. The program allows Nature Air to cooperate with the local community in raising a generation that recognizes the indivisible relation between humanity and nature.
I’m a great admirer of entrepreneurs. I know that success can often be elusive. One entrepreneur I know said he started out with nothing, and still has most of it left. Another claims that his company has been listed for four years in the Misfortune 500. But I’ve been acquainted with some successful entrepreneurs as well. Perhaps the most successful is Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City. As you may well be aware, he grew up in a lower middle class household, worked his way through university, got a job with a Wall Street firm as a trading room clerk for $7,000 a year, and became a rising star at the firm. But when it merged with another, he found himself out of a job. With his separation package, he started a new company, Bloomberg, LLP, and the rest is history. In 2002, Michael Bloomberg was inaugurated mayor of New York City. He pays himself a salary of one dollar a year, and through his foundation gives millions—probably billions—of dollars to charity. Mike Bloomberg has got to be an inspiration to any aspiring entrepreneur. I can’t wait to see what he does when his third term as mayor ends in 2013.
Mike’s story—finding himself out of a job—always reminds me of the entrepreneur who was asked by a reporter about what inspired him to start a new business. “It was something my last boss said,” replied the entrepreneur. “Oh, really? What did he say?” asked the reporter. “Just two memorable words,” said the entrepreneur. “You’re fired!”
I’m not an entrepreneur, at least I don’t think of myself as one. My professional life was pretty much limited to creating advertising, creating advertising agencies and building brands. But because the organizers of tonight’s event saw a relationship between entrepreneurial thinking and creativity, they asked me to share a few perspectives from my advertising career on the power of creativity. I’ll do that, then try to link those observations to business innovation.
Mad Men Rethinking Creativity
We like to think of New York as a center of creativity in both culture and commerce. Among other things, New York is the setting for the three-time Emmy-winning television series Mad Men, about the advertising business along Madison Avenue in the ’60s. My office is still on Madison Avenue but we no longer spend our days and nights smoking, drinking and womanizing. Back in the day, there was a bit of that, I suppose. To be honest, I met my wife, then a young trainee in our agency, when she burst into my office one night seeking refuge from the inebriated attention of a senior account executive who was chasing her down the hall. To this date I’ve never admitted to the accusation at the time that I paid the guy $50 bucks to chase her into my office.
The Bernbach often referred to on the Mad Men show is Bill Bernbach, the late founder of DDB. He’s the “B” in DDB, the agency of which I am now chairman emeritus. Bernbach did work for Volkswagen starting in 1959. When Detroit was promoting big cars, Bernbach introduced the Volkswagen Beetle to the United States market, urging drivers to think small. And with ads using irony and honesty to say, for example, that while the Beetle pictured in the ad might look fine to the reader, a fussy, meticulous German inspector had found a minor flaw. Ergo, the headline “Lemon.”
In the end, Bernbach made this underpowered little German car with an underpowered American ad budget the iconic choice of smart buyers. It was the status symbol for those who needed no status symbol and soon became the best selling import in America. That’s just one example of the power of creativity from the days of the Mad Men.
From What Is to What If
There have been many books written on the subject of creativity and how to unleash its power. But if you’ll allow me to oversimplify the process, it often comes down to changing the words “What is” to the question “What if?”
People who create new products, new images—even new organization—first develop a keen understanding of the status quo: What is. Then, using their imagination (which Einstein reminded us is more important than knowledge) they dare to ask the question: What if?
In 1970 a U.S. track coach named Bill Bowerman felt that running shoes were too heavy and asked, “What if we poured melted rubber in a waffle iron?” The result: Nike shoes. In 1979 Sony founder Masaru Ibuka asked, “What if people could listen to their music while they were walking around?” And thus the Walkman was born—the precursor to the amazing portable music devices we enjoy today. In advertising, what we call creativity often results from finding new combinations of existing ideas or objects.
In 1986 we looked at where the advertising industry was going and asked, what if two creative organizations, Needham Harper Worldwide and Doyle Dane Bernbach, were combined to create DDB Worldwide, to make sure that Bill Bernbach’s idea of engaging consumers with warmth, wit and good humor could be experienced by clients around the world? Today, DDB Worldwide is unleashing the power of “Bernbachian” creativity for clients in 96 countries.
But the power of creativity can be used to do more than create sales and make money. It can be used to create awareness and stimulate action on issues of collective concern, from energy preservation to eco-initiatives to conflict resolution.
There are myriad examples of the power of creativity and business innovation lifting societies and addressing human need. I’ll close with just five:
Play Pumps —A former South African advertising man named Trevor Field asked, “What if a children’s merry-go-round could serve as a pump to draw water from the ground so villagers in Africa wouldn’t have to walk miles to get it?” So far, 1,500 Play Pumps have been installed, providing fun for kids and water for their villages.
Water Purification Packets — Someone at Procter & Gamble asked, “What if a powdered mixture could be poured into a pail of dirty water to make it clean and safe to drink?” To date, 200 million of these packets have been distributed in 57 countries to provide two billion liters of clean water.
World Bicycle Relief — The head of a Chicago bicycle parts firm asked, “What if we gave bicycles to students in poor countries who are now walking more than three hours to school?” So far, World Bicycle Relief has given away more than 71,000 bikes; now the time children used to spend walking can be used for studying.
Vision Spring — What if community members in emerging countries could be employed as an entrepreneurial sales force to provide affordable glasses and correct 40 percent of the vision problems in their countries? Dr. Jordan Kassalow, a practicing American optometrist, is providing better eyesight and employment at one and the same time. So far, his organization Vision Spring has provided 400,000 pairs of affordable reading glasses and sustainable employment for 9,000 entrepreneurs.
Education for Employment — Ron Bruder, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, asked “What if we inquired of local employers in the Middle East what skill sets they need, and then trained unemployed youth in exactly those skills, be it air- conditioning repair, land surveying or whatever?” Of the more than 1,000 graduates of Education for Employment, 85 percent are now gainfully employed. Ron hopes to see 50,000 more graduate over the next five years.
The power of creativity
As we go about our businesses, unleashing our own powers of creativity to pursue growth and profits, I hope we will also look to the needs of the larger world around us, carefully observing what is. And then, using our imagination, our passion and our entrepreneurial skills, dare to ask:
It is up to each of us to fill in the blank.
Address to “The New Beginning” Entrepreneurs Dinner
Time Warner Center, New York
October 5, 2010
Founder & President, Business for Diplomatic Action
Chairman Emeritus, DDB Worldwide
*Editors Note: Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA), the not-for-profit group formed in 2002 to enlist the U.S. business community in actions to lift America’s standing in the world, brought its operations to a close effective December 31, 2010. In announcing the decision, BDA founder and president Keith Reinhard noted that world opinion of the United States has improved dramatically, with the number of countries seeing America as a positive influence now once again outnumbering those that see us as negative.
At the tail end of the 1990s, a decade marked by intractable civil wars and horrific violence in many corners of the globe, an unexpected issue began to bedevil foreign policy decision-makers. In places as disparate as Colombia and Liberia, critics implicated foreign companies in the bloodshed because of how security forces worked closely with corporate representatives against the interests of local communities. Repressive host governments provided troops to protect the mines, plantations and oil sites that funneled wealth to the regime, too-often leading to violent conflicts with the poor and oppressed. In places like Nigeria, military and police forces appropriated corporate-owned helicopters, jeeps and other resources to launch attacks on civilian protesters and opposition groups. Hiring private security companies—seemingly a way to avoid complicity with government forces—backfired when overly-enthusiastic protection forces harassed and abused local neighbors, engaged in corruption and committed unwarranted acts of violence, most famously in Iraq. Making payoffs to different sides in a conflict to protect corporate property, as Chiquita did in Colombia, simply prolonged the violence and undermined peace efforts. All of these garnered significant media attention and citizen protests. Ultimately, how corporations in conflict zones provided security for their people and facilities entailed significant blowback for the foreign policy interests of their home governments.
In response, some policymakers in the U.S. and U.K. began to recognize the need to do something —about the conflict and repression itself, and about the role of their companies in the violence. Working with representatives in the human rights advocacy community, they eventually negotiated an agreement that they viewed as a way to align the actions of American and British companies with the foreign policy interests of their governments in the realm of human rights. Although they did not label it as such, what they produced was a significant initiative in corporate public diplomacy—what is known today as the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security.
The Voluntary Principles and Corporate Social Responsibility
The Voluntary Principles (VP) were negotiated in 2000 among representatives of oil, gas and mining firms—the industries most likely to face conflict—and human rights NGOs, facilitated by American and British diplomats.[i] As Bennett Freeman, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and a lead facilitator of the negotiations, described in the dialogue, “We shared an economic and political stake in ensuring that those companies continued to operate in countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Colombia. But we also shared an interest in encouraging corporate responsibility to help rebuild the fractured post-Seattle political consensus for globalization.”[ii] The VPs established guidelines for risk assessment, and relations between companies and both public and private security forces. When investing in unstable areas, companies are asked to assess the likelihood of violence and human rights abuse that might affect or implicate their operations. In their relations with host governments, the Voluntary Principles call on companies to uphold the rule of law, monitor and record abuses, and promote the protection of human rights by public security forces. Companies that hire private security firms are asked to conduct due diligence on the companies and ensure that they uphold human rights and the rule of law.[iii]
The VPs were initially negotiated among a relatively small group of actors, but they now involve seven governments, nine NGOs, and 17 extractive sector firms.[iv] The VP have become more institutionalized over the ten years of their existence, with a Secretariat and regular plenary meetings. They now include a process for admission of new government participants, guidelines for multi-stakeholder implementation within host societies, and various guidance documents to assist in implementation.
Despite progress, the VPs are not widely adopted, most host governments are reluctant to participate, and there are few strict requirements for members. However, even without official membership, aspects of the VPs—and sometimes the Principles themselves—have been incorporated into some security contracts. Risk assessments that address conflict and human rights risks, which have been widely promoted by the United Nations Global Compact and the conflict prevention NGO International Alert, are becoming more widely known. Other organizations, including the World Bank and IFC, are considering how to implement the VPs in projects. More significantly, the VPs are now embedded within a larger framework of attention to the link between company actions, human rights, and conflict.
The UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, was given the task of developing a framework for understanding how international human rights obligations affect companies. After extensive fact-finding and consultation, in 2008 he announced what he called “Protect, Respect, Remedy” as the basis for understanding business and human rights.[v] Governments have the primary responsibility for ensuring the protection of human rights from abuse by third parties. Companies have the responsibility to respect human rights, conducting due diligence to avoid abuse themselves and acting to prevent it where it occurs. Finally, victims have a right to remedies, both judicial and non-judicial.
Both the VPs and the UN Special Representative’s work are one piece of a larger corporate social responsibility movement. Across a wide range of issue areas—conflict, corruption, environment—there is a lot of heated criticism about corporate behavior, especially in the developing world. There has been particular criticism of the impact of oil, gas and mining firms in weakly governed areas of the world, where the competition to control natural resource revenues often exacerbates and inflames conflicts. One result of the backlash against companies has been the adoption of corporate codes of conduct, more transparency about company operations, and numerous multi-stakeholder negotiations to establish expectations and norms for how companies operate in local communities. These efforts generally promote transparency and engagement with local and international partners, drawing companies into more social and political relationships with a wider range of people than in the past. This has the potential (not always realized, admittedly) of creating better conditions, opening up channels for dialogue and establishing better corporate community relations. If it works, it may also create the conditions for better relations with the home country too.
Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Public Diplomacy
Traditional public diplomacy perspectives do not include a role for private actors. “Public” means government, period. If other actors are part of a public diplomacy initiative it is in an instrumental fashion—government agencies make use of private resources and contacts to pursue their own agenda. A broader perspective on diplomacy, however, takes a more contextual approach that acknowledges the wide array of actors that impinge on government interests in both positive and negative ways when they engage with publics in foreign countries. Those activities can be viewed as public diplomacy on multiple levels to the degree they contribute to a more positive environment for the local community. In the case of corporations, this means refraining from the kind of illegitimate behavior for which these firms are too often known.
The broader corporate social responsibility movement should be integrated into public diplomacy initiatives. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is generally defined as going beyond compliance with law and regulation in the areas of social, environmental and other issue areas when conducting core business operations. It is not the same thing as philanthropy, marketing or lobbying—although these can sometimes be difficult to distinguish. Various activist campaigns that span the globe bring attention to corporate misdeeds abroad, publicize them to consumers and investors who care about the reputation of the firms they patronize, and litigate significant issues. Much of the CSR agenda has been incorporated into larger institutional initiatives, such as the United Nations Global Compact, which is a partnership between the UN and companies based on upholding core UN principles.
