On October 9, the Emirates Diplomatic Academy will produce its first class of graduates. It has been an interesting journey, and one in which I have been honoured to take part, as the academy's first director general.
The UAE is founded on a set of simple ideas: that human progress depends on collaboration, partnership, tolerance, multiculturalism, innovation and an outward-facing mindset. Since 1971, those ideas have underpinned the country’s international role. It has become one of the world’s top donors of humanitarian and development aid and one of the first in the region to adopt an active role in the fight against climate change. It has worked with its partners to promote security and stability and to counter the existential threat posed by terrorism. It has reached out to innovators across the globe to develop exciting opportunities and tackle shared problems in a complex and fast changing world. More than ever, there is a need for a new chapter in diplomacy that further evolves global co-operation and dialogue, realising shared ambitions.
The Emirates Diplomatic Academy is firmly based on these principles and values, which I share. Building on the achievements of those who have served in the foreign service since 1971, it seeks to equip future diplomats with the knowledge and tools to play their part in the UAE’s international relations in the years ahead. There are challenges aplenty: from climate change to trade and investment in emerging markets, from combating poverty to tackling extremism, the UAE is an active participant in international diplomacy, offering smart and different thinking that has earned it a reputation as a good global citizen, not least through the United Nations.
A country’s foreign policy and strategy are only as good as its representatives. That is why the academy has developed a three-pronged approach to diplomacy and international relations – education, research and training – that seeks both to ensure that diplomats are educated on classic theory and that they set the tone for new diplomatic thought. History, international relations, culture, economics and politics come together with softer skills of presentation, professionalism, respect, language, negotiation, flexibility, empathy and even how to use a smartphone to influence foreign policy. We welcome others who would like to benefit from our programmes.
In our first year, ministers, ambassadors and academics have shared their experience and insights with our students. In the current year, our flagship course is on 21st-century diplomacy while we continue to develop our concept of the diplomatic innovation hub, leadership and ethics and new research streams, including peace and security in the Mena region, climate change and UAE-Asian relations.
We don’t just teach; we also listen and create space for future leaders to think. Our research is now being used across government, especially in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The best will be recognised at the highest levels. Our faculty provide advice and up-to-date information on emerging trends and patterns to ensure the UAE’s 107 diplomatic missions are as well informed as they can be, taking a lead on how to react in the 21st century. We are also building a community of diplomatic thinking and practice which will fast become a global centre of excellence.
Following my long career as a diplomat for the European Union and the UN, I was delighted to be asked by the founder and chairman of the EDA, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, to take up this challenging post. It allows me to continue my own learning, as everyone should do, as well as to share my lifetime experiences with the coming generations.
Next week will be a proud time as the first cohort of future diplomats graduate from the academy, equipped to serve the nation. I congratulate them and wish them well in their years ahead as part of the diplomatic family.
Bernardino Leon is director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy