This week I came across an interesting article by Professor Philip Selb for the Huffington Post. The article discusses the power of economy in public diplomacy and specifically various economic initiatives conducted by the US in the Middle East and their public diplomacy value.
Selb’s argument states that there is no better way for winning hearts and minds than “buying hearts and minds”. Selb is convinced that successful public diplomacy is based on fulfilling the needs of various foreign audiences and therefore developing a positive attitude towards the donating country. Specifically in the Middle East, various initiatives that provide jobs have proved to be extremely successful in creating stability and establishing partnerships with foreign publics.
This is an interesting perspective on how to craft public diplomacy. Creative initiatives could be born by mapping the needs of various societies and looking at the competitive advantage of a specific country with regards to those needs. Relevant organizations or governmental agencies within the ‘giving’ country can then address these needs through initiatives that provide jobs, healthcare, agricultural assistance, etc. The ‘giving countries’ can benefit not only from positive PD outcomes such as good image, stability and favorable public opinion among foreign audiences, but also from clear economic benefits of new partnerships and networks.
I might be wrong but I sense that today we have a certain ‘pool’ of public diplomacy activities such as academic exchanges, informational tours, exhibitions, etc. and the new initiatives are created within that pool. As discussed in class, China’s investment in Africa is somewhat different and serves as a good example of Selb’s suggestion. The “needs paradigm” could be an interesting shift in the way foreign ministries and organizations begin their thinking about public diplomacy.