In an ideal world, linking corporate social responsibility with public diplomacy should be a win-win-win situation for local communities, foreign companies, and home government foreign policy. Unfortunately, there exist many significant barriers to this outcome. Companies are too reluctant to change their behavior, often because the host governments on which they rely are not interested in or capable of improving human rights performance. Despite this, through the efforts of a variety of activists, diplomats, and institutions, efforts such as the Voluntary Principles reflect changes in society’s expectations of corporate behavior. Those expectations may in turn support a better integration of corporate activities into official public diplomacy.
[ii] Bennett Freeman, “Drilling for Common Ground,” Foreign Policy July 1, 2001.
[iv] The participating governments are Canada, Netherlands, Norway, Colombia, Switzerland, the UK and US. The NGOs are Amnesty International, The Fund for Peace, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, International Alert, IKV Pax Christi, Oxfam, Pact, and Search for Common Ground. Corporate participants are AngloGold Ashanti, Anglo American, BG Group, BHP Billiton, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Freeport McMoRan, Hess, Marathan Oil, Newmont Mining, Occidental Petroleum, Rio Tinto, Shell, Statoil and Talisman Energy. Three observer groups are the ICRC, International Council on Mining and Minerals, and the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association.
[v] For complete information, see the special website set up for Ruggie’s work: http://www.business-humanrights.org/SpecialRepPortal/Home
Virginia Haufler is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. She specializes in the role of the private sector in global governance, the global regulation of industry, and the rise of industry self-regulation and corporate social responsibility. Her current work includes a book project examining the governance of corporations in conflict zones, a co-authored project on non-state actors and security, and research on the financial sector and the environment.
Communication today moves faster than ever. Consider this recent example: a large international consumer products company introduced a product based on new technology. One customer believed that the material caused a skin rash. She posted a request on a blog asking if any other consumers were experiencing the same problem. Within days, thousands of consumers with skin rashes thought this product might be the cause. The press picked up the story; the U.S. Congress held hearings; other regulators started investigations. This wasn’t as great a disaster as the BP spill, but it caused a lot of problems for the company. (The new product was not the cause of her rash.)
These new patterns of communication, including a greatly expanded concept of “media,” have significant implications for companies, particularly on a global stage, which must communicate with a number of key audiences or stakeholders. To continue to operate profitably and grow, they need to build trust. They must also engage in what is being called “corporate diplomacy.” Everyone agrees that “communication” is key, yet, what does “communication” mean? Forward-thinking companies should adopt a model for communication which can provide consistency and strategic guidance in a world where some constituencies embrace the “new media” but others are still reading circulars posted in dusty stores. Such a model needs to be extremely simple yet robust, adaptable to languages and cultures, and to stretch across diverse functions from HR to IT, to shareholders, customers, community groups and other key stakeholders. It should provide a shared definition of communication which can translate into different languages and reach the internal and external audiences which demand transparency and accountability. Finally, the strategic model should serve to help preserve a company’s reputation in the face of a crisis.
Commitment to a common communication model is a leadership issue that begins at the top. My first real teacher in the kind of leadership required to run a complex organization was the Honorable William Webster, Director of the FBI, for whom I served as a White House Fellow and Special Assistant after graduating from Columbia Business School. Judge Webster’s management philosophy was, “use good judgment.” He also knew that bureaucracies filter information, reporting what they think their superiors want to know or what they want them to know. His remedy was a series of alternative channels of communication to ensure that information was not edited by the ubiquitous “rosie scenario.”
I personally experienced the wisdom of this approach. One of my tasks was to keep him updated on the number of women and minority special agents. This was a significant concern. As Judge Webster used to say, “We can’t investigate the Chinese mafia in San Francisco with a group of white men from Omaha.” The first time I reported on the numbers, Judge Webster sent me back to ask more questions. He knew he would be queried by members of Congress, and if he was incorrect, his credibility would be damaged. I quickly learned that there were a variety of ways that an agency could manipulate its recruiting numbers. We could talk about the number of minority agents we “would expect” to have, not necessarily what we had or what we might reasonably retain. (This should not be taken as a criticism of the Bureau, which is one of the most mission-driven, effective and highly competent organizations in the world. It’s just a fact that it’s a bureaucracy, and bureaucracies, as Judge Webster knew, behave in predictable ways.)
When my government service ended, along with my savings, I founded a company and had a fortunate encounter with Jim Adams, then-CEO of Southwestern Bell Telephone. They had started an enterprise-wide quality initiative, and as a component, they deployed employees to talk to customers. His first finding: “The customer does not remember what we thought we told them.” Our first insight: Most people and organizations approach communication with the mindset of what they want to say or what they think a listener or audience needs to know. When you ask, “How much does the listener remember, a lot or a little?” everyone knows it’s only a little.
Effective communication is not what is said, written or presented; it is the goal of influencing what the listener or audience hears, believes and remembers.
The next issue is how the listener or audience accesses information. We are less concerned about the communication vehicle as we are with how the audience perceives its origin. We identify three main networks or channels: what the audience knows the company controls, what the listener/audience defines as “media” and thus perceives to be objective (or at least more objective) and verbal encounters between the company and the audience. (See the diagram appearing below.)
A company’s next goal should be alignment of these channels. That is, what the organization prepares for the audience should be reinforced, and never contradicted, by what the listener sees in the media or hears in a speech, or even in a conversation or an email.
In a crisis like BP’s, the first thing that happens is that messages are out of alignment. BP’s marvelous green ads citing they went “beyond petroleum” were overwhelmed with the news about the spill. However, alignment is important long before a crisis. At its simplest, an organization can’t say one thing to one audience and contradict it to another audience.
The Wall Street Journal published a comparison, “The Two Faces of Lehman Brothers,” of what the company was saying about its financial condition externally and what it was saying internally on conference calls and in emails within a 24-hour period. Externally, the CEO said that the planned restructuring “will create a very clean, liquid balance sheet,” and their CFO said, “We have maintained our strong liquidity and capital profiles,” adding, “We don’t feel that we need to raise that extra ($4 billion) amount.” Internally, firm executives discussed the need for as much as $3 to $5 billion USD of new capital.
The line between internal and external audiences, which was never as hard and fast as executives thought, is more porous than ever. Senior management needs to model the expectation that information will be as straightforward and dependable as possible and be consistent across all networks.
There are some immediate and obvious implications for companies and organizations. We first examine the advertising, recruiting, reports to investors and other material that a company prepares and we pull out what we call the “good words”—that is, the anchor or value words which distill the mission, vision and goals of the entity. They’re always there. Then we look to see if the senior leadership is using those words frequently and passionately. If they are not, the leadership conveys that it is not fully committed to the claims or messages.
Here’s a quick test: When listening to a presentation, you should be able to pick out discern these good words. They may even be reinforced by the visuals. (And, in the best of all worlds, the presenter has actually rehearsed. Remember, my former boss President Ronald Reagan always rehearsed.) But then, too frequently, when Q&A starts, what happens to that list of positive words? They disappear, sending the clear message that the speaker is now speaking candidly. The lesson: Positive words which occur during a presentation must reappear in Q&A to be credible.
We’ll introduce only the first two dynamics, since space constrains a complete discussion of how to influence what the listener hears, believes and remembers. We believe that the first fundamental lesson of influence-based communication is the recognition that we pick up and repeat each other’s words. Remember that the definitions must be simple and easy to translate, so we define the words you want repeated as “good words” and the words you don’t want repeated as “bad words.” Negative words have immense power and, like bad currency, drive out good words. In 2009, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, leaked a letter to the FDIC sharing his concerns that IndyMac bank might “fail.” Within 24 hours, there was a run on the bank and it failed.
One of my favorite examples from 2009 was a lawsuit by Pursuit Partners against UBS. UBS invested Pursuit’s funds and lost all the money. Pursuit sued. In court, Pursuit produced brochures and PowerPoint slides where UBS committed to invest in “investment-grade securities” and emails, produced in discovery, where UBS personnel referred to the investments as “vomit” and “crap.” The court’s decision, for Pursuit, noted that no one could mistake “investment-grade securities” for “vomit” and “crap.” It would be hilarious if it didn’t show a complete breakdown of integrity and alignment.
BP’s executives, alas, got caught with word blunders. CEO Tony Haywood took a weekend off, no doubt well deserved, to go see his “yacht.” In his normal circles, “yacht-watching” would undoubtedly be a positive pastime, but during the cleanup, when the lives of thousands of people had been disrupted, it was a slap in the face. Similarly, BP’s Swedish chairman announced, “We care about the small people. Some may say that the big oil companies are greedy, but we care about the small people.” It may be an error in translation but when speaking from the Rose Garden with the President of the United States, every word will be scrutinized. The incident indicates that BP still did not have, or would listen to, competent communication advice.
Next, statistics: What matters is what the audience thinks of the number, not what the number means to the company. One of my favorite examples is lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart’s attempt to explain why selling her ImClone stock on what may have been an inside tip was irrelevant. She explained that from the sale she only made “$40,000, about .006 percent of my net worth.” She thought this showed how miniscule the amount was, but it infuriated the jury.
The oil industry fell into this trap a few years ago when it ran ads of bar charts comparing their rate of return, about eight percent, to grocery stores, about 1.5 percent and financial institutions, about 20 percent. They were trying to offset the headlines of making “billions” and counter public anger on then-rising gasoline prices. The problem was that we still read about “billions,” and most of the public finds comparative rates of return a mystery. This was a compelling argument to the industry, not to their public audiences. (Both of these examples also show how much people can pay for bad advice.)
I hope the illustrations above have convinced you that what matters is what the listener hears and that there is a well-developed methodology to analyze and influence it. Let’s turn now to some trends and developments which every company and organization should be aware of and prepared for in case of emergency.
Speed of response: As noted in the first paragraph, information moves at a much faster pace than ever before. The six o’clock news has been replaced by a 24 hour news cycle. The implications are important. Stories get filed or posted immediately. A company may be contacted by a reporter, see a posting in a blog or a video on YouTube, and must be prepared to respond almost immediately. The luxury of researching the actual facts is out of the question. This requires a new strategy. It requires an organization to identify all of its stakeholders, identify the expected things that could go wrong or threaten a reputation and to prepare beforehand what can truthfully be said, who can say it and what channels will be used to carry the message.
Use other companies’ real examples as a benchmark of what you might have to deal with. For example: The CEO of the Indian division of a Turin-based company, which itself was a division of a Zurich-based company, was beaten to death in front of his employees. The initial conference call involved the Chairman of the parent company who was traveling in China, the Turin CEO, corporate executives in Zurich, shaken executives in Mumbai and experts in Dallas and Florida. The Chairman expressed hope that the story would be confined to Mumbai, but it was front page news the next day in the U.S. and Europe. Then, the Indian Minister of Labor issued a statement that the company’s labor practices were responsible for the violence. That produced a second round of stories around the globe.
The company found itself managing inquires from the Indian government, global media, regulators, customers and other businesses while it was trying to ascertain what actually had happened and why. (It became clear later that the Indian division had been reporting that labor relations were improving, and they could protect the plant from violence. These reports were clearly inaccurate. They had rejected offers of assistance from both division and corporate headquarters, apparently because they did not want to admit they were unable to manage the risk.)
Preparing for these scenarios requires a thorough assessment of audiences, possible scenarios and a candid analysis of the skill of spokespersons. It almost always requires Judge Webster’s strategy of multiple routes of communication to the company’s leadership. Is there a trusted, experienced resource who can be depended on to provide rigorous critique?
Again we turn to BP as an example. The oil spill added the new dimension of emotional alignment. The people affected by the spill – fishermen, families living along the gulf coast, businesses – were devastated, and their stories were heartwrenching. BP’s CEO responded late, and with characteristic British reticence, coming across as detached and uncaring. Further, BP tried to counter the emotional stories with facts and statistics. Their original reports and ads detailed how many million feet of boom, how many boats and how many people had been mobilized. One clear lesson is that you do not counter anecdotes, particularly emotional ones, with facts and statistics.
Perhaps this is the moment to remind senior management that complaints and dissent are being democratized, enabled by cell phones (as seen so vividly in the protests in Iran a year ago), Twitter and the proliferation of internet sites and services. (I sometimes think that everyone has a cell phone with a camera. If you have a rodent in your warehouse, expect a picture of it to get on the internet.)
This phenomenon brings new requirements. In an age where images flood our consciousness, companies must compete with visuals as well as facts. The rescue of the miners in Chile from their near-tomb is an excellent example. The Chilean government appealed for and accepted help. Not only did this provide them the most innovative resources, it broadened those identified as responsible to approximately a dozen countries and 20 companies. The Chilean president was highly visible consoling families, leading cheerleading efforts and calming tempers. The drama of the miners emerging one by one produced a worldwide euphoria. It also produced an exceptional opportunity for the companies involved to demonstrate commitment, caring and expertise. The Houston company supplying the pioneering technology, which guides drilling by using precision gyroscopes rather than the more conventional magnetic sensors, found itself doing dozens of interviews.
