Last Friday, I led a session at the Department of State’s Tech@State: Civil Society 2.0 event. The topic I wanted to discuss was Global Citizenship. This is a topic I’ve spent some time thinking about over the last two years. The topic of Global Citizenship is mplex one. Things have come a long ways since some of those first discussions. Here is a summary of where this conversation has evolved to so far. Some of these ideas are still a bit rough, but I wanted to talk about where we have come and see what additional comments or ideas you may have. We still have a long ways to go!
Who is a Global Citizen?
A Global Citizen is everyone whether they know it or not. They don’t have to know the term or even the concepts associated with the term. The bottom line is if you live on earth you are now part of an ecosystem that is larger than your village, your tribe, you town, state, province, or nation. People all over the world are more connected and dependent on each other. Perhaps more than most of them even realize. This connectedness has been brought about by changes in communication, ability to travel, and interdependence of financial, economic and environmental issues.
Although this connectedness isn’t new news, there are not many people who have thought about what this means on a truly global level, what opportunities have developed, what challenges need to be addressed. Part of knowing you are a Global Citizen is being aware of these larger issues and their potential impact on more than just one person or country.
Part of recognizing you are a Global Citizen is recognizing you have the world on your shoulders. You have the responsibility to help advocate for those who don’t recognize they are Global Citizens and are also responsible for helping to provide solutions to these issues.
Local vs. Global Solutions
Technology has evolved to a point not only are we more connected with other people, but we have the tools to connect with our local communities in ways we have never been able to before. When we take into consideration the concept of Global Citizenship, the question arises about what kinds of solutions would a Global Citizen propose? Would they be local, global or both? Although Global Citizens recognize how what could be perceived as local issues could have global impacts they also recognize solutions for global issues start with local communities. All potential solutions will need to take into account the local language and culture of the geographic location proposed for the solution. The success of implementing these solutions will be largely dependent upon locals who can provide feedback on how to tailor solutions to be successful in the local environment. What will make these local solutions different is they will be contributing to the solving of larger global issues. All of the local efforts combined together will add up to a global impact.
A good example of this is the discussion associated with the environment. Although governments have struggled with how to regulate environmental issues, many people are recognizing that through their own actions they can make an impact. This rise of the Do-it-Yourself (DIY) thinking has empowered people to start recognizing how they can not only help themselves and their local community, but also contribute to a larger global solution that will have long lasting effects.
A great example of a government agency who has embraced the these concepts of acting locally, but having a global impact is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pick 5 for the Environment. This project was the brain child of Jeffrey Levy. It is an early example of people who recognize themselves and others as being Global Citizens. Although there is no discussion of being a Global Citizen in the project, all of the characteristics described earlier are there. The people who participate in Pick 5 may not recognize themselves as Global Citizens, but they are.
Changing Role of Governments
With the growing rise of consciousness around the concept of a Global Citizen the role of governments will need to change too. Governments must begin to recognize that their citizens have strong ties outside of their respective national boundaries. These ties may be social or personal (family living in one country while you reside in another) or could be motivated by trade and financial issues. The point is people are no longer restricted by national boundaries. The physical world makeup is changing so that we cannot tell where a person’s nationality is based on looking at them. We are moving away from countries who have a distinct physical look. Governments will need to recognize their role may be changing due to how their citizens view themselves and their complex relationships beyond national boundaries.
We have a number of organizations and events where countries gather together to discuss global issues and attempt to solve them. Think about mission of the United Nations (UN) , the G20, and the upcoming COP-16. All of these respective countries spend millions if not more to support these events. Each year we showcase where these discussions have progressed from our respective national views. Although we make a good show of discussing these issues, governments are not focused on these issues full time. Even if they wanted to focus on all of these issues all of time it would be impossible to do so. This is where we rely and perhaps should rely more upon Non-government Organizations (NGOs) and non profits who are dedicated to these issues full time for real solutions. They are the experts, not governments. They also tend to have some of the local representatives working for them which help make them successful.
An interesting model that was developed in the UK by Paul Massey, called We20, recognizes the power of the concepts of Global Citizenship. It recognizes the limitations of governments being able to focus on some of these global issues all of the time. It leverages a formalized crowdsourcing and DIY model. The thought being that locally we have the expertise to solve these global issues through the implementation of local solutions. We20 attempts to do just this through the meetup of small local groups of 20 people who will develop solutions to large complex global issues. These solutions will be shared among a larger network of We20 meetups and developed into proposals for the next G20 event.
The genius behind this model is it recognized we have the expertise to solve the global issues that effect us locally through small local groups. It is a flexible model that allows for agility and speed of implementation. This is one of the primary advantages it has over governments or inter government events. Contrary to popular belief this is not a UK only organization. It is a global one. Any one can participate, contribute, and take action. The people who participate in these activities are Global Citizens. They may act locally, but they are thinking on a global level.
The Role of Technology
Technology is only partially responsible for the rise of the concept of Global Citizenship, but it is also one of the tools that will allow us to successfully implement local solutions globally. A good example of this is We20. They are leveraging Meetup.com to organize meetups on a local level and provide readouts to others in the network about what local groups are developing. They are also using Twitter and Facebook to build their communities and a global network. These efforts will allow for the global awareness of each others efforts and the dissemination of issue from the global level to the local as well as allowing people at the local levels to be aware of others efforts in the network. This is but one example of how technology can enable these conversations.
Another model that is developing is the Department of State’s Civil Society 2.o. This effort looks at developing the technology relationships that will be critical to solving global issues through the use of technology and the technology community. It has government partnering with NGOs, non profits and others to accomplish mutual goals. Government in this instance is the coordinator and in some cases the funder of these efforts. This could be how the role of government changes and the model for other governments to solve these kinds of global issues.
Perhaps at some point in the future, we won’t have large physical gatherings of heads of states and foreign ministers at events like G20 or COP16. Perhaps these types of conversations will be facilitated through an online platform or even a virtual world. Image the concept of a virtual city piazza or town square where all citizens of the world will be able to participate in these events with their elected officials. Technology could have a significant impact on how these discussions take place and who are the contributors to the conversation. Not only would interested citizens be able to participate, but NGOs and non profits and others could actively collaborate with citizens across organizations and nations. Not to mention technology may be the key to providing some of these solutions.
So, what’s next? I am interested in seeing who else is interested in these ideas and who wants to help me build them out. There is plenty of room for additional ideas here. I hope you will share some of them with me.
In the mean time, the discussions are continuing through the Civil Society 2.0 initiative at the U.S. Department of State and they will also be happening as a pre event at the next Government 2.0 Camp in LA. More details will be forth coming as they develop. You can also get involved through organizations like We20 and others located around the world. As President Obama stated in his speech in Cario, Egypt, “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.” I hope you will get involved as a Global Citizen and start thinking about how you can help develop solutions.