Imagine if everyone got involved?
I’m honored to have been invited to the panel last night for the 2014 Citizen Diplomacy Summit in Cary, North Carolina, at The Cary Downtown Theater. The panel was moderated by Dr. Calvin Hall from NCCU, and included Leila Bekri, who works in promoting diplomacy and cultural exchanges for an international leadership program, Leslie Huffman, who founded LOL Marketing, and Wesley Lo, an international student exchange advocate from NC State University. The panel theme was Building Cultural Bridges in the Social Media Age. Learn more about the panelists here.
“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.” –The U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy
And it was terrific to learn more about this program. The centerpiece of the summit was the video competition that ran this year, free to entrants ages 18 to 25 and living in North Carolina. Congratulations to grand prize winner, Ilayda Yigit (North Carolina School of the Arts), who received $500 for her film MeetCute, and Misha Tobar (NCSU), who received 2nd prize and $250 for her film, Citizen Diplomacy in France. Both videos were publicly screened at the beginning of the evening, and had two different takes on the meaning of citizen diplomacy. MeetCute is an abstract take on the television/film term, meet-cute, which is a scene in film, television, etc. in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, entertaining, or amusing. Citizen Diplomacy in France features a montage of multi-cultural scenes, including food, music and dance, from a trip to France, edited with energetic music pumping in the background. Judges for the film competition were Alan Buck, Lorenzo Collado, Joan Conwell, Terry ‘Doc’ Thorne. Read more about the judges here.
This was the sixth annual Citizen Diplomacy Summit, which is co-sponsored by the Sister Cities Association of Cary and the Town of Cary. The Sister Cities Association is a non-profit association that, according to their website, strives to further global understanding and to encourage and assist sister city relationships between the citizens of Cary and cities throughout the world, especially Cary’s four Sister Cities, Le Touquet, France, Markham, Ontario, Hsinchu, Taiwan, and County Meath, Ireland.
The evening started out with networking over terrific food, with perhaps 40 or so people in attendance. Dr. Hall opened the discussion with the question, How has people-to-people diplomacy changed as a result of social media? This is an exciting time with technology outpacing use, our governments and laws, and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of how to use it to affect real change. Our definitions of the word tribe are changing, opening up, to include a global community. Wesley told the story of when he was tasked with the opening of a building at N.C. State, and so he created a short, one-minute video, and uploaded it to Instagram and sent it around in e-mail. The next morning, there was a line outside that building to get in.
And that’s the point. Social media is a tool, a powerful tool, in connecting us all. We have ideas and tools and we can use them for the greater good. But be careful we do not leave others behind. To the notion that “if you’re not online, you’re irrelevant,” I say that it’s not a good idea to lose track of people with wisdom or experience or knowledge just because they may not be online, and it is incumbent upon those of us who have a platform to speak for those who do not, or can’t. One of the challenges we all face is reaching people who are not connected, especially in other cultures. And we must be mindful of how we use social media and those who would abuse it, or any government that would try and control its citizen’s access.
The exchange between audience and the panel was fantastic, highly interactive, and the young people in the audience shared their stories and perspectives with us. I loved that part, honestly. There was so much of a spirit of collaboration and community in those moments, and it made the evening really special for me. Topics ranged all over the map, including B Corporations (businesses who are part for-profit and part non-profit, with a social or altruistic goals as part of their business plan), citizen journalism, cyber-bullying, Net Neutrality, and global citizenship. And we didn’t get to talk about crowdsourcing and the video trend as part of social media, but that’s a significant piece of the next steps.
Imagine if everyone, EVERYONE, got involved?
Consider a neighborhood food co-op that wants to grow the food to feed its community. Or a crowdsourced scholarship fund for the NC Foundation for Alcohol and Drug Studies, dedicated to a lost loved one. Or a writing project for cancer patients to provide them both with the healing power of writing, and beautiful and personal headscarves.
It was a meaningful conversation, and everyone agreed that it should continue. By social media, perhaps. 🙂
Thanks to the organizers and sponsors for putting such a wonderful event together, including Sister Cities Association of Cary, the Town of Cary, RTP Global, and the Cary Chamber of Commerce. And very special thanks to Joanie Conwell and Birgul Tuzlali for inviting me into it.