Companies need to anticipate what sorts of images will be generated when things go wrong, how audiences will see and react to those images, and ask, what are we doing now that could produce competitive video which can be readied in advance? For example, any oil company should know what images and stories an oil spill is going to produce. The competitive stories – on video -- should include what a company is doing for safety drills, for prevention, for mitigation and to be a good corporate citizen.
This exercise sometimes reveals that a company is not, in fact, doing what needs to be done. The tendency then is to find excuses, to claim the company is prepared—like the Indian division in the example above.
We live in an electronic age, and the leaders of any organizatio—any company, any nonprofit, any government—are called upon to communicate, and to use communication as a strategic business tool and as a leadership skill. Our library of examples is replete with examples where the leadership was incompetent, and where no internal or external resource was empowered to provide honest criticism and direction.
General Motors’ ultimate failure could have been predicted by analyzing its communication. A number of years ago at a press conference announcing good news, the CEO read text while standing behind the podium, stumbling through a key sentence, “This is a sig, sig, sig, significant milestone in the history of General Motors Corporation.” The internal audiovisual crew showed members of the audience yawning. The CEO had obviously not rehearsed; he was not enthusiastic about what he was saying; the a/v crew were obviously not considered important by the leadership, and so they didn’t care about their work product, even ridiculing their employer by what they chose to shoot. This snapshot in time was indicative of the lack of honesty, transparency and courage by management and the unions. It’s hardly a trivial matter since GM’s market share was cut in half in the last few decades and thousands of people and small businesses have been hurt. It wasn’t lack of understanding that drove GM into bankruptcy; experts had pointed out for years that union contracts had turned GM into what was described as a healthcare provider which made cars on the side. Both sides knew it, but couldn’t bring themselves to be honest.
We tell our clients, always tell the truth. In a pinch, you can remember it. If that doesn’t inspire you, focus on the examples of General Motors, UBS and Pursuit Partners.
The final thought to add as we consider communication as a crucial tool for corporate diplomacy is the need to empower and enlist employees and customers as ambassadors. This is the positive aspect to the democratization of dissent; it is the enabling of advocates.
BP again provides an instructive and, this time, a mostly positive example. They enlisted their employees in ads. The employees described their families, their history in the Gulf, their commitment to doing the right thing and to a long-term process. They were very effective. BP showed courage running them despite being criticized for spending money on them. Even more effective was when BP finally allowed the media to talk to its highly trained professionals drilling the relief well. When employees told reporters, “I’m proud of BP,” or “It’s killing me to see the company portrayed like this,” and “We will get this done,” they were very credible.
The strategy for corporate diplomacy today is that it’s important to engage, equip and deploy your employees as part of the normal course of business. It is too late when a crisis strikes.
To do this effectively requires a very different mindset from the past. The organization is flattened. Information is more accessible. Senior leadership is more subject to criticism, and imperial behavior is inconsistent with employees as ambassadors.
What is the goal, the test of success? Here is an illustration from some of the large community banks we work with in the U.S. For the last several years, negative media attention about banking has produced questions to their executives and employees: Are you at risk?; Why are banks greedy?; and, How much does your CEO make? They look at these as opportunities to engage the questioner and share the contributions they make to their communities and the important role they play in the lives of their customers. They understand that they must focus and simplify their message. And never compete with yourself.
As this article is being written, BP’s new CEO hasn’t learned this. He recently made headlines with a speech accusing the media of “fear mongering.” The speech also talked about BP’s commitment to the Gulf and their long-term intentions. However, the “fear mongering” comments got most of the play. He should have reinforced what his employees say in the ads, “We’re committed to making it right and we’re making progress,” and what the workers on the relief drill told reporters, and resisted the temptation to blame others
In the movie, “The Bucket List,” the character played by Jack Nicholson adds to his list of things to accomplish, “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world.” When the other lead character, played by Morgan Freeman, asks how he intends to accomplish this, he replies, “Volume.” Effective communication isn’t just volume. Without an effective and easily explained approach and definition, a company has the illusion of communication, an illusion which does not serve well given the demands of stakeholders for transparency and accountability. One more time: Know your audience and aim to influence what they hear, believe and remember; then enlist them as ambassadors. This approach will help companies succeed in true corporate diplomacy.
Merrie Spaeth has a unique background in media, government, politics, business and the entertainment industry. She is a pioneer in communication theory and training, and is acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent crisis management strategists in the world. After serving as President Ronald Reagan’s director of media relations at the White House, Merrie founded Dallas-based Spaeth Communications in 1987. She teaches at the Cox School of Business where she is one of the few instructors to receive perfect evaluations. Merrie’s revolutionary Influence Model™ is used by some of the world’s most respected companies.
Classical music has many faces, and symphony orchestras, in particular, are often used as instruments for a multitude of political purposes and ideologies the world over. For example, in 1999, Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said created the East-West Divan Orchestra in an effort to address the conflict in Palestine by bringing young musicians from Israel and the Arab world together and creating a forum for peace. For years, Latin American President Hugo Chavez, has been sending the Simon Bolívar Youth Orchestra, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, around the world to improve the image of the state of Venezuela. In 2003, the Iraqi National Orchestra strove to win favor in the eyes of the American public by giving a concert in Washington, D.C. In 2008, conductor Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic gave a concert in Pyöngjang, featuring music by Gershwin, Wagner, Dvorak, Berstin, and Bizet, and sponsored by the US State Department. The purpose was to move forward the stalemated US-North Korean negotiations on nuclear weapons. “It can’t just be at a nuclear negotiation table,” US-ambassador to North Korea Christopher Hill stated, “We need to start having some people-to-people exchanges.”
The vocabulary of cultural diplomacy has thus recently acquired a new term: “musical diplomacy”. Musical diplomacy (which may comprise any genre of music) aims at reaching foreign audiences on an emotional level. It hopes to create curiosity, sympathy and, perhaps, a nonverbal bond that will either improve the quality of the political discourse or make a political point. Musical diplomacy does not entail the assumption that music per se is necessarily political; instead, it assumes that music, like any other cultural form of expression, can be manipulated for political purposes.
Musical diplomacy has a long history; indeed, modern states and nongovernmental actors have repeatedly resorted to musical diplomacy in an effort to compete or convene. In the 19th century, German-speaking conductors, such as Karl Muck, Emil Paur and Arthur Nikisch, and symphony orchestras, like the Boston Symphony Orchestra or the Chicago Orchestra in North America, cemented the image of Germany as a land of music, magic and emotion throughout the world. Sometimes, these artists had a mandate; in 1906, for example, the German Kaiser explicitly sent Muck to Boston to improve German-American relations. At other times, artists acted largely on their own. But even if they did not realize the larger implications of their actions, these actions have a diplomatic effect.
During the early cold war, the United States sent an entire armada of symphony orchestras on tours through Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The Soviet State Symphony Orchestra visited the United States just three months after Leonard Bernstein’s visit, in December 1959. A decade later, the Soviet ensemble went to London under the guidance of Mstislav Rostropovich to play Antonin Dvorak’s cello concerto in Albert Hall. Client states likewise participated in the international music tempest. The Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany sent Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic around the world, while the GDR followed suit with East German top orchestras, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Dresden Philharmonic.
Like all political instruments, the instrument of musical diplomacy does not always work as intended. Earlier this year, Iran’s Tehran Symphony Orchestra was sent on a government-sponsored tour across Europe to win favor among local audiences. The tour turned out to be a complete disaster: it was poorly attended, ridiculed by the press, and heavily protested by local Iranian dissidents.
Jessica Gienow-Hecht is Professor of International History with an emphasis on the history of peace and conflict resolution at the University of Cologne. She has taught at the Universities of Virginia, Frankfurt am Main, Bielefeld, Heidelberg, the Universität Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Harvard University and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Her field of interest is the interplay of culture and international relations since the early modern period. Gienow-Hecht’s study Transmission Impossible: American Journalism as Cultural Diplomacy in Postwar Germany, 1945-1955 (Baton Rouge, 1999) was co-awarded the Stuart Bernath Book Prize (best first book in diplomatic history), as well as the Myrna Bernard Prize (best book in diplomatic history written by a woman), both given by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Her latest study, Sound Diplomacy: Music and Emotions in German-American Relations, 1850-1920 (Chicago, 2009), won the Choice Outstanding Academic Title Award and has resulted in several broadcasting interviews.
The international economic infrastructure is in a state of recession and the free market economies of the world are among the hardest hit. Consequently, many have posed the question: is the free market a failed economic system?
In The End of the Free Market, Dr. Ian Bremmer brilliantly puts together the argument that ‘state capitalism,’ a term that he defines as “a system in which the state plays the role of leading economic actor and uses markets primarily for political gain,”  is the single most imminent threat to the existence of free market democracy.
The book begins with Bremmer detailing the history of state capitalism and how it rose from the ashes of mercantilism, which is the practice of economic nationalism for the purposes of establishing a wealthy and powerful state. He then explains how recent state capitalism came into existence from post-Communist authoritarian governments who experimented with the free market, not for the purposes of having a flourishing economy, but in order to have leverage over the citizenry of their respective states. Bremmer then elaborates on the different tools that modern state capitalist governments utilize to maintain power. The list includes direct influence over national oil and gas corporations (NOCs), various state owned enterprises (SOEs), privately owned national champions, and finally, sovereign wealth funds.
Next, Bremmer carries out in-depth case studies on countries that currently practice state capitalism. Among them are Saudi Arabia, whose royals survive by using the kingdom’s massive oil revenues to buy political allegiance; United Arab Emirates, where each Emirate has its own state-owned oil company; Algeria, with over one thousand state-owned companies; Ukraine, where the government owns all agricultural land and hold majority stakes in railroads, telecommunications, electricity, chemicals, heavy machinery, and civil aviation; Russia, which has applied restrictions in foreign investment to certain strategic sectors; India, which involves itself in politically sensitive products like food, fuel, fertilizer, electricity, and water; Mexico, whose government owns an oil company ranked 31st on the 2009 Forbes Global list of top companies by revenue; and China, which provides great financial assistance to companies who are interested in foreign investments in key economic sectors.
Throughout the book, Bremmer presents statistics that would make even the most confident banker on Wall Street sleep uneasy. These statistics include a report from the Forbes Global 2000 list of the world’s largest companies, 117 of which are state-owned from Brazil, Russia, India, and China (also known as the BRIC countries). Meanwhile, a total of 239 American, Japanese, British, and German companies—privately owned—dropped off the list.
Bremmer artistically uses a ‘market spectrum’ in order to describe the different economic systems currently used by different nations. On this ‘market spectrum,’ state capitalism leans further to the left, towards command economies and ultimately ‘Utopian Communism,’ while free market capitalism leans to the right, towards free market economies and ultimately ‘Utopian Libertarianism.’ Bremmer argues that since the economic pendulum took a swing too far to the right and the resulting lack of regulation led to the recession, the U.S. government will and has already recently indicated that they will aggressively push the pendulum to the left. This, Bremmer points out, is a critical mistake.
With the decline of U.S. influence on politics around the world already evident in the lack of support from nations to place sanctions on Iran, by shying away from the free market system and allowing major countries that practice state capitalism (i.e. China and Russia) to have an even larger influence over the international system, the presence of the United States will only further diminish. Bremmer explains that in order to alleviate this problem, American corporations must show less fear. Additionally, the U.S. government should resist intervening due to paranoia about national security when countries which practice state capitalism make certain purchases of American companies. One example of this is when in 2005 the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, an NOC, bid $18.5 billion dollars to purchase Unocal, a U.S.-owned oil company with interests in Central Asia. The Unocal board of directors essentially rejected the transaction because more than two-thirds of the funds were put up by the Chinese government and therefore defied a ‘free-market’ transaction.
Bremmer goes on to say that U.S. ‘soft power’ has begun to deteriorate because many other state capitalist countries now compete with the U.S. for screen time since its influence over other countries is on the decline. Essentially, he argues public diplomacy is something that should not be heavily relied on. However, the U.S. can challenge state capitalism by continuing to invest heavily in its ‘hard power.’ State capitalist countries are too busy spending and procuring domestic issues at home to be concerned too much with other countries in the world. If the U.S. continues to outspend China 10-to-1 and Russia 25-to-1 on their military, the U.S. will be able to maintain its political and economic presence in the international system.
Bremmer ends his discussion by cleverly drawing comparisons of current U.S. economic relations with China to previous U.S. political relations with the USSR. America currently relies on China to finance its debts, while the Chinese economy depends on American consumers. If the Chinese and the Americans break ties, they will have “mutually assured economic destruction,” similar to what many people believed would have happened during the 1980s had the U.S. and the USSR ceased relations with one another. In order for the global economy to ascend and the American free market to once again flourish, Bremmer writes, the U.S. must set aside their ‘paranoia’ of national security and continue to do business with China. Given that the international economy is still recovering from the recent recession, neither country has a viable option to cut economic ties with the other. The U.S., China, and nearly every other country in the world need as many flows of goods and capital that are available, and enabling free trade opens the door for these opportunities.
