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Financial Literacy Campaign and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)

August 17, 2011 1 comment

by Arnel G. Talisayon*

Human Dimensions of Financial Education[1]

A Filipino who desires to work abroad typically gives only one answer when asked why he or she is willing to leave the family for a potentially difficult and lonely job outside the country: “Paramaka-ipon.” (“To save.”)

Abroad, five years later, with a take-home  pay amounting to more than the equivalent  salary of a highly skilled professional working  in Manila, the response to the same question is ominous. Still bereft of savings, and without a fallback career in the Philippines, the worker is forced to remain abroad while waiting for an apparently elusive financial stability.

The social cost of migration is hard to ascertain, especially when migration is seen  as an economic need, not a career option. Migration has been around for as long as humanity existed; in modern times, and in the context of the Philippines, migration generally assumes the form of at least one member of the family working abroad to provide financial support to those back home. Sadly, the breaking up of families becomes an inevitable consequence of migration as any of the father, mother, son or daughter becomes part of a foreign nation’s workforce for an indefinite period of time, or until the worker has “saved enough.”

The implications of this setup are manifold. Therefore, for any Financial Literacy Campaign to be effective in the Philippines,  it must take into account the real social impacts of migration and the cultural defaults of Filipino families as at least one of their members depart for work abroad. For instance:

•  Because of unsound financial management, many Filipinos have no savings even after their contracts abroad have expired. Many decide to stay in the foreign country illegally and work odd jobs. Since they do not have the legal protection guaranteed by proper visas, they are prone to abuse, their welfare is often compromised for a lower-than average pay, and they live in constant uncertainty for fear of being rounded up by immigration authorities. Some undocumented workers enter the foreign country as tourists.

•  Underemployment among Filipino workers is prevalent.  Majority of Filipino factory workers in South Korea, for instance, are college degree holders. Some are professionals—engineers, teachers, writers—who decide to engage in blue collar jobs because of the lure of a higher salary. Brain drain in the Philippines is a recurring issue.

•  Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) often complain that, in the end, it is the bond of the family that suffers. Stories about children growing up with an absentee father or mother abound. Because children grow up materially satisfied and accustomed to the idea of migrant jobs, they form a new generation of individuals whose end goal is to leave the country for greener pasture abroad, hence creating a cycle and mindset of foreign-work dependency.

•  Studies by the International Monetary Fund reveal that many of the families left behind in the Philippines refuse to find work of their own and rely merely on remittances. Perhaps because of guilt for being away from their families, workers also tend to acquiesce to the material requests of their relatives, from top-of-the-line mobile phones to entertainment systems. A so-called temporary middle class is thereby created. Once the migrant worker returns home, the main source of income vanishes, and the material acquisitions are sold below cost. The family languishes in uncertainty, until the same, or another, family member goes abroad again.

•  There is a tendency for migrant workers to support not only their respective families, but their extended families as well. A tightly knit clan—an indispensable feature of Filipino culture—becomes a breeding ground for dependency as several families rely on one or two main breadwinners to support their utility bills, schooling, house construction, hobbies, and other expenses.

•  Somehow, remittances, no matter how big, are never enough. Domestic spats can revolve around one sentence: “Where did the money go?”

A successful Financial Literacy Campaign, therefore, needs to address not only literacy levels but, more importantly, the mindsets of the workers and their families. This is easier said than done and will require constant coordination with the workers and their families. Mindsets are deeply ingrained and paradigm shifts challenging to come by. Yet the seeds of changing behaviors are already planted in the minds of foreign workers—they themselves know, every time they work long hours and miss their families, that change is necessary. They simply need guidance in enabling change.

Of course, no financial literacy campaign will succeed without national financial infrastructures and support mechanisms in place. The Philippine Government, through agencies such as the Central Bank of the Philippines, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Department of Foreign Affairs, has come up with programs specifically catered to OFWs. These include hedging facilities to help protect against the fluctuations of the exchange rate, attractive insurance packages, support systems for start-up SMEs, entrepreneurship courses, a greater selection of remittance options, unit investment trust funds and other investment schemes.

Ultimately, the Financial Literacy Campaign must be aware of the very human dimension of financial issues. It must understand the cultural defaults of the nation, and work through these parameters to effect change. The Financial Literacy Campaign is not so much about the money, as it is about the integrity and pursuit of a better life of the individual and his or her family.

