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branding America?

Tuesday 28 July, 2009

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted this event Rebooting America’s Global Image featuring Keith Reinhard, Pres./founder of Business for Diplomatic Action , Chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, & Ted Pincus, who is a director @ BDA.  They’ve partnered with Thunderbird to provide Culturespan workshops, which is laudable. The BDA together with the National Business Travel Assn. publishes a World Citizens Guide with 16 suggestions for American students & businesspeople  when traveling abroad.

They did some research in 17 countries on what foreigners like/dislike about Americans.  So what?  Who cares?  This is important for 3 reasons:

  1. security needs, cooperation, intelligence
  2. the economy
  3. world citizens should lead climate change

Obama’s election caused a bit of a turnaround in anti-US sentiment, but others question whether his rhetoric will reflect his policy.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) was disbanded in 1998, so what do we do now?  STARS:

  • Sensitize to the needs of others
  • Transform our attitudes & behavior to promote understanding
  • Accentuate/amplify the good in America
  • Reach out to others
  • Serve as a connection between the government & private sector

This is the kind of event & organization which rile me up a bit.  While the sentiments are good & I’m in agreement we need to get corporate America involved to help solve America’s image problem abroad, it’s far too superficial to be effective.  America’s engagement with the world is far too big a problem for it to be solved by an advertising campaign.  Suggestions like adding a Ministry of Tourism/office of international visitors, & jazz diplomacy just don’t cut it. American egotism doesn’t help us in the rest of the world.  In my mind, education is key to change how Americans work in the world.  We need to teach world history in addition to/instead of US history.  Foreign languages need to be required, as they are in many other countries, for graduation.  Students need to learn geography to understand the issues in different regions of the world.  When questioned about education, Reinhard indicated Arne Duncan, Chicagoan & Secretary of Education, supports UN-level language fluency.  Otherwise he didn’t comment on any greater role, which to me indicates a lack of awareness of the problem.  It’s for these kinds of light & fluffy solutions to our problems that we’re criticized, & justly so.  It’s not until we engage with the world on its terms & not try to dictate to others what to do & how to do it, that we’ll be greeted as leader instead of being resented as the fading superpower.

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