Posted by: Wandren | October 28, 2009

Cautionary note on partnership in Public Diplomacy (part 2)

Does it matter in Public Diplomacy terms if an organisation with which you partner is heavily criticised in an official report? This post continues from an earlier post on the British Council’s partnership with weapons manufacturer BAE Systems.

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.

In this instance the financial support for British Council programmes provided by BAE systems may have brought with it certain risks to reputation, beyond the possible conflict some may feel exists when a cultural relations organisation, working to increase international understanding and bridge trust gaps in order to create harmony and prosperity for all, partners with a weapons manufacturer. The reputation of the organisation could be at risk as its partner  BAE Systems faces prosecution over bribery allegations.

In addition, the independent review of the 2006 RAF Nimrod crash that killed 14 military personnel has delivered a damning verdict. Among those heavily criticised in the report were BAE Systems.  The full report was so damning of BAE that I’ve included some of the longer sections below as abbreviation does not do them justice:

In contrast, the ‘Training Bridge‘ project run by the British Council and in which BAE Systems participates seeks to

promote lasting UK – German co-operation in the field of work-based training. Participating in the programme is a means to share best business practice while giving trainees and trainers new skills that can be easily applied back in the workplace.

The reality of Public Diplomacy partnerships, whether through the ‘Training Bridge’, UKIERI in India, or exchange programes in Saudi Arabia, is that the large financial resources of corporations such as BAE Systems can increase the reach and impact a Public Diplomacy organisation can achieve. However, these organisations also have their own agenda, methods and organisational culture. As the British Council website notes many of our business partners gain competitive advantage… from these partnerships.

The question for a Public Diplomacy organisation partnering or recieving sponsorship must be whether the increased impact is worth certain other risks.

This leads ultimately to the same conclusion as the previous post on this issue, an organisation must identify things which are not for sale – asking the question posed at the British Council Advisory Board 2007;

  • What should we not give up at any price?

High on the list has to be credibility, without which the ability to engage in meaningful interaction with members of other communities and societies will be severely curtailed.


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