The historical tension between the powers of states and the rights of individuals sets the context for this look at the evolving role of non-state actors in international relations. Global connectivity has diluted state power, blurred borders and added a new dimension of non-state actor empowerment. The author’s firsthand observations, drawn from a career as a Canadian diplomat, bear witness to the ever-increasing role of non-state actors in foreign policy and international relations. This practitioner’s perspective presents some personal observations on how non-state actors have helped to shape Canada–Asia relations, with brief and selective examples from the author’s work in and on Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The piece also offers some concluding thoughts on the significance of this phenomenon for the broader conduct of international relations and the study of foreign policy.