HISTORY OF THE BIDTI
The Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI) was established in September 1995 under the guidance of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike for the purpose of offering advanced training courses in diplomacy and international relations. The institution, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, was a manifestation of her vision to hone the skills of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service. This is in accordance with the aims of the Bandaranaike Memorial Foundation to promote international peace, understanding and cooperation through such studies, discussions and dissemination of knowledge. The task of founding the BIDTI was rested on the shoulders of its first Director General, Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis, who joined the island’s newly formed diplomatic service in 1949. He was at the time, the first entrant to the then titled Ceylon Overseas Service. His endeavor of launching the institute was facilitated by the patronage of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. The dedication and hard work of Dr. Mendis paved the way for the BIDTI to launch training programmes for both foreign service members as well as for the general public.
Courses for the general public were open on 1st November 1995. A comprehensive foreign service training programme at the BIDTI was conducted for the first time for 14 cadets recruited to the Sri Lanka Foreign Service in 1996. BIDTI training programmes focus on enhancing professional skills and encouraging discussion on global economic and political issues. Besides regular courses, the BIDTI also conducts specialized programmes to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since the early 2000s, under the Technical Cooperation Programme of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an initiative was launched to familiarize foreign diplomats on Sri Lanka’s history, culture, foreign policy and other attractive attributes. This program can be traced back to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lakshman Kadirgamar’s desire to acquaint foreign diplomats on various aspects of Sri Lanka. In addition, to the training of members of the foreign service, the BIDTI also conducts training programmes for officers belonging to other organizations designated to represent Sri Lanka overseas.
The broad philosophy underlying the establishment of this institute is that the evolving global context imposes serious international responsibilities on states, particularly developing states. It is incumbent on them as a matter of survival in some cases and for their advancement in general, to equip themselves with the required intellectual and professional resources through which they can face these challenges and promote as well as safeguard their interests. This calls for a combination of skills and insights among those in key positions and decision making roles as well as an enlightened public which is aware of the gravity of regional and international events and crises. An institute such as the BIDTI, which is specially geared to meet these challenges can therefore make a decisively positive contribution.
BIDTI courses for the public were first termed as the ‘General Course,’ spanning 4 months and consisting of over 100 lectures by eminent guest lecturers. The General Course laid the foundation for many Foreign Service aspirants to obtain a thorough understanding of diplomacy and international relations prior to joining the Sri Lanka Foreign Service. Those who later joined the service expressed their sincere appreciation to the BIDTI for enabling them to obtain a head start in their education on diplomacy and international relations. Although emphasis was laid on the instruction of diplomacy and world affairs, the BIDTI has not limited itself to this sphere. In addition to these core topics, courses have also been conducted on topics such as Economic Diplomacy, International Trade, National, Regional and International Security, Air Diplomacy, the United Nations and more recently included online courses for the combatting of trafficking in persons.
Today, training courses conducted at the BIDTI have been sought after by people from all walks of life. Those who have successfully followed the one-year Diploma in Diplomacy & World Affairs could join the Post Graduate Diploma course conducted with the collaboration of the Department of International Relations of the University of Colombo provided that they possess a degree recognized by the University Grants Commission. The Post Graduate Diploma enables students to submit a comprehensive research project on a selected topic which is consistent with the themes of international relations and diplomacy.
The BIDTI has a panel of eminent resource persons comprising of academics, Ambassadors and High Commissioners both foreign and Sri Lankan, visiting scholars as well as professionals from the public and private sector. Special guest lectures by Ambassadors and High Commissioners accredited to Sri Lanka have become a regular feature at the BIDTI, giving an invaluable opportunity to disseminate information on the foreign policy of their countries and other attributes. Because the BIDTI is able to draw from a diverse faculty of the highest caliber, the institution is able to blend academic approaches with a practitioners’ perspective.
BIDTI, a proud member of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training (jointly chaired by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at the Georgetown University) has always strived to produce a competent diplomatic service, well versed in diplomatic skills and knowledge. Since 2006, the BIDTI has been vested by Parliamentary Act No. 32 of 2006 under the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS).
Address of Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike at the Inauguration of the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute – 28 October 1995
I am very glad to be here on this occasion to formally inaugurate the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute and I wish to thank the distinguished assembly of Honorable Ministers, Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations, Consuls, Public Servants, Representatives of Business Organizations, Educationists and well wishers for their presence. The founding of this institute as the first of its kind in Sri Lanka is a source of personal satisfaction to me not only because it embodies the ideals to which my late husband was dedicated but also my own faith in its aims and its role for our country. It is I feel a long felt need which will open a new dimension in administration particularly in the sphere of our foreign relations. Though belated it is in my view a fitting recognition of our outstanding record since historic times in foreign relations and our potential in that field which emphasizes the need to gear ourselves accordingly.
I am sure you are all aware of the nature and background of this institute and its underlying rationale. There are two features of the Institute which I wish to highlight. Firstly it is intended to provide a training to recruits to the professional Foreign Service as well as other functionaries of the Ministry who are engaged in the conduct of foreign relations. Such a system of training should have been initiated decades ago considering that we embarked on our career as an independent sovereign state 47 years ago, but with the launching of this institute, we should be able I hope, to create a truly professional service with the necessary attributes, skills and commitment. Secondly, the Institute goes beyond the professional foreign service and reaches out to other sectors of the nation which are called upon to assume various responsibilities and participate in the process of foreign relations. These are what we refer to as the business and trade sectors, the state sector meaning the public administration, members of the defense and security services and other organizations, Non Governmental Bodies and members of the general public who are genuinely interested.
The rationale for these broad perspectives of the Institute is the growing interdependence and interaction between nations today as a result of the United Nations, of escalating political and economic multilateralism, of enveloping regionalism, all of which have radically transformed the international scene and imposed onerous responsibilities on member states. These bear particularly hard on smaller countries who are ill equipped to meet these challenges. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, it is on the threshold of a new chapter with its adoption of a market economy and visions of NIE status which have drawn it into the vortex of international relations at all levels obliging it therefore to acquire the skills and insights needed to meet these challenges. It is upto the executive community of the country holding leadership and decision making positions and are at the forefront to respond accordingly and measure up as required. This institute is a modest start towards providing the basic induction through its broad and comprehensive course curriculum which encapsulates the salient features of the current global scenario. This will be achieved by in-depth lectures by recognized authorities in these fields and practical exercises which will demonstrate the methods and techniques of modern diplomacy and conduct of international relations. It is therefore an unrivalled opportunity to the executive community of the country to gain an insight and background knowledge of the contemporary world which should be of inestimable benefit to them in their respective fields both in safeguarding and promoting their interests and contributing thereby to the greater good of the nation. Such knowledge would be an investment to them personally and a means of gaining excellence in their vocations.
The aim of the institute is to make it an international center for studies in Diplomacy and International Relations in keeping with the historic image of Sri Lanka as a meeting ground of nations. It is with this objective in mind that we are inviting foreign guest lecturers and foreign participants to our courses. We are prepared to give special concessions to representatives of small developing countries to induce participation. It is because of our international outlook that we have turned to the international community and invited their cooperation. I am happy to say that their response has been very encouraging and a number of governments have made prompt and generous contributions. I refer specifically to the outright financial grant by the Federal Republic of Germany which enabled the institute to pay for its equipment and installation, commitments of guest lecturers by the Federal Republic of Germany and France. Offers of lectureships and other help have been made by Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, China and Japan which are under discussion. I have no doubt that other offers are on the way. We are hopeful of support from the UN and the Colombo Plan in as much as the Institute accords with their priorities such as capacity training. I am also grateful to Her Excellency the President for her generosity in providing a financial grant for this institute.
Needless to say, the future of the Institute will depend on the ground support which it receives from the sectors for which it is designed. I expect the great business and industrial houses which dominate our economy to rise to the occasion and encourage participation. It is equally up to the public sectors, particularly in Trade and Industry which are now at the centre of the country’s foreign economic relations in the context of the globalisation of trade through the WTO to likewise respond. I address a similar message to the NGO’s which have been described by the Secretary General as key actors in the international scene to make use of all the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the global scene. It is incumbent on all of us meaning, states, peoples and those in key positions to get to know the world which is fast shrinking with the revolution in communications technology making us in reality an indivisible family. I conclude therefore with the hope and an appeal to all those concerned to extend their full support and for our friends in the international community to lend us their patronage as our Institute is a step which will enable our people with their inborn talents for diplomacy to perform even better.