“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a goal and an essential part of my life – a kind of destiny. Whoever is in distress can call on me. I will come running wherever they are”. – Princess Diana
The article 2 of the Constitution of The International Women’s Club of Moscow says, “The purpose of the Club is to promote friendship and to further cultural activities among women of all nationalities residing in Moscow and to raise funds to be donated to charitable activities.”
The International Women’s Club of Moscow was established in 1978, when the world was different. The international community, residing in Moscow, had limited mobility by Russia and contacting to other countries in Soviet times. There were only several buildings in Moscow allocated for the diplomatic community. Local people did not have any contacts with international community apart of some departments of the Ministry of Foreign. Adaption for Russian culture and traditions took much more time for international community than now. In the basis of the club was the idea of Delmar Fall, wife of a Consul of the British Embassy, she wanted to create a club for women of all nationalities residing in USSR, to promote friendship and cultural activities. The first meeting dedicated as a cultural exchange was organized by the wife of Consul Ambassador of the Embassy of the Republic of India, Devika Teja. The first charter of the Club was written by the wife of a Consul of the Embassy of Liberia that had been studying law at university. That fact raised deliberate attention of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of USSR, which expressed its concerns about the danger of this association. The leaders of the club have constantly emphasized their status as an international organization, potentially not dangerous to the Soviet government, because the purpose and objectives of the club were focused on the cultural sector.
According to the memoirs of Alla Semenova, the former head of the Protocol Department of the Main Directorate of the diplomatic service, the first organization of joint trips and excursions of the Club, which are now one of the components of the club, was held under the auspices of trips of the Indian Embassy employees and their families. It was not possible to do in another way. That time was set up the tradition of holding meetings in the Embassy, at that time in the USSR there were little more than 100 Embassies. Every Embassy tried give cultural tinge of their country to each meeting, they organized demonstration of national clothes, taught handicraft production and national cuisine. Also there were organized interest groups to study the Russian language, culture and literature. In 1986, the Club consisted of more than 300 participants and there were organized 23 interest groups (Russian and foreign languages, literature and art, national dances and music, etc.).
The wives of prominent politicians of the Soviet Union including Nanuli Shevardnadze, wife of the Minister of foreign Affairs of the USSR, later first President of Georgia, attended in the Club’s meetings.
On December 1987 the meeting of the club was held at the Embassy of Sweden, where in addition to the traditional performance of the host country, was organized Bazaar, where one could buy products of national creativity of different countries. In 1988 there was a proposal to hold the first Winter Bazaar, which was the first charity event of the club. The first Winter Bazaar was held on December 1988 in the U.S. Embassy, all proceeds were donated to the government of Armenia, which suffered after devastating earthquake in 1988. Winter Bazaar 1989 was held at the Embassy of Sweden, where for the first time there was a lottery, all proceeds were donated to the Children’s Fund.
Perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union gave a great opportunity for the development of the Club. The result of these changes was the new version of the Constitution of the Club in 2000, where article 2 was the amended, which describes the main point of creation and existence of the club since 1978. The collapse of the USSR opened up new possibilities for Russian women who wanted to help other people. Now the percentage of Russian citizens is 5% of the total number of members, the international community represented in the club not only by wives of the diplomatic circles, but also by representatives of international business, who moved to Russia.
The International women’s club is focused at Charity projects, raising funds and interest groups.
Currently in the club there are about 50 interest groups that provide to members a wide range of creativity. The main areas of creativity and self-realization are: art, foreign languages, Russian language, cooking classes, music and dance, as well as a wide range of activities for body and soul, such as yoga, discussion club, nonverbal communication and the study of the Bible. The tradition of the club, founded in 1978, is the common tourist trips and excursions in Russia and in other countries. International Women’s Club gives the opportunity every day at any time of the year to develop your talent, make new discoveries, to learn the culture of other countries and meet different people.
