There can be no question that we are living in tumultuous times, with conflicts growing among peoples across regions, nations, and even within single countries. Most people desire only to live out their lives in peace and security, and tend to blame the governments for the conflicts that continuously arise and seem to worsen. The truth is, in most cases and especially in democratic countries, the mandate of the government is to carry out the will of the majority of people. This means that while individuals may not necessarily be to blame, collectively they can be said to have influence over the course of events through the political process. Many, in fact, do not bother to vote, thinking it doesn’t make any difference.
The average person on the street often feels helpless and shrugs off responsibility.
The average person on the street often feels helpless and shrugs off responsibility, assuming there is nothing they can do about the situation anyway, so why worry or bother? The truth is actually different, though certainly nuanced and filtered by perceptions and circumstance. Individuals do have the power to influence events (beyond casting their vote), to smaller or lesser degree, and should not shirk their responsibilities in this regard. This applies especially to those that make up the business community, and also to consumers in general.
Economic Development Leads To Social Stability
Peter Drucker, considered the father of corporate social responsibility, believed that business leaders had a primary responsibility to improve social conditions, mainly because they were the ones who possessed the ability and means to do so. Henry Ford, the inventor of the assembly line, knew this too, in that if a mass market for his cars were to exist, his workers would need to earn enough in order to afford the cars they were building. China is struggling to transition from a production to a sustainable service economy, so that the majority of its worker citizens will be able to afford the goods and services they provide. Governments and business leaders both recognize the importance of social stability, and to this end, must work towards at very least the perceived fairness in the distribution of economic resources, and equitable rules and regulations in the economic, political, and judicial system.
Indeed, it is critical for the survival of businesses that a stable political and economic framework exists to provide the market conditions needed for industries to thrive and grow. It is also a strategic imperative of business to contribute to social equity and justice, especially to provide for social stability and economic growth. As more organizations embrace social responsibility as corporate global citizens, new opportunities to lessen international conflict and tensions can arise. This happens through the resultant increases in economic development and cross-cultural understanding, which then combine to enhance international communication and economic cooperation.
Soft Power As A Political Tool
In international relations, soft power can be achieved through cultural diplomacy, which seeks to advertise the positive aspects of a society and culture. Cultural diplomacy is a component of public diplomacy, allowing countries to achieve their aims by attraction instead of coercion. Cultural diplomacy is often overlooked and certainly underestimated in achieving national security aims. The exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples, fosters mutual understanding and cooperation. This exchange allows foreign nations to develop mutual understanding of ideals and institutions of respective countries, often encouraging support for economic and policy goals across borders.
There is renewed interest among governments, industry, educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in cultural diplomacy as a means to enhance economic development, especially in the poorest of developing countries. Although profit is a primary goal of industry, there is also the strong belief among leading economic and political thinkers that economic growth holds the key to reducing strife and conflict. The World Bank, IMF, UNESCO, and others have determined that there is an inverse correlation between prosperity and devastating wars.
Politics seems to be most vicious when there is little at stake, and war is diplomacy where negotiations have failed. Soft power has proven useful in alleviating enmities and conflict, while enhanced wealth generation from the commercial activity related to cultural enterprise can raise living standards and thus incentivize cooperation between nations. In fact, international trade in all industries is dependent on harmonious relations between countries. We typically see trade ties immediately negatively impacted during times of upheaval, such as in the most recent rounds of sanctions between Russia and the West resulting from the situation in Ukraine, or between Turkey and Russia after the recent downing of a Russian bomber by Turkey. These deprivations are felt directly by those in society least able to withstand the impact: farmers, workers, small businesses, transport companies, and the bulk of consumers denied access to goods and services.
Cultural Diplomats Connect Cultures Through Creativity & Commerce
There is an important role for those in the culture industries to play in easing tensions between nations, developing emergent economies, alleviating poverty, and increasing overall levels of peace and diplomacy throughout the world. Additionally, the door is open to all industries wishing to contribute charitably to these noble causes, through their support of the culture industries. There is quite a lot at stake, and a lot that can be done.
