Global citizenship: A necessity in the 21st century or a pastime for Western elite?

“The world is changing with lightning speed. Information is everywhere but
wisdom is hard to find. What does it mean to be educated in times of
accelerating change and continuing globalization? What capacities, competences
and skills are needed in the 21st century?” – Arjen Wals,
Professor of Transformative
learning for sustainability at Wageningen University

I was triggered by these words uttered
in an advertisement and joined a discussion on Global citizenship two weeks ago. Roberto Amorosino, Senior Recruitment Officer at
the World Bank and Frank Haber, psychologist at the Jacobs University Bremen
reflected on the above mentioned questions and the discussion was facilitated
by Professor Arjen Wals. Before jumping into any discussion, let’s explore the
definition of  ‘global citizenship’. Citizenship
refers to the (legal) status of being a citizen with consequent rights and
duties and secondly it refers to a set of attitudes and relationships which can
be experienced differently per person. Global citizenship or
world citizenship broadens this definition to; a person who places their
identity with a global community above their identity as a citizen of a
particular nation or place.  Some even
enhance this definition with a notion of contribution and feeling of
responsibility for the wellbeing of the world’s community.  Personally I think global citizenship can be
a beautiful concept, however it depends on how one interprets the form it comes
in.  As Richard Falk clarifies it: “the
reality of global citizenship is unavoidable, but its form remains contested.
It is not yet clear whether it is largely a globalized identity of elites
arising from the integration of capital, or whether it represents a growth of
human solidarity  (…)”.
I  so very much hope for the latter – that the
notion of global citizenship leads to an increased sensitivity, empathy and
care for the needs of all fellow life on this planet  – now and in future times to come. I have my
fingers crossed that it will not push us towards the first.

One could write and write about
the broad definition of the word, however, I would like to further touch the
subject of the debate on Global Citizenship that was held on the 31st
march; “what skills are needed to thrive in the 21st century”. Guest
speaker Frank Haber stated: different attitudes, knowledge and
skills need to be in place in order to fully thrive in a globalized world; all
to make you intercultural competent. Personal skills such as cross cultural awareness, adaptability,
flexibility, leadership, productivity, ability to critically think about
world’s problems and information, media and technology skills seem
essential in today’s globalized world. This is agreed on by Roberto Amorosino,
who selects candidates according to the two axes of the T; the vertical
ax which presents your competence in your field, with deep and strong technical
knowledge  and a horizontal ax  – equally important – where you present your
personal skills and show your capabilities to perform in challenging
environments, to adapt yourself to new contexts and knowledge spheres. On this
horizontal ax, you can broadcast your skills and competences as global citizen. 

Cartoon Credit: 

Youngshim Hwang

These personal skills, which might seem valuable and necessary in a globalized
world and where people are being selected on in international jobs – are they
inclusive? Can we expect for people in all countries to have these competences
–  will they be equally present in
populations in Burundi, Sweden and Vietnam? Or is this set of necessary ‘21st century skills’
needed to thrive in becoming a global citizen – framed according to a Western T?

And if one recruits for
these (Western) skills in international (job) environments; are this then the
most inclusive, capable and diverse communities to decide on international

If we have to life in a
globalized world, maybe the time has come to become truly inclusive and make room for different types of skills and
knowledge, valued and appreciated in cultures around the globe. This could be
skills as sensitivity, intuitive decision making, spirituality and
knowledge generation through learning by doing (hands-on
action approach)
and learning by being (heart) that extends the
currently dominant learning for knowing (head).

This is what I would call global
citizenship: making our Western T, our set of ‘necessary 21st century skills’ less prominent and opening the
floor for parallel sets of skills and knowledge.

(If you would like to read up on
this, you might like to start exploring two well described, alternative
paradigms naming ubuntu and Buen vivir. “Buen
vivir is rooted in the Andean indigenous cosmovisions, and – moving from that –
it develops into a practical paradigm of harmony with the environment, meant as
a combination of Nature and social life. On the other hand ubuntu, born within
the Sub-Saharan African oral tradition and considered mainly as a philosophy,
is based on the concept that an individual finds his sense of being only when
he/she is part of a community. This idea can be summarized with this statement:
“I am because we are”
(from: Crimella Benedetta
and Giordano Margherita).
These two concepts can provide
valuable food for thought on matters of current development paradigms and
opening the floor for alternatives).

Fogelina Cuperus

Fogelina, or Lina as we call her, is currently working on AgroEcology at Oxfam Novib and pursuing her Masters at Wageningen University. She has found that the Cambodia office shares her enthusiasm for soil and is all set to visit the country next week to help assess the impact of adaptive agricultural techniques on households. 


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