The idea of a global citizen is at the heart of the Development in Action’s work. But what is global citizenship? DiA Secretary Catherine Glew looks to our recent Global Citizenship Forum for answers
As a politics graduate student with a background in philosophy, I’ve navigated my fair share of –ologies, –isations and –isms. But some terms seem to defy definition – or, at least, invite many different and contradictory views.
Global citizenship is certainly hard to define. The term is widely used – UCL, London’s self-declared ‘global university’, touts itself as providing “education for global citizenship.” NGOs such as Oxfam and government bodies such as DfID have embraced the term. DiA itself exists to promote global citizenship by engaging young people. But what does it actually mean?
When we asked attendees at our recent Global Citizenship Forum, one said: “Everyone seems to have a very different idea of what global citizenship is, and there doesn’t seem to be an agreed definition.” For some, global citizenship is political: something like cosmopolitanism, the idea that we ought to view ourselves as citizens of the world rather than of any particular country. But our forum speakers brought three alternative takes on the term – from academia, the media and the world of NGOs and volunteering.
Beginning the debate, Dr Nicole Blum introduced her work on the DfID-funded Students As Global Citizens programme, embedding teaching about global issues in university veterinary science, health and pharmacy courses. Here, global citizenship is about learning and collaboration, gaining a broader perspective – a key part of what DiA seeks to achieve through its placements in India. One attendee spoke of “the way all of us can contribute to find solutions and do something about global issues that affect mostly developing countries. Volunteering is one the many ways you can get involved, but always think [of] it as a learning process too. You are not better than local people.”
But global volunteering can be controversial, as panellist Daniela Papi recently highlighted in her much-discussed article for the BBC. “Gap-yah” volunteering placements, sometimes depositing untrained, unskilled young people to “serve” developing communities for periods of just a few weeks, can cause more harm than good. One attendee said the most interesting thing about global citizenship was “realising that someone who has travelled a lot isn’t necessarily a better global citizen than someone who has learnt a lot about various places but not actually been there.” Simply volunteering abroad is not a recipe for good global citizenship – but well-chosen placements with a focus on learning and exchange can help cultivate a global viewpoint for young people.
Foreign correspondent Jonathan Fryer rounded off the presentations by discussing multiple identities in an interconnected world – and argued that global citizenship is about attitude.
As one participant suggested, “global citizenship [is] a mindset…you could be a global citizen without leaving home; it’s about identity, learning and engaging and thinking about other cultures.”
During questions, Jonathan challenged the Western-centric focus of the discussion – an audience member reflected that “global citizenship is an idea found in many cultures although we understand it predominately through a ‘Western’ lens.” The Chinese or Indian approach to global relationships and development may be different from views predominant in the West – “concern about global issues [is] shared around other countries in the world. Developing countries [are] talking about this too.”
Given the lively discussion and comments from our UCL audience, perhaps it is for the best that the Global Citizenship Forum didn’t quite nail down that elusive definition. If the concept is about discussion, learning and exchange, we certainly brought a dose of global citizenship to London’s Global University. Watch out for future DiA events – there’s certainly plenty more to be discussed.
The Global Citizenship Forum was held at UCL on 6th June with support from the UCL Universal Party and UCLU. DiA would like to thank our speakers, volunteers and audience – particularly those who responded to our online survey – for their participation.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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