In the early 1990s the charity group, which consisted of volunteers, visited several orphan homes. Club activities were limited by the government and charity organizations, fearing to invite the foreigners to their homes. The end of Perestroika promoted the activation the charitable activities of the club, by providing material and financial support. There was opened the office for collecting clothing, shoes, furniture and other necessities. The club members drew attention to the social and psychological aspects, which had been marked in the conference on pediatric psychology in 1994 under the patronage of the wife of the first President of Russian Federation, Naina Yeltsina. Now the Council of the Club for Charity coordinates 20 projects in four main areas: children in poor or unstable families, children in orphanages or other institutions, children with medical need and elderly and destitute. Furthermore, the club is open to support various groups of people in need, such as assistance in rehabilitation and reintegration of women into society after prison, the purchase of medical equipment for hospitals and for people with disabilities. Always there’s necessity of volunteer help on projects on daily care for children with diseases, as well as necessity of teachers, doctors, translators and assistance in organizing the provision of food to disadvantaged people. Today, charity is the main part of the International Women’s club, many members of the club is actively involved in the process of Charity assistance. Each group project has a coordinator and an assistant who work under the guidance of the Chairman of the Charity board, which has been headed for the last few years by Doctor of Sciences and Professor of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration under the President of the Russian Federation (RANEPA), Katalin Diossi.
Two annual charity events help to involve large amount of material and financial support. The main event for many years is the Winter Bazaar. It is traditionally held in the end of November in hotel Radisson Slavyanskaya, which takes more than 80 foreign embassies, represented on the territory of the Russian Federation. Donations of embassies and companies are transferred for the lottery. Winter Bazaar attracts more than three thousand visitors annually, allowing guests to experience the culture and traditions of different countries, to buy clothes, jewelry and souvenirs. The peculiarity of this event is the presentation of dance groups from around the world. The guests enjoy the food variety of the Bazaar, where you can try unique dishes and drinks, as well as buy products. Among the guests of the Winter Bazaar you can meet the heads of diplomatic missions, prominent Russian politicians; special visit to this event was marked by a visit the Winter Bazaar of Lyudmila Putina, in 2000.
The tradition of holding the Annual charity ball was founded by the wife of the Consul of Belgium, Micheline Champenois, in 1996. Initially, the ball was held in the Embassies, but increasing number of guest promoted to transfer the Ball in the most luxurious hotels of Moscow, keeping the tradition of carrying a dinner before the ball in the Embassies. The hotel Metropol, which is famous for its magnificent ballroom, takes a special place in the hearts of the members of the club. Various musical groups and artists entertain the guests, the well-loved lottery is conducted.
The General Officer of the IWC, Neelam Garп who moved to Moscow a few years ago from New Zealand thinks:
“My start in Moscow would have been very slow if I hadn’t known the International Women’s Club of Moscow! I just hit the ground running with this club when I moved here from New Zealand. I created very valuable friendships, found reasons to be excited in this foreign land with so many new things to learn, explore and try. I have never met before with so many people from so many different countries in such a short time. All impacted me positively.
The women in the club are professionals, high achievers and very intelligent. They are either on their expat assignments or following their husbands. Together, we in the club help each other in meaningful ways and make a valuable difference in the lives of children and elderly in Moscow.
I hope and wish to get more support from local and international businesses to work with us so we can even do more to help these sick and needy children and elderly. I’m going to take so many positive and life-changing experiences with me when I leave Moscow!”
International Women’s club in Moscow passed a long way from meeting in a narrow circle for the mutual support of foreign families residing in Moscow, to huge international community, which helps the integration, the adaptation and personal development of foreigners and finding new friends, moving to Russia. It cannot go unmentioned the kindness of the hearts of the club members that help to socially vulnerable groups of Russia.
Sujit S Nair – Creating diplomatic ties between Europe and India
Sujit S Nair., FRSA, the Chairman of Europe India Centre for Business & Industry (EICBI), is an accomplished international trade and relations professional with expertise in the UK- India and EU India corridor. Over the past eleven years, he has organised 22 Major summits at British Parliament in London and 3 Major summits at European Parliament in Brussels to promote relations between India and the EU as well as between India and the UK, in addition to other activities like delegations’ visits, virtual interactions etc.
Sujit is also an entrepreneur with interest in the beauty sector. Along with his wife, Lakshmi Menon, they run a social impact venture called Face Palette in Kerala, India, that uses Makeup as a tool to take women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with a flexitime skillset like makeup artistry that helps them to balance their personal and professional commitments.
Please tell us more about your work at Europe India Centre for Business Industry.
Europe India Centre for Business and Industry (EICBI), managed by Sivaleen Foundation for Developed India, is an independent, multilateral organisation promoting trade and relationships in the UK India corridor and EU India corridor. EICBI was formed to make EU/ UK companies aware of the business opportunities in India and vice versa. EICBI hosts projects and international forums to promote specific business and geopolitical initiatives.
