It should come as no surprise that Brussels, host to one of the world’s largest cohorts of diplomats, should also be home to a diplomatic academy. The Brussels Diplomatic Academy (BDA), now in its eighth year, offers postgraduate education and executive training in economic diplomacy and international trade and investment.
The BDA, part of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), has a range of programmes and courses designed by and for diplomats and business people.
“When I oversaw 16 regional offices of a trade and investment promotion agency, I became acutely aware of the need for education and training in the specific field of economic diplomacy and its private sector corollary,” says Gunter Gaublomme, Director of the BDA, who previously was responsible for Asia, the Middle East and Oceania at Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT).
Gaublomme devised the programmes of the BDA, based on his diplomatic and teaching experience, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FIT, employers’ federation VOKA, the International Chamber of Commerce and various academic, trade and civil society organisations.
Apart from Postgraduate Programmes in Economic Diplomacy, International Trade and Investment and Economic Diplomacy and International Business, the BDA also runs executive trainings on topics such as Sanctions, Embargoes and Dual Use and Mediation and Arbitration.
Students can follow a full programme or a single course, so the student body includes those who study at the BDA for a year or more, and others, such as diplomats posted to Brussels, following a single semester course in Diplomatic Law.
According to Thomas De Meester, who graduated from the Economic Diplomacy programme:
“The academic education with a very practical approach helped me in my day job when I organised trade missions for a foreign embassy in Brussels. The same goes for knowledge of WTO Trade Law, which I've been using on a daily basis at the embassy.”
Alumna Anne Cruyt, co-ordinator of the new BDA alumni network, explained, “I started studying at the Brussels Diplomatic Academy to broaden my knowledge and gain new skills. I didn't expect the network and friends that come with it. I was one of the few Belgians in the classes; my fellow students came from around the world because they wanted to be in the heart of Europe. Most of them stayed in Brussels after graduating and are working in the European Institutions, international trade or other interesting places.”
The combination of academic and practical approaches is guaranteed by the BDA’s teaching staff who have all worked, or are still working, in the areas they teach. Diplomats, legal academics and practitioners, consultants, entrepreneurs, bankers, arbitrators and communication experts contribute to an educational offer which is unique in its content and vision.
The world is yet to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, but throughout this challenging period diplomacy and international trade have been paramount. The importance of the techniques of foreign trade, a subject taught at the BDA, became clear to everyone as the world struggled to produce and distribute emergency supplies. The effects of the political wrangling around vaccines, and the damage caused by a single navigational mishap in the Suez Canal, have focussed minds on the roles played by diplomats and entrepreneurs. But long before that spotlight was shone on their work, the BDA was running programmes to prepare people for those jobs, and it will continue to provide that education when attention moves elsewhere.
For anyone with an interest in diplomacy and trade, whether starting out or looking for career progression, applications are now open for places at the Brussels Diplomatic Academy.