Diplo's two-day conference - Innovation in Diplomacy - has started in Malta and promises to highlight some very interesting issues over the course of the next two days as it looks at the interplay between continuity and change in diplomacy.
During the opening session (from left): The Hon. Dr Michael Frendo, Speaker of the House of Representatives in Malta, DiploFoundation director Dr Jovan Kurbalija, and Ms Dominique Hempel Rodas, senior advisor, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
The Hon. Dr Michael Frendo, Speaker of the House of Representatives in Malta - a longtime friend and supporter of DiploFoundation and pioneer in IT/ICT in Malta - and Dominique Hempel Rodas, senior advisor, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) gave the anniversary address.
Celebrating the tenth year of Diplo, Dr Frendo commented on Diplo's reach with an alumni from 189 countries around the world. Diplo is, in itself, he said, is an innovative exercise coming from a very small island state. ICT allows Malta to be in the centre rather than on the periphery and it's therefore not surprising that Diplo started in Malta helping the island reach out to the wider world. Malta has received many benefits from its support of Diplo: exposure, connections, and the creation of a global network.
The Internet is a new media - a new way for people to get information. Twitter is an example both of great innovation and of why people resign from office. How people communicate with a certain level of immediacy has also opened up a lot of information to us - sometimes too much. We need to find a balance, the Hon. Frendo said.
Recent changes in the Arab world have been fuelled in part by social media. In today's world, every country needs to foster its public diplomacy aspects. How can we innovatively develop parliamentary diplomacy and dovetail it with traditional diplomacy? If this can be managed, it will be very useful. If the MFA sets clear strategic objectives for its foreign policy, agreed by government and at parliamentary level, it will help develop both strands.
Hempel Rodas continued the theme with a brief history of Switzerland's support for Diplo as part of its efforts for inclusive global governance. It is particularly important today - as global issues such as climate change, food security, migration - affect the welfare of millions of people. Participation in global policy is no longer an option for developing countries, it is a necessity. Diplo's training and capacity building initiatives are key. The end of Diplo's courses marks the beginning of policy immersion. Many small and developing countries have developed their first Internet diplomats as a result of their engagement with Diplo.
Researching the reasons why students stay in touch with Diplo even after their course has ended, Hempel Rodas noted three reasons: human touch, professionalism, and neutrality. Diplo's work in developing trust online builds a foundation on which to grow. Can this conference produce the guidelines for Diplo up until 2022, she wondered? Diplo's achievements over its first ten years provide a strong basis for its future success.
This afternoon, the conference will go in to think-tank mode, as participants identify important and innovative trends in diplomacy and attempt to plot its future in what is becoming an increasingly online world.