by Anne McDonagh
originally published in the September, 2010 Issue
For forty years or more our world has become more and more a “global village” because of advances in communications technology—initially television, movies and radio. Now with the PC, the fax, email, the Internet, smart phones etc., we are able to spread news quickly and widely; we are thus more involved with one another regardless of geographic location. We find out about events across the globe almost as soon as local residents do, and we react as neighbours would, whether it is to fret about a war in Africa or to send money to alleviate the hardship caused by a natural disaster in Asia.
Other factors are contributing to the growth of our global village. Travel to other countries has become more common, not just to Europe but to Asia and Africa as well. The expansion of trade in the past twenty years brought about by technology and free trade agreements has also contributed to the apparent shrinking of our planet. Urban areas around the world are becoming more multicultural; as a result, people learn about the history and customs of other countries from their colleagues and friends.
For all these reasons, we are much more knowledgeable about other countries than most people in the past were. We are aware of the great gap between the affluent world we live in and the poverty-stricken world that many millions of people in the developing countries inhabit. We know that not everyone’s human rights are protected. In fact, most do not live in a democracy. They can’t “throw the rascals out” as we can. We also realize that climate change, which threatens to wipe out humanity, must be tackled at a global level.
Clearly there are many issues that are global in scope and cannot be dealt with by any one nation. Yet we do not have a global government or global institutions to support us as we search for solutions. The United Nations is certainly a force for global good but its resolutions are largely voluntary and therefore unenforceable. Probably a world government will slowly come into being as the need for it becomes increasingly apparent. In the meantime, global institutions are gradually coming into existence. The International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect are prototypes of the new global institutions we will increasingly need.
As we wait for these global institutions and a global government to take shape, a new kind of human being is emerging—the global citizen.
The terms “global citizenship” and “global citizen” have been popping up in many different countries and in many different contexts in recent years. Certain themes appear again and again in the writing and interviews of people working on international issues, people we might call global citizens.
OXFAM, one of the oldest and most respected NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) has developed a list of the qualities of the global citizen. Having projects in 105 countries gives credibility to its analysis of the global citizen.
Qualities of the Global Citizen
According to OXFAM (1997), a global citizen is someone who: is aware of the wider world and has a sense of her or his own role as a world citizen; respects and values diversity; has an understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, culturally, technologically, and environmentally; is outraged by social injustice; participates in and contributes to the community at a range of levels from local to global; is willing to act to make the world a more sustainable place; takes responsibility for his or her actions.
Source: OXFAM’s Cool Planet, What Is Global Citizenship? www.oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet
Many would say that this is a description of a saint, not a typical human being and human nature being what it is—selfish, competitive, predatory—there will never be many global citizens.
In a new book, The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin, the author, takes issue with this negative view of humanity. He says human beings must change or we are doomed. He goes on to write that human nature is not static. It has evolved over time. At one time we cared about—felt empathy for—only our family, then only for our tribe; then we felt loyalty only to members of our religion; we are now at the stage where we are able to feel loyalty to our nation. We have evolved to this point without much intention of doing so. Surely we can evolve further to care for the whole world if we intentionally set about to do it.
Rifkin claims that major changes in human nature have occurred when there have been major changes in communication and sources of energy. He writes, “The pivotal turning points in human consciousness occur when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras.” We are, of course, in the middle of one of the greatest upheavals in communications technology, and we are desperately trying to find energy alternatives to fossil fuels. It seems Rifkin is saying that we are at one of those “pivotal turning points in human consciousness.”
He also points to a body of neuroscientific studies which suggests to him that the potential for empathy in human beings is stronger than the potential for selfinterest. “The information communication technologies (ICT) revolution is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history.” We are not at our core self-centered and materialistic according to Rifkin. It is our society that has encouraged those characteristics rather than the more empathic ones, and history has concentrated on “the evil that men do” and ignored the good. Now that we live in a global village on a planet in jeopardy, it is time to encourage the positive potential in humanity.
There are already many global citizens, some famous and some not so well-known. Bill Gates and Bill Clinton come to mind. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, a billionaire several times over, devotes all his time to his charitable foundation which tackles global problems that are ignored by governments and other organizations. Former President Bill Clinton has established a foundation that”addresses the world's most pressing challenges, including poverty alleviation, climate change, global health, and education.” (from his website)
Less well-known is Craig Kielberger who at age 12 started a charity to end child labour in Pakistan. Now 28, he has built through his charity, Free the Children, 500 schools and implemented projects in 45 developing countries. He and his brother Marc founded Me to We which raises money for Free the Children.
Other global citizens are the people who work for Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, The Red Cross, World Vision and all the other NGOs that rush to help victims of various disasters around the world and stay to work less dramatically to help them get on their feet again.
We can all be global citizens, but global citizenship is not just paying lip service to pious sentiments. It requires loyalty to the planet and its inhabitants, a commitment to social justice
around the world and a commitment to a sustainable economy worldwide. We can develop these qualities at home or abroad. We can study; we can travel; we can fight poverty here or elsewhere; we can
write letters and sign petitions; we can work to get a ‘good’ candidate elected and we can vote.
Here are just a few efforts that are being made towards Global Citizenship in Toronto
OISE: Project on Global Citizenship provides teachers and other educators with a range of ideas and practices for teaching and learning about global citizenship. A project of the Comparative, International and Development Education Centre at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
Centennial College requires all students to take a general education course entitled “Global Citizenship: from Social Analysis to Social Action.
In October 2009, the College launched the Institute for Global Citizenship and Equity. “The Institute is an outgrowth of the college's Signature Learning Experience, which took shape five years ago. It provides a critical understanding of global citizenship, equity, diversity and social justice issues, and gives students cultural competencies that prepare them for living and working in a changing world.”
Ontario International Education Opportunity Scholarships. The OIEO Scholarship funds are designed to create interest in international opportunities and provide students with financial support that assists with expanding their knowledge and experiences by studying and working abroad.
TakingITGlobal.org is an online social network for youth that connects them to the global issues. It provides information on important events and issues around the world and provides the background material.
Centre for Genocide “encourages teachers to teach the lessons of genocide - the importance of tolerance, of upholding human rights and democracy, and of helping others in need - and to help prepare them to effectively communicate those lessons in the classroom so that students will be challenged to think critically about the world that they live in and their role in it and be empowered to affect positive change as global citizens in the 21st Century. “
The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation sponsored a number of projects “focusing on members of diaspora communities and young Canadians who share a commitment to solving global challenges and who are poised to contribute significantly to shaping Canada’s international policies.” This program has come to an end. Oxfam, Education for Global Citizenship “supports the work of teachers and other educators in Canada and around the world.
Oxfam works through education to empower people to make the world a more just, secure and sustainable place. It has free educational games, lesson plans, and other resources for Canadian teachers
and other community educators.”