Singapore International Foundation toMark 30th Anniversary with Inaugural Conference on Public Diplomacy in Asia from July 26 – 30, 2021

Conference to be opened byMinister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan will bring together public diplomacy experts from governments, businesses, academia, and civil society organisations – to discuss how public diplomacy is conducted in Southeast Asia and the future of the practice in the ‘new normal’.

Since 1991, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) hasbrought Singaporeans and world communities together to uplift lives and effect positive change, building enduring friendships through shared ideas, skills, and experiences. The organisation, in partnership with more than 700 institutions, 4,000 Singaporean volunteers and a network of 45,000 friends from around the world, has made a positive difference to nearly 16 million lives across 28 countries.

To celebrate 30 years of building people-to-people ties, the SIF will host Singapore’s first-everPublic Diplomacy in Asia conference from July 26 – 30, 2021. The conference will be opened with remarks by Guest of Honor Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. The online eventorganised in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, will bring together 40public diplomacy (PD) experts from 15 countries, representing the private, public and people sectors. Thediscussions over five days will center on public diplomacy policy and practice in Asia, and feature the launch of Winning Hearts and Minds: Public Diplomacy in ASEAN.

Public Diplomacy in Asia 2021

Public diplomacy has been studied comprehensively in the west but not as widely in Asia. The conference will examine how Asian nations – both state and non-state actors – engage global publics to deepen mutual understanding and engender trust among citizens and nations, contributing to the study of cultural, development and digital diplomacy.  The conference will also highlight the evolving roles of youth, business, and cities in international relations.

Said Ms Jean Tan, SIF’s Executive Director,“ Public diplomacy, also known as people diplomacy, is the future of international relations given today’s inter-connected world. Increasingly, individuals, academia, businesses and civil society initiate discourse and act on issues that, in a world where change is rapid, may have been overlooked by the government. They connect readily online to collaborate on any number of complex cross-border issues to export ideas, influence opinions and develop solutions. Countries that tap into the growing influence of their citizens to build mutual trust, respect and a shared future with others, therefore have an edge. Together with state-driven initiatives, people diplomacy enriches the tapestry of relations between nations to build a better world.”

Dr Jian (Jay) Wang, Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy and Associate Professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism shared: “SIF has spent the past 30 years building people-to-people ties and social impact through programmes revolving around cultural, development, and digital diplomacy. As a public diplomacy actor, it has a deep understanding in the cultural nuances of communication in Asia, and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy is honored to partner SIF on its mission to bring world communities together.”

He added: “The publication that SIF has put together offers useful insight into the practice of public diplomacy by countries in ASEAN today, and I hope this will galvanise Southeast Asian communities into taking a more active interest and participation in this subject.”

For details on the programme comprising 11 sessions and its panel of subject matter experts, please refer to appendix A.

Winning Hearts and Minds: Public Diplomacy in ASEAN

The conference will also see the launch of Winning Hearts and Minds: Public Diplomacy in ASEAN – the first-ever compilation on public diplomacy in Southeast Asia. In the book, authors from the tenASEAN countries provide their perspectives on their country’s approach to public diplomacy, how it has evolved over the years and their aspirations for it future.

Mr Reuben Kwan, SIF’s Director of Strategic Management who oversaw the publication, said: “Despite the crucial role public diplomacy plays in peacebuilding, there is limited literature and research on how it is practiced in Asia. Through Winning Hearts and Minds: Public Diplomacy in ASEAN, we sought to shed light on Asian practice and contributions to public diplomacy, as influenced by the region’s unique cultural and geopolitical contexts. More importantly, we wanted to see what more we could do to deepen trust and collaboration in the region.”

For information on the authors, please refer to appendix B. More details on the book will be released closer to its launch.

 Connecting Communities

In addition to engaging in thought-provoking discussions, conference guests will also be able to network with fellow attendees and meet our volunteers –Singaporean volunteers who play the role of Citizen Ambassadors –and overseas friends and partners who enable our work. A total of seven“Kopitiam” and “Human Library” sessions woven into the programme will allow over 1,000 delegates who have signed up for the conference to date to network with one another and build meaningful connections.

They can also visit a virtual exhibition to learn more about public diplomacy organisations operating in Asia and beyond, as well as experience a slice of Singapore life through a set of curated videos at “Gateway to Singapore”. 

Ms Tan said, “People diplomacy is the heart of our work here at the SIF. We seek to bring diverse communities together through collaborative and relational programmes that foster mutual respect and strengthen ties and trust, for the good of humankind.”

“This is why we have chosen to mark our 30th anniversary with a conference highlighting the importance of building people-to-people ties. We hope more Singaporeans and Friends of Singapore will support our work” she added.

Public Diplomacy in Asia 2021 will take place online from July 26 to 30, 2021. We welcome interested persons to register to attend via #PDAsia21