Tag Archives: CIC

On Policy Alpha geeks, network thinking and foreign policy

In the past few weeks the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the Canadian International Council (CIC) both launched new visions for Canada’s foreign policy. Reading each, I’m struck by how much overlap both documents have with Middle to Model Power, the Canada25 report written 5 years ago by over 500 young Canadians from across the country and around the world.

With Middle to Model Power, a group of young people largely self-organized to lay out a vision and selection of ideas around how Canada could rethink its foreign policy. Take a look at this selection from its executive summary, including an overview and the first recommendation:

We submit that Canada should cease assessing its influence on the basis of its size or position within an obsolete global hierarchy. Instead, Canada25 calls on Canadians to look at the world as a network, where influence is based on the capacity of an individual, company, non-governmental organization (NGO) or country to innovate and collaborate. Building on this perspective, we propose that Canada become a Model Power—a country whose influence is linked to its ability to innovate, experiment, and partner; a country that, by presenting itself as a model, invites the world to assess, challenge, borrow from, and contribute to, its efforts.
In pursuit of our vision of Canada as a Model Power, we outline three priorities for action. These, accompanied by some of our recommendations, include:

MAKE CANADA A NETWORK NODE. Enhance the ability of Canadians to create, nurture, and tap into international networks:
• Issue five-year work visas to foreign graduates of Canadian universities • Reach out to Canada’s expatriate community by creating an international network of
Canadian leaders…

You can download the full report here, but you get the idea. Remember this is a group of 23-35 year-olds writing in 2005.

Now, quickly compare this to the summary’s of both the LPC and CIC’s new reports.

The LPC report, called a Global Networks Strategy opens by stating:

Networks define how the world works today, as hierarchies did in the past. Influence is gained through connectedness, and by being at the centre of networks. That is good news for Canada, because we have a reputation for being able to work with others, we have shaped many multilateral organizations, and our population today reflects the diversity of the world. The Global Networks Strategy is designed to leverage these assets. It sets priority areas in which the federal government must collaborate with the full range of players who contribute vigorously – and most often in networks – to Canada’s presence in the world: other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, young Canadians, academia, faith- based groups, artists and others.

And in the CIC report, titled Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked World, has as one of its opening paragraphs:

Canada will never be the most powerful nation on Earth. But we live in a digital age, where might is measured in knowledge rather than muscularity. If we keep building on our openness—attracting the best and the brightest citizens, generating and exchanging new ideas and new ways of doing things and welcoming investment in our economy—Canada can position itself at the centre of the networked world that is emerging in the 21st century.

And, unsurprisingly, the deeper details of the reports offer many similar prescriptions.

So how, on a shoestring budget, can a group of young Canadians many of whom were not foreign policy experts, write a report that identifies an organizing principle that 5 years both a major political party and one of the country’s newest and best funded think tanks would put at the hearts of their own reports?

A few ideas come to mind:

1) The Medium is the Message: Middle to Model Power was not written on a wiki (in 2005 none of us knew what a wiki was!) but it was written over email. The authors were scattered across the country and the process of organizing local events was relatively decentralized. People raised whatever topics that mattered to them, and during the drafting phase they simple sent me their ideas and we batted them around. There was structure, but were were a pretty flat organization and… we were very connected. For Canada25 a network wasn’t just an idea that emerged out of the process, it was the process. It should hardly be surprising that the way we saw the world reflected how we organized ourselves. (When I say that Canada’s digital economy strategy will fail unless written on GCPEDIA this is part of what I’m hinting at). The medium is the message. It’s hard (but not impossible) to write about networks deep in hierarchy.

2) Look for Policy Alpha Geeks in resource poor environments: So why did Canada25 think in terms of networks? How was it that before Wikinomics or GPS or pretty much most other things I’ve seen, did Canada25 organize itself this way?  Well, it wasn’t because we were strategic or young. It was because we had very little money. We couldn’t afford to organize any other way. To get 500 Canadians around the world to think about foreign policy we had to let them self-organize – we didn’t have an org structure or facilitators to do it for them. We had to take the cheapest tools (email) and over use them. Don’t get me wrong, Canada25 was not poor. Our members were generally very well educated, we had access to computers and the internet and access to interesting people to interview and draw ideas from. But the raw infrastructure we had at our disposal was not significant and it forced us to adopt what I now see were disruptive technologies and processes. We became Policy Alpha Geeks because we had to innovate not to be relevant, but to ensure the project survived.

