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INTERVIEW: Innovation with Purpose: How Diplomacy is Innovating

Author of Colombian Diplomacy for the 21st Century
Graduate of IE University 

About Our Guest

Lupita Prada Jiménez is an alumni from IE University having studied Law and International Relations. She has a passion for the diplomatic field with previous experience at the Agencia de Cooperación e Inversión de Medellín which manages foreign direct investment and cooperation opportunities for the city of Medellín.  She has also  interned at the Organisation of American States in the office of Dr. Paulo Abrão, Executive Secretary of the Commission. 

This article shall explore the topic diplomacy and its connection to innovation. Lupita has written a paper titled ‘Colombian Diplomacy for the 21st century’ outlining the way in which Diplomacy in Colombia needs to innovate. This article shall focus on exploring her paper describing how the diplomatic field is and needs to innovate to meet the 21st century needs.

“Innovation is definitely connected to diplomacy – Just like any profession, it needs to adapt quickly to the 21st century standards”

INNOVATION & DIPLOMACY

Diplomacy is a field involving the management of a country’s international relations, usually by sending representatives abroad to negotiate and cooperate with foreign countries. The nature of the profession is considered an art as people must deal with others in a sensitive and tactful way. The profession has been loyal to its traditions, but it may be time to see some positive changes in diplomacy, to adapt to 21st century needs.

Though the general task of diplomats has remained the same throughout the last century, the 21st century has forced the field to grow in many ways. States are no longer the only actors. Today we see an emergence of NGOs and multinational companies playing important roles  in foreign policy design.

Technology has gradually advanced, where the methods and means of communication have developed. But most importantly, diplomacy has become a full-time profession with the possibility of becoming a career diplomat. 

Diplomacy certainly has come a long way and therefore has to innovate and adapt to the rapidly changing society. As Lupita puts it, “Innovation is the process of generating novel and useful ideas and putting them into practice in order to stay relevant in these rapidly changing times.” Diplomacy is no exception in this process. This includes professionalism, transparency, technology and inclusion within the Ministries of Foreign Affairs around the world.

DIPLOMACY FOR THE 21st CENTURY

In the paper titled ‘Colombian Diplomacy for the 21st century’, Lupita explains these changes based on Colombian diplomacy, which in fact, lacks the two fundamental pillars of a well functioning diplomatic service: professionalism and transparency. She has observed that many countries face these problems and are often plagued with corruption. But how can countries improve and meet 21st century needs?

Through innovation, of course. 

In order to answer this question, Lupita compares the diplomatic service of Colombia and a nation that is often praised for its good diplomatic corps, Spain. 

When comparing both countries’ approaches, there is a decisive difference regarding their compositions. In brief, Lupita suggests that countries need to innovate their traditional politically appointed diplomats, replacing the system entirely with career diplomats. By these means the diplomatic service becomes more professional, reducing mistakes based on improvisation. 

There are also other examples of innovative ideas adapted into the diplomatic service. Germany has implemented a good work-life balance, compensating the diplomats’ sacrifices. To execute their profession, German diplomats receive economic aid, part-time schedules and care for elderly and children. 

Meanwhile, Georgia has also most noteworthily innovated their diplomatic program. The Young Ambassador programme allows Georgian university students, studying abroad, to become almost official ambassadors of the country. These students are allowed to work with the embassy and attend work related events. This way, the future generation gains early experience, adding to the expertise and to professionalism.

DIGITALISATION

Covid-19 has also left its mark on diplomacy functions. As a result of the lockdowns and travel restrictions, diplomats were forced to communicate via virtual meetings and negotiate by other means. This has certainly maintained diplomatic relations and could potentially be adopted in future diplomatic practices. Nevertheless, physical meetings will still play an important role since impressions are crucial in foreign affairs and a virtual meeting has its limitations.

But still, when digital communication becomes more important, new means of data encrypting have to be developed. Since the diplomatic field deals with very confidential information, protections need to be set in place to avoid information falling into the wrong hands. 

In addition, Covid-19 has shone a light on the need for further digitalisation. Consulates realised that better tracking technologies are needed for citizens. They found themselves unable to get people back into their home countries due to the lack of data. Thanks to digitalisation, consulates have been able to communicate with their citizens in a more effective manner. 

GENDER

To come back to our previous example of Colombia, after pointing out its flaws, there is also much to praise. Western Countries have fallen short on leading through example in respect to gender inclusion. 

Just as in our governments, workplaces and society, a diplomatic team should represent the population proportionally. Unfortunately, being a diplomat is traditionally a ‘male’ job, often practiced by privileged people. For example, the United States’ Foreign service is composed of a clear majority of white men, which needs to change. 

In fact, the world average of women Mission Chiefs is only 15%. In this aspect, Colombia has done a good job since approximately one third of Mission Chiefs are women. Moreover, these women head important embassies such as France, Italy or Mexico and notably, Colombia has had many female UN permanent Representatives as well.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

In order to stay relevant in our times, diplomacy has to stay up to date with our trends through innovating its system and principles. Lupita has outlined within her paper how countries need to innovate their diplomatic services in order to meet 21st century needs.

Countries have to make sure their diplomatic services include the new actors in the field, such as NGOs and MNCs. They also have to keep an eye on equality, especially of genders and ethno-religious groups. Above all, current technology facilitates consular and embassy work, eventually improving crisis management. Innovation plays a key role in improving various aspects of our lives. Diplomacy is another area that will soon see positive changes thanks to innovation. 

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