Global Citizenship Civic Responsibility Essay

At The Global Citizens’ Initiative we say that a “global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices.”

To test the validity of this definition we examine its basic assumptions: (a) that there is such a thing as an emerging world community with which people can identify; and (b) that such a community has a nascent set of values and practices.

Historically, human beings have always formed communities based on shared identity. Such identity gets forged in response to a variety of human needs— economic, political, religious and social. As group identities grow stronger, those who hold them organize into communities, articulate their shared values, and build governance structures to support their beliefs.

Today, the forces of global engagement are helping some people identify as global citizens who have a sense of belonging to a world community. This growing global identity in large part is made possible by the forces of modern information, communications and transportation technologies.  In increasing ways these technologies are strengthening our ability to connect to the rest of the world—through the Internet; through participation in the global economy; through the ways in which world-wide environmental factors play havoc with our lives; through the empathy we feel when we see pictures of humanitarian disasters in other countries; or through the ease with which we can travel and visit other parts of the world.

Those of us who see ourselves as global citizens are not abandoning other identities, such as  allegiances to our countries,  ethnicities and political beliefs. These traditional identities give meaning to our lives and will continue to help shape who we are. However, as a result of living in a globalized world, we understand that we have an added layer of  responsibility; we also are responsible for being members of a world-wide community of people who share the same global identity that we have.

We may not yet be fully awakened to this new layer of responsibility, but it is there waiting to be grasped. The major challengethat we face in the new millennium is to embrace our global way of being and build a sustainable values-based world community.

What might our community’s values be? They are the values that world leaders have been advocating for the past 70 years and include human rights, environmental protection, religious pluralism, gender equity, sustainable worldwide economic growth, poverty alleviation, prevention of conflicts between countries, elimination of weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian assistance and preservation of cultural diversity.

Since World War II, efforts have been undertaken to develop global policies and institutional structures that can support these enduring values. These efforts have been made by international organizations, sovereign states, transnational corporations, international professional associations and others. They have resulted in a growing body of international agreements, treaties, legal statutes and technical standards.

Yet despite these efforts we have a long way to go before there is a global policy and institutional infrastructure that can support the emerging world community and the values it stands for. There are significant gaps of policy in many domains, large questions about how to get countries and organizations to comply with existing policy frameworks, issues of accountability and transparency and, most important of all from a global citizenship perspective, an absence of mechanisms that enable greater citizen participation in the institutions of global governance.

The Global Citizens’ Initiative sees the need for a cadre of citizen leaders who can play activist roles in efforts to build our emerging world community. Such global citizenship activism can take many forms, including advocating, at the local and global level for policy and programmatic solutions that address global problems; participating in the decision-making processes of global governance organizations; adopting and promoting changes in behavior that help protect the earth’s environment; contributing to world-wide humanitarian relief efforts; and organizing events that celebrate the diversity in world music and art, culture and spiritual traditions.

Most of us on the path to global citizenship are still somewhere at the beginning of our journey. Our eyes have been opened and our consciousness raised. Instinctively, we feel a connection with others around the world yet we lack the adequate tools, resources, and support to act on our vision. Our ways of thinking and being are still colored by the trapping of old allegiances and ways of seeing things that no longer are as valid as they used to be. There is a longing to pull back the veil that keeps us from more clearly seeing the world as a whole and finding more sustainable ways of connecting with those who share our common humanity.

This article can be found in the Spring | Summer 2012 issue of Kosmos Journal, or can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Ronald C. Israel

Ron Israel is co-founder and a Board member of The Global Citizens’ Initiative (TGCI), a member based organization that seeks to strengthen the practice of global citizenship.

Ronald C. Israel

Ron Israel is co-founder and a Board member of The Global Citizens’ Initiative (TGCI), a member based organization that seeks to strengthen the practice of global citizenship.

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By Ron Israel, Director, The Global Citizens’ Initiative

In this month’s global citizens’ blog, we share some observations on the values, rights, and responsibilities of global citizenship. This month’s blog will be posted on the BlogPost of the TGCI website. Please feel free to leave a reply or comment.

A global citizen is someone who sees themselves as part of an emerging sustainable world community, and whose actions support the values and practices of that community.There are two types of values that can characterize our emerging world community: (a) political, economic and humanitarian values and (b) personal values. Each of these types of values is evolving over time, as the nature of global issues change and as a greater interest emerges regarding the common ethics and morals that underlie the world’s great wisdom traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others).


(a) Political, economic and humanitarian values:

For the most part the world community’s political, economic, and humanitarian values are values that have been espoused by global leaders for the past one hundred years These include: human rights, environmental protection, sustainable development gender equity, religious pluralism, digital access, poverty alleviation and the reduction of resource inequalities, global peace and justice, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and humanitarian assistance. These values are reflected in the nature of a growing number of global issues that the world community needs to solve collaboratively, such as climate change, human rights violations, gender inequities, religious intolerance, increases in civil conflicts, and others.

These issues are beyond the capacity of individual nation states to solve on their own. Yet because of the power of the nation-state; its dependence on the views of citizens, many of whom are more concerned with local than global issues; and the consequent reluctance of countries in working with others; many of our global issues continue to worsen.

One major, heartening expedition to this trend, is in the field of humanitarian assistance. Over the last decade, in places like Haiti, Japan, and the Philippines, the world has collectively responded to the emergency needs of the people involved.

