If you run a Google search for digital diplomacy, cyber diplomacy or internet governance, you will likely see a link to DiploFoundation on the top of the list. This Maltese-Swiss organisation is a key global player in digitalisation and international relations.
Apart from Google – which is a reliable indicator of the relevance of an organisation’s resources, a sort of digital vox populi – I discovered Diplo’s global impact in my work as foreign minister. Whichever country I visit, I will likely encounter one of Diplo’s 6,000 alumni – mainly diplomats and officials, hailing from 202 countries and territories.
Diplo’s alumni occupy executive positions in diplomatic centres, such as the UN Economic Commission for Europe. They are ambassadors or highly ranked officials in foreign ministries and missions around the world. Equally important, many of Diplo’s former students hail from small island states. Given the number of trained people from the Pacific and Caribbean region, Diplo is considered to be the ‘diplomatic academy of small states’; this is a highly respected foundation across all divides of the modern world. You can hear of Diplo among technologists in Silicon Valley, academia in Europe and Asia and high-tech officials of African countries.
After this great discovery of Diplo’s substantial global footprint, I started discovering the organisation and its people. Diplo’s roots can be traced to 1992 when Jovan Kurbalija, a former Yugoslav diplomat who lived in Malta for many years, started combining his background in international law and diplomacy, with, at that time, computer science.
His research started even before the internet came to Malta and, through his work, he placed Malta on the historical map of tech developments. Diplo has offices in Malta, Geneva, Belgrade, Washington DC and tens of researchers and professors worldwide.
During my recent visit to Belgrade, I visited Diplo’s AI and Data Lab. It was a fascinating experience on research on AI and the use of data in international relations. They also involve philosophers, artists, religious people and others to place technology in the broader context of ethics and its impact on society.
I discovered Diplo’s global impact in my work as foreign minister- Evarist Bartolo
In particular, I was impressed by their aim to anchor AI and high-tech developments as a public good to serve the future of humanity. This aspect is also visually represented in their logo, which sandwiches AI into humanism.
On this journey of discovery, I learned that when the COVID-19 pandemic started, Diplo helped many organisations to have business continuity by teaching them how to use Zoom and other tools. The online working space was a reality for this foundation from the start of their work decades ago in Malta.
Recently, they reacted with agility to the UN Secretary General’s call to protect the rights of future generations by bringing back to the limelight Malta’s initiatives and research from the mid-1990s. Their approach is both cutting edge and practical: they have proposed to the UN and governments worldwide the ‘Future Chair’ concept as a physical reminder during political and diplomatic meetings that there is another invisible actor ‒ our future generations.
It is time that the rights of future generations are protected when we discuss climate change, AI or many other political issues. As I indicated in my speech in parliament, this ‘hidden gem’ deserves to be more well-known since, through its noble cause, it helps to promote our country as a hub of digital diplomacy and as a creative and responsible tech innovation centre.
Next year, Diplo will celebrate 20 years – a significant milestone also for Malta. On this anniversary, we bring together, online and in situ, Diplo’s big family to discuss digital diplomacy, AI governance and issues related to technological development and the future of humanity.
It will serve as an excellent opportunity to take stock of the progress made over the past decades and discuss where this influential Malta-based foundation will be taking us in the future.