Posted by: Wandren | October 1, 2009

A cautionary note on partnership in Public Diplomacy

The current vogue for conducting Public Diplomacy through ‘partnerships’ and the movement in theory on collaborative / collective action can create some difficult challenges in practice.

For those who conduct Public Diplomacy in partnership with BAE Systems, the announcement that BAE Systems faces prosecution over bribery allegations, while as yet unproven, creates awkward questions. This comes just over a year after a separate investigation into BAE by the SFO was dropped in 2007 after it was decided that national security was at risk.

One such organisation working in partnership with BAE is the British Council, who places amongst its organisational values:


We demonstrate this by

  • being honest
  • being consistent both in what we do and say
  • taking responsibility for our actions and decisions.

The British Council has been running programmes in partnership with BAE Systems for almost 20 years. Although the allegations of corruption are unproven, they may still undermine the British Council’s commitment to increase international understanding and bridge trust gaps in order to create harmony and prosperity for all.

Partnerships with BAE have included the Post-doctoral Summer Research (PDSR) Programme in Saudi Arabia. The British Council website acknowledges that The programme is supported by BAE Systems, the major British company with overall responsibility for the Al-Yamamah programme. The Programme has been sponsored from its inception in 1991 by BAE Systems and administered by the British Council.

The Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia has been the focus of a guardian investigation and an SFO investigation which the UK Government controversially halted in 2006. Tony Blair argued at the time that he believed an ongoing investigation would lead to complete wreckage of a relationship that is of fundamental importance of the security of this country and that the investigation would lead absolutely nowhere.

BAE Systems is also a corporate partner of the UK India Education and Research Initiative UKIERI. Martin Davidson (British Council CEO) identified in his introduction to the British Council Annual Report 07/08 that one way to increase impact is to run more programmes in partnership with others. For example UKIERI is a unique programme involving 11 funding partners. UKIERI is run with corporate partners BAE Systems, BP, GlaxoSmithKline and Shell. Martin Davidson concludes If we are to achieve our growth objectives, we recognise that we need to increase our ability to develop successful partnerships such as UKIERI

Partnership with the British Council is advertised on their website as helping many of our business partners gain competitive advantage in an increasingly challenging global market place … many companies also welcome the opportunity to work with us as a way of underlining their company values and commitment to corporate social responsibility.

The example of the partnership between BAE Systems and the British Council demonstrates the real risk which Public Diplomacy organisations can face in expanding their engagement in partnerships. Ironically, it was the British Council’s advisory board meeting in 2007 The Meaning of Partnership which posed many of the pertinent points for consideration when any PD organisation begins to consider partnership.

  • What might be the greatest gains we can have from strong partnerships?
  • What risks will we need to manage when making larger, more strategic partnerships?
  • How can we ready ourselves to mitigate risk and gain the most from this new direction?
  • What will we have to consider losing along the way…at what price?

And the final, and most salient question

  • What should we not give up at any price?


  1. […] we write regularly on public diplomacy, we noted the latest entry by our colleague Ali Fisher on his Wandren PD site. As BAE Systems (British Aerospace) faces prosecution over bribery allegations and the prospect of […]

  2. […] The earlier post focused on the  considerations which must exist alongside the potential benefits of partnership in Public Diplomacy. Specifically, the need to identify those things an organisation will not give up at any price. […]

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