Predicting the future has been a lively pastime for centuries. When opportunists discovered that forecasting mankind’s future could lead to lucrative careers as pundits or consultants, nebulous gaps of uncertainty were paved over with concrete conviction. George Friedman, chief intelligence officer and founder of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), a private-intelligence agency based in Austin, has made a very successful career as a prognosticator of international events and outcomes. In his latest book, The Next 100 Years, Friedman claims to apply geopolitics as the tool for which the future may be reasonably predicted by identifying major tendencies – technological, demographic, cultural, military– in their broadest sense, and to define the major events that might take place.
From the book’s outset, Friedman makes clear that his writing bears no promise to what the future will actually hold, but will consider the work a success if in the year 2100 one of his grandchildren glances at his predictions and remarks, “Not half bad.”
The striking and refreshing difference between this book and many others, is the projection of world events on a much longer timescale than the 24-hour news cycle that dominates most media and our understanding of the world. Simply put, the book is to daily world news as climate is to weather. Friedman's look into the future has all indicators pointing to continued U.S. domination, arguments made because the American heartland is surrounded by two large oceans and its U.S. Navy has supreme control over the world's seas. The greatest game change will take form in the transition to space domination later this century, but rest assured, the U.S. will lead that as well, Friedman argues.
Conflict will continue, but not on the scale of the U.S. - Islamist war (I have trouble with this phrase as other countries are involved, but I’m not sure what to replace it with—Islam’s war with the West?) and not nearly as destructive as the two world wars. Friedman argues that the United States is less concerned with decisively winning wars than ensuring that coalitions of nations are prevented from being able to raise a challenge. Successes illustrate that the U.S. is very good at that.
Friedman's prognostications -- and I should mention that this is not a spoiler, as these are the events on the book cover -- put the U.S. - Islamist war as nearly over, with al-Qaida all but broken and prevented from creating a new Islamic Caliphate. A new cold war with Russia is on the horizon in the 2020s, but not of the same magnitude as that of the past. Also in the '20s, China will fragment as the coastal provinces get rich on world trade, leaving the interior, geographically-isolated provinces to fall into poverty.
In the '30s, America will suffer a massive financial crisis exacerbated by the retirement of the baby boomers and a worldwide population shortage. Friedman also predicts that the Unites States will begin to pay people to immigrate to America, rather than restrict immigration, and will emerge from the crisis financially stronger as it always does after such crises.
The emergence of three new great powers in the '40s - Japan Turkey and Poland - will restructure the geopolitical framework by allowing Japan to take control of the Pacific, Turkey to dominate the Islamic countries and Poland to scoop up the remnant of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Russian Federation. The resurgence of Japan and Turkey will threaten American interests, and will be the harbingers of the next great global war in the '50s.
At the book’s grandest predictive denouement, Friedman envisions a Third World War that won't be fought as the first two were, but rather will begin with sneak attacks on what will be America's crown of military supremacy: geosynchronous orbiting space stations, nicknamed Battle Stars. If that sounds like science fiction, well, it is; some of the ideas mentioned in the book can literally be found in the works of science fiction writers Robert A. Heinlein and Lee Corey. America's retaliation with hypersonic weapons on Japanese and Turkish forces will give way to victory for America and its ally Poland.
Post war, America will enter another major technological surge, similar to that of the 1950s, and remain? the central, dominant actor in the world, touting revolutionary benefits such as the creation of space-based energy-collection facilities and advanced robotics.
There is little doubt that Friedman is good at predicting, but as even the author notes, "the closer one gets to details, the more likely one is to be wrong." There's a certain entertainment value to some of Friedman's wilder prognostications, but as he makes abundantly clear, the details are likely to be inaccurate but fun to compose regardless. With that understood, The Next 100 Years stands as a great foundation on which to build an understanding of the future based on patterns of history and is a recommended read to anyone seeking insight from a man whose guesses are recognized as much better than most.
4 US Cities
One Simple Mission: A New Beginning
If there ever were a time for a new beginning in this country, it is now. The recession is still very much present. Global crises and disasters compound daily. Our national attention is consumed with political candidates on both sides of the aisle who seem to have completely lost their minds. Yet amidst the absurdities, there are signs of hope and cause for optimism. One such indication is the momentum and support at the federal level for the promotion of entrepreneurship. An example of this support is a ground-breaking exchange program the BDA, the Entrepreneurs Organization and the United States Department of State just wrapped in New York. This exchange, brought 28 entrepreneurs from 28 countries to the US for three weeks of intensive mentoring, coaching and business development. The fellowship aptly titled, “New Beginnings – Innovation &Entrepreneurship” is part of the President’s Initiative on Entrepreneurship and was announced at the White House Summit on Entrepreneurship last April. The impetus behind an entrepreneurship focused exchange program has been building since the President delivered his address in Cairo.
“On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.”
President Barack Obama, June 4, 2009
Bringing such a vision to life is not an easy endeavor, and I commend the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs for their leadership in cultivating the concept and delivering State backing to launch the effort. Doing anything in the entrepreneurship and innovation space, especially at the federal level, is a delicate business – particularly because very few in the private sector know how to do it well. There are so many factors at play beyond an individual's desire to succeed – the environment must be right, the entrepreneurial ‘eco-system’ that supports innovation must also be in place. No one knows entrepreneurs better than the Entrepreneurs Organization, the leading global entrepreneurs’ network with nearly 8,000 members worldwide. The EO’s global leadership spear-headed the development of this ground-breaking program with the Department of State and BDA, sharing their proprietary accelerator content and engaging their local membership in the host cities: DC, Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York.
I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with the New Beginnings entrepreneurs during their stop in San Francisco. The University of San Francisco’s MBA School[i] generously provided our venue for the EO Accelerator Day and sponsored our evening reception, providing the perfect backdrop on their Lone Mountain campus. I listened to each of the entrepreneurs’ stories and marveled at the many obstacles they each had overcome. Their intense passion, optimism, and energy were infectious. It was a privilege to have learned, laughed with them, and felt as if I were a part of their newly-formed family. They were from diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and geographies. Many of the entrepreneurs are women who are proud of what they represent for women in their own countries and the legacies they are leaving in their wake for generations of young girls. They remarked at how surprised they were by the generosity and kindness of Americans and how face to face, we are actually different than the stereotypes they see portrayed in movies and on television. The two short days I spent with them changed me forever.
IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT: Ebay, Google, Intel
Working with the New Beginnings program got me thinking about the impact entrepreneurs have on the global economy and how integral they are to our collective national and economic security. I recently read, Immigrant, Inc. – Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Driving the New Economy (and how they will save the American worker[ii]) and was surprised by the stats the authors had compiled.
“Across America, immigrants helped to start 25 percent of the new tech and engineering companies of the past decade.” – Vivek Wadhwa
Immigrants (from 1995-2005) helped launch 39% of the new high tech companies in California, 38% in New Jersey, and 29% in Massachusetts
In 2005, Immigrants founded companies that generated $52 billion in sales and employing 450,000.
Of the Immigrants who launched high tech companies, 96% held bachelors degrees, 74% graduate or post grad; Degrees concentrated in critical STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
Twice as many immigrants start businesses than native born Americans
Their critical skillsets:
ü Social Cohesiveness & Role of the Family – Intense Support Structures
Given the impact entrepreneurs have on our economy, we should do everything we can to encourage bright, hungry, dogged entrepreneurs to not only come to the US to study, but to stay here and create businesses. The Immigrant, Inc. authors cite Wadhwa’s[iii] work charting the Reverse Brain Drain and the statistics of those who come here to study, but now choose to go home to start businesses is alarming. If that was not enough, we also see America’s competitive edge eroding precipitously – sliding from the #1 spot just two years ago, to #4 now behind Switzerland, Singapore, and Sweden[iv].
We should also be aware as the EO shared with us that the connection between job creation and entrepreneurship is not only real, but a story rarely told or understood across the country.
Represent more than 99.7% of all employers
Provide 70% to 80% of the net new jobs annually
Employee roughly 130 million U.S. workers
Supporting and empowering high-growth, high-potential entrepreneurs, and giving them tools to succeed more quickly, will be critical in job creation and creating economic stability. This brings me back to New Beginnings. There cannot be any better investment in our economic future than bringing leading entrepreneurs together to help them do what they do best and expand on a global scale. When entrepreneurs come together, magic happens. Magic that produces innovation, growth and prosperity for everyone. I hope political candidates on both sides of the spectrum are listening and paying attention.
Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of this country and there is no going back to a time before it was critical to our national prosperity. Entrepreneurship should be aggressively nurtured and encouraged at every level of American society. As Andy Grove underscores, “Don’t bemoan the way things were. They will never be that way again.”
Cari E. Guittard, MPA is Vice President of Global Affairs with the Howard Consulting Group and Senior Associate with Global Strategic Partners both based in DC. From 2003-2010 Guittard served as Executive Director of Business for Diplomatic Action. Guittard teaches graduate courses in Corporate Diplomacy & Geopolitical Risk serving in an Adjunct Faculty capacity for USC's Annenberg School and USF's MBA Program. Guittard is based in San Francisco, CA.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ø To Listen to Interviews with the New Beginnings Entrepreneurs: http://www.traveltalkmedia.com/archives_oct10_10.html
Ø US Embassy Malaysia Highlights NB Delegate’s Experiences: http://malaysia.usembassy.gov/program_ivlp_vani101610.html
Ø Entrepreneurs Organization: http://www.eonetwork.org/Pages/default.aspx
Ø Business for Diplomatic Action: www.businessfordiplomaticaction.org
[v] Source – EO Global
Early this year, the Voice of America, the often-overlooked U.S. government-funded international broadcasting service, relished the best publicity of its 69-year history. The high point of that publicity was the January 20th appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” by Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, host and producer of “Parazit,” the weekly satirical show on VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN). “Parazit” (Persian for static, referring to Iranian interference targeting VOA satellite transmissions) is modeled after the “The Daily Show,” except that Iranian life and politics are the objects of its humor.
Hosseini and Arbabi were warmly received by “The Daily Show” audience and by the host Jon Stewart, who said “I'm proud to be considered in the fraternity of humorists that you guys are in, and I'm honored to have you on the show.”
The Daily Show appearance was just one in a stream of coverage for “Parazit.” The show has also been covered in, or on, The National (Abu Dhabi), the Washington Post, CNN, Public Radio International’s “The World,” PBS “Frontline,” PBS “NewsHour,” and “Fox News Sunday.”
The triumph of “Parazit” is gratifying to me because it provides belated support for the hypotheses of my Ph.D. dissertation, An Alternative Programming Strategy for International Radio Broadcasting (University Of Minnesota, 1979). The alternative strategy was in response to years of listening to the dreary talks, commentaries, and analyses that were the staple of international shortwave broadcasts. To a large extent, content that was suitable for print was simply read into a microphone. The result was very boring international broadcasting.
My alternative, or H1, was a more lively approach, something more suited to radio. Entertainment, I argued, could be part of the mix in international broadcasting because it helps to maintain the audience’s attention.
I occasionally injected humor on my own VOA program, “Communications World,” 1995 to 2002. Though my bits were not nearly the caliber of those of “Parazit,” they did encourage at least some listeners to keep tuning to the program.
With “Parazit” providing such good publicity for VOA, and supporting my old graduate school hypotheses, it is with trepidation that I discuss a possible downside. Almost all of the interviews with Hosseini and Arbabi appear to be based on the premise that the purpose of the program and therefore of VOA PNN, is to undermine Iran’s government. As Chris Wallace said on Fox News Sunday, “Parazit takes on the regime by making fun of it.”
As useful as entertainment programming may be to bringing an audience to VOA, VOA’s main value is news that is more comprehensive and reliable than the news the audience gets from their state-controlled state media. To maintain an audience, and to ensure that every news item is believed, credibility must be the primary consideration for an international broadcaster. There is nothing wrong with (and I am sympathetic to) criticism of the Iranian regime. But, if “Parazit” is perceived as an anti-regime program, rather than just a humor program, the audience may wonder what the purpose of VOA PNN is. News and advocacy should be conducted by separate organizations.
While most of the interviews of the “Parazit” team were friendly, proceeding on the assumption that “Parazit” and VOA should prod the Iranian regime, this exchange on NPR’s “On the Media,” January 14, 2011, touched on the issue of credibility:
Kambiz Hosseini: “We use dark humor and angry dark comedy because for me growing up in Iran, I felt a lot of suppression. That caused a lot of anger, not only for me, for my, my generation. Even though we are angry and we are a product of a revolution that we had nothing to do with, we're trying to manage to control this anger and try to talk to, to Islamic Republic government and say, dude, what you are doing to us is not right and we need our freedom back.”
