“The world is at a crossroads and so am I …or, why the GLS 2018 is so timely”

GLS 2018

It has been a week since I returned from the Georgetown Leadership Program 2018 in Washington DC. The Program is organized since 1982 by Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

Back in the summer of 2018, I got an invitation to participate in this program. Participation is by invitation only, and those who can nominate potential participants, are either GLS Alumni, faculty or friends of Georgetown University. I was nominated and supported by someone I deeply respect and admire, former US Ambassador to Moldova (2001-2003), Pamela Hyde Smith and I can’t be more grateful for that.

Few days before the departure, I had a meeting with one of the potential PhD supervisors at the Institute for Political Science at Vienna University. I have recently moved to Vienna and am trying to explore all the opportunities related to my PhD studies. That conversation at Vienna University raised even more questions in my mind, regarding the areas I would like to explore as part of my dissertation. I felt like I was missing something in order to be able to make the right decision.

And here came the GLS 2018 … a very complex, comprehensive, and up-to-date program, which did widen the perspectives on numerous issues, and which has definitely been impactful in terms of how do I move forward with my ideas and objectives.

So, let me share a little bit about the one-week Program and what were the key highlights for me:

Helen, James and myself, during the graduation ceremony.

First, it is all about the people! They are the ones who can make the difference in any situation. Two great professionals, Helen F. McNeill, Consultant, Georgetown Leadership Seminar Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and James Seevers, Director of Studies and the Georgetown Leadership Seminar, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, made sure that we have the best speakers/presenters and that interactions among participants are as open and friendly as possible. I loved the friendly and nice emails from Helen prior to the program, with details and nuances you could hardly find in any communications prior to trainings or seminars. At least, I have never seen something like this in my 20 years of professional experience.

I found James’ way of moderating the sessions and introducing the speakers just great! I have been to hundreds of events and moderators fail, in most of the cases, to properly introduce speakers. They often get their names wrong, read from the paper few lines and never worry to do google search on the speakers. James showed that this makes such a huge difference and this is the way to go in adult learning environments. What a great role-model! What both Helen and James did is they ensured that the community of participants becomes a strong one and evidence to this is our post program communication via What’s up and other social media platforms. We are connected!!!

With Peter Krogh at his house, Georgetown.

We had the privilege to also meet and interact with some of the founders of this program and Mr. Peter Krogh is one of them. Only thinking about that back in 1982, when I was still a preschool kid and living in the Soviet Union, someone was designing and co-creating a program that would last up to today. Isn’t it fascinating?! Peter was generous enough to host us in his house for lunch during one of the days and share from the memories of the previous GLSs. Peter wrote a lot on the subject of foreign policy, was a moderator of the longest running PBS television program on foreign affairs, “American Interests” and later “Great Decisions,” which he also created. I wish we had more time with Peter to learn from his views on the future!

In addition to the organizers, I have greatly enjoyed the sessions and the speakers, each one of them. All unique and at the same time, so passionate about the work they do.

Ambassador Barbara Bodine and Secretary Madeleine K. Albright

I deeply enjoyed the conversation with Secretary Madeleine K. Albright. It was anchored more in the context of her recent book “Fascism: a warning”, and highlighting the very fact that “fascism is back in fashion” and is something we should pay more attention to in order to understand the consequences it poses today to the political movements and not only.  In many places, she notes, we see strongmen on the rise, and this authoritarian resurgence is accompanied by a conspicuous surge of ideas from the far right. Racists and xenophobes are popping up in places — university campuses, high political office — where we never expected to see them. So are we experiencing a revival of the most virulent forms of extreme right-wing ideology, of the sort that the West thought it had vanquished back in 1945?

While I am still half way through the book, I keep asking myself what is this movement going to bring to the whole debate around open government, something I have been working on during the past years. We are seeing the rise of authoritarianism even in countries which joined the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) few years back and I don’t yet have answers to my questions. In the OGP space, we put a lot of emphasis on open government being a new way of tackling corruption and bringing citizens closer to the decision making processes and thus, strengthen participatory democracy. For Secretary Albright, nowadays democracy is too fragile but still resilient, while corruption is the cancer of democracy. Secretary Albright encouraged us to act, and left us with this great quote of hers: “See something, say something, do something”!!! 

