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A good day at the office

I find it hard to explain to people what it is I do to put milk in the fridge, to pay my bills, to keep my sanity. I don’t have one of those neat jobs that fits tidily into a box, easily captioned, and even more easily explained. I have what Charles Handy would call a portfolio career, picking up degrees and qualifications in various fields as I’ve move from one thing to the next. Over the years, though, I’ve found that I really enjoy training in public speaking. For me, speaking from a stage is the cheapest legal high I can get. Better than any drug and, while equally addictive, far less harmful. And when I can encourage that passion in others, I’ve had a good day at the office.

This week, I’m in Geneva with DiploFoundation’s Capacity Development Programme in Multilateral Diplomacy for small Pacific, Caribbean, and African States, known in brief as CD Multi.

Small states with limited geographical, human, and financial resources face the challenge of doing more with less: they need to employ all available methods to increase their representation, including networks, alliances, and information technology tools. In addition, diplomats from small and remote states often lack the experience and exposure to Geneva-based institutions and processes that would allow them to ensure that the interests of their nations are well represented.

Small states, especially geographically remote Pacific, Caribbean, and African nations, strongly depend on international law and order. The effective presence of such states in International Geneva is vital for their social and economic development, as Geneva is the main governance hub for issues such as trade, climate change, health, and migration.

Twenty-six participants from 17 countries [Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi, Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, Cabo Verde, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, Fiji, Cook Islands] are taking part in this 10-day immersion programme, the final of three phases (the other two being Online Learning and Policy Research) of CD Multi-Carib and CD Multi-Africa which began in October last year.  Back in 2014, I got to see parts of Geneva I’d not visited before with the CD Pacific group. What sticks in my mind most was the visit to the International Telecommunication Union. This time, we’ll get to catch the latest in Internet governance developments at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) at the ITU next week.

The programme offers participants a chance to network, to meet representatives from those International Organisations that have so much to say in decisions that affect their lives at home. Four of the countries participating in the programme do not have permanent representation in Geneva [São Tomé & Principe, St Vincent & Grenadines, St Kitts & Nevis, and Suriname] so for them, this is an opportunity to scope out the prospects for setting up shop.

Each participant brings an admirable level of expertise to the table. They range in age and years of experiences. With backgrounds in the voluntary sector, air traffic control, international development, policing and security, ICT, teaching, and diplomacy, they share a passion for ensuring that their countries have a voice, a seat at the table.

During the various conversations that we’ve had over the last few days, I’ve been quietly impressed by the depth and breadth of their collective knowledge but even more so by their energy, their enthusiasm, and their determination to make a difference.

In my world, I see lethargy, apathy, and a general ‘whatever’ attitude that borders on helplessness in the face of the political turns this side of the world has taken. [Admittedly, the voting turnout (nearly 70%) in the UK election this week has given me hope that tomorrow’s leaders are stepping up and taking note (453,000 of the 600k new voters to sign up on deadline day were aged between 18 and 34), but talk from Ireland and Hungary both brings to mind a vision of hell and a hand-basket.] The company I’ve been keeping in the last few days has been cathartic, helping me shed some of the disengagement I’ve been feeling and reigniting my interest in the world at large.

Ceiling of the Human Rights Council room at the UN
1000 sq m weighing 23 000 kg – took 9 months to do – depicting the ocean floor and said to be a metaphor for multilateral diplomacy and the different perspective everyone has (view is different from every seat in the room)

Next week, we’re at the Human Rights Council – it meets three times a year for a total of ten weeks and is currently in session. We’re also at the Commonwealth Small States Office, the ITU, the Austrian Permanent Mission, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The session I’m looking forward to most is one on Fake News – and the role of confirmation bias in a post-truth world.

Yes, indeed. It’s been a good few days at the office.

 

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