I spent a very educational day this week in Ottawa, Canada as an invitee of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). The occasion was a workshop on "Global Citizenship" and ways to encourage public diplomacy among a number of groups with ties to Canada. Among those audiences are foreign alumni of Canadian institutions, foreign alumni of Canadian international youth programs, and of course, Canadian alumni of Canadian institutions, now living overseas. The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada estimates there are some 2.8 million Canadian citizens living outside the country's borders.
In this context, "global citizenship" refers not to ethical or moral standards of behavior, but to the practical question of citizens advancing their nation's interests internationally. For example, advocacy for Canadian entrepreneurship, as seen in the C100 group.
The day included presentations by academics as well as more than half a dozen Canadian diplomats, and discussion among outside experts from a number of non-governmental organizations (including Alumni Futures). I have to give credit to the Department for not drafting policy behind closed doors and then trying to "sell" it to external audiences. It appears they are starting out by collecting external ideas and viewpoints before even considering what a policy might ultimately look like.
While this meeting was just the start of a process to generate practical ideas for DFAIT to explore, it was eye-opening and thought-provoking. I have no doubt that university alumni organizations can partner with national governments to advance their respective interests, without appearing to take sides on potentially divisive political issues. If such a partnership takes clearer shape in the future, I'll write about it here on Alumni Futures.