U.S. and International Women Ambassadors Gather to Discuss Evolving Nature of Diplomacy

Ambassador Laurie Fulton, Meridian Trustee, contributes to the conversation on diplomatic readiness at a program at Meridian International Center on February 24, 2020. Photo by Stephen Bobb.

On the sidelines of the U.S. State Department’s Global Chiefs of Mission Conference, on February 24, 2020, Meridian brought together 60 current and former women ambassadors from the U.S. and around the world to discuss how technological innovation, geopolitics and other factors are reshaping diplomats’ approach to their work.

Following keynote remarks from Maria Langan-Riekhof, Director of the Strategic Futures Group at the National Intelligence Council about the upcoming Global Trends Report, a panel of American and foreign women ambassadors addressed what skills and tools diplomats will need to be prepared to effectively advocate for their nations’ interest in the future. The panel, moderated by Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, a member of the Meridian Diplomatic Engagement Advisory Committee, included: The Honorable Sharon Day, U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica; Her Excellency Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, Ambassador of Iceland; Her Excellency Dina Kawar, Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; and, The Honorable Alaina Teplitz, U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The following themes about the future skills for diplomats emerged from the discussion:

Adaptability is the most important skill of a diplomat.

American diplomats typically change postings every three years, with foreign embassies experiencing similar turnover. Senior diplomats must adapt to changing regions and job functions nimbly in order to be effective.

The speed of information and communication has changed how diplomacy is practiced around the world.

Ideas spread around the world with the speed of a tweet and take hold faster than ever before. It is incumbent upon diplomats to respond quickly and thoughtfully to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Diplomats must know the actors in their posting, how to work with them, and the social/power dynamics among these actors.

In many countries including the United States, power is increasingly vested in the provincial/state, local, and community levels. In order to effectively advocate for their nations’ interests, diplomats must understand and connect with local actors.

Language skills remain critical.

Although technology and the means of communication continue to evolve, nothing will replace knowing the local language to help build relationships and understand the culture. Speaking the language opens doors and facilitates personal connections in a way that technology never will.

Media skills are increasingly important—not just for communication specialists but also for ambassadors.

Public speaking skills, media savviness, and social media activity are significant tools for connecting with and engaging the local community. Social media, in particular, provides a direct link to the population.

Women should boldly seek leadership positions, as they have needed skills.

While there are more women than ever before in the foreign service around the world, and many barriers have been removed, one of the obstacles that remains is the doubt that keeps women from taking their rightful place at the table. Young women entering the foreign service possess increasing innate skills and talent, and will be prepared to take on the mantle of leadership in the near future.

 

The Bernstein Family Foundation generously supported this program to foster innovation though critical thinking, public dialogue and the exchange of ideas for the future. The discussion and reception was held in partnership with Women Ambassadors Serving America (WASA), which promotes the leadership of current and former women Ambassadors in order to strengthen foreign policy, ensures Americans from diverse backgrounds contribute fully in the foreign affairs profession, and advances gender empowerment in U.S. international cooperation.

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Project summary

U.S. and International Women Ambassadors Gather to Discuss Evolving Nature of Diplomacy | February 2020
Number of Attendees: 60
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Iceland, Jordan, Madagascar, Moldova, New Zealand, United States
Impact Areas: Empowering Women and Girls, Foreign Policy, Public Diplomacy
Program Areas: Convening
Partners: NGOs