3) It’s not about the youth: People presume that our thinking emerged because we were young. This is not entirely correct. Again, I submit that we got to thinking about networks because we were operating in a resource weak environment and had exposure to new tools (email) and a risk tolerance to try using them in an ambitious way. This isn’t about age, it just happens that generally it is young people who don’t have lots of resources and are willing to experiment with new tools. Older people, who frequently have more senior titles, generally have access to more resources and so can rely on more established, but more resource intensive tools and processes. But again, this is about mindset, not about age. Indeed, it is really about the innovators’ dilemma in policy making. Don’t believe me? Well, as lead author of Middle to Model Power I can tell you that the most influential book on my thinking was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock which I read in the month preceding the drafting of the report. It was written in 1970 by an author who was, at the time, 42. In sum, young people can be a good guide, but it is environmental factors that you can replicate, not intrinsic qualities of being young, that allow you to innovate.

Both the LPC and the CIC’s documents are good and indeed, more up to date than Middle to Model Power. But in terms of core organizing principles the three documents are similar. So if you are genuinely interested in this take a look at all three documents. I do think they put forward what could become an emerging centrist consensus regarding organizing principles for Canadian foreign policy. Certainly that was the ambition back in 2005.

CIC: New Thinking on Canadian Foreign Policy?

Really pleased to hear that the Canadian International Council (CIC) has launched “The GPS Project: A Global Positioning Strategy for Canada.” After several years of fits and starts I’ll confess I haven’t seen the CIC strike off in a new  and interesting direction – something that has worried me. This new initiative however, has real potential.

First off the project has good timing and a firm deadline around which to make suggestions. As the press release notes:

The project will generate and disseminate fresh perspectives and ideas both in the short term, as Canada prepares to host the 2010 G8 Summit next summer in Huntsville, Ontario and, more fundamentally, for the years beyond. The “Muskoka” summit will also have to co-ordinate its work with that of the new G20 summit institution that came to fruition in November 2008 as a result of the global economic crisis.

But more important is who is involved. Projects like this are never guaranteed to succeed, but at least the CIC is being forward looking with this initiative. Gone are the same old voices we frequently hear debating Canada’s foreign policy. A number of the names are on the young end of the spectrum and many are impressive:

I’ve never met but have heard great things about Andre Beaulieu and Gerald Butts (very pleased there is a strong environmentalist voice within the group). Roland Paris is a great choice out of the academic world: young, smart and not lost in the ivory tower. Jonathan Hausman, George Roter and Mercedes Stephenson are both friends and great choices – young, thoughtful and active in the international arena. I’ve also had some long chats with Yuen Pau Woo – the President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada here in Vancouver – he is very smart, thoughtful and an essential addition to the group. For a country that frequently talks about Asia, but does very little about it, his perspective is essential.

Indeed, the diversity of perspectives and overall youth of this group is its strength. As the CIC noted, they wanted a group “largely from the generation that came to age in the post-Cold War era of global horizons and digital connectedness.” I think they have done well in choosing it.

I’m looking forward to hearing about the process and reading their outputs. Let’s hope they generate some good discussion and debate about Canada’ foreign policy.

With The GPS Project, two heads are better than one and more better yet. The CIC has assembled a panel of 13 emerging leaders to assist with this project. All in the ascendancy of their careers, the panelists are drawn from diverse career paths and largely from the generation that came to age in the post-Cold War era of global horizons and digital connectedness. The promising, upcoming leaders committed to working together on The GPS Project are:

Gordon Foundation Global Youth Fellowship

An annual tradition I’ve come to enjoy is putting up this post. The people at the Gordon foundation are wonderful and those I’ve talked to about this program have had very positive things to say. While our government may be running a shoddy foreign policy there are no shortage of interesting discussions or opportunities for Canadians. The new CIC fellowships, the dialogue over at Canada’s World,  are but two of the numerous new ways to write, think, talk or act on international issues…

Anyway, back to the Gordon Foundation:

The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation has put out its call for applications for the 2008 Global Youth Fellowship program. The Fellowships are targeted towards emerging Canadian leaders who demonstrate potential to enhance Canada’s role on the world stage. The Fellowships will provide successful candidates with a cash award of $20,000 as well as other forms of support.

