Expert Voices: John Elkington, co-founder and Executive Chairman of Volans, on why city mayors are the ambassadors for the future

An ambassador, said Sir Henry Wotton, who practiced the art in the 1600s, “is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Catchy, but three things strike me as questionable about this attempt to distil the essence of diplomacy.

First, the foreign services of a growing number of nations are now being briefed by their governments to address global challenges like climate change and human rights – work that is for the good of all people and countries.

Second, some ambassadors today are not gentlemen, but women. On recent trips to Denmark and Chile I met the British ambassadors, both women. Channeling the zeitgeist, one tweeted on her way to the event where I was speaking—and both did so after we had met. Both were doing their bit to advance not only British interests but also a broader agenda around innovation, clean technology and sustainability.

Third, there is that word sent. Many people not employed by governments nonetheless act as ambassadors for the future, without being tied into knots by diplomatic protocol. As a result, they often outperform their countries’ formal envoys, wreathed in red tape much as their predecessors were draped in gold braid.

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