Skoll Foundation


Independent Diplomat

Skoll Awardee(s): Carne Ross
Award Year: 2013
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Peace and Human Rights

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“Our clients turned my political philosophy on its head. As a British diplomat, I thought that people like me had the right to move peoples and countries around as if they were pieces on a chessboard. Now I realize the few can never know what is best for the many.   When at last the many get a seat at the table, the people themselves from the countries themselves, it’s clear that they know far better than anybody else around the table what is best for their country.”

Sub-Issue: Peace Globalization has changed the model of state-to-state diplomacy. Weaker parties lacking the skills and experience to have their needs addressed peacefully often become marginalized during negotiations. This imbalance makes agreements less sustainable and conflict more likely.

The Skoll Awardee: Carne Ross was a British diplomat for 15 years, serving for 4 years as the UK’s Middle East/Iraq expert at the United Nations Security Council. He resigned in protest over the manipulation of intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He loved diplomacy, but believed that there was something deeply wrong with how it was practiced. He was working at the time with the UN in Kosovo, and observed how the democratic government of Kosovo, prohibited from having a foreign service, was marginalized. This contributed to frustration, violence, and bad diplomacy: Kosovo’s people were expected to accept the outcome of negotiations without having a say. This was the genesis of Independent Diplomat (ID), a nonprofit that advises and assists marginalized governments and political groups to improve their access and influence in diplomatic processes that affect them. This was a new idea: most of these excluded parties had not considered using diplomacy to their strategic advantage. At the time of the Award, ID had become established as a respected and effective actor, not merely guiding clients through complex and opaque processes, but seeing its work changing the processes and contributing to more sustainable outcomes.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2013:

  • ID has been behind the scenes of some of the biggest international policy issues of the past two years, including:
    • climate change (working with the Republic of Marshall Islands’ President and Vice President equivalent),
    • Syrian peace negotiations (working with the Syrian National Coalition and its President), and
    • The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States (with Somaliland’s Ministry of National Planning and Development).
  • However, ID faced a major disappointment and saw its ethical criteria put to the test in December 2013 after disturbing reports of state violence by the South Sudanese government (with whom they had worked to help South Sudan gain independence).



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.