Let’s define Citizen Diplomacy

Sometimes the obvious needs spelling out. And sometimes that which is not so obvious is assumed to be understood.

Let’s take the example of Citizen Diplomacy (CD). In my review of the websites of four major Citizen Diplomacy organizations, the definition of the term is hidden or even missing entirely.

The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD) has recently launched a new website which entices visitors to “Be a Citizen Diplomat.” What does that mean? They give a list of qualifiers under “Who we Are” in a section called “Who are Citizen Diplomats?” but this definition of Citizen Diplomacy that I once found on their website seems to have been buried somewhere or has disappeared:

Citizen Diplomacy is the concept that the individual has the right, even the responsibility, to help shape U.S. foreign relations ‘one handshake at a time.’ Citizen diplomats can be students, teachers, athletes, artists, business people, humanitarians, adventurers or tourists. They are motivated by a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world in a meaningful, mutually beneficial dialogue.

On the Sister Cities International (SCI) website, they hail themselves as “A Global Citizen Diplomacy Network.” Like USCCD, I know I once found a very useful definition of Citizen Diplomacy on the SCI website, but I can no longer find it. They talk about CD, but they don’t define it for someone who isn’t already familiar with the concept. Is it just too obvious to need a definition? Don’t people want to know “what does it mean? What am I signing myself up for?”

I also looked at the Business for Diplomatic Action (BDA) website, an org that believes “the U.S. business community can be uniquely effective in countering negative economic, social and cultural influences.” Absolutely! But where’s the basic definition of Citizen Diplomacy to set the context for the individual’s role in the larger scheme of things? The BDA website offers a useful “action list” and resources (a list of blogs and books) for learning more about public diplomacy. But I think the site could offer more information about CD and its application to business relations.

Finally, the BDA sponsored site World Citizens Guide (WCG) [where’s the apostrophe!?] is also sadly lacking a definition of CD.  This website started as a student project and I think overall it is a terrific effort that produced a (potentially–I have it on order) useful guide book for travelers about how to “tone down” their obnoxious Americanisms.

As for their website, however, they have an opportunity to turn student and business travelers into Citizen Diplomats just by adding a definition and a bit more info. These travelers need more than just a list of links to other sites.

So…for the definition. Borrowing a bit from the USCCD definition above:

Citizen Diplomacy is interaction between  citizens of different places– whether domestic or foreign–who are motivated by a desire to engage cross-culturally with others through meaningful, mutually-beneficial dialogue and activity. (Bruya, 2010)

This definition leaves the “promoting national interest abroad” piece intentionally ambiguous. For me, I would put promoting national interest in the definition of public diplomacy, as it is used by national governments. Citizen Diplomacy may or may not include this motivation, as it is possible for citizens to engage internationally outside the purview of foreign policy objectives.

Hey. If you like it, use it! Or write your own…

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4 Responses to Let’s define Citizen Diplomacy

  1. M Johnson says:

    Hi,
    Just read your blog. It’s great seeing more and more people interested in Citizen Diplomacy.

    Good job summarizing the citizen diplomacy. I have been following two of the 3 organizations you mentioned here. As a person who considers himself a citizen diplomat, I should point out that I did find a definition of citizen diplomacy on the USCCD site on the page you had mentioned.

    I helped draft the wikipedia article as well and I borrowed the definition from those guys.

    Keep up your great work!

    • Sara Bruya says:

      Hi M Johnson,

      I wasn’t able to find this definition on the new USCCD website–only on the old one. If it’s there on the new site, my apologies. Please show me where. (Although my vote would be to see it on the home page!)

      Thanks for your comments!

  2. Kohar says:

    I love the idea of citizen diplomacy!
    I will never forget creating pineapple jack-o-lanterns with your English students in Lambarene, Gabon. Simple fun, sharing cultural practices adapted to local circumstances,together.

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