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Global Citizenship

In an increasingly globalised world, our individual and collective identities are inevitably complex. As I said in a speech at the Global Citizenship Forum at University College London last night, nonetheless we can live comfortably with layered identities. Though not born in London, I feel strongly that I am a Londoner and my passport tells me that I am British. But the passport also declares that I am a citizen of the European Union, which is a dimension many people living in the EU have yet to get their heads around. One can only hope that the current European Year of the Citizen will assist in the construction and realisation of European identity (not related to skin colour or “race”, but rather to culture and location), despite the efforts of UKIP et al. Most of the attendees at last night’s UCL event — which was organised by the NGO Development in Action — would aspire to be global citizens, but that can be quite difficult to achieve; I argued it’s all about mindset. Part of the problem of the discourse and practice of international development has been the assumption that poorer parts of the world and communities will have their problems solved if they become just like us in affluent societies such as Britain. Instead, we need to recognise the differences between us and respect them and provide a space for individuals and communities in developing countries to work out their own path of progress, while offering appropriate assistance. I reminded the predominantly young audience of some of the basic principles of the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, who argued that education in disadvantaged communities first of all required helping people understand the status quo so they could then challenge it and use new skills to empower themselves. I also stressed in the Q&A session afterwards with my fellow panelists Daniela Papi and Nicole Blum that there is not one single model for global governance or blueprint for what a globalised world should look like, which further complicates achieving global citizenship. China and India have very different conceptual frameworks, for example, and the days when the United Nations was shaped along European lines must surely be coming to an end.

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