Why Joining the Diplomatic Service was Never for Me
Talyn Rahman-Figueroa, CEO of Grassroot Diplomats, opens up about her reasons why she decided to not join the Foreign Service.
My journey to becoming a diplomatic entrepreneur began from an international failure.
Except, I wasn’t expecting one of the most important international summits of my generation to result in failure. Little consensus. No binding agreement. Zero care. Fresh out of university, representing Britain at the United Nations COP15 in Copenhagen was exciting, yet sourly disappointing. I was reporting with a non-government organisation, privately meeting with senior diplomats and representing the voice of civil society from within the negotiations. I was shocked to learn how ninety per cent of diplomats I came in contact with were unwilling to deviate from the brief they were given prior to the conference. In practice, they didn’t even have to listen to what other countries had to say about the matter because the national interest was pre-determined by HQ irrespective of the conference. What is national interest if it isn’t about the people and why have a summit when no-one listened? A diplomat even argued: “If they were allowed to pollute, then we should be allowed too for the sake of our country catching up with economic development.”
If diplomats are instructed to stick to a script, irrespective of the arguments put forward, the international community at large is in big trouble. No leadership. No security. Full control but zero authority. As a trained diplomat, I always assumed my job would be to represent the people of my country, not the shell of a country but this message didn’t translate well when I worked in my government and trained at several multilateral institutions. Systems within governments are bureaucratic to prevent change. Innovation in the system is hindered to make way for corporate lobbyists. I quickly realised how restrictive diplomats were in their roles and how disconnected our leaders were in representing their people on the global stage, and so, I decided the traditional diplomatic route wasn’t for me. I had a much bigger role to play within the diplomatic and international community – I wanted to innovate and disrupt the system instead.
I originally founded Grassroot Diplomat to strengthen relationships between governments and civil society, as global riots led by young people started to become the norm in voicing their frustrations to governments. Over the past few years, Grassroot Diplomat has evolved as a brand that serves the diplomatic community, to ensure that governments are effectively representing their people both at home and abroad. This means modernising how diplomats operate with investors and communities, making embassies actively visible, helping countries break stereotypes and misconceptions about themselves through public diplomacy activities, and re-purposing their focus so that their people are not an afterthought to their job.
Diplomacy is an ancient system that will always have its links with trade and investment, but my mission is to change how diplomacy operates on the international scene to help countries gain traction within the market. I want to create a strong roster of positive role models at government level who can successfully sell their countries as nation brand ambassadors. I want to develop digital embassies so that official embassies truly are the first point of information for business, citizens, and tourists. I want investments to always have a social element so that a percentage of profits goes towards improving human development instead of breeding a culture of greed and corruption. I want government representatives and associates to purposely be a ‘Grassroot Diplomat’ by adopting a practice that demonstrates them putting the people’s interest first, above and beyond national and political interest. My consultancy tackles various angles to improve an already established system, by working with a mix of stakeholder and re-modelling the roles of diplomats who are effective change-makers for the growth of their country.
We have a long, long way to go but we have only just begun.