1. UNIQUE HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS: It’s good to have a sense of humor and creativity, especially if you do public diplomacy work during these challenging times. One small business that is helping meet the gift-giving needs of people who care about diplomacy is called Burn Bag Gear. A veteran-owned small business, it has an online catalog selling a variety of funny and practical gifts, including unique t-shirts and masks, which may resonate with some members of the PD community. For example, t-shirts are available with subtle and not-so-subtle messages such as: “I am the Last Three Feet”, “USIA — Party Like Its 1999”, “Foggy Bottoms Up”, “Pin-Striped Cookie Pusher”, “Person non Grata”, “Just an EFM”, and “Inspector General Oversees Overseas”.
The philosophy behind the little business, which emphasizes that its website and products are not affiliated with the U.S. Government in any way, is that most Americans know the Post Office, the military, and a few other agencies with whom they may interact, but they don’t know the so-called “grunt work” of, say, diplomacy, management, administration and labor. By selling original, custom-made-to-order-products, the owner hopes to increase awareness of the wider USG bureaucracy and the loyal patriots who work in it.
Anyone who helps educate about Edward R. Murrow’s famous “last three feet” quote or reminds people about the contributions of the old U.S. Information Agency deserves support. For more information and a smile or two, go to: https://burnbaggear.com.
2. “REBRANDING” U.S. AID: A December 10, 2020 State Department press statement from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got virtually no attention outside the Department, but it still should be of interest to both public diplomacy and foreign aid personnel. Titled “Rebranding United States Foreign Assistance“, the release quoted the Secretary as saying that “on December 10, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Rebranding United States Foreign Assistance, directing departments and agencies to deploy a single U.S. Government logo on all U.S. foreign assistance. The use of a single logo for U.S. foreign assistance will strongly demonstrate the generosity of the American people and is critical to our public diplomacy efforts.” The Secretary said, “The Department of State looks forward to leading the implementation of this important Executive Order, in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other departments and agencies.”
It is unclear as to why the current Administration is just now bringing up the issue, and whether any progress can be made in developing a single logo to replace the many, varied logos currently in use before the Trump Administration departs. The job of getting various stakeholders within the Department and government-wide to agree on one logo will not be easy, although USAID quickly said it “commends this powerful Executive Order.”
The major logo in use is the well-known “USAID FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE” handclasp logo, which was developed some years ago with an eye to getting greater visibility and influence from USAID programs. The logo was launched with very detailed guidance and instructions on how to use it. Those regulations are still in effect, but some policymakers must feel the United States is not getting sufficient credit for its sizable aid efforts (nearly $500 billion over the last 20 years alone). Although different donors have their own logos and understandably like to get credit for their work, and some presidential and interagency initiatives have their own unique branding, the U.S. Embassy logo in many countries is already being used to label a U.S. project or program as official. And in some places, use of a U.S. Government logo is restricted for security purposes.
For the text of the Secretary’s statement, go to https://www.state.gov/
3. WORDS REALLY MATTER: Most public diplomacy professionals enjoy writing and pride themselves on using the right term in the right situation to get the right message out. 2020 — truly an “annus horribilis” — has been unusually challenging to communicators because of the unprecedented global problems and the fast-pace of change. Proof of all this is found in a fascinating, 36-page study conducted by Oxford Languages, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary.
Annually since 2004, the firm’s lexicographers have picked one word or phrase to describe the year. But for 2020, their research showed so many new words, phrases, expressions, and metaphors — from areas like public health, technology, the environment, and social movements and social media — that they couldn’t pick a “Word of The Year”. Their conclusion: “The English language, like all of us, has had to adapt rapidly and repeatedly this year: Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development during 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word.”
To learn more about the year’s use of “Covid-19”, “social distancing”, “lockdown”, “superspreader”, “moonshot”, “self-isolate”, “mask-shaming”, “take a knee”, etc., access the full report through https://languages.oup.com/
4. “THE WORLD IN 2021”: Although many people would like to say “good riddance” to 2020, there is value in reviewing the year and then looking ahead. For one journalistic source that meets both of those tests, I recommend The Economist’s superb, end-of-year special edition.
An exceptionally good read at 146 pages, the weekly news magazine concisely reviews — region-by-region — major developments of the past crazy year and analyzes ten trends to watch in the year ahead — issues like “fights over vaccines,” “a mixed economic recovery”, “patching up the new world disorder”, “more U.S.- China tensions”, “after the tech-celeration”, and “an opportunity on climate change”. And for a quick summary of how a number of individual countries are faring and what to expect, the issue provides basic data plus a solid para on each nation.
This special edition would be very helpful for any Foreign Service applicant cramming for an interview. Some of the contents are free via economist.com/the-world-in-
For another take on where the new year may be headed, check out The Top Ten Risks and Opportunities for 2021, a slickly packaged, very readable Atlantic Council report by Mathew J. Burrows and Robert A. Manning. They “identify the top ten risks in the new year for the United States in particular, but with global implications,” and attach “a probability to each potential scenario.” And, “in the spirit of optimism for the new decade,” they also identify “ten opportunities in the coming year for the new U.S. administration.” See their report at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.
Finally, it is clear that in the new year China will continue to greatly challenge the United States and its democratic friends. For a thoughtful, very readable report, also from the Atlantic Council, check out Global Strategy 2021: An Allied Strategy for China by Matthew Kroenig and Jeffrey Cimmino. Their paper, which was prepared with input from an international working group of expert collaborators from leading democracies, also includes a helpful forward by Harvard Professor Emeritus Joseph S. Nye, who probably knows more about strategy and “soft power” than anyone else.
According to Nye, the Council authors “argue that the desired endpoint of the strategy is not everlasting competition or the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party, but rather to convince Chinese leaders that their interests are better served by cooperating within rather than challenging, a rules-based international system.” For the text, visit: https://www.atlanticcouncil.
5. “ZOOHACKATHON” FIGHTS WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING: Hats off to the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs for combining technology, innovation and science and public diplomacy to coordinate a global competition that successfully reached out to students, coders, wildlife experts, and the public.
This year’s fifth annual Zoohackathon competition — all virtual — drew nearly 700 participants from 53 countries. They generated more than 60 innovative technology solutions to “help bolster on-the-ground efforts to fight the scourge of wildlife trafficking.” The winner was BioUp from Brazil, ARTEMIS from the Philippines took second place, and DangerZoone from Vietnam finished third. Zoohackathon is a project supported in part by the U.S. Government’s Task Force in Combating Wildlife Trafficking. A range of conservation and technology organizations participate as global and local partners. For more information, visit www.zoohackathon.com and https://www.state.gov/
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.