To be eligible for consideration, applicants must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents between 24 – 35 years of age with previous international experience – paid or volunteer. They also need to demonstrate a sustained commitment to international issues through studies, career choices and volunteer activities.

Application Deadline: Thursday, April 10, 2008 by 5:00 p.m. EST

More information about the Fellowship programme, including application forms, guidelines and information on current and past Fellows, can be found on their website.

the CIC Fellowships

The CIC has announced the conditions for its fellowships. The great news is that they
have a category for emerging talent and established individuals. Better still, in both categories the fellowship isn’t limited to academics. Indeed, a truly fantastic candidate doesn’t need to meet any of the criteria. I’d hoped it would be this way. Now it is.

Junior Fellowships:

  • Academic applicants for a Junior CIC Fellowship must have completed their doctorate prior to taking up the fellowship.
  • For other applicants, an equivalent level of professional achievement is expected. A minimum of 5 years of work experience is required.
  • Applicants are not permitted to hold two fellowship positions concurrently.

Senior Fellowships:

  • Academic applicants must hold a completed PhD degree.
  • For other applicants, an equivalent level of professional achievement is expected. A minimum of 10 years of work experience is required.
  • Applicants are not permitted to hold two fellowship positions concurrently.

The CIC reserves the right to appoint exceptional individuals to become a CIC Fellow outside of the application process.

Next up, I’ve got to start persuading the people I mentioned in my previous post on the subject to apply (at least eventually) and make a contribution.

This is a great first step for the CIC… let’s hope it continues.

Responding to David Carment

David, thank you for posting your comment yesterday. It is clear we both care strongly about the future of the Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA).

In some places – such as the role of fellows – we have an honest difference of opinion. For example, I sense you see the role of fellow as a university does: academics with research agendas. In contrast, I’m advocating for a role similar to that of the Yale World Fellows: a diverse set of interesting people who have an important perspective to contribute. Might this include government officials on leave, former political staffers, or social entrepreneurs? Absolutely.

In other places, it is unclear to me if we agree or disagree. In your original comment you argue the oped was flat out wrong, or “more caricature then valid description.” However, in yesterday’s comment you state “we all know it (the CIIA) has had it problems even its members recognize that, so what you have said in that regard is not new.” I’m not sure you can have it both ways. Either I was wrong and failed to accurately portray the situation or, I was right, and not adding to the debate.

I also don’t mind you being harsh – debate is essential to uncovering truth. However, what concerns me is that you seem less interested in debating my thesis than trying to point out typos in an effort to mock me. You may “not want to debate about the vitality of the CIIA”… but this was the subject of the oped. If we aren’t discussing that, then what is the subject on the table? I’m happy to discuss the immaterial differences between the Embassy and blog versions of my oped, and to acknowledge I identified your university incorrectly, but these discussions won’t weaken or alter the validity of my argument – which I sense is the source of your discontent.

I acknowledge that a number of CIIA members and supporters – including yourself – are upset with the piece, and so in turn with me. However, the decline of the CIIA has been going on for some time, and the window of opportunity to act and renew it is shrinking. Feedback from friends, colleagues and CIIA members suggests I simply pointed out the large elephant in the room. If this prompts a larger rethink about the goals and directions of the organization, then some discomfort among its members is a small price to pay.

What I fear however, is that some people wish to instead circle the wagons – an understandable, but counterproductive reaction. Those of us who are fans of the CIIA, but concerned about its future, will keep wondering… what will prompt the renewal and soul searching the CIIA needs?