The session we had on Cybersecurity, led by Mr. Sean Kanuck, Director of Cyber, Space and Future Conflict, International Institute for Strategic Studies; National Intelligence Officer for Cyber Issues, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2011-2016), was another great conversation for me. Cybersecurity is a very close topic to my heart given the work I did on Internet Governance agenda for many years. The session reiterated once again the vulnerabilities of the systems, and the importance of proper cybersecurity strategies in place. It reminded me of the conversations we had years back in Estonia, with former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves around the 2007 Estonia cyber attacks. The same year, a good friend and colleague of mine from Japan, Izumi Aizu, looked into those cyberattacks and I helped set up a number of meetings in Moldova at that point in time, to learn that those attacks took place from Transnistria[1], an unrecognized country with the recognized symbol of a hummer and a sickle on its flag.

Back to the session and to some of the predictions for the 2020 and beyond when it comes to cybersecurity, here are few scenarios shared: Regulatory and product liability for hardware, software, and service vendors in the IT sector; “Cyber sanctions” being threatened as a punitive foreign policy tool against rogue states, illegitimate regimes, and/or political adversaries and The first official state-sponsored cyber response (i.e. publicly acknowledged countermeasure) to a cyber attack.

So, a lot is still ahead of us, and a lot to consider when designing defense measures: from biometric identification, block chain, Artificial Intelligence to Quantum Encryption. The threats are bigger than ever, particularly related to Data Integrity and ranging from financial institutions to health care providers, while democratic institutions, capital markets and public safety are largely vulnerable from the Information integrity perspective.  When it comes to the US in particular, The Director of National Intelligence has stated that “Cyber threats to US national and economic security are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact.” State and non-state actors pose threats. The vulnerability of US critical infrastructure is particularly worrisome.

A great session on GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY THREATS with Dr. Rebecca Katz, Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security, Georgetown University

Conversations we had in sessions focusing on Fragile states, Health Security Threats, the Global Refugees Crisis, Nuclear Weapons and International Security, were enriching from the perspective of the recent data, future scenarios and left me somehow hopeless regarding what could be realistically done to improve or change over the next years, however, I still have faith that the mankind will succeed to overcome those grand challenges indeed.

We have been witnessing for years ‘transplantation’ of best practices in a number of fragile states, and yet, the international community fails over and over again to tackle adequately the problems on the ground. Listening to the presentation by Ambassador (ret.) Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in the session on the Politics of Negotiating in Conflict, during which she made reference to Liberia quite often, as she served as US Ambassador there, I fondly recalled my memories of having worked in Liberia right after the end of the civil war. A country in which there has been nothing in place for 18 years – no schools, no teaching, no health care, water or sanitation, would break ones heart. What worried me back then, when I was part of the Liberia Teacher Training Program (2007-2008), was the ready-made curriculum by western experts, to be delivered to teachers on the ground, of which more than 70% could hardly read or write. And I am sure similar experiences existed across the sectors, both in Central and Local Government/s. So, I guess we need more Problem Driven Iterative Processes everywhere, including in the fragile states, and stop creating more and more isomorphic mimicry around the impact and success stories on the ground.

The conversations during the session on Elections in hard times were fascinating, and covered comprehensively indeed by Dr. Irgan Nooruddin.  Today, 1 out of 4 countries in the world are to have elections, are either in elections or will have elections in a year from now. Only 7 countries in the world are not affected by elections in any form. At the same time, it was correctly stressed out that the key of democracy is not that you have elections, rather that you have the second elections. An interesting aspect touched upon during the discussion was the delimitation between the democracy and good governance and whether or not the two can exist one without another. I guess we need to dedicate more time to this aspect in order to understand how good governance can consolidate democracy or vice versa. I did raise the question of the role of Diaspora in the elections and it is definitely one of the areas to look more in-depth, particularly given the influence of the social media, fake news and often times, the inability of the masses to distinguish between facts and assumptions. The paradox with diaspora, as we have seen in the Moldovan context throughout the years is that while many are living in the Western world, they would still vote for communists/socialists, based on their emotions and nostalgia for the past, influencing the future opportunities for those who are still in country.

There was a lot of informal conversations throughout the week among the program participants. We have greatly explored on the breakfasts, lunches, dinners and coffee breaks. Walking to and from the meeting venue was another great opportunity to share and learn from my colleagues. Each and every single conversation was extremely valuable and enriching.

Great informal conversations during our dinner time!

I definitely enjoyed the discussions related to gender equality and ways to support women in better decision making around the choices they make, health care access, education, jobs, others, passionately promoted by one of the participants in the program, Amy LaTrielle, Director of the Global Fund Management Unit in West and Central Africa at Population Services International (PSI). She knows exactly what is talking about giving her work in the fragile African countries, and the challenges she sees women facing there on a daily basis. I did some work around gender equality in Moldova and was interesting to exchange views and perspectives. More than that, Amy and I discovered that we have a common good friend, who is currently working in Africa and who has previously lived in Moldova. What a small world 🙂 !

Part of the team members … early morning, right before the classes start!

I loved the discussions with my Ukrainian colleague in the program, Olena Zerkal, a very bright Deputy Foreign Minister for European Integration. When people share the same problems and challenges, and this is what Moldova and Ukraine share for years, Russia’s role among many, it somehow brings people closer to each other to reflect on the global perspectives and see ways they could work domestically. I think Ukraine needs to have more women like Olena in high level decision making positions indeed.

Having recently moved with my family to Austria, I had some informal conversations with my German colleagues in the GLS J. Two great professionals – Jürgen Mindel (Head of Department for Key Policies, VDA) and Sebastian Rudolph (Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Bilfinger SE), have shared their views on the current politics in the region, Germany’s role in certain hot issues, migration & refugees’ crisis being one of them, and their perspectives on the Austrian politics too. It was great to also learn about the way big Industry Associations in Germany approach social media, what works and what does not.

It was great to learn from Marcelo Perlman, founding partner at PVG, a law firm in São Paulo, Brazil on ways they deal with complex issues/cases and the main challenges they face. Politics come into play in their job quite often … What was interesting about Marcelo is the fact that 3 of his 4 grandparents are Romanians and he knows a single phrase in Romanian language which is „Mulțumesc frumos cu ochiul scos” :).  I have regained my Romanian citizenship 2 years back and encouraged him to look into his origins too!

Loved my discussion with Min Qin from China, who is currently Vice President of Public Affairs at the Mars Company. Being a chocoholic I somehow missed asking her questions about chocolate production, Mars was one of my favorite in my student years :)! Getting her views on open government, openness, citizen centric approaches, given the context she is coming from was very valuable.

Nurdiana Darus from Indonesia, who is currently Chief Operating Officer at Landscape Indonesia, was well familiar with the open government efforts of her country, which once lead the OGP Steering Committee while I was one of the members of the committee. We reflected about the importance of high level political will for this agenda if one really wants something to be done on the ground. Transitions in government is what brings so many challenges to us with every election.

One week was really not enough to get to learn about everyone’s insights, views and aspirations.

Farewell dinner!

I would have loved to learn more from Zelma Acosta-Rubio from Venezuela about what does it take to manage the Corporate Affairs at the Interbank in Peru and where does she get her energy from in order to still be able to dance passionately at the end of a long day :)!

I would spend more time with Ahmed Talib Al Shamsi, who is a senior project manager in The Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, to learn from the specific practices they put in place back home to address Youth opportunities and diversification of activities for Youth. Ahmed shared that a Moldovan official visited them some time ago, I hope he returned from Abu Dhabi with some concrete ideas to implement in Moldova.

Se Chhin, Deputy Director of This Life Cambodia, brought a very rich civil society experience to the program. I wish we had more time to discuss capacity building approaches and trainings, and the spectrum of thematic areas an NGO could cover, ways to negotiate and cooperate with local authorities and how to navigate in a very complex world for CSOs. My organization, Open Government Institute, has been delivering capacity building programs for almost 15 years and there is a lot to share.

We briefly touched on the private sector role in this global development agenda with Francisco Bernardes Costa Filho, Latin America Government Relations and Public Policy Senior Manager at Procter & Gamble Company. I would have continued the conversation around the social added value of the private sector, the importance of transparency and accountability in the private sector, and how companies like P&G could lead by example.

With Anne Tind Harre, First Secretary in the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I would continue the conversations around the role of Russia in the Eastern Partnership countries. I would have shared more on Moldova and I stand ready to provide any support on this, any time it may be needed :)!

I would continue the conversations with Monika Korowajczyk-Sujkowska, Head of the Humanitarian and Development Aid Department at Polish Humanitarian Action, about ways to ensure that aid is transformational, impactful and sustainable.

