Thinking like global citizens can usher in a fairer world

• Fostering a sense of common humanity is essential to reversing current inequalities and polarized communities.

• The concepts of global citizenship and civic responsibility are key to achieving this.

• The pandemic has increased the need, and economic recovery will rest upon them.

As some countries begin to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves in a world that is deeply unequal and feels more polarized than at any time in recent memory. Discrimination and violence are on the rise; trust in institutions is low; divisive rhetoric seems inescapable. Populist ideas and centralized digital “echo chambers” have led communities, neighbours, friends and families to become entrenched across ideological lines, struggling to establish common ground. If we are to heal our society, we must find a way to engage with those who disagree with us and hold space for them to voice their fears, worries and concerns for the future. It is only when we see the humanity in those most unlike us that we can begin to bridge divides and create societies that represent and work for all of us.

Teaching global citizenship and civic responsibility is how we bridge this divide. These can be defined as being able to make decisions based on cross-cultural and geopolitical awareness, understanding the local relevance of global events, and understanding the non-economic (human, environmental and societal) impacts of decisions. As one of four key skills identified by the World Economic Forum as central to building a “new economy” – a society that puts people and the planet at the center of digitally enabled economies – businesses will need their employees to have these capabilities in order to thrive in a global marketplace, and people will need them alongside technological skills in order to compete for those jobs.

Global citizenship and civic responsibility are not merely “soft skills”, nor an act of altruism; rather, they are the bedrock of resilient, healthy economies that work for all. This is no longer the case for many people; over the last 40 years, economic progress has become decoupled from social progress, leading to massive wealth and income inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and the loss of jobs stemming from technological disruption. This, in turn, has helped fuel the rise of polarization and the loss of trust in the very institutions whose purpose it is to create stability in societies.

Certain already-marginalized groups were hardest hit in the employment market due to the pandemic

Certain already-marginalized groups were hardest hit in the employment market due to the pandemic

Image: Copyright © International Labour Organization 2021

Those hit hardest have been the most marginalized and vulnerable in our societies – women, youth and migrants, among others – that have access to the fewest safety nets and that fill many low-skilled jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic did not create this disparity, but it accelerated it and brought it into sharp relief. International Labour Organisation research indicates that across almost all occupations, the pandemic’s total employment impact for women has been disproportionate to men. School and childcare shutdowns made it more difficult for women, who disproportionately perform unpaid work in the home, to stay in the workforce, particularly for those with limited access to social protection provisions such as healthcare and income and food support. Youth had higher unemployment rates than adults pre-pandemic and then experienced a pandemic-driven decline in employment two and a half times greater than that of adults. Migrants have also been disproportionately affected by job losses, given that they were more likely to be in temporary positions or working in the informal sector.

Developing a global citizenship and civic responsibility mindset within communities to address these inequalities is a monumental and complex task; it will only succeed if governments, businesses and civil society act individually and collectively to make it happen. Wherever and however stakeholders choose to undertake efforts to help develop this mindset – workplaces, schools, community centres, or places of worship – six principles will help improve their chances of success:

1. Community-led and oriented

Building global citizenship and civic responsibility should highlight the direct benefits for the community. Empowering diverse community leaders to serve as champions, create energy and build a grassroots coalition, and recruit volunteers will be key.

2. Relationship-based

Creating in-person opportunities for diverse community members to come together will help establish and nurture meaningful relationships in a way that is not possible online. These opportunities are the foundation for helping individuals identify areas of commonality and building trust.

3. International perspective

Understanding the world at large is imperative to building global citizenship and civic responsibility. Educating individuals and communities on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and creating efforts to meet these goals locally, can help create a sense of locally focused global stewardship.

4. Digitally enabling

As one of the “new economy” skills, global citizenship and civic responsibility can help prepare individuals for a digital future in a globally connected world. Investing in simple, accessible and affordable technologies, and teaching technological skills can help create opportunities for individuals to learn skills that are valuable for the workforce, transferable and help develop highly skilled workforces that are the backbone of a digitally enabled global economy.

5. Inclusive

Any effort should include representatives from the entire community, including those that are historically under-represented and marginalized, as well as those with strongly divergent views. Having facilitated conversations with diverse groups within the community can help create open, transparent dialogue and help build societal resilience.

6. Shared responsibility

Building a healthy ecosystem in which society and the economy thrive mutually will require all stakeholders to be fully invested, committed and engaged. Businesses have a particular interest in helping lead these efforts, both to improve the local economies in which they operate as well as to help mitigate the threat that social instability poses to organizations’ growth prospects.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

Strong, inclusive societies are the foundation for thriving economies, and all stakeholders must play a role in helping to make this “new economy” a reality. This is not an easy process, nor will it be accomplished quickly – indeed, there are some individuals who may never get on board. But we have a unique and fleeting moment in time now to create such a vision, and that starts with building a collective global citizenship and civic responsibility mindset. Let’s not waste it – there’s too much to lose and so much to gain.

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