Finally, I too was disappointing to see that Ben Rowswell and Farouk Jiwa not included in the Embassy’s list of suggested fellows. Both are exceptional individuals and their respective experience in Iraq and Africa are ones more Canadians should here about. I’m not sure why that happened and will follow up with Embassy – but my suspicion is that it was a matter of space (they were the last two bullets in the list). As for your concerns about my list – they are worse then you feared. I know each of them! But you misunderstand its purpose. I did not propose it as the definitive list, but as an example of the type of fellows I’d like to see the CIC appoint. Moreover, nominating someone I know and have worked with an old boys network does not make. Having the power to limit nominations to a select group and/or control the appointment process to favour long time colleagues does.

Also, I do wish to apologize for getting your university wrong (I’ve corrected it). One of the great things about having a blog is that when genuine errors occur, there are an army of readers – such as yourself – who are kind enough to point them out, which I’m all too pleased to fix.

Reactions to the CIIA post/Op-Ed

First I want to thank friends – old and new – for your warm emails regarding the CIIA post and subsequent Embassy Magazine op-ed.

I have however, received one critical comment. Ottawa Carleton University Prof David Carment or at least someone posing as David Carment posted the following comment on my blog yesterday.

Did any of you read the Eaves piece in yesterday’s Embassy magazine? I thought it was a bit harsh and more caricature then valid description. Had he sat in on the various Ottawa chapter meetings that CIIA has organized on Failed and Fragile states the picture he portrays would be much different. These meetings have been a nice mixture of young and old, diplomats and practitioners and academics mixed with pragmatism and idealism. I also thought his selection of fellows a bit odd. To my mind a research fellow is someone who has an actual research programme and at least in a few of cases this doesn’t hold. A friend and colleague JS Rioux hasn’t been at Laval for over two years – he now works for the federal government.

He even gets the affiliation of Cohen wrong – he is cross appointed with our school and journalism at Carleton.

Does the CIIA still sponsor a journal or two? It’s worth mentioning. that to rebuff the claim that it is/was out of touch.

A few friends pointed out that curiously, the comment reads like a letter, suggesting it might actually be from an email. So I thought I’d repost it here and see if anyone might be willing to forward along the entire (hypothesized) email chain. If you have a copy please send it to me here.

Just to respond to the letter’s criticisms… If Prof Carment has been attending CIIA meetings that have a good cross section of people (age, background, political perspective) then great! It is my sincerest hope that the CIIA has broadened its membership. However, I’m fairly confident that if we could look at its membership rolls, I’m not sure we’d find the distribution Carment describes.

As for my selection of fellows… I think Carment and I have an honest difference of opinion on who and what the fellows could or should be for. While some of the people I highlighted are academics or emerging academics (and so might have a traditional research agenda) others are very much practitioners whose work affects Canadian foreign policy or sheds light on interesting aspects on international affairs. Others, like JS Rioux and Ben Rowswell, are a little bit of both.

Almost none are from the comfy old-boys network of diplomats and academics (indeed this is why I selected them) but I suggest that each has a unique and important experience to reflect upon and share with the Canadian public (as well as the foreign policy elite).

I used JS Rioux old Laval webpage as a link because it was the only site I could find with at least a partial bio. Apologies that the info is out of date, I thought it better to supply something rather than nothing.

As for the failure to get Cohen’s affiliation wrong, this addition was made to the piece made by Embassy Magazine. I’m sure they regret any error.

I suppose there are those who think the CIIA is fine the way it is… but years of deficit spending and a declining membership tell me that it is not. Yes, my letter was blunt, but at least it asks the tough questions. The CIIA in its present form was unsustainable. Now that it has a saviour, it be a shame if it landed back in its current crisis because it didn’t use the opportunity to evolve.

Note: The David Carment responds in the comment below and then the discussion continues the following day here.

Note to Balsillie: Lack of funding didn't kill the CIIA, its culture did

Interesting news on the Canadian international policy front. Some of you may have read this story outlining how Balsillie has given $1million dollars, and will lead the fundraising effort for another million, to establish the Canadian International Council.

This is a good news/bad news story with some important lessons for anyone running a national organization.

First, the good news.

Any funding into the study of Canadian Foreign Policy is good news. Thanks to Andrew Cohen, the notion that Canada’s influence in the world is in virtual free fall is now accepted orthodoxy. As Jeffrey Simpson aptly put it: “never before has the world meant more to Canada; never has Canada meant less to the world.” A wider set of voices, activitely engaging in public debates about Canada and the world, should be a welcome development.