Bob Garfield (interviewer): “But it is a VOA show, so, literally speaking, you guys are agents of the government of the United States. How does that affect your credibility with your audience?”
Saman Arbabi: “We've earned our audience’s trust because we've never taken sides with anyone. We've criticized Obama in the past. We've also criticized the Green Movement within Iran, the opposition leaders. So we've gained our credibility by just being balanced.”
If audience research (which can be conducted in Iran, or at least with Iranians abroad) determines that viewers perceive “Parazit” indeed to be balanced in its distribution of humor, no adjustments are required. If the viewers perceive the show to be anti-regime, VOA’s credibility could be affected.
In that case, the solution need not be especially difficult. The “Parazit” team is no doubt capable of spreading the humor out a bit: more about the opposition groups when opportunities arise, and more about other countries, including the United States. This does not have to adhere to a quota system: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others in the Iranian leadership will provide the most fodder for satire.
Humor aimed at politics in the United States may raise eyebrows. Those with old-school, bullet-theory ideas of communication would ask, “Why would ‘Parazit’ want to make fun at the expense of the country that pays for the program?” Nothing would better demonstrate that “Parazit” is qualified to make fun of the Iranian regime than the fact that it, at least occasionally, and in a suitably bipartisan manner, also makes fun of events in the United States.
In the history of radio international broadcasting, there are occasional instances of humor. Charlie and His Orchestra of Germany’s World War II radio broadcasts and “Warmonger’s Monthly” on Radio Moscow’s North American service in the 1980s both, predictably, aimed their invective at the governments of their target countries. They were trying, in vain, to drive a wedge between those governments and their citizens.
In 1967, Radio Sweden’s English Service launched “The Saturday Show,” an improbable and courageous departure from the usual international radio fare of that Cold War era. The program’s humor was aimed at the panoply of nations, including the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union (woe be to the USSR when one of its submarines was detected beneath Swedish waters), and China. Most of the writing of host Roger Wallis and colleagues was, however, directed at the politics and society of Sweden itself.
While a graduate student in Minneapolis, I listened to “The Saturday Show” most Saturdays on my shortwave radio. After a few weeks of listening, it was my impression that Radio Sweden was a very independent station transmitting from a very free country.
RFE/RL’s Voices of Solidarity and CNN’s Freedom Project
On a smaller scale, another entity of U.S. international broadcasting enjoyed a recent burst of publicity. Again, it involved content that might make its audience wonder what the mission of the station is.
During the 2011 New Year’s weekend, Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, broadcast “Voices of Solidarity.” World leaders, including former President George W. Bush, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, read the names of all the hundreds of Belarusian activists jailed after the dubious December 19 election of president Alyaksandr Lukashenka .
In an editorial, the Washington Post wrote, “the gesture offered some needed attention to a country whose holiday season crisis has yet to prompt an adequate reaction from the United States and other Western governments.” “Voices of Solidarity” was also praised in a blog of The Economist.
The event was a good idea, but the selection of RFE/RL to conduct the event was not a good idea. RFE/RL probably has the most substantial external, independent news service available in the Belarusian language. Radio Svaboda's listeners and website readers must know, without ambiguity, that RFE/RL is a news organization, not an anti-Lukashenka faction.
RFE/RL's credibility would have been subject to less strain if "Voices of Solidarity” had been conducted by Charter 97, or some other European NGO. Radio Svaboda could have covered the event, live, and almost in its entirety, cutting away just enough to let the audience know that RFE/RL, and not the event organizer, controlled the microphone.
Private U.S. international broadcasters have also blurred the line between advocacy (for good causes) and journalism. An example is: “The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery.” SAME PARAGRAPHQuoted in a March 7, 2011, press release, CNN International managing director Tony Maddox said, “The inhumanity of those who trade humans is truly shocking and should be stopped. Our coverage will spotlight not just those responsible, but the many courageous groups and individuals on the frontlines doing genuinely admirable work.” Maddox also wrote, “CNN will use the full range of our international resources to track and champion this story.”
There is probably no more commendable cause than the campaign against modern-day slavery. But should a news organization use terms such as "should be stopped," "genuinely admirable," and “champion”? Reporters do not “champion.” They report. If the reporting on this issue is adequate, the conclusions made by the audience will be predictable.
The BBC’s uncomfortable place
In January 2009, the BBC was asked by the Disasters Emergency Committee in the U.K. to broadcast an appeal to donate to humanitarian assistance for residents of Gaza affected by Israel’s Cast Lead military operation. At a time when there was much concern in Britain about the suffering in Gaza, this would have reaped public relations benefits for the BBC. The BBC, however, declined to participate. BBC Director General Mark Thompson said the decision was because of “a concern whether aid raised by the appeal could actually be delivered on the ground.” Thompson then outlined what he called “a second, more fundamental reason” for the decision:
This is because Gaza remains a major ongoing news story, in which humanitarian issues - the suffering and distress of civilians and combatants on both sides of the conflict, the debate about who is responsible for causing it and what should be done about it - are both at the heart of the story and contentious. We have and will continue to cover the human side of the conflict in Gaza extensively across our news services where we can place all of the issues in context in an objective and balanced way. After looking at all of the circumstances, and in particular after seeking advice from senior leaders in BBC Journalism, we concluded that we could not broadcast a free-standing appeal, no matter how carefully constructed, without running the risk of reducing public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its wider coverage of the story. Inevitably an appeal would use pictures which are the same or similar to those we would be using in our news programmes but would do so with the objective of encouraging public donations. The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story. … It is sometimes not a comfortable place to be, but we have a duty to ensure that nothing risks undermining our impartiality. It is to protect that impartiality that we have made this difficult decision.
It was, indeed, “not a comfortable place” for the BBC. Five thousand protesters demonstrated in front of BBC’s Broadcasting House in London. The Archbishop of Canterbury criticized the decision. Actors vowed to reject future BBC work. The BBC, nevertheless, did not change its mind.
The BBC World Service supports worthy causes, such as women’s rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, and environmental protection, through its independently and charitably funded BBC World Service Trust. In general, however, the projects of BBC WST are not incorporated into the programming of BBC World Service radio or BBC World News (the global English news channel). They are, instead, conducted through partners, including local media and NGOs in various countries. This arrangement allows BBC to be involved in virtuous international projects, while keeping the BBC world services out of the business of advocacy.
The international broadcasting of news, information-rich but message-free, may seem a sterile and heartless endeavor. It certainly is not a fast track to humanitarian awards. The work of international broadcasters who fastidiously adhere to the principles of journalism nevertheless serves the profound human need for accurate information.
Kim Andrew Elliott, expressing his own views, is an audience research analyst in the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau. From 1995 to 2002, he was producer and host of Communications World, a popular weekly Voice of America program about electronic media and international broadcasting. Before he came to the Voice of America in 1985, Dr. Elliott was on the faculties of communication at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has a B.A. in international affairs from the George Washington University and an M.A. (and Ph.D. in communication from the University of Minnesota. He reports on international broadcasting at www.kimandrewelliott.com.
At Post asks practitioners to describe how public diplomacy is incorporated within their professional activity. In this interview, PD’s Mark Preston spoke with Reed Galen, Managing Director for Mercury Public Affairs.
1. Given the rise of globalization and new technology, corporations must continually develop new competencies to meet the demands of multiple stakeholders. Could you describe your role in facilitating collaboration between public and private sector organizations?
At our firm, we provide services to companies and organizations that are looking for greater involvement in the government space or to solve a public affairs problem. This may relate to legislation, procurement or rulemaking, or whatever their specific issue may be. We tailor our efforts to the given task drawing on experience and real-world strategies that will allow us to present the most compelling case on our clients’ behalf. Once we have determined what strategy is best suited to the project, we develop a set of tactics that will help us achieve our clients’ goals.
2. Based on your observations, what are some common communication obstacles that corporations face both internally and externally? What solutions would you advise?
This is something that all organizations, large and small, corporate or government struggle with. The most successful institutions are those that have a clear vision, strategy and set of goals, which provide a much simpler message to communicate both internally and externally as there is far less ambiguity.
Perhaps one of the more challenging obstacles that companies wrestle with involves horizontal communication. Because in large companies, any one individual has a set of very specific responsibilities, tunnel vision can set in. Making communications across divisions or sectors often seems to be difficult.
However, that can also be more of a business management issue rather than just simply an external communications issue. Some executives may see public relations and communications as not that much different from the function of human resources (HR) in the sense that both are often perceived as ancillary functions to an otherwise productive company and are not business units in and of themselves. Yet, like HR, corporate communications is a true necessity. This is especially true when things go wrong.
In the world we live in today, having very talented corporate communicators who can explain the media environment to their executives in a comprehensible way is important because there is no such thing as a secret anymore (as we have seen with WikiLeaks). Secrets are gone. As such, much of what a company sets out to do is for public consumption, whether they want it to be or not. In years past, what was said in the boardroom stayed in the boardroom. However, today, simple conversation can go from the boardroom to the front page in a hurry. I think that even though the Internet has been ubiquitous for more than a decade, instant communications continue to evolve and accelerate.
3. How can public diplomacy serve as a tool for corporations and governments to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes?
Companies and governments should pursue public diplomacy as they would anything else: With a clear, honest message that speaks to, and not at, the people to whom they are trying to communicate.
I think that the best way that American corporations can project their goals to the rest of the world is by being transparent and straightforward with a global audience. By illustrating how their goods and services can benefit the lives of people everywhere, the American corporate ecosystem not only becomes more accessible but also more credible among a growing base of international consumers.
4. In addressing the shared problem of climate change, to what degree do innovative solutions depend upon the government listening to the recommendations of major corporations?
I think the greatest thing about innovators is that they don’t typically wait for anyone to listen to them. They have a great idea and a passion for exploring it. Government should always be willing to listen to those on the cutting edge of their field; they will ultimately be the ones that create new jobs and even new markets altogether.
However, this question is also fundamentally political in nature. The White House and congressional Republicans have decidedly different viewpoints on environmental issues and what the federal government’s role should be in facilitating green jobs and green tech. For instance, President Obama is a firm believer in the electric car and has already pushed grant and loan programs through the Department of Energy in order to provide tax credits and other incentives to spur adoption of new eco-friendly practices.
The truth is that ultimately, the market will determine how the green sector evolves. Consumers will buy electric cars in greater frequency once that vehicle does everything that a gasoline powered car does at a comparable cost that excludes a multi-year payback. The new Tesla Roadster is supposed to get over 200 miles to the charge. That is very cool! However, it still costs around $50,000 dollars to purchase. While you may get a federal tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle, the final price is still beyond what the average American is probably willing to spend.
Innovators will always be innovators regardless of what government does. It will be an individual, rather than the government, who will create something extraordinary like a car that goes 700 miles to the charge. Nonetheless, it remains a political as well as ideological struggle within the United States about what green tech is going to look like.
Despite this uncertainty, corporations continue to create clarity with each new development. For example, some large big box stores have made many contributions within the “green space.” They are not doing this just to be good corporate citizens, but they also realize that incorporating environmentally-friendly technology is good for business. Efficient practices save money on everything from energy costs to product manufacturing expenditures. Ultimately, this brings costs down for the consumer too. So, there is a market-based way of being environmental. Do these practices ultimately benefit their bottom line? Sure. But they also pay dividends for customers by lowering prices on the products they often purchase every day while using less gasoline, drawing less power off the grid, etc...
5. What do you think are the implications for the greater participation of corporations in the political sphere, both domestically and internationally? How do you think questions about accountability might be addressed?
Domestically, after the Citizens United decision, the law is clear. Corporations may participate in the political process. However, we should delve a bit deeper into what that means. Large, publicly traded corporations may determine that, while they have the right, it’s not necessarily in their best interest to participate directly in political campaigns. Additionally, any company who chooses to make political donations also knows that transparency is their ally; there are few, if any economics for a corporation to disguise their political activities.
Although, even after the Citizens United ruling, there have been examples where corporations have become politically involved and had it backfire. So, I think you are mostly likely going to see publically traded companies proceed with caution in this realm because for the price of a campaign ad if the person you are supporting loses, what do you do with the winner? How do you move forward with them? In other words, there is a cost-benefit analysis that a lot of corporate executives have not yet done because it hasn’t been an issue. However, I think even when they assess this matter, I’m not necessarily sure that they will participate. Politically attuned corporations in this country have robust lobbying activities that advocate on their behalf that is often a far more cost effective and practical way of expressing their view on a given policy or piece of legislation.
Internationally speaking, there are many places with no rules. So, accountability is difficult. In the United States, there may be some who say there is too much corporate money in politics. However, the First Amendment protects just about everyone’s opportunity to participate in the political process whether you like that or not.
6. What fundamental lessons have you learned throughout your career and would like to share?
Most of my management experience comes from the political campaign world. Sometimes you believe a campaign is going to have a certain outcome but turns out completely differently than you had originally expected. They are never as easy as you think they will be and rarely have straight-line trajectories. I have been lucky in my career to have worked on several large, winning campaigns and those were great experiences. But those were situations where the candidate, message, management, resources and other key variables were excellently aligned.
