What is the meaning of global citizenship? How can it be fostered, and why is it important to do so?
Traditional definitions describe citizenship as “having national membership status with an associated set of rights and responsibilities.” A normative understanding of citizenship acknowledges that communities are changing and becoming more diverse. K. Faulks argues that “… a developed sense of citizenship demands that each citizen develops empathy and understanding for other cultures and sensitivity to the interests and needs of others.”1 Global citizenship builds on this interpretation with rights and responsibilities that transcend ethnic and national borders. Global citizenship is a mindset that intrinsically values all people as equal. This mindset shapes our actions such that we refrain from pursuing personal, ethnic or national demands without taking into consideration their effects on others, and we respect our natural environment as a common asset.
Fostering global citizenship involves designing programs that engage participants in a transformative process of learning and doing to develop better understanding and to support actions that make a difference. Referring to the accompanying diagram, “learning” modules should help participants to understand the challenges of development and integration faced by others, and to acquire the skills necessary to make a difference. “Doing” activities should not only deepen the understanding of the difficulties faced by others, but should engage participants in actually making a difference in their lives. The process should be designed to unearth and challenge our subtle prejudices and identities, to build bridges of understanding, and to attempt to overcome apathy.Michael King is founder and former chief executive of the Irish development agency Suas Educational Development. The agency works with schools in Africa and India, helping them provide high-quality primary education, and with young people in Ireland, fostering a sense of global citizenship. See www.suas.ie for details. King is currently studying for a master’s degree in economics and international development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.