Moreover, this move will rescue the fast declining Canadian Institute for International Affairs (CIIA). At one time the CIIA was the crucible in which the international affairs were debated and discussed in Canada. Membership was essential for anyone active in the development of foreign policy.

Times, however, have changed. Today there are a wealth of groups that engage international issues: Engineers without Borders, Journalists for Human Rights, the Canadian Red Cross, Oxfam Canada, Greenpeace, Canadian Council of Chief Executives, etc… offer both a more focused discussion and, perhaps more importantly, tangible impact, in a way the CIIA couldn’t, and the CIC can’t. Common wisdom says the glory days of the CIIA ended for a reason… as the above mentioned list attests, the marketplace simply became more competitive and specialized. That said, it may be that there is both an interest in, and a critical role for, a non-partisan organization that brings Canadians together to talk about foreign policy in the broadest sense. I certainly hope so.

And now, the bad news

Rebranding and plowing money back into the CIIA saves it from having to ask itself the tough question: why is it dying? And have no doubt, the CIIA is dying. This is true in the figurative sense, something John MacNaughton, its chair conceded in the Globe when he noted that the establishment of the CIC “moves CIIA from the deathbed to the launching pad.” It is also true in the literal sense. The average age of the CIIA’s 1300 members is in the 60s and possibly 70s (remember, this is the average age). I went to several events in Ottawa where the under 50 crowd represented maybe 5-7% of the audience.

The challenge for the CIIA, and now the CIC, is twofold, but with a single goal: become relevant by attracting new, younger, members.

Part of this problem is structural. In many chapters (the Kitchener-Waterloo branch being a notable exception) the CIIA has become a place where retired diplomats gather. It’s boards are dominated by retired diplomats (although there is often a token young person, usually from the local university). This means the issues, discussions, and networks are geared towards an older audience. When the CIIA was a place where aspiring diplomats and foreign policy geeks gathered, the network effect caused more young members to join, so they could meet peers who were rising stars. Today, the CIIA is a place where retired diplomats and foreign policy geeks meet, this means the network effects work against younger people, who while possibly keen to learn from wiser souls, recognize they are less likely to meet contemporaries and peers. In short, the CIIA lacks critical mass in the right demographics.

The part of the problem is cultural. CIIA meetings tend to be stuffy, formal events, reflecting the diplomatic tradition from its founding period (1930’s-50’s). While there is not dress code, members tend to wear suits and events focus on speeches with some Q&A. It’s all very traditional, formal and hierarchical. International affairs already suffers from a reputation as a snobby subject, this formality almost certainly discourages novices and younger members from participating, and returning.

In short, the CIIA financial issues were never the problem, just the symptom. The problem is cultural.

Money: an opportunity rife with risk

Without a real change in course, things at the CIC will look very much like they do at the CIIA today. Moreover, if past performance is anything to go by, the selection of 20 fellows will have little impact, and could make things worse. My suspicion (and fear) is that the CIC’s fellowships will become the retirement home for Canada’s foreign policy old guard, men like the eminent and highly qualified Allan Gotlieb. Worse still, the alleged “innovative” choices will people like Jennifer Welsh, Michael Byers or Rob Huebert (just to cover the political spectrum). In reality these people should be “safe” choices. As they, and the old guard, already have a pulpit from which to speak, and have done so effectively. If the CIC wants to be about new ideas and compelling debates, it should bring in some younger and more diverse blood. Perhaps set a target of making a third to half its fellows true “risky” choices – rising voices, or those outside the old safe, stodgy world of the foreign policy cocktail circuit. Ideally, they’d target people with credibility, and an emerging track record of engaging in public debates.

So in closing… here are some people I’d like to see nominated for the CIC fellowships (in no particular order):

And for some older voices probably not on the radar of the CIC I might include:

  • Daryl Copeland – Public servant, outside thinker
  • Max Wyman – the arts in Canadian foreign policy
  • Chief Billy Diamond – business and first nations perspective

So there it is, the unvarnished analysis of the challenges facing the CIC. I’m cheering for them, I just hope they are willing to break the old-boys network mold. If not, we’ll be back where we were in no time.