We have worked for many years in different countries throughout the world: in law, in business, and in nongovernmental organizations. As we travel the world today, we are increasingly aware that globalization, while it presents major challenges, also stirs something greater than the sum of its parts. By itself, the term conjures up images of sweatshops and WTO riots. To start a dialogue is difficult, so even shifting to the term “globalism” helps balance the discussion some, and recasts the future in terms of opportunities instead of as threats.
There is no question but that a sprawling world economy poses tragic choices for the powerless and introduces turbulence. But it also dramatically raises the economic condition of many of the world’s poor. Bringing people from near starvation to improved standards of living in the last fifty years, it fast-tracks record-level prosperity in the U.S. and Europe. Many formerly struggling countries in Asia, including China and India, surpass traditional economic powerhouses in widening measures of profit and productivity. “Sleeping giants” elsewhere in the world await their own opportunities. Even with all its downsides, economic change leads to a greater awareness of human complexity, and it inspires shifts in how we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
So, here are some of the positives of globalism from our vantage points.
Bridging of cultures
Workers of all ages, backgrounds, and social groupings, within all levels of industry, as well as students of business, government, the social sector, and religion, are seeking not only to broaden their understandings of the inherent differences in cultures and people groups, but to go much farther to comprehend how to be effective with those who are distinctively different. Every day, more “tribes” become aware that they can no longer exist as islands, even if they previously thought they could. I [Janis] meet others in meetings, on airplanes, and in my social circle who are asking good questions and who are seeking to find ways to expand their knowledge, cultural awareness, and global intelligence. They generally want two things: to deepen relationships in order to expand opportunities, whether social, business, missional or educational; and, to work effectively alongside radically different people to accomplish concrete objectives, such as improving communications up their supply chains or installing the best technology at an isolated village hospital.
Expanding innovation and creativity to new fields and to diverse organizations and alliances
Individuals and organizations are taking a new look at how to get their missions accomplished. There seems to be no barrier that stops them: not distance, lack of resources, nor language. They risk new and different strategies, from opening a safari park in order to fund church planting in an African country, to spending countless hours as an informal team in order to develop the least expensive, but most environmentally and community-appropriate, “shack.” There is an amazing number of people seeking to use the forces of globalism to promote effectiveness across boundaries and borders. In our use of globalism, we affirm with Max De Pree that values and beliefs drive behaviours. Entrepreneurial believers envision the implications of God at work in everything they do since “God so loved the world” hope springs from faithful action taken globally or locally.
Pushing improved educational, environmental, and social networking
While it may be true that international institutions originally founded to deal with world trade are finding it difficult to adapt to the quickly changing forces of globalization, and that multinational and transnational entities are replacing governments in some arenas, hope means that new, highly sophisticated, multinational, social sector organizations, (globalism agents in our parlance), are becoming “knowledge savvy.” They expand the boundaries for individual and organizational engagement with issues, making it almost impossible to ignore social impacts and local variables. Peter Drucker’s “knowledge worker” and the resulting knowledge economy can strengthen communities through these NGOs as well as bringing change through business. One hopeful example of this is the well-formed networks which are successfully fighting the global trafficking in women and children, using all means possible across multiple boundaries: regulation, advertising, economic incentives, and social and business networks.
In a globalizing village it is not so easy to hide the effects of one business’s or one country’s impacts. Increased transparency portends new roles for multinational NGOs, knowledgeable individuals and social networks, and increasing acumen for their parts as they seek to effect change for the better. Connections invigorate the village and networks transcend old boundaries.
Knowledge and new organizational forms
I [Janis] have been amazed at cities in Brazil where “students” fill the streets and parking lots both night and day. These crowds differ markedly and appear very different from traditional undergraduates at state universities getting their first degrees. They include recent graduates going back to gain advanced training or to prepare for a job transition. They feature older workers learning basic IT skills and middle-aged housewives studying English. Everywhere and late into the night there are students engaged throughout these urban areas. It is as difficult to find parking at night as during the business day.
It reminds us, although we’re not old enough to have experienced it firsthand, of the era in the U.S. at the close of World War II when returning troops entered college funded by the GI bill. In response, universities expanded educational offerings to fit the huge increase in demand. The positive impact of an educated workforce is undeniable. In the same way, global change is exerting positive pressure on our educational and learning institutions. Not just new methods, but new content broadens our formerly narrow pedagogies.
If you want to find signs of global hope, drive through the cities of developing countries and observe where the human activity is. If you find the buzz in the trade schools and universities, look for business opportunities. This reality is a sure sign of information as well as economic “sleeping giants.”
The complexity of global change is nowhere more exemplified than in emerging gaps:
The fastest growing incomes in the world are in the developing countries, indicating that integration can be a powerful force for development that reduces worldwide inequality. The tendency toward inequality in the world today comes from the fact that about half of the developing world population lives in countries that are successfully integrating and catching up with the rich world, while half of the population lives in countries that are largely outside of globalization (David Dollar, the World Bank’s Director of Development Policy and a leading authority on the effects of globalization, February 2, 2004).
Perhaps “globalism” can show us a better way. Brazil presents a startling example of many aspects of globalization, because it is neither a “first-” or a “third-“world country. (These terms are questionable anyway). Brazil presents pockets of extreme wealth and economic vitality side by side with the crime-ridden, drug-infested slums of Rio. Nearly every Brazilian is an entrepreneur of some sort, and some believe this country is the globe’s next emerging economic superpower, after China and India. Brazil’s economy is composed of sectors that are “outside of globalization,” while others “are successfully integrating.”
To illustrate this, a pivotal “globalism moment” for me [Wes] struck while eavesdropping on a conversation between North American business students and a young Brazilian professional. The group had just visited a favella outside of Sao Paulo, and, overwhelmed by the usual need to fix something, decided to organize a separate trip later to build a house. The Brazilian kindly, but firmly, responded, “If you build a house, you take jobs away from Brazilians. Come and teach us management instead.” Jaws dropped as this truth sank in. It was a pivotal moment for the students.
These signs of hope in this globalism moment impressed me:
- A relationship had been built,
- A symptom mutually identified,
- The North Americans responded in generosity (because they could),
- The Brazilian felt free to challenge them (because they had a relationship), and
- The gringos listened and learned as this friendship deepened.
The “postscript” is that the students began to explore ideas such as creating community-driven credit unions within the favella, run by residents, to keep the capital circulating within the neighborhood: maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But Brazilians will learn and hope will be sustained.
Perhaps, the bottom line is that if there is to be hope, we will need kingdom-based economic revisionism that does not give away fish nor teach people to fish. The real key to globalism may be teaching people to teach fishing instead.