UN Day on 24 October got off to a thought-provoking start for students in Grades 6 to 9. The morning saw Seema Shah, Head of Democracy Assessment at the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) make a presentation about the importance of democracy and of its complex nature.
Democracy, she stressed, is not just about elections and the will of the majority. It is about fundamental rights and equality of opportunity to have a say and be heard in our communities. In a disturbing graphic examining the nature of democracies around the world, she showed that while dictatorships and authoritarian regimes may have diminished in recent decades, true democracies are still outnumbered by them and regimes that masquerade as democracies.
You can discover more about Seema’s work and the research she is involved in at www.idea.int.
In the afternoon, Judith Gough, the British Ambassador to Sweden (also a parent at SIS and a member of the SIS Board of Trustees) spoke to Grade 10 to 12 students. She shared with them some of the principles of international diplomacy, starting with the definition found in various guises and attributed to various sources: ‘Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask you for directions’. From there she went on to set out the skills required of a diplomat: to be flexible, to be a good listener, to think in the long term as well as in the moment, and many other observations borne of her practical experience of many years.
She described some achievements she is proud of: agreements on cluster munitions, on LGBTQ+ rights, and other negotiations she has been party to over her career. And throughout she reminded us of the diplomats’ need to keep their own opinions at bay and work in the service of their government: if you need to promote a cause, become an activist not a diplomat.