However, there have been other campaigns, those that typically did not win, where I truly learned how much I didn’t know. It’s easy to look good when you have every last resource readily at your disposal. It’s those campaigns in which, on a daily basis you must determine how to move forward, that you truly learn.
Perhaps the most important lesson I can share is that you have to be willing to take some risks. Without risk, it is very difficult to achieve your goals. Success doesn’t typically just come to you. If there are things you truly want to accomplish in your career, you are going to generally have to go find them. This is not to say that great opportunities don’t pop up when you least expect it. But, you need to be prepared to go out and find what you want. With risk, however, you must be comfortable with the attendant possibility of failure. Failure, while no fun, is an excellent teacher and fear of it should not discourage action. It is often failure that helps refocus your thinking, challenge your paradigms altogether, and ultimately lead to success.
Reed Galen is Managing Director of Mercury Public Affairs in the firm’s California offices handling major corporate clients. Prior to joining Mercury, Reed served as Senior Consultant at Goddard Claussen Strategic Advocacy. While there, Reed worked extensively in the California public affairs sector and managed several ballot initiative campaigns; involved in all aspects of research, strategy and message development. Reed also has extensive campaign experience, having served as Deputy Campaign Manager for John McCain’s presidential bid and was Deputy Campaign Manager for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful 2006 re-election campaign overseeing all day-to-day management of the organization, budgeting and finance.
Similar to a carbon footprint, which measures an enterprise’s greenhouse gas emissions, the human rights footprint of companies has been scrutinized for many years. Business’ human rights footprint includes the labor practices of a company, its supply chain or the financial support that knowingly or unknowingly is provided to oppressive regimes through commercial engagement.
While by definition some degree of a footprint is unavoidable, focus has traditionally been aimed at mitigating or minimizing harm. While companies will continue to be pressured by activists asking them to examine and manage their human rights footprint risks, perhaps it is time for business to evaluate their human rights handprint opportunities.
Unlike a footprint, a handprint implies much more deliberate intent. If I reach out to grasp something or shake someone’s hand, I have done so out of a personal decision, obligation or opportunity. In other words, a company’s footprint measures its conduct and impact while its handprint equates to its intentions and influence.
Companies have long recognized that a shaky human rights footprint will cause any number of risks ranging from within operations to reputation. However, today, they should anticipate even greater expectations of their own conduct and practices; as stakeholders – including current and prospective employees, shareholders and consumers – evaluate corporations by their social and human rights footprint, among other factors.
Companies can prepare for these growing expectations by merely crafting new corporate edicts and policies, which are followed by additional box-ticking and auditing - or they could adopt a more entrepreneurial leadership approach.
Wal-Mart provides an apt example with regards to its environmental footprint. The company set very broad goals in areas ranging from energy to packaging. In addition to changing its own practices, Wal-Mart turned to its vendors and suppliers and said: “You want to be one of our most valued business partners? Help us figure this out.”
There are a number of human rights handprint expectations and actions that companies can, and have had to, consider.
Do more than just “No harm”
In the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, human rights campaigning around the Beijing Olympics provided businesses with an important lesson, albeit a lesson-through-omission.
The 2008 Games were certainly not the first time that the Olympics have been politicized, or that corporate sponsors have been criticized. The Athens Games called on the sportswear industry to eliminate child labor practices from its supply chain and the Sydney Games saw Coca-Cola pilot new environmentally friendly refrigeration technology based on both pressure and partnership from Greenpeace.
In 2008, human rights drove Mia Farrow’s campaign for Darfur; human rights triggered Steven Spielberg’s pull-out as creative consultant to the Games; human rights led to the assault on torch bearers in Paris; human rights had European politicians flip-flopping over attending the opening ceremony; and human rights caused the arrest of several Chinese and international human rights activists during the Games.
In the lead up to the Beijing Games, Olympic sponsors were not being criticized for their own conduct, but were asked to apply their own handprint by imparting positive influence on the Chinese government over alleged human rights abuses in Darfur and Tibet.
Create Incentives for Change
Rules matter and regulations are needed, but real behavior change comes from incentive. The trick is to give people -inside and outside your company a reason to care about human rights. They will respond with unadulterated self-interest, as well as innovations that would have never occurred to you.
Forty years ago, car companies resisted installing seatbelts in cars because, they thought, it would make their product appear unsafe. Today, car companies spend millions of dollars on ads that depict a typical family (played by crash-test dummies) in a car that is hurtling towards a brick wall at 70 miles per hour. What was once an unspoken risk – car crashes – has been embraced and flipped into a product and marketing distinction: safety.
Images of happy garment factory workers may never replace supermodels on the billboards of a fashion company. But, what if a product’s human rights profile could be added to the list of consumer consideration drivers alongside quality, price and dependability?
What if an industrial product manager’s annual performance and salary review included measurements of a project’s human rights impact? What if in the war for talent, employers could not only lure candidates with salary and benefit packages, but could also credibly assure them that they would be joining a company that they could be proud to work for?
In any of these cases, is caring for human rights a risk, or an opportunity?
Pay attention to the poor and oppressed today. They’ll be paying customers tomorrow.
Google and Yahoo came under criticism in the US and Europe recently for their alleged complicity in the Chinese government’s violation of its own citizens’ human rights. Google was attacked for censoring its Web search results; and Yahoo was accused of providing information that enabled the Chinese to arrest a journalist who criticized the government. Both companies weathered blistering assaults from activists, politicians and the elite media in Washington, Brussels, New York and London.
However, very few people asked: “What does the average Chinese citizen think?” In recent years, largely because of new social media tools, Chinese people have been allowed to develop some measure of a public voice on a variety of topics, ranging from corrupt government officials to a number of environmental crises; such as one that contaminated a large part of the country’s north-eastern water supply. The Chinese people feel increasingly more comfortable and empowered to form and voice their own perspective on who they trust, and what institutions they view as credible.
Therefore, Google should not merely “do the right thing” about human rights in China so as to please European and American activists; they should do so in order to win and keep the trust of Chinese Web users who could just as easily type their searches into www.baidu.com.
By definition, a focus on human rights is cyclical with up’s and down’s and spikes connected to specific crises or current events. But we may be entering the beginning of an era of longer term systemic change in how companies think about, approach and influence human rights.
Companies are increasingly realizing that they are not only expected to “do no harm” across their human rights footprint; they are also expected to “do good” with their handprint.
Chris Deri is CEO and Market Leader for Burson-Marsteller China, where he is also the Asia Pacific Regional CSR Practice Leader. Previously, Chris served as the Executive Vice President and Global Practice Leader for Edelman’s CSR & Sustainability practice. He has advised decision makers and senior leaders of global corporations, NGOs and governments on strategic solutions that address social, environmental and public health issues.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni is a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program, and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign Service, and took part in the back-channel negotiations between Israel and Palestine that led to the signing of the Oslo Accords. In 2002, Aharoni launched the Brand Israel Group, an independent group of marketing and branding specialists, creating the foundation for what would later become the Brand Israel program. In his role as senior advisor and press secretary to Israel’s Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Tzipi Livni, Aharoni introduced nation branding methods and country positioning strategies as pillars of Israel’s public diplomacy. He was appointed Israel’s first head of brand management in 2007. Ambassador Aharoni is currently serving as Global Distinguished Professor at New York University’s School of International Relations.
Public Diplomacy Magazine Staff Editor Maria Lattouf Abou Atmi spoke with Aharoni about the positioning and possibilities for the place branding of Jerusalem as a tool of Israeli public diplomacy toward Palestine.
The “golden crown” capital city of the world’s major religions is also one of the most contested locations around the world, with Israel and Palestine both laying claim to Jerusalem as their capital. How does Israel’s branding of Jerusalem challenge the Palestinian argument for the city?
Ambassador Ido Aharoni: Your question raises two separate issues: the first is the question relating to the existence of a formal branding effort in Jerusalem. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one comprehensively-designed plan to brand the city of Jerusalem. While there has certainly been a great effort on the part of the city leadership to generate eclectic programming, this hardly qualifies as a full-blown place branding effort. A coherent strategy is still lacking, in my humble opinion. The second issue that emerges from your question has to do with the role of “branding.” Places attempt to brand themselves for a variety of reasons; foreign policy is one motive, but it is not the most important one. Holistic place branding, the kind I believe in, is meant to improve the performance of a place across the board: investment, trade, tourism, image, culture, policy, and exchange. When a place is defined by its problem—that’s bad news. The role of Jerusalem’s marketers would be to aspire to enhance the performance of the city, without shying away from the political controversy on the one hand, but also without letting the problems define the place on the other.
As a sub-brand of Brand Israel, Jerusalem has considerable power and attracts significant attention on the global stage. Under your leadership, the Brand Israel Group launched campaigns to brand Jerusalem as a cultural and creative hotspot, rather than a hallowed historical location. Can you describe the elements that went into this decision and how Palestine’s claim to the city factored into your analysis?
The Brand Israel program, which I co-founded in 2002 and led between the years 2007-2010, did not brand Jerusalem as a separate sub-brand. The strategy was designed for the entire country of Israel, including Jerusalem. The purpose was to highlight Israel’s competitive edge: its ability to nurture and facilitate creativity in all walks of life. The branding of places is not, as one might gather from the way the question is phrased, a political instrument nor a crisis management mechanism. Branding is not about campaigns, logos, and slogans. Those could certainly be utilized in the process, but essentially, place branding is about the ability to implement a long-term strategy for a place. Unlike a political campaign that has a clear deadline, place branding is a never-ending effort. The Big Apple is a strategic personality designed for New York. It has no expiration date. Branding is the deliberate creation of a mental picture through the coordination of activities that attract a number of audiences.
How did your public diplomacy efforts to brand Jerusalem address the Palestinian claim and conflict?
The branding of places is about the place itself and not about its perceived competition, whether political or economic. The first step is to conduct research to identify the place’s weaknesses as well as its advantages. The strategy then emerges from the research. The strategy is the overarching principle that guides all that you do from that point on. It is primarily about Israel and its assets, the attractive offerings it could bring to the table, its relevance to the consumer, and its place in the family of nations. Sadly, some Palestinian well-wishers claim that Israel has no right to promote itself. In their eyes, every place has the inherent right to promote itself—except Israel, because they disagree with some of its policies. To those people, even Iran and North Korea, both habitual violators of human rights, have the right to promote themselves in the world—but Israel does not. This kind of discrimination has a name: anti-Semitism. When you say, “Everybody is welcome to this club, except blacks, Jews, or gays,” that is the epitome of bigotry. The branding of Israel, meaning the effort to put Israel’s best foot forward, is primarily meant to improve the country’s economic performance. It does not and should not come at the expense of any of Israel’s neighbors. In fact, it was the Arab League in 1945 (three years before statehood) that decided to boycott Israel. The boycott forced Israel to develop new markets beyond the Middle East. Today, Israel’s biggest trade partner is the European Union, it is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and its GDP per capita is approaching the European level. None of those things can be said about the boycotters themselves. Surely, Israel could benefit from a strong Palestinian brand. Unfortunately, their main efforts are not directed at promoting their offerings to the world but rather delegitimizing Israel. It is sad because the Palestinian people deserve better leadership.
In today’s fast-paced media environment, public engagement and responses provide immediate feedback to campaign efforts. What reactions did the Jerusalem sub-brand inspire from Palestinians and the larger international community?
Research indicated that Jerusalem is a better recognized brand name internationally than, say, Tel Aviv. It is a very powerful brand name, associated with holiness and religiosity and, sadly, with conflict, too. The idea is not to shy away from the conflict but rather to make sure that the place is not solely defined by its problems. The same goes for any other place into world. Does Chicago want to be known for its high crime rate or its cultural gems? Obviously, Jerusalem is a city that many millions all over the world cherish and deeply care about, with many Palestinians among them. That is exactly why the administrators of the city introduced, legally and culturally, the complete freedom of worship and the right to open access of holy sites to all. We as Israelis should know why this is so important. During the years 1948-1967, when the Western Wall was under Jordanian rule, Jews were denied access to their religion’s holiest site.
History shows us that although successful brands are based in reality, they can also be aspirational and inspirational, as “I Love New York” was in the 1970s. Can Jerusalem be positioned as a place of openness, or used as a tool to find common ground with Palestine?
Certainly. This is the hope of every person who cares about the city. My own family came to Jerusalem in 1870 from Boukhara, located in today’s Uzbekistan. There is nothing more that the people of Jerusalem would like to see than peace and tranquility.
What lessons does the battle for Jerusalem’s brand offer for practitioners of public diplomacy, particularly those working to brand cities with contested histories?
The battle is political and must be resolved in the realm of politics and foreign affairs. Regardless, the lessons from any place branding are universal: define your competitive edge and then effectively communicate it to relevant audiences.