Note: Arnel is a Foreign Service Officers II, assigned as Consul and Second Secretary at the Philippine Embassy in Seoul and coordinates the Financial Literacy Campaign (FLC)  to OFWs in South Korea. The FLC was initiated in 2008 by then Consul and Second Secretary Juan “Jed” Dayang, Jr. with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office-OWWA’s then Welfare Officer Esperanza Cobarrubias and  retired Commercial Counsellor Edgardo Garcia.  The FLC continues to be the flagship project of the Embassy under leadership of Ambassador Luis Cruz. 


[1]  See original publication at:   Arnel G. Talisayon, “Financial Literacy Campaign and the Filipino People,” Embassy News(2008), http://www.philembassy-seoul.com/forms/Vol_1_Special_Issue.pdf.

Photo Credit: http://finlittv.com/2011/05/financial-literacy-program-for-ofw-families-crucial/

Consular assistance goes cyber

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Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Building

by Juan  “Jed” E.  Dayang, Jr.*

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade‘s (DFAT)  use of  Information and Communication Technology as a consular tool is worth emulation. Apart from the “Smart Traveller” section in their website,  they use Facebook and Twitter for their travel warnings ( half of Mindanao’s travel warning was recently downgraded) in the effort to protect their citizens overseas.

According to William Maley of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy of the Australian National University, travel advisories “points to a new form of consular activity that was not specifically contemplated by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963”.

An Australian citizen could register their details online for easy tracking in case of a crisis situation. The “Smart Traveller” has helped in “chasing” or locating  Aussies in distant shores caught in natural disasters such as the tsunamis in Thailand, earthquake in New Zealand and Japan as well as in areas of conflict and attacks such as the Bali Bombing in Indonesia,  and in the recent political crisis in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Australia’s DFAT is ready to act at any given emergency.  Having the lead role in emergency situations overseas, DFAT is well-organised and well-oiled to respond to emergency situations overseas.  To put deeds into words, able DFAT personnel are formed in cadres (pronounced by Aussies as kader) of about 10 DFAT officers and staff.

These élite cadres are ready to act at a moment’s notice. The team, headed by a team leader,  works either in the morning or in night shifts. One cadre works five days in a row and a new team takes over for another five days.  Those who are  part of the consular response team  are given additional compensation.

As an incentive, a team member gets additional allowance per year as a token for their additional work load. The team members are selected and are trained from a pool of personnel. Once there is a crisis, a team member assumes his duty and leaves his usual assignment in the Department.  This goes to show the priority given by the DFAT in providing emergency assistance to its citizens in distress.

The  policy is backed up by financial resources worth $12M  over a ten-year period. The budget allocation is invested in technology, staffing requirements, and new ways to improve the system. DFAT’s consular emergency unit is well equipped. It has a conference room with numerous video screens and computers hooked to the internet and cable TV to monitor the crisis. The Consular unit could hold an inter-agency meeting at DFAT and  tele-conference with Ambassadors who are stationed in crisis areas for updates and instructions.  Apart from the conference room, there is also a dedicated area with more than 10 telephones hooked to computers which mimics a call centre agency. These consular hotline phones are made available for  incoming calls during crisis.    Even without a crisis, there are two people who are in charge of taking care of monitoring emergencies. For example, if the officer-in-charge becomes aware of a plane crash overseas, he immediately informs the relevant Embassy or Consulate to act by verifying any Australian casualty. The press office is alerted and is provided with talking points.  Such readiness includes  a gamut of assistance from “chasing” Australian tourists who may be missing after surfing in a beach resort in Southeast Asia or providing legal advice to Australians who may have an encounter with the law.

(On the diplomatic side, the Australian government cooperates with other nations  through bilateral agreements in holiday-work programs , health care portability, and transfer of sentence persons.)

Word has it that DFAT is now exploring mobile phone apps to prepare for  the near future when Australians will use more smart phones instead of  desktops to check information.

In the era of  cyber age and globalization, citizens are more mobile. The increase in travel and migration of nationals also increases the need for more consular activities. As citizens become more empowered and informed due to ICT, they would require faster and more efficient services from their governments. When overseas, the Embassies and Consulates becomes their city halls.

The use of information technology to improve services of government agencies, including Ministries of Foreign Affairs, particular in consular affairs of both developed and developing countries,  is not only timely but necessary.

