Country: Malaysia


Volunteerism And Global Citizenship: Behind The Buzzword

January 10, 2012

Update: Check out this awesome response article by ForWorld Thinking: Global Citizenship--Making Local Global!

A few weeks ago, my university debated on what its new tagline should be. As a larger, regional university, our slogans have usually related to how well you can fit in or else how our university will help you have a better, brighter future.

This time, however, a new element was added into the mix: the idea of global citizenship. Of course, it sounds nice enough, but what exactly does it mean to be a global citizen? Through our service, do volunteers act as global citizens, or could the ideals of global citizenship benefit our missions as volunteers?

About Global Citizenship

Volunteerism and Global Citizenship - Volunteer Global - Creative Commons attribution

Although there is no single definition of global citizenship, there are many ideas commonly held on the issue. Generally, the tenets of global citizenship involve three major ideals:

  1. Understanding the value of local citizenship and community engagement,
  2. Understanding the ability of a person to be engaged with global issues, and finally,
  3. The human rights issues that unite these two areas.

Under the ideal of global citizenship, it is our duty not to just empathize with those across the globe who suffer, but also to recognize our role in the unfair system. In this view, the world is less of a conglomeration of many nations, and more a community in which each member has an equal part. Basically, global citizenship invokes the idea of an organization being willing to consider the local and global repercussions of their actions.

Volunteerism and its Role in Global Citizenship

I believe that volunteerism might be able to embody the values held in global citizenship, if done carefully. In the past few months, there has been a sizable attack on volunteerism in respects to class and the commercialization of need, and there are definite truths to these attacks. However, I think that volunteerism has a great opportunity to do good if done well. Volunteerism has the power to create relationships that governments cannot—to connect people on a personal, individual basis.

Organizations must see their role as linking people to help people rather than just pushing for a class of volunteers to help another class of locals.

Volunteerism has the unique ability to bring people together from around the globe to solve local problems. If volunteers are able to embody the ideals of global citizenship and realize that volunteering is about making the connections abroad and at home, the possibilities of volunteerism are endless. We must think, as we do our service, not as volunteers working for a cause, but as people working for people. As for the volunteerism industry, which has really been the cause of much criticism, I think that many of these issues can be solved by taking the ideals of global citizenship up another level—organizations must see their role as linking people to help people rather than just pushing for a class of volunteers to help another class of locals.

I believe that service can give citizens the ability to participate in and understand the world around us, and as long as volunteering is less about getting off the plane and taking pictures of orphans and more about trying to understand the systems that cause such need, the future is much brighter.

I once was told during disaster relief training that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem—and I think that this definitely holds true for volunteerism. Although I admit that the values of global citizenship are both vague and somewhat idealistic, there is much truth in the goals that global citizenship sets for us. I believe that there is a future for the ideal of people helping people; we must volunteer and serve responsibly. We must be global citizens. 

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