Like many Bostonians, I start my daily morning routine with public radio, and inevitably the top world stories are conflict: civil war of epic proportions, sectarian violence, bristling geopolitical disputes between great powers. It feels a world away for many, but deadly terrorism has struck our community, on Patriot’s Day no less. The resilience of our civil society has been evident during this tragedy. But what can we do here in Boston? How can we take it upon ourselves to be diplomats, not only in a volunteer capacity, but how can innovation diplomacy permeate the very essence of our business activity?
This topic is a very personal one for me. After serving five years in the military, during 9/11 and the Iraq War, I sought to embark on a path of citizen diplomacy in organizations large and nascent, which led me from Odessa, Karachi and Tokyo. Yet one does not need to travel abroad to be an innovation diplomat with impact. In Greater Boston we have a world-class community of innovators; there are concrete ways you can take the lead to build bridges. Here are some of my recommendations for ways you can incorporate innovation diplomacy into your professional activity:
Swissnex Boston - Swissnex, the first innovation consulate in the world, is located a few minutes away from Harvard Yard. The Swissnex team hosts distinguished events related to academia, business, science and culture open to interested professionals. Other Swissnex innovation consulates have been launched globally.
Russian Venture Company - Diplomatic sparring between Russian and the American political leaders makes front page news; the billion dollar Russian venture capital fund on Boylston Street does not.
Shabeh Jomeh - The Iranian and American governments have no diplomatic relations, yet Iranian-Americans such as Shervin Pishevar (Uber), Pardis Sabeti (Harvard) and Anousheh Ansari (TTI, enterprising space tourist) are paragons of American entrepreneurship. Shabeh Jomeh, a monthly business meetup held in cities worldwide, is a practical route to build bridges with Iranian innovators.
New England Israel Business Council - Israel, perhaps the most entrepreneurial country per capita in the world, has close business ties with the Boston community, and NEIBC attracts top Israeli-American professionals at their events.
American Islamic Congress - AIC Boston, located on Newbury Street, hosts exquisite cultural events with international cuisine, poetry and music. For over a decade AIC has also been at the forefront of building civil society and democracy education for citizens in many countries abroad, especially young people in North Africa and the Middle East, and has had a significant positive impact in the region well before the ‘Arab Spring’. AIC has staff on the ground in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq, and can be an outstanding conduit to build professional relationships in these emerging economies.
French Chamber of Commerce - The French Chamber is one of the best ways to get involved in the vibrant French-American business community of Boston, of special interest especially for professionals in the life sciences sector.
Pakistan Innovation Network - A team of top Harvard business leaders and academics are launching a new initiative to bring technology innovators in both Pakistan and the US to collaborate more effectively through thought leadership, mentoring and venture support.
United Planet - When you are ready to travel with purpose, United Planet offers ways to volunteer all over the world, explicitly as a citizen diplomat.
This is a new age of innovation diplomacy for our community. No longer is diplomacy the province exclusively of professional diplomats; we can integrate diplomacy into our business operations. Partnerships across borders will continue to enrich Boston culturally, attract top students and business leaders from around the world, and be a model for other hubs around the world to meld innovation and diplomacy.
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