My colleague recently wrote about the five major areas of interest in the State Department’s FY2013 budget request. In this Strategic Social Exchange entry, he stressed the importance of strengthening partnerships abroad, writing: “Simply put, investing now in our country’s ability to grow and maintain key, international relationships will help to underwrite the future of stability at home and abroad.”
“Hip Hop Diplomacy: Connecting through Culture,” hosted March 27 by George Washington University, also posited that cultural diplomacy efforts can play a significant role in furthering global relationships and, as my colleague noted, help sustain international stability in the future.
The focus of GWU’s event was how music, sports, arts, and media programs can aid in the empowerment of women worldwide. By teaching women leadership, technology, and business skills, these types of programs are able to facilitate the elimination of cultural stereotypes against women, the amendment of male-only political systems, and the rise of women in economies that do not allow them to hold land or own businesses. The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is an important funder of these types of programs and cultural diplomacy efforts in general. Indeed, many of the event’s participants had at one time participated in a State Department-aided cultural program. Some of these women were:
- Toni Blackmon – The State Department’s first hip-hop artist to be designated as an American Cultural Specialist. She conducts many workshops and concerts abroad, aiming to connect with other cultures through music.
- Soultana: A Moroccan hip-hop artist who participated in a State Department cultural exchange program in 2011. Her songs attempt to bring a greater attention to injustices against women in Morocco.
- Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak: Former U.S. Women’s Soccer player who has worked as a State Department Sports Envoy for the past five years. She has provided sports leadership and training programs in many countries, including Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, Uganda, and Morocco.
- Belia Zibowa: A Zimbabwean basketball coach who is currently participating in a State Department cultural exchange program. She will be participating in teambuilding exercises and workshops over the course of the next week, culminating in a trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four on April 3rd.
What is especially beneficial about cultural diplomacy programs like the ones in which these women participated is that they provide a high return on a low investment. Indeed, the ECA’s $400 million budget is just a drop in the bucket compared to the State Department’s $53.1 billion overall budget. For this relatively low cost, the ECA can build strategic partnerships to promote mutual understanding, an international exchange of ideas, and leadership development. Its programs aimed at women specifically act to increase both economic prosperity by giving half of the world’s population a greater role in the business sector and political participation through a larger role for women in government. Thus, all types of cultural diplomacy programs can help reduce areas of economic disparity and sites of possible conflict, increasing stability both for the United States and the international community in general.
In essence, as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the ECA noted at the GWU event, these cultural diplomatic partnerships help “advance national security simply by helping others.” This seems like a prudent investment in international relationships and the prospect of a more peaceful future.