Culture is often distributed through electronic media as broadcast music, film, and television shows. But it comprises so much more than that. Sports, culinary arts, design, and tourism, even agriculture, all have important roles to play. People interact with their culture every day, and can immediately recognize and appreciate the influence of international cultures enhancing their daily lives.
Many sports fans enjoy international rivalries. Culinary arts and music both benefit from the fusion of world traditions intermingling through historic migrations of ethnic groups. This can be experienced markedly through the enjoyment of Ottoman cuisine, to cite just one of many examples. Americans have a strong appetite for Latin music, and the Chinese are huge fans of the Japanese and Korean pop groups.
Citizens in many countries appreciate German engineering through driving cars produced in that country. (German engineering could be viewed as a cultural asset through a certain lens.) People all over the world enjoy Asian food, Hollywood movies, Dutch cheese, Turkish almonds, Swiss chocolate, and French wine. These are but random examples of the ways commerce and culture intertwine to bind the peoples of nations around the world. There are too many examples to list.(See video link below to story about Turkish tea.)
Cultural Industries’ Globalization Offers A Way Out
As we survey the difficult landscape of international relations, it is important to not lose hope for humanity. Our species’ survival and prosperity depends on our ability to get along together and share this one planet that we have. For the sake of succeeding generations, we will need to find a way to come together to work out our differences and live in relative peace. While perhaps some feel this is not possible, if we want to survive on this planet, we will have no other choice.
The sharing of cultures and commerce holds an important key to solving our most vexing international problems. Most people realize this intrinsically, but aren’t sure about what to do. It is actually quite simple. Sharing of culture is a means to increasing understanding, commerce, and peace. When people are dancing together, playing music, or sharing a meal, they are typically not fighting at the same time.
The Internet (world wide web), combined with mobile technology, offers those seeking to use media to influence change a powerful tool. As with any powerful tool, it can be used for good or evil. Just as some choose to use technology for evil pursuits, others are actively applying technology for charitable works, and to solve seemingly intractable problems. Cultural diplomacy lends itself well to mobile distribution, and the world is getting more connected every day. The creative endeavors, cultural enterprises, and all industries stand to benefit greatly when the nations can come together to enjoy a sporting event, concert, compelling film, art or history exhibit, and a sumptuous repast.
Turkey’s Unique Opportunity
Turkey, in particular, has a great opportunity to show the world its heart and soul through the marvelous history, food, hospitality, art, music, dance, cinema, architecture, and sporting heritage (oil-wrestling), using the powerful tool of global entertainment media to export this impressive culture to worldwide consumers. Turkey’s crucial role in the history of commerce (e.g. the Spice Road, Silk Road) logically suggests that her role in business today should be outsized among nations. After all, it was the trade through the Bosporus that financed the Renaissance in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Turkey’s unique geopolitical characteristics and history, combined with its melting pot legacy of the Ottoman Empire, give it a powerful position to influence cultures and business all around the world.
In fact, Turkey already does much in this area. There are active promotions for tourism in many countries showcasing Turkey’s historic and cultural attractions, and high quality Turkish products (e.g. carpets, nuts, chocolate, raki, coffee, tea) raise the stature of Turkey’s producers as they fan out across the world. Turkey’s film industry, music artists, and creative TV content from Turkey are broadcast to many nations, which eagerly consume its digital content. Besides contributing to national account balances, this export activity does much to enhance Turkey’s international reputation and image. As such, it helps increase diplomatic capital for Turkey and its citizens. In this sense, businesses and citizen workers make an important national contribution through the carrying on of their commercial and consuming activities and choices. Business can be a patriotic activity central to the health of the nation, helping to define its role in the world.
It is my hope that Turkey will harness its creative force for good, using culture and international commerce to export a more accurate and balanced image of its people, institutions, values, ideals, and art, in furtherance of diplomacy and enhanced relations with all the countries of the globe. Culture and commerce together offer the best way to connect and engage creatively and positively. This is the perfect time for Turkey to embrace national pride in her strong cultural heritage in the service of people around the world, using the creative industries in the service of international commerce and soft power diplomacy.
Extra: Watch this wonderful video speech by American storyteller Katharine Branning about the national cultural significance of Turkish Tea: