Taking place in Mexico, the 8th meeting in the series brought together up to 50 participants including senior leaders, academics, business, media and other specialists for an expert exchange on ways to maximise and deploy soft power assets.
Key points to come out of the conference were:
- Soft power assets can be used to challenge outdated and negative perceptions about a country.
- Soft power may be soft, but it is still power, requiring financial investment with the objective of exercising influence over others. Hard power involves coercion and military threat while soft power relies on context and behaviour to effect change.
- Soft power is increasingly exercised not by government institutions, but by civil society and individuals. While the state is essential to the concept of soft power, the private sector is increasingly the birthplace of soft power initiatives which governments then take on.
- Meaningful and productive partnerships are key to soft power. The diaspora are a powerful and credible soft power actor and should be regarded as an asset.
- Where negative perceptions about a country are based on real problems, tackling the root cause is as important as creating new narratives to challenge the perceptions. Substantive action is needed, not just a marketing campaign.
- Despite uncertain evidence about effectiveness, countries will continue to invest in promotional activities. But the objectives should transcend tourism and commercial targets and incorporate indicators that states are also principled, ethical and responsible global actors.
- The Year of the UK in Mexico and Mexico in the UK in 2015 is an opportunity to take advantage of all soft power tools including culture, education, science, innovation, trade and investment. The year provides an unprecedented space between the UK and Mexico to promote further dialogue about soft power and cultural diplomacy.