Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Foreign Service Must Evolve!


By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.


While it is understood that the historical role of our diplomatic ambassadors is to serve as official representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, the changing realities of our economic and developmental challenges necessitate that this role evolves in much, much more.

In recent times we have seen some of our more able ambassadors play key roles, not only in ceremonial capacities, but in other roles such as negotiating critical and strategic agreements with foreign governments for social and economic projects. These foreign service officials bring a dynamic, action and results oriented perspective to their portfolios.

However, those ambassadors are in the minority.

Instead, most of our ambassadors seem to see themselves either as representatives who play ceremonial roles or who are involved in ‘representative activities’ where they attend meetings, conferences and social gatherings, or ‘represent’ our nation at celebratory activities hosted by other countries.

The majority of these ambassadors also see their role as that of ‘representing the views and concerns’ of our Government and spend a lot of time articulating those views to the power structures in the countries to which they are attached.

Many of these ambassadors have fitted into the comfortable roles that their predecessors appointed by the previous ALP administrations have always played. They have embraced the mantle of pomp, circumstance, and importance with which their positions come. Yes… it is important to represent our nation at some of the events to which they are invited… and to be present at the table… But, over the years that I have observed some of them here in Washington, too many have seen this social, ceremonial and philosophical representational role… as the role.

That needs to change. As a matter of fact… they should not have a role… but a job description with timelines, deliverables, performance factors and measurable outcomes!

A small nation like Antigua and Barbuda cannot afford to have ambassadors who play primarily philosophical, social and ceremonial roles. In this I am referring to both resident and non-resident ambassadors, and ambassadors-at-large. The country can only afford a handful of ambassadors at home or abroad. So we need those few to deliver big… to deliver the kinds of projects that impact hundreds of our citizens… in big ways.

A few of our current ambassadors ensure that they are able to secure a few tit-bits of aid for groups or government departments at home. Maybe a fire-truck last year, an ambulance last month, a police motor bike at the end of the year – all delivered with pomp and high ceremony. Yes… these are feel-good and look-good gifts from other countries. Good.

Yet, what we really need are ambassadors who negotiate bilateral agreements and develop international relationships that translate into major sustainable developmental projects for small business and communities. We don’t need fishes… we need the training and sustainable support mechanisms that will allow us to do our own fishing using modern day technological advancements.

Ambassadors who reside in other countries must bring a new perspective to their jobs. Rather than adopting the historically egotistical, puffed-up and self-centered attitude of some of their predecessors, they should embrace a creative and marketing oriented outlook whereby everything they do is about promoting the nation – not for the sake of international stature… but for the sake of economic growth and national development.

To foster this, I suggest the following:

  1. Involve Antiguans and Barbudans who reside in their jurisdiction in every aspect of their efforts to market and promote our country. We literally have an army of volunteers who can be involved in every aspect of the work that embassies and consulates are tasked to do. There are qualified Antiguans and Barbudans all over the world who have waited… and are waiting… and are willing to do their part… to contribute to our country’s development. Involve them. Identify Antiguans and Barbudans who would volunteer to be leaders in a variety of projects that would benefit small businesses, and people in communities at home.
  2. Every resident ambassador should see himself/herself as a marketing executive who represents our nation to “proven”, Fortune 1000 companies and their executives and to ‘blue-chip’ investors. Ambassadors need training in a variety of skills including how to present and marketing our country.
  3. Every ambassador – resident and non resident – should develop a business plan… Yes… a business plan than indicates what he/she is going to do over the next three years, what area of the economy or national development he or she will target, what the projected deliverables will be and the timelines for such deliverables.
  4. If ambassadors are going to focus on such things as seeking scholarships (or overseeing scholarships as some are doing…) they must be able to provide (in dollars and cents) the short and long term benefits to our nation of such scholarships. This is to ensure that we are able to provide the nation with the most qualified, certified and trained workforce possible. We must also avoid current and past mistakes. How many more medical doctors can our nation sustain? How about graduate degrees in agriculture, nursing (rather than importing nurses), educational administration, mental health, civil engineering, small business development and entrepreneurship… etc.?
  5. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be managed by professionals who respond quickly to the needs of our ambassadors. The current status where everything moves like pitch… where nothing gets done quickly (if ever), where Permanent Secretaries rule as  hold overs from the 1940s must change. The ministry too must evolve.

Our Foreign Service Officers are our frontline representatives to the rest of the world. Therefore, we must put our best (professional, qualified, can deliver, proven) people in those exalted positions so that they can deliver exalted outcomes! We must task them with a new and different mandate… a mandate to bring home the kinds of results that will give Antigua and Barbuda visible and measurable returns on its investment in them.