In his book, Naked Diplomacy: Power and Statecraft in the Digital Age, Tom Fletcher makes a strong case for the continued relevance of a brand of digital diplomacy powered by social media and by innovative promotional activity. Although I am the best part of a generation older than Tom Fletcher, I share his desire to refresh the somewhat staid image of diplomacy and to show that it can and must respond to the challenges of today’s world. Like it or not, today’s diplomats operate in a public space and we need to be savvy in our use of the various instruments available to us, including but not limited to social media.
Ireland’s diplomats around the world are part of a collective, strategic effort, steered by our Foreign Minister and supported by government ministries and state agencies at home, notably our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Our diplomatic service has a range of key priorities, the most relevant of which in the case of the Embassy in London are Ireland’s relations with the United Kingdom, the situation in Northern Ireland, and the future evolution of the European Union in light of the UK’s impending exit. These are areas in which public diplomacy and social media have an important role to play alongside the more traditional methods of our profession.
When I started on this road 35 years ago, diplomatic rlations were conducted in a more confined space and with a narrow enough focus on international political topics. At that time, diplomats engaged primarily with other diplomats and rarely spoke in public. Now we are the eyes and ears of Ireland around the world, but also a voice for the message we wish to convey to overseas audiences. Our work today has a much sharper economic focus. While I served as the Irish ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, my time there was dominated by the effects of the economic and financial crisis, and the need to burnish Ireland’s international reputation as part of our recovery strategy.
My affinity with new ways of pursuing old ends goes back to 2011 when I became aware of the potential of social media. Sheepishly at first, I dipped my feet into this new world of Twitter. I have now been tweeting for more than five years, initially on our Embassy account in Berlin and since 2013 on an official personal account @DanMulhall on which I now have 10,000 followers. When I laid a wreath for the first time at London’s Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday 2014, the tweet I posted afterwards was seen by some 80,000 people, many of whom were based in Northern Ireland. Today, most of our embassies are active on Twitter which allows us to build communities of people with an interest in what we do, and to communicate with them instantly and inexpensively.
In my present post, I tend to tweet every day with a number of purposes in mind: to provide insights into my work as Ambassador; to engage with the large and diverse Irish community in Britain; to reach out to British audiences on issues of relevance to Ireland; to promote Ireland as a destination for British tourists, as an attractive location for foreign direct investment, and as a source of high-quality goods and services (two-way trade between Ireland and Britain currently amounts to around £1 billion each week); and to articulate Irish government policies, notably at present on what has come to be known as Brexit.
Last year I tweeted a daily quote from the poetry of W.B. Yeats to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. Those tweets attracted an appreciative following and this year I have included lines by other Irish poets. Why do I do this? Because I see our literature as a calling card for Ireland, presenting us to the world as a creative people with interesting stories to tell. Some lines of poetry by the Irish poet John Montague about “the wine dark sea of history,” which I tweeted at the time of his death in December 2016, have been seen by almost 90,000 Twitter users.
Throughout 2016, I blogged, tweeted, and made public appearances around the country on the subject of the Easter Rising of 1916. The aim of our efforts has been to promote better awareness in Britain of the distinctive dynamic of our modern history and how its legacy has impacted on our relations with our nearest neighbor. I saw this commemoration of an important turning point in Irish and British history as what our Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, has described as an opportunity “to reflect on and advance further the productive journey of reconciliation on which our two countries have been embarked for some years.” The Embassy’s program of commemorative events has been well received and a number of our panel discussions on the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme were screened by BBC Parliament, enabling us to reach much wider audiences.
The other big challenge for our Embassy during 2016 was the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Ireland had a distinctive position on the referendum as our citizens in Britain were entitled to vote. We wanted the UK to remain in the EU because we considered membership to be a significant asset to Irish-UK relations and with regard to Northern Ireland. While fully respecting the fact that this was a domestic UK decision, in the run-up to the referendum I explained our position on social media on a daily basis and made a number of public speeches. My overriding aim was to convey our government’s apprehensions about the potential impact on Ireland of a UK decision to leave the EU. I consistently argued that we in Ireland had a special interest in the outcome of the referendum on account of our unique, multi-stranded relationship with the United Kingdom.
Since the referendum, we have been coming to terms with a new reality and seeking to minimize any negative implications for Ireland of a decision which we regret but, of course, accept. Since June, I have delivered a number of speeches on the subject and have also given evidence to the House of Lords Committee on the implications of Brexit for Ireland. I have addressed the issue regularly on Twitter and my blog. It will continue to be necessary for the Embassy to be active in monitoring the evolution of the Brexit debate and, as part of our public diplomacy, to draw attention to the vital Irish dimension to this issue, not least when it comes to the situation in Northern Ireland which voted to remain in the EU by a margin of 56-44 percent. We would like the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union so as to limit the potential impact on our bilateral trade and on ties between north and south in Ireland.
I am absolutely clear that public diplomacy—including activity on social media—is just another means to an end. It augments but cannot replace more traditional methods. No social media or public diplomacy initiative can substitute for a visit by our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) or Minister for Foreign Affairs, who can connect with the British system at the highest political level.
Nor can a tweet match the utility of a confidential conversation with a politician or a senior official. Such activities can furnish us with vital insights into British thinking on key issues connected with the country’s exit from the EU and also provides an opportunity for us to raise our concerns about Brexit face-to-face with senior figures. For that reason, our Embassy devotes considerable attention to cultivating influential contacts in Westminster and Whitehall. Thus last Autumn I attended the annual conferences of the main British political parties, seeking to deepen our understanding of the political debate surrounding the Brexit issue and to highlight our requirements with regard to Irish-UK trade, the need to maintain an open border in Ireland, and the common travel area between our two countries.
Our Embassy is active on Twitter @IrelandEmbGB, but this does not mean that we can afford to neglect the mainstream media, which is why we pay considerable attention to developing our interaction with leading journalists and media organizations.
In Ireland’s case, we are not seeking to project power, but to maximise our influence within the EU, as a member of the UN, and as part of the global community of nations. Hard power can never be a recourse of ours. Ireland’s tools in international affairs are the quality of the arguments we can bring to the table as a member of the EU, our commitment to the UN and its peacekeeping operations, and our development aid program. For a country of our size, we are fortunate to be well-endowed with soft power resources—our literature, our theatre, our traditional culture, and the global spread of our people.
But we live in a world of almost 200 nation states, all of whom vie for profile and advantage in their international activities. This means we need to be smart and use all of the resources available to us in order to make our voice heard and our positions understood in an information-rich world. I see skillful, innovative public diplomacy and judicious use of social media as important means to the attainment of our foreign policy aims, but traditional methods cannot be overlooked.
Daniel Mulhall has been Ireland’s ambassador in London since 2013. He has had previous diplomatic assignments in New Delhi, Vienna, Brussels, Edinburgh, Kuala Lumpur, and Berlin. He has also held senior positions at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin. A keen historian, he has written extensively on Irish history and literature. He tweets @DanMulhall and posts regular blogs on the Embassy’s website at www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/about-us/ambassador/ambassadors-blog-2016/. In 2016, he co-edited The Shaping of Modern Ireland: A Centenary Assessment. He was recently named as Ireland’s next ambassador to the United States.
While greeted with unwarranted early optimism, a late 2014 potential thaw in five decades of U.S.-Cuba Cold War tensions seemed to promise a bonanza for talent-hungry big league ball clubs, as well as a long awaited Cuban tourist boom and unlimited free-market opportunities for American corporate enterprises.
But to date, expectations have proved to be widely overblown and all evidence now suggests that any immediate U.S.-Cuba thaw is neither very likely nor such a “hot deal” as anticipated for North American professional baseball clubs.
Timed to correspond with the two-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s bold initiative aimed at reopening long-dormant diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba’s Castro regime, MLB (Major League Baseball) Productions recently debuted its long-forthcoming documentary film entitled Cuba: Island of Baseball—perhaps the most thorough analysis by North American media of that island nation’s proud and often-misunderstood alternative sporting universe.1
The hour-and-a half MLB Network film produced and directed by Alfonso Pozzo and Danny Field effectively and often dramatically captured the personal sacrifices, emotional struggles, and mixed triumphs of several dozen former Cuban League and national team star sluggers and hurlers who over the past decade have abandoned their homeland, culture, and sometimes even their families to seek the financial rewards of celebrated careers on North American big league diamonds.
Also revealed in stark relief was the colorful world of Cuban baseball left behind by such recent big league headliners as Aroldis Chapman, José Abreu, Yasiel Puig, and Yoennis Céspedes—an alternative socialist model that over the past half-century produced powerhouse teams capable of thoroughly dominating the world of international Olympic-style tournaments.
But for all its revelations and audience impact, the MLB documentary also had its noteworthy drawbacks and regrettable if not surprising shortcomings. Ignored entirely was the uglier side of the recent MLB-Cuba pipeline saga, a sordid tale involving ballplayer smuggling orchestrated by Miami-based crime elements and facilitated by Mexican drug cartels; extortion threats to escaping Cuban ballplayers and their families; and huge kickback payments to MLB-sanctioned player agents involved in orchestrating illegal escapes from Cuban territory and marketing fleeing players to free-spending, talent-hungry big league clubs. It was obvious that these were explosive issues, involving blatant human trafficking of potentially valuable athletes, and thus subjects that the MLB-sponsored network did not wish to air.2
Also left on the cutting room floor was the inevitable reverse side of the story involving the desperate if largely ineffective efforts by Cuban sports ministry officials to salvage their prized national baseball institutions and ward off approaching encroachments of the talent-hungry MLB juggernaut—takeovers like those witnessed over the past half-century in the nearby Caribbean countries of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
UNWARRANTED INITIAL OPTIMISM
There was runaway and—at least in retrospect—largely overblown optimism for imminent policy changes on both sides of the Straits of Florida in the wake of Barack Obama’s unexpected December 2014 détente overtures. But to those who closely monitor the Washington-Havana scene, that optimism seemed not only unwarranted but also mostly a matter of idle media hype, if not outright wishful thinking.
After more than five decades of failed diplomacy and heated Cold War rhetoric, Obama officials and the Castro regime—under the guidance of Fidel’s brother Raúl since 2006—finally appeared poised on the verge of a historic diplomatic breakthrough. But two years down the road and after the replacement of the Obama government with a more conservative Republication Trump administration, a long-anticipated thawing in political and economic discourse now appears destined to move at its own snail-like pace. The fate of the Helms-Burton embargo legislation still hangs in the balance, and even if dialogue has commenced the path forward nonetheless remains strewn with troublesome obstacles and unforeseen twists and turns.
While many initially focused on long-coveted, unfettered Havana tourism and an explosion in North American corporate commerce, the shared national pastime of baseball in both countries was also an early theme of speculation. Cuban baseball had of late become a hot topic north of Miami, and the coveted Cuban talent market had virtually exploded on the North American sporting scene once a small but impactful wave of defecting refugees from Fidel Castro’s mighty baseball machine enjoyed rather sensational overnight success on North American professional diamonds. Yasiel Puig’s explosive debut summer in Los Angeles, Aroldis Chapman’s record-breaking triple-digit fastballs in Cincinnati, Yoenis Céspedes’s hefty slugging feats in first Oakland and later Boston and New York, and José Abreu’s American League rookie onslaughts in Chicago, all fueled speculation about unlimited player talent resources ready to be tapped behind the Cuban sugar cane curtain.
It was also evident from media commentary in early 2015 that most Americans in the streets and in the Fourth Estate held the same distorted view of baseball’s future regarding Cuba as they did of a potential island tourist boom and expansive new free-enterprise business deals with the long-isolated communist island. Fans as well as the sporting press and even MLB club officials were already dreaming, even before press ink was dry on the Obama overtures, about the launching of a building boom of Caribbean plantation-style big league academies and the consequent unleashing of a steady flow of Cuban talent onto big league rosters. What was clearly not understood was how the realities of pending diplomatic relations might actually stem the “defector tide” and ironically benefit the Cuban baseball establishment far more by restricting the burgeoning Cuban ballplayer pipeline.
THE UGLY UNDERBELLY OF CUBAN RECRUITMENT
Within months of Obama’s historic policy shifts on the Cuba question, there were already plenty of ominous clouds darkening the horizon. Foremost was a rather ugly “backstory” to the Cuba-related baseball events that most observers vaguely comprehended but few fully understood. On the heels of the Obama announcements, the breaking scandal surrounding Dodger rookie sensation Yasel Puig’s Cuba escape had already come to light, first revealed in some detail in April 2014 with simultaneous reports from ESPN reporter Scott Eden and Los Angeles Magazine journalist Jesse Katz. Spirited out of Cuba for a promised windfall portion of an expected big league bonanza contract, the future Dodger had been held captive in Mexico, fought over and re-kidnapped on Mexican soil by rival Miami and Mexican smugglers, and threatened with physical violence before finally inking his lucrative contract in Mexico City.