(b) -Social, cultural and behavioral values:

The social, cultural, and behavioral values of the world community can be found in many of the world’s great wisdom traditions. Sharif Abdullah, in his book Creating A World That Works for All finds that most wisdom traditions share universal values such as love, peace, nonviolence, compassion,service,caring for others, forgiveness,tolerance, patience,humility,surrender, inclusivity, truth, joy,gratitude, and happiness. In an interview we did with Sharif Abdullah he comments, somewhat skeptically, on this list: “I can find some level of all of these values ascribed to in all cultures. However, the truth is that most cultures believe these things, yet practice almost the opposite of these values, which is why we’re talking right now. If people actually practiced their values, there would be no need for my organization or yours. There is lots of evidence that we’re not practicing the universal values.”


The rights of global citizens are embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first drafted in 1948 after World War II. The core nature of the Universal Declaration—grounded in individual liberty, equality, and equity—has remained constant. However the ways in human rights are applied change over time, with changes that occur in the political, economic and social fabric of society. Also new rights, that were not on the 1948 human rights agenda have emerged, for example, digital access rights, LGBT rights, and environmental rights. Some people cite the emergence of new rights and changing political systems as calling forth the need for an updated Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The main problem related to human rights has been the difficulties that the world has had in enforcing them. There is a long and shameful history of disrespect for and abuse of human rights on the part of sovereign states, religious institutions, corporations and others. A growing number of international mechanisms have been established for reporting human rights abuses. There also are global, regional, and national courts that exist to adjudicate incidences of human rights abuse. Yet, unfortunately human rights enforcement mechanisms still have limited legal jurisdiction, and many states have not agreed to participate in them. This is yet another reason for a review and update of our current human rights policies and programs.


A global citizen, living in an emerging world community, has moral, ethical, political, and economic responsibilities. It is a tall order that requires the provision of education, training and awareness raising, starting at an early age and extending through secondary and post secondary education. The great challenge for those of us interested in promoting global citizenship is to educate and nurture a new generation of global citizen leaders. The instructional framework for global citizen leadership should help participants fulfill the following responsibilities.

#1 Responsibility to understand one’s own perspective and the perspectives of others on global issues. Almost every global issue has multiple ethnic, social, political, and economic perspectives attached to it. It is the responsibility of global citizens to understand these different perspectives and promote problem-solving consensus among the different perspectives and the building of common ground solutions. A global citizen should avoid taking sides with one particular point of view, and instead search for ways to bring all sides together.

# 2 Responsibility to respect the principle of cultural diversity: The multiple perspectives that exist with most global issues often are a reflection of different cultural belief systems. Each of our major cultural belief systems brings value-added to our search for solutions to the global issues we face. In building a sustainable values-based world community it is important to maintain respect for the world’s different cultural traditions; to make an effort to bring together the leaders of these different cultural traditions who often have much in common with one another.; and to help leaders bring the best elements of their cultures to the task of solving global issues and building world community.

# 3 Responsibility to make connections and build relationships with people from other countries and cultures. Global citizens need to reach out and build relationships with people from other countries and cultures. Otherwise we will continue to live in isolated communities with narrow conflict-prone points of view on global issues. It is quite easy to build global relationships. Most countries, cities, and towns are now populated with immigrants and people from different ethnic traditions. The Internet offers a range of opportunities to connect with people on different issues. So even without traveling abroad (which is a useful thing to do), it is possible to build a network of personal and group cross-country and cultural relationships. Building such networks help those involved better understand their similarities and differences and search for common solutions for the global issues that everyone faces.

#4 Responsibility to understand the ways in which the peoples and countries of the world are inter-connected and inter-dependent: Global citizens have the responsibility to understand the many ways in which their lives are inter-connected with people and countries in different parts of the world. They need for example to understand they ways in which the global environment affects them where they live, and how the environmental lifestyles they choose affect the environment in other parts of the world. They need to understand the ways in which human rights violations in foreign countries affect their own human rights, how growing income inequalities across the world affect the quality of their lives, how the global tide of immigration affects what goes on in their countries.

#5 Responsibility to understand global issues: Global citizens have the responsibility to understand the major global issues that affect their lives. For example, they need to understand the impact of the scarcity of resources on societies; the challenges presented by the current distribution of wealth and power in the world; the roots of conflict and dimensions of peace-building; the challenges posed by a growing global populations.

#6 Responsibility to advocate for greater international cooperation with other nations: Global citizens need to play activist roles in urging greater international cooperation between their nation and others. When a global issue arises, it is important for global citizens to provide advice on how their countries can work with other nations to address this issue; how it can work with established international organizations like the United Nations, rather than proceed on a unilateral course of action

#7 Responsibility for advocating for the implementation of international agreements, conventions, treaties related to global issues: Global citizens have the responsibility to advocate for having their countries ratify and implement the global agreements, conventions, and treaties that they have signed.

#8 Responsibility for advocating for more effective global equity and justice in each of the value domains of the world community. There are a growing number of cross-sectoral issues that require the implementation of global standards of justice and equity; for example the global rise in military spending, the unequal access by different countries to technology, the lack of consistent policies on immigration. Global citizens have the responsibility to work with one another and advocate for global equality and justice solutions to these issues.

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