How do you spot a future world leader?

Source: BBC News

A US scheme to pinpoint future VIPs has spent 70 years introducing power-brokers-to-be to the American way. So how can you tell who will one day be a head of state?

They’re out there, somewhere, embarking on their relentless climb to the top.

The next generation of politicians, cultural pioneers, business executives and media voices are starting their first jobs, desperate to escape obscurity, determined to make a name for themselves.

All you have to do is find them.

Predicting who will one day run our lives might not be an easy task, but a little-known scheme run by the US State Department has demonstrated an uncanny capacity to pinpoint these leaders-in-waiting.

It has received little attention during its history, but since 1940 the International Visitor Leader Program (IVLP) has proved remarkably prescient when it comes to guessing who might one day govern the planet.

As part of the highly prestigious – and expensive – programme, participants are hand-picked to spend typically three weeks visiting Washington DC and three additional towns or cities, meeting their counterparts and other VIPs and experts – all highly valuable networking experience for any ambitious young man or woman on the climb.

Of the current cabinet, some 11 members are alumni of the scheme, according to the US Embassy in London.

Former prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath were all participants early in their careers.

Nor are British heads of government the only ones to have been talent-spotted. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Zimbabwean premier Morgan Tsvangirai are among serving leaders who have passed through the project’s ranks.

In the UK alone, over 2,500 citizens have travelled to the US as part of the IVLP. But those hoping to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – admission is strictly invitation-only.

Conspiracy theorists warn the scheme is all about an imperial power meddling in the affairs of sovereign regimes, seducing their future political leaders and moulding them into Washington-approved candidates.

But its supporters say it operates more subtly than that, aiming not to convert opponents but to give future opinion-formers an understanding of how America works.

One recent attendee is Victoria Eastwood, who was working as a producer on Channel 4 News when one of her State Department contacts with whom she would arrange US government interviewees for Jon Snow nominated her for the scheme.

In 2009 she was taken to New York, Nebraska, and San Francisco, where she was introduced to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The visit did not alter the journalist’s scepticism about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with which Ms Rice was closely associated. But she acknowledges that the experience deepened her appreciation of how the American system operates and, in turn, ensured her coverage of US affairs could offer an insider’s perspective.

“I was quite conscious that I didn’t want to go on some kind of propaganda trip,” Victoria says.

“But what they are doing is exposing you to people in power so that if I’m looking at something like Iran sanctions I know the person who’s responsible for putting that policy into practice.”

Like Victoria, not all participants are aspiring politicians. The novelist Hanif Kureishi took part in 1986, four years before the Buddah of Suburbia brought him widespread public attention, and the British artist Angela Palmer is another recent recipient. Nor do all alumni go onto achieve fame and recognition.

There is, however, an obvious chicken-and-egg question: does the status of individuals singled out as future leaders become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Prof Giles Scott-Smith, an international relations expert at Roosevelt Academy in the Netherlands, has studied the programme extensively. He acknowledges that being invited onto it carries a high degree of prestige and can bring participants into elite networks earlier in their careers than might have been the case otherwise.

But he argues that there tends to be a clear logic behind invitations, citing the example of former Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who was talent-spotted for the scheme by the US embassy in 1985 when he was an obscure figure, working for a city council and as a researcher for the Christian Democrat party.

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One Response to How do you spot a future world leader?

  1. bardzochudyy says:

    I can’t wait for more interesting posts! When will you update your interesting blog?

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