Tales of similar human trafficking were soon discovered to spread far beyond the Puig saga alone and involved—among the more celebrated cases—future big leaguers Leonys Martin (in Mexico) and Yoenis Céspedes (in the Dominican Republic). Within the next year, MLB officials would be faced with uncomfortable truths surrounding dozens of Cuban recruits earlier greeted with bank-breaking bonus contracts ($30 million for Chapman, $42 million for Puig, $68 million for Abreu, and a record $72 million for so-far unproductive Boston prospect Rusney Castillo).
Human trafficking issues provided front page news again in March 2017 with the conviction of player agent Bart Hernández on conspiracy and alien smuggling charges. At the time of the original Hernández indictment by federal prosecutors in February 2016, unsealed court documents revealed that José Abreu had paid $5.8 million of his White Sox signing bonus to smugglers who in turn handed over $160,000 to the driver of the boat carrying the star ballplayer and family members to Haiti.3
An earlier human trafficking trial has already landed a second pair of agents/smugglers in prison after an extortion suit filed by current Seattle outfielder Leonys Martin charged the pair with virtually imprisoning the future big leaguer in Mexico and attempting to extort higher payoffs through threats to family members also held captive in Miami.4
MLB’s relation to Cuban players abandoning the island involves a complex set of circumstances that can only be briefly summarized here. The lack of an MLB international draft (resulting in all Cuban “defectors” being considered as “free agents”) meant devious plans by often unscrupulous player agents hoping to cash in on the new-found talent market.
Miami-based and MLB-sanctioned player agent Joe Cubas (a Cuban-American holding strong anti-Castro views) had by the early 1990s developed a plan that remained the accepted strategy for two decades. Enticing such early defectors as Rolando Arrojo, Osvaldo Fernández, and Liván Hernández to abandon the island, his modus operandi was to establish third-country residence for his Cuban clients in order to meet MLB requirements for avoiding the player draft in place for U.S. collegiate and high school players, and also to circumvent U.S. Treasury Department policies prohibiting financial payments to Cuban citizens. OFAC (Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control) policies on Cuban players only complicated the issue with their own third-country residency requirement resulting from existing Helms-Burton embargo legislation.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred also early on sent all the wrong messages to Cuban officials in the wake of the Obama détente overtures. Manfred was quick to label Cuba as “a great market for us” in two respects—a source for untapped big league talent to be harvested and a location “to do business on an on-going basis”—a message certain to raise red flags for a Cuban government whose historical mission had been built around rejecting control by the great capitalist juggernaut to the north.
A long history of Cuba-U.S. baseball estrangement came about not only as a result of the political divide between the two nations, but also because of a Cuban baseball philosophy that rejected play for corporate profit and opted for a league built on a socialist model eschewing any form of player free agency. Cuba, over the past half-century, constructed a unique baseball enterprise strongly at odds with the North American model—one that saw sport as the “right of the people” and structured its league around building powerhouse national teams to demonstrate Cuban superiority in international competitions.5
By the time of Obama’s surprise announcement, the Cuban government had already been wrestling with two related challenges eroding its long-proud baseball enterprise. To counter the erosion of talent brought by increased player defections, the 90-game season was split into two halves, with only eight teams reaching the championship round and stars from eliminated teams drafted onto the rosters of round-two qualifiers. The effort here was to tighten competition and, in turn, strengthen the quality of top Cuban stars for national team service. In a second effort, this time aimed more directly at stemming defections, a handful of top veteran Cuban players were loaned out to the Japanese League and allowed to personally pocket 80 percent of their lucrative Japanese contracts.6
The history of Cuban defections has been significant for a quarter century, although a front page story only in the past half-dozen years. Cuban ballplayer departures were largely non-existent for the first three decades of the Castro era, then slowly emerged in the decade of the 1990s with the shocking departures of a quartet of national team star pitchers: René Arocha (1991); Osvaldo Fernández and Liván Hernández (1995); and Rolando Arrojo (1996).
But the true impact of a surging phenomenon was not felt until after 2010, launched with the $30 million thrown at “The Cuban Missile” Aroldis Chapman after his abandonment of a national team in the Netherlands.The uptick in star-player losses had three essential causes, one being the escalating paydays for top-level Cubans like Chapman who made the grade once they reached big-league pay dirt.
A second factor was a sagging Cuban economy in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. But most impactful was the inevitable collapse of the national team in international events and the resulting changes in ballplayer and fan morale. Once big league and top minor league professionals entered Olympic-style tournament play after 1999, the Cubans no longer won each and every international outing, and fan pride back home was suddenly better stoked by the big league achievements of escaping Cubans (those labelled “traitors” by the government) than by repeated disappointing and unaccustomed gold medal round on-field defeats.7
AN OBSCURE FUTURE
A year before the Obama overtures, the Cuban authorities were already taking major steps—such as the minimal farming out of a handful of top stars to Japanese clubs—in an attempt to address the troubling talent drain. But they were fighting a losing battle: defection numbers surged to 23 in the year following the Beijing Olympics gold medal loss, remained steady at 25 over the two following years, then exploded to more than 150 between 2013 and 2015.8
After Obama’s overtures, the Cuban reaction seemed to be more confusion than anything else; there appeared to be no plan in place for dealing with the changing landscape promised by potential détente with longtime adversaries. A posting system of the type employed by the Japanese League in its dealings with MLB ball clubs seemed a likely solution for the Cubans, but so far it hasn’t emerged.9 But neither has there been any Cuban willingness to meet MLB even halfway. It is clear that entrenched Cuban authorities will not relinquish their system quickly, if at all.
There were a few compromises, like the MLB goodwill visit of December 2015 (during which a handful of defectors employed by big league clubs were allowed to visit, but only with their movements on the island severely restricted) and the single exhibition match with the big league Tampa Bay club that coincided with Obama’s March 2016 island visit. All else—and most especially talk of island MLB academies or a clear route for Cuban stars to move freely to MLB clubs—has largely ground to a halt.
Major League Baseball has also largely remained on the sidelines while facing its own uncertainties surrounding the handling of Cuban free agents.The recent human trafficking trials have remained an embarrassment and have exposed a large degree of at least indirect MLB complicity. No MLB officials or individual ball club scouting departments have directly orchestrated the ongoing defections. But at the same time, MLB bosses have not developed policies to end them either. That may be about to change since MLB is seriously considering much-needed international draft policies, which some naysayers see largely as a cost-saving measure and a slap in the face of the Dominicans and Venezuelans whose own signing bonuses will be significantly lowered once true free-agent status is lost. But such a policy will, if instituted in almost any form, bring relief to both the struggling Cuban League (by at least diminishing the lure of insanely escalated contracts for those who chose defection risks), but also to big-league general managers who have lately seen so many over-hyped Cubans fail to live up to excessively inflated contracts.10
By almost any conceivable measure, the future remains rather bleak for a once-proud Cuban baseball enterprise. The Cubans will not simply toss over their deeply entrenched anti-capitalist system on either the baseball, economic, or political fronts. Washington must eventually approach Cuba as an equal hemisphere partner and abandon long-held visions of the neighboring nation as a convenient plantation for easy exploitation.
But much irreparable damage has been already done, especially on the baseball front. And such a turn of events now seems even less likely under a Trump administration seemingly dedicated to American exceptionalism and apparently driven by conservative notions of renewed economic isolationism.
Few signals have so far emerged of either MLB honchos or Washington politicos foregoing a plantation mentality espousing imperial ownership of Cuban national resources. All too few signals have emerged of any change of heart or strategies in either Havana or Washington, and even if a workable accord is somehow miraculously reached, the Cuban talent drain has already been so severe that rebuilding will be, at best, a slow and painful process.
Cuban baseball will never again be what it once was: an isolated universe able to harvest its immense player talent exclusively for domestic use. The best hope for the Cubans now is perhaps only avoiding becoming the second Caribbean baseball wasteland on the home front—a fount of athletic talent for foreign export only—after the fashion of either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.
1 MLB Network debuted their documentary on December 13, 2016. Much of the footage shot on the island was shot during an MLB-sponsored goodwill trip to Havana in December 2015, featuring league officials and a half-dozen Cuban stars who had earlier defected and were returning home for the first time since their illegal departures, as well as during the March 2016 visit to Havana by President Obama that corresponded with an exhibition match between the Cuban league all-stars and the big league Tampa Bay Rays. The second occasion marked the first post-revolution visit to the island of a sitting U.S. president and only the second appearance there of an MLB team since Fidel Castro had abolished professional leagues on the island in early 1961.
2 The story of human trafficking activities involving dozens of recent Cuban MLB imports is laid out at great length in my recent book Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016). That book also unfolds the Cuban government’s position and efforts to block ballplayer defections and speculates on a number of potential solutions to an unresolved crisis plaguing MLB officials as well as the Cuban baseball brain trust.
3 That story was first broken by Jared S. Hopkins in the April 25, 2016 edition of the Chicago Tribune. Hopkins also reported on agents/handlers falsifying ballplayer immigration documents and instructing players in return to make payments to those in Cuba who arranged their escapes. My own book also discusses cases of players while still in Cuba (Chapman and Yasmani Tomás of the Arizona D-Backs, in particular) reportedly falsely fingering individuals to Cuban authorities in order to earn their way back onto Cuban national squads after suspensions resulting from initial failed defection attempts.
4 The Leonys Martin defection story and resulting legal actions are detailed in Chapter One of Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story.
5 Cuba’s national league had for decades consisted of 16 teams representing the 14 provinces (plus a team in the capital city and another in the special political entity of the Isle of Youth), players spent their entire careers on the local provincial ball club and were never traded, teams were all operated by local provincial branches of the national sports ministry and baseball commission (there were no corporate team owners), and there were consequently no foreign imports playing in Cuba.
6 The first such stars on loan were national team captain Frederich Cepeda ($1 million contract with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, making him the first million-dollar ballplayer living in Cuba), outfielder Alfredo Despaigne ($4 million-plus with the Lotte Marines), and eventual defector and current big leaguer Yulieski Gurriel (who played one season with the Yokohama DeNa BayStars). The accord with Japan was possible because it permitted the Cubans to return home in the winter for domestic league service, something not possible in any arrangement with MLB clubs.
7 During one ten-year stretch (1987-1997) the Cuban national team captured 159 straight international tournament games without a single setback; they also won or reached the final gold medal game of fifty consecutive major senior tournaments between 1961 and 2006. But this all began to change with disappointing silver medal second-place finishes in the Sydney (2000) and Beijing (2008) Olympic Games.
8 A largely accurate but inevitably incomplete list of defectors is provided in Appendix II of Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story. Most of those abandoning their homeland were either seasoned Cuban League veterans or teenage prospects from junior level national or provincial teams. Only a small percentage had real prospects for success at the top levels of North American professional baseball and the numerous young aspirants who never received pro league contracts, yet were not able to return home to abandoned families and an abandoned culture, remain another dark backstory of the Cuban defector phenomenon.
9 Under such a system the Cubans would sign their players to individual contracts (something that Cuban players do not currently have under the socialist-style sports system) and then own the rights to their athletes for a period of say five or six years. After fulfilling their contract obligations players would be free agents and MLB clubs could bid to negotiate for their services, for which they would pay the Cuban League a hefty fee. And under a full diplomatic accord Cuban players abandoning contracts at home would not be eligible to sign with MLB clubs.
10 Among the biggest Cuban disappointments have been outfielder Rusney Castillo (still a minor leaguer three years after his windfall Boston deal), former Dodgers infielders Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena (who both quickly washed out with the big league club after enormous signing bonuses), and failed pitching prospects Yunieski Maya (Washington), Miguel Alfredo González (Philadelphia) and Dalier Hinojosa (Boston and Philadelphia) who became instant multimillionaires before quickly proving big league busts.
Peter C. Bjarkman is a former linguistics professor and award-winning freelance writer specializing in post-revolution Cuban baseball. His seminal A History of Cuban Baseball, 1864-2006 (McFarland, 2007) is considered the go-to work in the field and his more recent Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) earned a Society for American Baseball Research Award. The latter work—based on the author’s two decades traveling the Cuban baseball scene and trailing the crack Cuban national team throughout Europe, Latin America and Asia—not only exposes details of human trafficking by MLB player agents lusting after high-dollar Cuban talent but also explores the rich background of Cuban baseball history and the failed saga of U.S.-Cuba relations that has led to a present crisis impacting the future of the sport in both countries. Widely considered the reigning authority on baseball in contemporary Cuba, Bjarkman has appeared frequently in North American media as an “insider expert” on the topic. He also served as Havana guide to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain in the 2011 Travel Channel episode of “No Reservations Cuba” and his Cuba adventures were featured in a November 2010 Wall Street Journal front-page story entitled “This Yanqui Is Welcome in Cuba’s Locker Room.”