What is an envoy?

The term “envoy” is derived from the French word envoyé (messenger) and from the Late Latin inviare (to be on the way). The word connotes motion and travel, comfort in foreign lands, developed expertise, the possession of needed skills, and preparation for whatever the world has to offer.

Throughout human history, individuals acting as envoys have changed the course of the world. The Venetian merchant explorer Marco Polo dictated fantastical accounts of his travels throughout China in the court of the great Kublai Khan, providing inspiration for generations of European explorers. Little more than a century later, the “Great Navigator,” Admiral Zheng He, took a fleet of treasure ships across the Indian Ocean, bringing knowledge of the sophistication of imperial China to previously untouched lands. Benjamin Franklin sailed for Paris in l776 not on a luxurious vacation, but on a crucial mission to ensure the survival of his fledgling country. Franklin’s reputation as a man of science and wisdom allowed him to turn aside a torrent of disinformation from England and secure an alliance with the French that, hyperbole aside, changed the course of history.

Envoys in the modern age have a special place in the international community. The term may be used for a high-ranking member of a nation’s foreign ministry, usually just below that of Ambassador, or for a representative of a specific cultural or business entity, often seeking to develop social and economic relationships abroad.

In recent years, “envoy” has been used to delineate an expert traveler who has prepared for the trip, is traveling to execute a specific task, and is accountable for producing a specific result. Such envoys include leaders in political, business, entertainment, military, and academic circles. They are a select few, possessing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to make the world a better place.

Envoys are a class apart from the adventurer-seekers, educated tourists, and backpackers also moving around the world. They travel with open minds, seeking to learn about a culture and build lasting relationships with the local people. They are culturally competent travelers, moving through the world with confidence and compassion. They are empathetic souls, understanding that our similarities are far more important than our differences.

Finally, they understand that they have a responsibility to share their adventures with those back home. Envoys travel not for themselves, but for the world.