We create awareness and opportunities for our stakeholders through our physical summits, virtual events, an annual listing of EuropeIndia40 leaders and delegation visits of European MPs to India. This year 2022, celebrates 60 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and the European Union (EU), and EICBI has been organising a series of activities as part of the EUIndia60 Campaign.
What are some key industries where we are seeing Europe and India collaboration currently?
For EICBI, our European activities focus on promoting collaboration in the UK India corridor and EU India corridor.
In the UK India corridor, the top sectors of interest for UK companies were India’s industrial, business services, technology, consumer retail and e-commerce. The top sectors of interest for Indian companies in the UK were food and drink, creative and media, environment, infrastructure and transportation, biotechnology and pharmaceutical.
In the EU India corridor, textiles, leather, pharma, sports goods, some agri products, handicrafts, and handlooms are some of the critical industries from India that have a significant presence in the EU. In the case of EU companies in India, key industries are in Automotives, Chemicals and Business Services Sector.
Tell us more about your work as an RSA Connector.
As the RSA connector based in India, I am a point of contact for fellows in India. I also scout for people doing great work in India and put forth their nominations for the RSA fellowship network.
How has being a part of RSA created value in your life?
I have been a fellow of the RSA for nearly a decade. Being an RSA fellow helps me be part of a diverse network of like-minded people and expand my work. Also, as part of my work, I meet many highly credible leaders and stakeholders in the EU India/ UK India corridor. The fellowship of the RSA helped to increase my credibility in this network.
How can the RSA Fellowship create value for people who are not based in the UK?
RSA fellows outside the UK must actively use the RSA social network to connect with other RSA fellows in their region. This will help to meet potential fellows and explore collaborations with them.
How do you envision India – UK partnership in the upcoming years with the change in Prime Ministerial Candidate in 2022?
India – UK partnership will continue to thrive irrespective of who will become the Prime Minister in 2022. India-UK relations are on a high trajectory, and there have been a series of discussions and interactions between political leaders, government officials and other stakeholders from the UK and India. There is also a strong political will to get the Free Trade Agreement signed in the next few months. UK PM Boris Johnson’s strong support for signing FTA with India and his special friendship with Indian PM Narendra Modi did help in sorting out several issues between India and the UK. As the new PM might take a bit of time to get up to date with the issues, I assume that UK India FTA might be delayed by a few months, but I do not see any adverse changes to India UK partnership due to the change of the Prime Minister in the UK.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue pursuing my work in promoting UK India and EU India relations in the foreseeable future. When compared to the EU India corridor, the UK India corridor has a greater number of stakeholders who are actively working in promoting relations between the regions. I believe that there is a lot more work to be done in connecting people and leveraging opportunities in these regions. As I also run a beauty venture with my wife, I hope to continue Face Palette’s work in supporting more women in India to be financially independent.
Asad Lalljee on cultural diplomacy
Asad Lalljee is SVP, Essar Group, CEO, Avid Learning and Curator, Royal Opera House, Mumbai. Prior to relocating to India, Asad worked for 14 years as one of the ‘Mad Men’ advertising executives on New York’s Madison Avenue. He was with McCann-Erickson, and earlier with Hill Holiday, a subsidiary of advertising giant In 2018, he was inducted into the prestigious FICCI Art and Culture Committee. He has previously worked for companies like McCann-Erickson and Hill Holiday (IPG) in New York. He holds a B.A. Economics (St. Xavier’s College) and an M.A. Global Marketing Communications (Emerson College, Boston).
What does your work at Avid Learning look like?
My tryst with Avid Learning was nothing less than a serendipitous one. After 14 years of working as a Mad Man in Madison Avenue when I came to Mumbai, I was introduced to Avid Learning. Since then, by imbibing a simple mantra that I lived by so far- Learning Never Stops- I took a modest year old continuing education program and started to create content and programs around the arts (Applied, Visual and performing).
Today Avid Learning has grown into one of Mumbai’s leading public programming platforms and is firmly entrenched in the country’s wider cultural ecosystem of which I am the CEO.
Over the years, under my aegis, AVID has gained a reputation for curating thought provoking, innovative and path-breaking content that is intellectually and creatively stimulating and engages with a variety of topical subjects and trends. Our thoughtfully curated and diverse events embrace the spirit of collaboration to bring together the best of Indian and international writers, artists, intellectuals, cultural experts, policymakers and industry leaders across Visual Art, Literature, Culture and Heritage, Education, Design & Technology and the Performing Arts through engaging and dynamic formats like panel discussions, workshops & master classes, roundtables, lecture demonstrations, festival platforms, symposiums & conferences, multidisciplinary performances and walkthroughs.
Tell us more about your role at the Royal Opera House?
In 2016, I was appointed as the curator of the newly restored Royal Opera House, Mumbai where my role consists ofcuration of eclectic and multidisciplinary programming. Today Royal Opera House has positioned itself as not just a spectacular location and heritage landmark, but more so as a proactive partner and catalyst in the propagation and revival of arts and culture in the city. Apart from the venue playing host to performances across several genres of music and theatre and presenting unique comedy and fashion shows on its grand stage, AVID has depersonalised the space by also bringing in Literature through book launches, Art through interdisciplinary performances, discussions, pop-ups and a robust arts initiative.
How did your experience at Ad agencies in New York create a base for your current work in India?
It is always believed that Advertising is just a form of Arts. After spending 14 years in Advertising at NYC and having worked with some of the biggest brands, I have learned that power to connect with target audiences lies in leveraging a multitude of creative tactics.
In the same way, at AVID I have continued to adapt the fundamentals of advertising, technology, brand elements and social media for my campaigns and create new forms of engagement touchpoints audiences. My aim is to make culture cool, accessible, inspirational to not just the few handful communities but for kids, for new voices for nascent talent from all borders.
What are some projects you see yourself working on for the rest of 2022?
In 2022, We will continue to curate a multiverse and hybrid programming module, based on current industry trends, and learnings from COVID-era practices, this financial year, Avid Learning aims to continue to build its programming platform into an integrated hybrid model which features both virtual and in person programs. Our focus this year will also be on strengthening our cultural diplomatic ties and creating newer platforms and opportunities for artists across borders to come and re-engage with arts post the gap of 2 years.
We have also planned to partner with Start Art and Kala Ghoda Arts Festival to present sustainability-related conversations and discussions on Mumbai’s diasporic communities and heritage. We also have in the pipeline ‘The (Un)Convention’, a day long production featuring performances and presentations by industry and some of the best artists in the country.
How can we promote culture and arts further in India?
I have always believed in the power of cultural diplomacy to widen horizons and broaden minds and have been applying it to my work at AVID as well. I believe that by leveraging our local and international relationships we can bring the best of International Art, Culture and Design to our city and our audiences. This has always been my focus in promoting Arts and Culture further in India.
What are three social causes you feel passionate about and want to amplify?
I have always believed in the power of the arts in impacting great social change and have regularly offered our support and platforms for social advocacy. At Royal Opera House, Mumbai, I have brought on stage various differently-abled groups and artistes. We had a fantastic visually impaired orchestra perform on stage, displayed beautiful braille art, and many such events. We have also aligned with powerful annual socio-diplomatic initiatives like International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day and supported significant campaigns like UN Women’s HeforShe and One Billion Rising.
In 2022, I pulled together an elaborate series of presentations, panel discussions and workshops called Sustainability NOW with an aim to convert audiences into change-makers and custodians of a greener tomorrow. Under this umbrella, we have had over 40 thought-provoking programmes.
I am personally passionate about growing and supporting the Arts Education landscape here in India, Being a parent, I have realised the importance of quality education and the power of the arts to mold children. Keeping that in mind, we have programmed numerous edutaining events for kids – from hosting children’s literature festivals annually to organising arts pedagogy roundtables and publishing an illustrated children’s book to engagingly teach them about sustainability.
The newly Coral Woman book was one such effort to empower the future custodians of the earth through the power of arts.
Which are some books that have influenced you personally?
Reading equipped me with many professional and life lessons. I remember devouring books whenever I got a chance. Three books stand out for me which helped me through my advertising years in New York were – AdCultUSA by James Twitchell, The anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen, and Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch.
Reflecting on Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter and China’s Twitter Diplomacy
The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, has always been an ambitious business magnate who actively expands into different businesses to realise his visions. Recently, his sudden offer of purchasing and privatising Twitter for 44 billion US dollars has shocked the world. Since Musk has strong business ties with China and often praises China effusively, this proposal has aroused widespread fear that Twitter will end up being a platform for China to spread its propaganda.
Although the deal was once “temporarily on hold” and is now “terminated” because of Musk’s concern about the prevalence of spam accounts, the international reactions to the takeover are reflecting the strategic importance of social media platforms to China. The privatisation of social media platforms could, in fact, foster China’s Twitter Diplomacy and shake international politics. Thus, we must keep an eye on the relationships between the business sector and foreign governments.
Twitter’s Outstanding Outreach Capabilities
As an influential social media platform with millions of users, Twitter offers strong outreach capabilities, which allows messages to be spread across the world. Users can also share their comments or engage in debates with other users on a certain topic. Meanwhile, the retweet function helps users disseminate information with just a few clicks, while the hashtag function helps the users to reach a high coverage of audience rapidly, regardless of whether the audience has followed the users. For instance, by adding the hashtag #pancake in the tweet, international audiences can also see the tweet in their search results of #pancake. Therefore, Twitter has become an attractive platform for politicians or governments to spread political messages and shape discussions. In particular, the former United States President Donald Trump created a large number of tweets to draw attention, mobilise support, and issue orders.
China’s Weaponized Use of Twitter
While China “had almost no diplomatic presence on Twitter’ a few years ago, China has gradually realised the benefits of using Twitter as a diplomatic weapon.
In 2018, China finally established its first official account on Twitter (Chinese Foreign Ministry, @MFA_China) to engage with the global audience. China is possibly using automation and bot accounts to retweet their political messages, influence public conversations, and spread their propaganda as well. To fully utilise Twitter as a propaganda tool, China also creates clickbait content or promotes conspiracy theories to capture international users’ attention.
In particular, China was increasing its use of Twitter when it faces international pressure stemming from human rights suppression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Sino-US trade war, and the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the spokesman of China’s Foreign Minister, Zhao Lijian, has tweeted a conspiracy theory that the Covid-19 virus actually originates in the United States. Subsequently, a wave of #USAVirus tweets is sweeping across Twitter to support this claim.
Following the increasing tension between China and the international community brought by the Russian-Ukraine War, China is likely to make use of Twitter as its battlefield with its rivals, so as to craft the image that China is become suppressed or discriminated against by the Western hegemons.
Why Does Privatisation Matter?
This tendency to convey biased messages on Twitter to defend China’s reputation can be arguably encouraged by Musk’s proposal of privatising Twitter. Since Musk has friendly relations with China and he has been actively expanding into the Chinese market, critics argue that Musk could face pressure from the Beijing government, which could force Musk to allow China to track opponents, bolster its propaganda, suppress criticism, and spread disinformation. This has given us a warning that vested business interests of technological giants with autocratic countries can seriously influence the development of global politics.
Musk’s deal is appearing to be telling us the fact that a wealthy and powerful giant can easily take over social media platforms to realise his aspiration or accomplish some political goals. When social media platforms are arbitrarily controlled by individuals with inextricable affiliations with autocratic countries, they can be put vulnerable to the dictatorships’ intervention. Privatisation of Twitter thus could make it easier for China to continue its political advertising or “manipulate” public opinions by creating and controlling inauthentic accounts, although such promotions are supposedly banned by Twitter to contain China’s expansion. More disinformation and propaganda could arise, while Twitter would not take action against it. This will increase the effectiveness of Twitter diplomacy in using biased messages to persuade people to support the autocratic regime.
Under the aforementioned high volume and rapid dissemination of tweets, China can dominate the discussions and create an illusion that the world leans toward China. Seeing more and more pro-China posts, the public may mistakenly think that pro-China opinions are the dominating views in society. Accordingly, the international audience will fail to filter propaganda, while developing a more positive attitude toward China and a more hostile attitude towards the West. Therefore, the privatisation of social media can have a far-reaching impact on public opinions on geopolitics.
We Must Stay Alert
In this technological era, the digital sphere will certainly become a bloodshed battlefield for different countries to carry out their digital diplomacy. Following China’s increasing aggression and familiarity with Twitter diplomacy, Twitter is emerging as a strategic tool for countries to confront each other. If social media cannot be freed from political intervention from specific countries, it will become a biased platform for autocratic countries to spread their propaganda and distorted information. While we can be relieved for a while since Musk’s deal is now terminated, we have to stay alert to the potential impacts brought by social media platforms’ business ties with certain countries on international affairs.
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