I would definitely love to support Inés Manzano, President of ASAMBLA from Ecuador if she decides to run for the Presidency 🙂 ! I would bring the most relevant co-creation techniques both for the campaign and help co-design a longer term strategy ones she becomes a President. I still see open government as a way forward particularly and Ines can become one of the Open Gov champions in Latin America.

As I have children at heart and I would definitely continue the conversations with Mwansa Chilufya Malupande, Child Protection Officer at UNICEF Zambia, by looking into the most effective strategies to address child protection, exploring on the role of technology, education, others.

I know that writing about Open Government from Beijing would be not an easy task, however, I would challenge at some point Jenny Matikainen, Asia Correspondent for the Finnish Public Broadcasting Company, to look into those issues indeed 🙂 . Eugene Muriu Ngumi from Kenya, knows of good stories related open budgeting, open data, participatory decision making practices being piloted in his home country, and I would definitely work on a research with him, looking into the impact of those pilots and whether or not they could be replicated somewhere else in Africa.

I would be keen to learn more from my US colleagues Mark Guy and Matthew DesChamps on their American perspective and what the future might bring both with the mid-term elections coming up and with the 2020 ones, and how the results might affect their work. Matthew is a Founding Partner and Chief Operating Officer of Kepos Capital, an investment advisory firm based in New York City and Mark is currently Global Development Senior Program Officer for the GHR Foundation.

I had a brief conversation on the UN with Sirpa Nyberg, Minister Counsellor and Head of the Political Section at the Embassy of Finland in Washington DC, and I would certainly love to continue. UN is definitely going to go through internal transformation in the years to come in order to be able to meet the demands and the challenges it faces this days, improvements would definitely serve everyone.

I would definitely talk in details about the European Funds with Wojciech Szkotnicki, Senior Expert in the Department of European Funds within the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration. How sustainable it is to have an European Projects Implementation Center, how does it function, how does the decision making process look like, and what can Eastern Partnership countries learn from this institutional type of framework. A big Thank You to Wojciech for all the great photos he took during the program 🙂 !

Having had some short experience of being part of a political party initiative group myself few years back, I would love to get Mohammed’s Shummary views on internal decision making processes of political parties. He is currently Head of the Foreign Relations Office at the Al-Hikmah National Movement, a political party in Iraq.

Last but not least, I assume that each one of us, would have liked to spend more time with Father Augusto 🙂 – Augusto Zampini Davies is Director of Development and Faith at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Vatican. I enjoyed all his interventions and contributions throughout the sessions. Looking at the development agenda, nuclear war, technology, migration, others through the lens of Vatican, is a valuable perspective indeed!

Marcelo represented our team very well, while we all were proud of the work we all did together on the Memo!

Finally, the group work on writing a Memo to the President of the United States of America was another great highlight of the Program. “The Great, Clean, Job Machine: US Renewable Technology Industry” 🙂, this is the motto of my team, as we focused on convincing the President to look into the renewable energy solutions for the US. And in the end, it is not the Memo itself that matters that much, but the level of energy, dynamism, commitment put by all members to complete the task successfully. P.S. when you have an Oil and Gas Law Professor such as Talal Abdulla Al-Emadi from Qatar University College of Law in your team, to intervene with feedback on each step and keep the group dynamics high with his sense of humor, than you have all the chances to win the Memo contest indeed :)! I wish we did thought :)!

So, while the World is still at a crossroads given the numerous challenges it faces today, so I am …

  • I am in the process of reflecting over the future areas I would like to work on, the issues I would like to address in my future PhD studies, what is that something I can work on that in the end is meaningful, transformational and has a longer term impact. Doing my PhD at Georgetown would be like a dream come true …
  • Professionally, I do want to continue working with champions in the public sector around good governance and public administration reforms, open government practices and how governments can serve their citizens better;
  • I want to continue working with international organizations and identify solutions that would have a long lasting effect on the ground, in the countries they work in;
  • Partner with the private sector and explore ways private sector can bring its models of institutional transparency and accountability and ways it can scale up such practices;
  • I want to continue supporting my civil society peers from across the world and look into ways civic space can be more vocal and yet more professional when it comes to new/emerging approaches be it technology related, capability building, other.

But one thing is sure, GLS 2018 managed to generate a heavy turbulence in my mind around the priorities I set up above, in a good sense, shake some of the old believes and create space for something new.

Thank you GLS 2018! Keep up inspiring the great people from around the world!!! 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnistria

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