The updates in my twitter account recently had this really interesting bit of information about the launch of "World Friends Korea" (Source: Syracuse University's Public Diplomacy Blog). According to The Korea Times, World Friends Korea is - "a group of volunteers to strengthen (Korea's) goodwill activities in underdeveloped or developing countries around the world in an effort to become a more responsible member of the international community." The report further mentions that, "The volunteers will work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations and businessmen in various areas, including education, the environment, agriculture and information technology. They will also play an important role in promoting Korea's culture and food around the world." The UN has welcomed the launch of World Friends Korea which it believes will help to expand Korea's role in the global stage, build visibility, credibility and promote goodwill. Interestingly, it is modeled on the US Peace Corps.
The US remains the only country to send numerous volunteers abroad - under a state backed initiative - to work in numerous areas ( Education, Health & HIV/AIDS, Environment, Business Development, Agriculture, Youth Development etc.) The underlying objective is to promote peace & friendship and also build a positive perception of the country overseas. Currently the US Peace Corps has 7,876 volunteers and a dedicated Federal budget of USD 340 million for 2009.
The news made me think if it is possible to have something on similar lines in India. Such a move will complement India's global aspirations and can make India more visible globally. I feel this can be very relevant in India's neighborhood, including the Indian Ocean area, where India remains and will remain the dominant power. South Asia & Indian sub continent is a problem area of the world be it human development issues or terrorism. India, with its resources, know how and skilled personnel can definitely play a role in helping countries in the neighborhood by sending trained volunteers overseas. From the perspective of strategy, it will help counter some of the animosity harbored towards India by its neighbors (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar etc.) because of India's alleged "Big Brother" attitude. It will increase people to people contact, will benefit India's youth - potential leaders of tomorrow - in understanding India's position in the region and the world.
I am sure lot of Indian volunteers work and are working overseas in different countries. What I am suggesting here is a "state backed initiative" with dedicated annual budgets that can serve as a potent strategic tool in India's public diplomacy. I also feel it may not be entirely necessary to raise a separate group of volunteers, rather groom India's acclaimed National Cadet Corps or the NCC for such international roles in South Asia. India can start by offering such an option to NCC cadets and maybe gradually move toward raising a separate group of volunteers. NCC cadets can learn languages, know cultures & gain a global perspective to become better leaders in a globalized world. It will foster better understanding of India, especially in the Indian Ocean region & South Asia. Besides, this will also imply that India takes it position in the world seriously and is committed to make a real difference in the world leveraging its strengths and resources. How's that for Public Diplomacy messaging?