Diplomat in a Changing World



Lecture by H.E. Mr. Imron Cotan Secretary General Department of Foreign Affairs Republic of Indonesia

Center for Education and Training Department of Foreign Affairs Jakarta, 15 April 2008

My Young Colleagues,
The world we live in today is characterized by keen competition among nations, constant change, and rapid developments in science and technology, especially in the areas of information and transportation. Globalization is omni-present and pervasive, while political and economic interaction among nations have become so much more complex and inter-twined.

Let us take a closer look at the global situation today. The hike in the global price of oil, which stubbornly stays at USD 106, has severely affected many economies, especially the developing ones. At the same time, the price of food today is much higher than last year due to many factors, ranging from the massive conversion of food to fuel to disruption of supply and distribution.

Humankind is in a situation where our great achievements in science and technology are confronted by growing demands for economic certainty and political stability at all levels—domestic, regional, and global. And they are all inter-connected, thanks to globalization and its immediate impact on our societies.

That situation certainly poses new challenges—and opportunities—on the profession of diplomacy. The diplomat of today must respond accordingly, not only for the sake of the power and influence of the state but, more importantly, for the sake of the well-being and the realization of the potential of the nation’s citizens. Adaptation is therefore needed to meet these challenges, and diplomats too are compelled to make a commensurate adaptation in the best practices of their profession.

Hence, the Department of Foreign Affairs itself cannot afford to be a static organization. The situation demands that it constantly reviews the way it is organized and structured, the way it operates and maximizes its resources, the most important of these being its human resources. Human capital is always at the very core of our priority, and we never cease to invest in it.

We have therefore put greater emphasis on the nurturing and deployment of human resources within our organization, for they serve as the engine of diplomacy. We have engaged in an array of initiatives aimed at enhancing not only the capacity but also the quality of our diplomats.

After all, it is the diplomat—a human being—who carries out diplomacy. Great diplomatic initiatives often succeed or fail at the level of the individual diplomat.

Being on the frontline, the individual diplomat is called upon to respond to the new challenges and seize every opportunity for relevant self-improvement so that she or he may be in a better position to protect and promote the national interest and to help achieve national objectives. That is the key that will unlock our national potential for successful interaction with other nations and thereby enable our country to reap the benefits of globalization.

Aware of that responsibility, we in the Department of Foreign Affairs continue to pursue a programme of organizational development aimed at creating a competence-based culture, with due emphasis on the building of character and inculcation of values.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to enable our diplomat to perform high-quality service for the sake of the national interest and the welfare of the people. Thus we are striving to develop more responsive, proactive, innovative diplomats who are equipped with knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to cope with the challenges of present-day international interaction.

We are also striving to build not only the competencies of our diplomats but also their sense of professionalism, since their jobs require commitment and a sense of accountability, responsibility, honor, integrity and respect for the country and people they represent.

That is a tall order. And the challenges are enormous. Yet, they are not at all insurmountable. To achieve that goal, we have adopted a four-point strategy.

First, in developing the diplomat, we put great emphasis on education and training as a way of optimizing our human capital. We provide an enabling and supporting working environment for the diplomat so that he can proceed with his self-development.

Second, we design programmes and mechanisms that contribute to her intellectual growth and refinement of character. We know that people they serve back home always expect more from our diplomats. Thus, we are striving to find ways of promoting our diplomat’s creativity and innovativeness in undertaking her multifarious tasks.

Third, within the Department, reforms in human resources management are focused on improving the quality of our human resources, especially our diplomats, based on competence-based and attitude-based approaches to human resources development. The targeted outcomes of these reforms are as follows:

  1. creating more of diplomats with higher quality
  2. improving professionalism of diplomats
  3. enhancing core and profession-related competencies of diplomats.
These constitute the essence of our internal reform, the process that we have been undertaking in the past few years.

Fourth, in order to achieve these targets, we continuously apply competence-based and attitude-based human resources development or HRD practices, starting with the strategic planning for human resources; through the recruitment process, training, performance appraisal, reward and punishment; to well-planned career management.

We realize that the quality of our diplomats—their knowledge, their skills and their attitudes—will determine the future of our Department. All diplomats need to be aware of new developments that affect their communities, their environments, the marketplace, and their own duties and responsibilities. In short, our diplomats will be assessed by the capacity of their heads, by the skills of their hand, and by the kindness of their hearts.

And they must keep in mind that while new trends are always emerging in a globalized world, one thing remains constant, and that is the fundamental importance of the national interest. It is our primary task to adapt our approach to tackle new dynamics without compromising our national interests.

Just a few days ago, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pointed out the need for an ‘all-direction foreign policy’. This matches what Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda has been saying about the crucial need to translate our political connectivity at the bilateral, regional and global levels, into tangible economic benefits: more trade and investments. Both affirmed the importance of generating greater welfare for the people.

Consequently, as an organization, we must be able to learn new processes and to adapt to new challenges, and accordingly create matching organizational structures, thereby constantly building our capacity as an organization. This is why we continue with our internal reform—to make sure that our organization is effective and at the same time adaptive.

This ability to adapt is vital, especially when we are trying to cope with a global situation of great turbulence and complexity, where every development has a profound impact upon our national interest. Strategic thinking and organizational capabilities have to be constantly reviewed.

Moreover, the pursuit of the organization’s explicit mission should be guided by its vision and values. At the same time, all the individuals within the organization, especially the diplomats, must safeguard the integrity of its public image and reputation.

All these mean that we should not look at the world as if it were static or just comfortably evolving. The reality is that the world is turbulent and full of uncertainty. We will immediately be saddled with problems if we ourselves as an organization become static and we neglect the imperative to constantly redefine the tasks that we must address. Organisms adapt to their environment in order to stay alive. Organizations, likewise, adapt to their environment in order to stay relevant and thus survive.

Thus, we are now aware of the changes taking place in our national, regional and global environments and of the changes taking place in the way we manage our organization. Therefore we must develop capabilities and processes that will respond effectively to these changes and to help manage these changes.

Indeed, there is a need to design organizational agility far beyond anything ever dreamed of in the old bureaucracies. To ensure organizational responsiveness, we must encourage continuous learning by diplomats at all levels. Diplomats are the primary actors in designing organizational learning because they are not just the subjects of change; they are also the agents of change in their environments.

In an effective organization, information must flow freely—and accurately—in all directions, subject, of course, to the reasonable demands of security. In traditional bureaucracies, workers are compartmented, with each one confined to the tiny cell of his specialization. And the leaders confine themselves in ivory towers. We can no longer afford to have such an organization. That is an obsolete system.

What we are trying to achieve now is a true living and vibrant system, where we can take what we need from the environment and change ourselves according to the demands of that environment. At the same time, we give to the environment and, as much as possible, change that environment to meet the needs of our organization and the nation we are sworn in to serve.

In the final analysis, what we are trying to achieve is to develop a diplomat who is a kind of modern Renaissance person: a person with a broad range of intellectual interests and with strength of character as well as wisdom to be able to deal with a world of rapid change and impenetrable uncertainty. He or she must be both subject and agent of change.

This means that he must be a consummate communicator: he must not only be skilled in self-expression but also capable of empathy with our audiences—even with those who stand on the other side of a debate.

As Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda loves to say: ‘A diplomat must be a builder of bridges’. And above all, he or she must be a person who deeply loves his or her community, country and the rest of humankind and finds expression of that love in the pursuit of a demanding profession.

That is what we would like you to be, and what you will be, Insha-Allah, by the grace of God.