*the author paid a visit to the consular affairs section of DFAT for his research on consular diplomacy. He was given  a tour of the consular emergency unit of DFAT by the Assistant Secretary  and was treated to a cuppa a latte. (12 July 2011)

For a more scholarly study on travel warnings read William Maley, ‘Risk, Populism, and the Evolution of Consular Responsibilities’, in Jan Melissen and Ana Mar Hernandez (eds), Consular Affairs and Diplomacy (Leiden: Nijhoff Publishers, 2011), pp. 43-62.

Is “Public Diplomacy” really Diplomacy or a Form of Marketing to an International Audience?

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

Public Diplomacy Defined 

Public diplomacy is not  a form of marketing for an international audience. The generally accepted definition of diplomacy is the conduct of relations of sovereign states through agents and the use of tactful communication, international negotiations among states, and as an instrument of foreign policy.   As an aspect of diplomacy, public diplomacy is generally concerned with the influence of public opinion on the formulation and implementation of foreign policy.

The objective of influencing public opinion has long been one of the aims of foreign policy even before the introduction of the term “public diplomacy”. Public diplomacy, which was coined in 1965 by Edmund Gullion, dean of the Fletcher School of  Law and Diplomacy in Boston, gained wide usage by the United States during the Cold War era.

Public diplomacy was employed as a strategic tool to influence nations to support the  anti-communist cause of the U.S. versus USSR.  The weapon of the U.S. is its liberal democratic values, love of freedom, and free market ideas.   As an instrument of statecraft, public diplomacy complemented U.S. military campaign through communication and persuasion. For instance, the US government disseminated information through state-run or supported media establishments such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty during the Cold War. The United States Information Agency (USIA), before it merged with the State Department in 1999, also played a key role by disseminating information on U.S. values and lifestyles through motion pictures, cultural exchanges, and publications. The aim of USIA was to promote national interest and security through “understanding, informing, and influencing” foreign publics and establish linkages with non-state actors.  In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, public diplomacy regained its popularity through the campaign to win  “hearts and minds”  of the international public, particularly in the Middle East through civil-military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Public diplomacy is not a sales pitch aimed at a profit. To be effective, PD must be engaged in a dialogue with the foreign publics. It is not a one way or top down communication activity but a two-way communication which gives importance to listening as much as in conveying its message and influencing public opinion.  Cultural understanding is key to communication because information is filtered through the cultural senses of the listener. PD is also not propaganda which has a negative connotation of being manipulative, deceitful and uses elements of coercion by more powerful states.  Rather using “hard power” its approach is what Joseph Nye’s calls “soft power”.

The method of modern public diplomacy is rather different from marketing.  Nicolas Cull of the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy divides public diplomacy methods into “listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchange diplomacy and international broadcasting”.  Whereas in the past, communication was one-way and non-interactive, current practice uses various forms of media and new technologies in conveying messages and receiving feedbacks from the audience.  Listening has become an essential feature of public diplomacy.

On-line social networks such as Twitter and Facebook have added a new dimension to public diplomacy the same way it did a decade ago when the so-called “CNN Effect” made an impact on public diplomacy delivery by emphasising immediate response to crisis situations and sound bites. An important contribution of the internet is the localization or domestication of international affairs.  Social networks have played a role in rallying young people to fight against tyranny which had a domino-effect from Tehran, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. From being an obscure domestic issue, people power in Tunisia was seen on You Tube and incited replication from other countries in the Middle East.

In terms of advocacy, public diplomacy promotes its national culture and ideas. Thus, cultural exchanges, scholarship grants and exchanges are included in the basket of goods aimed at influencing public opinion or to gain the support of foreign audience.

Let me add that public diplomacy can have various applications. For some countries, the distinction of PD and public affairs is blurred.  For instance, for the Philippines and India, which have large diaspora communities overseas, its public diplomacy effort is not only aimed to influence  foreign audiences but also to influence the public opinion of its citizens overseas. In the age of information technology, a state’s public diplomacy initiative is easily accessible to a wider foreign audience as well as to the domestic audience and foreign citizens abroad.

Thus, diplomats are required to be ever responsive to the needs of its citizens overseas because not doing so would put the government and the diplomats in a bad light.

In conclusion, public diplomacy, as an aspect of diplomacy,   is not a form of international marketing. Public diplomacy is not a sales pitch and it is not concerned with selling a product for profit.   Its aim is to pursue national interest by informing and influencing public attitudes to support its political and strategic intentions.

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