Changing Platforms

\r\n \r\nBuying and selling property is stressful and always takes longer than you think. But none of us expected that the sale of the old British High Commission on the Galle Road would take three agonising years to complete.
When we finally signed the deeds last month it was both a relief and a momentous occasion: the British High Commission had been on the Galle Road since 1963.
The old British High Commission on the Galle RoadThe old British High Commission on the Galle Road
Many of our staff have fond memories of working there with its lush gardens and impressive views of the Indian Ocean. But just as the way we do diplomatic business evolves, so too do our physical requirements, and the Galle road site was simply no longer suited to our needs.
We’ve been in our new High Commission for five years now and for most of us it’s a delight to work in. Indeed the building design has been nominated for a number of architectural awards. But our requirements continue to shift and plans are underway for us to share the large compound with colleagues from the European External Action Service.
This will allow us to share the costs of some core services while maintaining two distinct and very separate missions. This reflects ongoing drives for efficiency and the need to make best use of our overseas assets, but it also reflects changes and innovations in the way we work.
Our new High CommissionOur new High Commission
While having a physical presence in a country remains a key part of diplomatic engagement, the use of virtual platforms is increasingly important. As in the world of business, having an online presence and reach is just as important as maintaining a building.
That’s why I decided to join the Foreign Office’s 90+ diplomats who regularly write blogs about their work. It’s also why the High Commissioner posts a regular Q & A video session and why he has recently started a twitter account for Maldives.
Indeed, since we have no permanent physical presence in Male’, it’s even more important for us to have a digital platform to engage Maldivians, who in any case are spread across several hundred islands and several thousand miles.
While none of this replaces the importance of face to face contact or the need for quiet behind the scenes diplomacy, it’s not possible for modern governments to ignore the growing importance and impact of social media if we want to stay relevant.
I see that the Hon Namal Rajapaksa is leading the way for Sri Lanka’s young politicians with the launch of a twitter account earlier this year and I was interested to follow the Presidential Secretary’s live twitter discussion on Wednesday afternoon. And with recent the launch of the CHOGM website, I’m sure participants will be looking forward to further digital engagement with the hosts.
In Maldives, which has a large and active online community, debates and discussions are increasingly being played out through social media and candidates for the upcoming Presidential elections will doubtless employ digital engagement as part of their election strategies.
But just as it’s important to exercise high standards when using traditional media, we need to ensure that we use social media responsibly.  And ultimately, in both politics and diplomacy, it’s the policies, values and ideas which matter more than the medium of engagement itself.

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01 Jul 2014
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