Friday

South Korea develops comprehensive Public Diplomacy plan

South Korea never fails to impress us with it's quiet commitment to public diplomacy. While there's lot of talk around the world about projecting soft power, very rarely do we find discussions on South Korea.

The tensions with North Korea aside, the latest that has come from South Korea is that the country has set up clear actionable and measurable public diplomacy plans for 2018 and beyond. South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced today that it has developed the first comprehensive public diplomacy program and constituted agencies to drive and execute the plan. 




We have discussed in this blog earlier as well how relevance, 'measurability' and being 'budgeted for' will become the 3 significant challenges for foreign offices worldwide as they think of public diplomacy. 

If we don't have answers to these, most PD programs will take the easy way out, which in India's case is narratives around Bollywood, food, culture and heritage and the occasional 'sensationalism'. 

South Korea seems to be working to overcome these challenges:


  • The plan has a clear budget commitment of 410 billion won.
  • The plan has 49 tasks.
  • These tasks include 320 culture related projects, 200 knowledge related projects and 190 policy-oriented diplomacy projects


Among various awareness promoting initiatives, the country also has plans to constitute private committees to "correct factual errors" regarding the country. Internally for South Korea, this is the first time PD policy has been integrated with local implementation agencies and central administrative agencies of the government. This is great!

Korea Foundation will serve as the overseer of this program.

We will definitely ask PD practitioners to keep a watch on South Korea.

Thursday

Is Twitter Relevant?

Newsweek reported that protesters are demanding Twitter's CEO to step down if he is unable to remove US President Donald Trump from Twitter. The protesters have launched a campaign "@Jack is complicit" to highlight the role Twitter has played in promoting Donald Trump.

(See the @realDonaldTrump tweet that sparked off the recent outrage)



All the hype about Twitter doesn't seem to be relevant at all. Twitter has been around for almost 10 years now and is one of the oldest social networking sites. In the last decade the site has been able to add and maintain only 330 million monthly active users when reported last and the company has never revealed the number of daily active users worldwide but is believed to be less than half of it's monthly active users. Compare this to the number of internet users worldwide, which is 3.8 billion, nearly half of the world's population! If we look at the top 3 countries of internet users - China has 750 million, India has 460 million and United States has nearly 300 million connected to the internet. 

What is apparent is that the number of Twitter users among internet users worldwide are minuscule. More than 100 million internet users in India are not on Twitter at all.

If we take a moment to stop and distance ourselves from the social media frenzy, we may notice that Twitter may not be relevant to a vast number of audiences, simply because they are not there (and are not following tweets from Donald Trump).

But Twitter is a big deal! Twitter's merit as a platform for breaking news is well established. It is also the broadcast tool of choice for the high and the mighty. It is also great to establish direct contact with influential people. And, the media loves it. It gives journalists  direct access to sources and their commentaries. Twitter derives its influence precisely from this, the fact that it manages to get media amplification for activities on the platform. The current trend of news media reporting on Twitter reactions, Twitter feeds, is what keeps the platform going. It's unfortunate that precious media space gets used up in such a manner, pushing issues of the day out of the public discourse.


It would be interesting to see if media decides to ignore Twitter updates of important people and what that would do to Twitter's business. The media should also stop obsessing about Donald Trump's tweets as he operates within a highly evolved democratic framework of institutions with robust checks and balances. It should recognize when it gets played.

Saturday

Expat Insider Survey 2017: India among 10 worst countries


The Expat Insider 2017 survey is out. The results for India are not flattering. Expats have ranked India among the 10 worst countries to live in. India secured the 57th position among 65 countries surveyed. Bahrain is the topmost destination for expats and ranks first. Interestingly, US ranks 43rd.




The Times of India dedicated space to this news today and for a change the publication decided to focus on the reasons behind the low ranking.

The primary reasons are:
  • Lack of work life balance
  • Lack of quality healthcare
  • Lack of quality education
  • Concerns of safety
  • Gender Insensitivity
  • Environmental Pollution
Some of the findings can be debated, especially the ones related to healthcare and education. But expats more often than not, bring their own experience as a frame of reference in evaluating standards in another country. Given that tendency we can maybe overlook that. Also the credibility of InterNations as an organization to reliably conduct such a survey needs to be examined as well, especially for research rigor.

But those are not the issues. The issue here is how surveys are now everywhere on everything under the sun. As all marketers would agree, it is one of the most popular tools to grab eyeballs, spark off a conversation and initiate a debate. Media loves it - especially online newsrooms - because the format works well with such content. What results is the shaping of perception - in this case the perception of nearly 188 countries.



What I like about the findings of the above survey is that in the context of India, it can possibly make us introspect a little bit. There's a long way to go and there are real issues that the country needs to address. Brings me back to a question I repeatedly raise in this blog:
  1. Can soft power make up for the lack of progress on fundamental issues? 
  2. Also, is soft power, in fact a by product of power and development itself? Do we give it more importance than it deserves?
There is merit in looking at the Expat Survey above in the context of an HSBC Survey published earlier this year which found that expats in India are among the highest paid in the world. Despite the high salaries and compensation, the environment in which they live made the Indian expats rate the country low in terms of experience. True - money isn't everything!



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