The French have a slightly different way of using the word ‘global’ in comparison to how it is used in the English language. It refers not only to matters of the world, but also to a sense of completeness, of the whole, of the sum total of an idea. It seems to embrace the totality of what it means to be ‘of the world’.
This word was brought up in a conversation with a friend recently, when talking about what it means to be a ‘global citizen’. It seems this term is over-used today so it was interesting to explore something deeper in our conversation, to describe the opportunities afforded to those who consider themselves to be ‘global’ and what that means for our world too.
This is particularly important in the aftermath of the UK General Election, with the threat of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU now a realistic possibility.
I am a British citizen who has lived abroad for the last 15 years of my life, 7 of those years in China, now living in France. This election was the last time that I will be allowed to vote in the UK if I continue to live abroad. Although it could be argued that I should not necessarily have a right to vote on the government of a country that I don’t live in any longer, my desire to vote was based on the opportunity I had to make a stand for how I think Britain’s leadership in the world is still significant and I wanted to make at least a small contribution to how that leadership takes shape.
What has been difficult for me in this election is to find a way to vote that truly reflects the global world we live in. Perhaps it is inevitable that voter priorities are inherently local but, from the vantage point of a UK citizen living abroad, especially one who has lived in China, my understanding of the need for Britain to ‘think globally’ is frustrated by the evident lack of coherent policies for engagement with China, for example, or even a lack of hubris in it’s relationship with the EU in light of the more global challenges we face.
Perhaps more critically, as someone who hopes to make a positive difference in the world is that, my absence from the UK for so long means that I would never be a credible candidate to stand for election, should I wish to make a change to the political landscape myself. I have never been especially interested in running as a political candidate and, like many young people today, feel disillusioned with politics as a means to change the world. But the way in which our political system works means that political office is restricted only to those with local affiliations, and not those who might have that more ‘global’ view. To me, this is a big problem as the lines of global power are being re-drawn and we face unprecedented challenges to our security, well-being and economic stability.
I am part of a group known as the Young Global Leaders, an initiative of the World Economic Forum that identifies promising young leaders under the age of 40 to be part of the Forum networks for a 5 year period. They seek to provide a platform for the leaders to go from ‘success’ to ‘significance’ within their time in the community through a combination of attendance at forums, participation in educational and leadership development opportunities and through building and taking part in initiatives. A key criteria of membership is that these young leaders have a global perspective and, invariably, that they have lived and worked in several countries, speak many languages and travel regularly.
One of the initiatives that the YGL community works on is a taskforce to encourage more young people to consider going into public office. The Forum identified that not many young people of today were interested in working at government level and, as such, there was a deficit of leadership talent in this sphere. It would seem that bright young things today are far more likely to go into the corporate sector, start their own non-profit or become entrepreneurs, than work for the government.
Our current structures mean that global leadership is defined by those who have been elected at the local level, almost always along party lines. The Presidents of the G8, for example, are in their position by virtue of a majority of their compatriots electing them to that position. The credentials of these candidates, therefore, to really bring a truly ‘global’ perspective to their leadership is questionable and it can be argued that they don’t necessarily have the legitimacy to wield such power on the global stage where their decisions affect the lives of those who have had no say whatsoever in their appointment. Can this continue to be a truly democratic model of leadership and governance in a globalized world? Furthermore, such a model leaves out the possibility of those who have no exclusive local affiliation but have the experiences and perspective of a more global citizenship, which could bring a more nuanced approach to geopolitics and the challenges of leading the whole world forward – together - into the future.
What I see emerging amongst my YGL colleagues and others like them is a new breed of global thinkers. Individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to serving humanity across countries and cultures, and have developed a truly ‘global’ way of looking at things. It is the ability to think in a more comprehensive way, to return to the French definition of the word, feeling comfortable in the world, whilst also being specific to the local context. To be ‘in’ the world, but not necessarily ‘of’ it. Fundamentally, it is the capacity to not restrict themselves to a purely national identity which can narrow vested interests and agendas, but can reach beyond the layers of a purely outward identity to a deeper, more profound appreciation of our common humanity. This, in turn, brings a more nuanced approach to local issues too. To me, this is what it means to be truly ‘global’.
At a recent conference I attended in China, one of my fellow panelists suggested that entrepreneurship was the new breed of global governance. To paraphrase, she suggested that success as a young global leader today would be characterized by how many companies or non-profits you had started, rather than which multinational you had worked for.
That concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ is now being applied to an initiative within the YGL community, through a dialogue on what ‘political entrepreneurship’ means. I am interested to see how my colleagues define this but I’m also keen to explore how we need to reshape our governance structures in light of what it means to be a truly global citizen. The aftermath of the election highlighted debates on the need to change the UK voting system to better represent the opinions of the populace. But there is a need to also reshape those global governance powers too. If the UN and other global governance structures have a need to be reshaped, what new models might exist? Can we foresee the emergence of an elected body of leaders, for example, unhampered by local or political affiliations, but with the experience and perspective of a more deeply-rooted ‘global’ understanding to lead our world? Or perhaps a conglomerate of entrepreneurs, artists, business leaders, elected officials and spiritual thinkers, selected according to their contribution to humanity rather than their national identity? Could it be a network of small and medium sized enterprises, as a counter-balance to the power multinationals wield today? Or even, perhaps, the idea that the future of our world lies in our youth and, as such, only those under the age of 40 have any right to shape the decisions for our future? The recent announcement from Sandi Toksvig that she is about to launch a Women’s Equality Party was further reinforcement that the lines that represent our political affiliations are continually being redrawn.
There are many and varied possibilities as to the future of our world and I invite below your ideas and ‘blue-sky’ thinking on what is possible. As terrorism continues to wage war on our world, regional conflicts escalate and some of humanities biggest challenges of natural disasters, disease, poverty and social inequity continue to grow, we need truly new ways of thinking about what it means to be a true ‘global leader’ and to find the right structures to once and for all banish these issues of human suffering to their rightful place as an historical event not an eternal truth.
This way, we open the door to new views of what it means to be ‘global’, ensuring we aim for that larger sense of completeness in our shared humanity that the French word so beautifully describes.
I am a trained actress and founder and director of Hua Dan, one of China’s first and leading social enterprises. Hua Dan uses the power of participation in drama-based workshops to reveal and develop individual and community potential. Hua Dan has a particular focus on working with China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers, particularly women, who work in the manufacturing and service industries, at the heart of China’s economic boom.