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BW Businessworld

Diplomacy Unusual

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I have had the fortune of travelling to about eight countries in Africa this year. Mostly in the Eastern region. Almost everywhere I have been greeted with namastes and warm smiles.

People in the fastest growing region in the world are incredibly warm towards India. I have felt more at home in Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi than in any of the western countries I have visited.

As India grows in stature globally, it's diplomatic efforts to foster relations with the developing world, especially Africa are growing too. India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) launched a unique initiative  last year to reach out to countries in Africa. MEA deployed an unusual diplomatic effort to bring together youth, students, civil society and entrepreneurs in a warm embrace of lasting relationship.

This initiative is called ''IndiAfrica: A shared future" and is managed by theideaworks, a communication, design and marketing firm. The initiative holds ground events and conducts contests in essays writing, photography with India and Africa as the key theme. The ground events bring academic institutions, students and young entrepreneurs together for partnerships.

The IndiAfrica effort is a great template for the MEA to follow for engagement with other countries. This not only leverages the soft power of India, but also creates hundreds of ambassadors that nurture and foster relations.

India does not have the diplomatic bandwidth to do justice to its relations with the world. It's diplomatic corp has only about 800 officers. Compare this with China that has about 6000. In this situation, it is even more important to create innovative activities that bring India closer to other countries through a strategy of social engagement.

The IndiAfrica  programme will have reached out to about 25 countries by June 2014. "The response has pleasantly surprised us. Students, professionals, academics and entrepreneurs are very keen on India. They are looking for opportunities to learn and partner with India," says Amit Shahi, CEO and co founder of theideaworks.

But while governments on both sides have been encouraging, Indian private sector's support has been low. Very few companies have participated in this effort through sponsorships. But some companies that have a long term view about on Africa are keen.

Corporate strategy and geo-political interests are best served by investing in  long term relationship efforts. Especially in a social framework. As the IndiAfrica programme rolls out, it has the ability to inspire more such efforts by MEA in other parts of the world.

(Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer)