Citizen Diplomats: Exploring the Links Between Community Organising and Humanitarian Diplomacy

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Bird, Hannah
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This paper explores whether there is any middle ground between the generally top-down approaches to local involvement taken by organisations engaged in humanitarian diplomacy, and the often spontaneous grassroots citizen actions, which are often disparate and lack clear goals, and may be relatively short-term. It assesses the potential for a genuinely locally rooted but organised form of citizen diplomacy, which is able to achieve sustained advocacy successes on humanitarian issues beyond those directly experienced in a particular community. Greater achievements in this area would open new avenues to realise change globally, with potential to involve far more people in sustained long-term advocacy. • The key to such middle ground may lie in the concept and methods of community organising. While communities have organised and conducted advocacy for centuries, the modern understanding of this term comes from the work Saul Alinsky did in the USA in the 1930s, his seminal texts, and how others have taken up and adapted his approach. This concept of community organising may provide the means by which organisations engaged in humanitarian diplomacy can connect with more spontaneous and disparate forms of ‘citizen’ activity which have seen a rise in recent years. Examples include Occupy Wall Street and similar anti-austerity protests globally, the mass citizen response to the unprecedented 2015 refugee arrivals in Europe, and activity around climate change exemplified in the school strikes worldwide and local movements such as the UK-based Extinction Rebellion. Connecting with such movements at local levels would enable the building of embedded local roots and relationships across and among those in a community, rather than only top-down relationships with national or international organisations, enabling and advancing organised advocacy on global causes that can have a sustained influence on power holders at all levels. • The key finding is that there is much potential for linkages between the humanitarian diplomats and community organisers, with the case study demonstrating that locally-rooted organisations and individuals can be successfully engaged on global humanitarian issues and can make useful contributions to humanitarian diplomacy strategies. The recommendation is for mutual learning and discussion between the humanitarian diplomats of the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement and large non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and community organising groups such as Citizens UK. This could lead to the creation of hybrid, locally-rooted, humanitarian community groups composed of trained ’citizen diplomats’, noting that current debates on localisation within the humanitarian sector provide a conducive context. • As such, the concept of a ‘citizen diplomat’ could be broadened into ’citizen humanitarian’, a new kind of humanitarian working in organisations that operate horizontally through mutual learning and aid.