Global citizens movement

This article was first published in the paper series of the Great Transition Initiative, coordinated by the Tellus Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute.


The term Global Citizens Movement (GCM) refers to a profound shift in values among an aware and engaged citizenry. Transnational corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) remain powerful actors, but all of these are deeply influenced by a coherent, worldwide association of millions of people who call for priority to be placed on new vales of quality of life, human solidarity, and environmental sustainability. It is important to note that the GCM is a socio-political process rather than a political organization or party structure.

Global Civil Society

Table 1: A Typology of Global Civil Society Activity for Justice and Sustainability
Type Description Examples
Global Forums Civil society meets to share ideas, discuss experiences, and build community. World Social Forum, NGO meetings accompanying major international summits (e.g., annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, etc.)
News & Information Various initiatives enhance connectivity by providing information resources for civil society organizations and the wider public. Inter Press Service, Sustainable Development Communications Network, Social Watch, Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Indymedia, etc.
Research Networks Analysts from policy institutes and academia build the knowledge base for sustainable development and influence policy. The Ring, Third World Network, Trade Knowledge Network, Trans National Institute, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, International Forum on Globalization, Focus on the Global South, etc.
Humanitarian & Development Aid Organizations respond to natural disasters, genocides, famines, deforestation, extreme poverty, etc. Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, Médecins Sans Frontières, Red Cross and Crescent, Catholic Relief Services, World Wildlife Fund, etc.
Global Campaigns and Protests Coalitions address ongoing international policy debates, environmental and human rights issues, or mobilize action around specific events linking local place-based struggles to transnational networks. Climate Action Network, ATTAC (Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l'Aide aux Citoyens), Global Forest Watch, World Movement for Democracy, Transparency International, Amnesty International, EarthAction, etc. Zapatistas in Mexico and protests of G-8, World Trade Organization, World Bank, and other global institutions as well as the war in Iraq, transnational corporations, etc.

Civil society refers broadly to voluntary activity that is not strictly familial, governmental, or economic. As individuals, we are all members of civil society, participating in sports leagues, church groups, book clubs, or any organized activity with our neighbors. Civil society includes civic action by individuals, associations, foundations, faith-based groups, and nonprofit organizations, and has been active on a global level for centuries (initially in the form of missionary work). Since the end of World War II, global civil society has been growing at an unprecedented and escalating rate. As one indicator of the growth of civil society, we examine the rise of globally active non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs have been steadily accumulating, so that now there are over 25,000 active at the global level, with more added each year. These global NGOs increasingly make their voices heard in global forums and negotiations, and many participate in issue-oriented networks with intergovernmental organizations and the business sector.

The unprecedented growth and rise in influence of global NGOs may represent the tip of an iceberg regarding a deep shift in public engagement and awareness. While part of the rapid increase in global NGOs can be attributed to the advent of modern information and communication technology, this alone cannot explain the explosive growth of global activity. Perhaps even more important is the fact that the very idea of civil society has increasing legitimacy among the general public in most regions of the world. Thus developing countries have experienced the emergence of vibrant domestic civil society organizations that then provide a foundation for transnational organizing. This is the platform upon which the globalization of activity could build, tracking the globalization of social, ecological, and economic challenges over recent decades.

While the rise of NGOs indicates a potentially profound shift in public engagement, we need to acknowledge that some NGOs are vehicles for corporate or special interests with little or no grassroots. Others are linked to fundamentalist groups or reactionary forces, corresponding to elements of the public threatened by the rapid pace of global change. Still, many others are engaged in the struggles for peace, justice, development, and environmental health. Global NGO activity not only points to a possible latency, but also contributes to it by articulating the universality of basic human rights and the need for sustainable development as the basis for a global political culture. Claiming to speak on behalf of grassroots networks and the public interest, these NGOs seek to ensure that the voices of the mass of humanity will not be absent from negotiations over the future character of planetary civilization. Table 1 offers an overview of promising civil society activity, focusing on those efforts to create a just and sustainable world rooted in democratic principles.

The rapid growth of civil society is a profound source of hope if it represents an early manifestation of a widespread latent desire among concerned citizens who recognize that the world must address a suite of deepening social, economic, and environmental problems, but do not yet know how to take action themselves. This hypothesis—positing such a latent desire to be engaged in shaping global society—is further strengthened by an examination of the novel conditions defining this planetary phase of history.

Planetary phase of history: support for the latency hypothesis

Globalization arises out of a centuries-long process that accelerated dramatically over the last fifty years. The formation of the United Nations (UN), ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Accords among other landmark treaties, and development of institutions such as the International Criminal Court, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) express the growing need to develop new forms of cooperation at the global level. Yet, the tantalizing promises of improved global relations, new technologies bringing widespread prosperity, and rational management of the Earth’s resources seem to dangle just out of reach.

Since the 1960s, ubiquitous images of our fragile planet floating in the vastness of space have changed our consciousness—making us more cognizant of humanity’s vulnerability and interconnectedness. Technologies such as airplanes, TV, satellites, and the Internet have expanded awareness of cultures and events across the world. We are now instantly aware of havoc wrought by hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, genocide, poverty, and AIDS. Displaced by such tragic events, or simply seeking better opportunities, increasing numbers of migrants test the hospitality of wealthy, relatively homogenous communities. As economies become more interconnected and the rate of cultural exchange increases, for better or worse, our world is shrinking.

Pursuing business as usual in this rapidly shrinking world is increasingly difficult, not least because the planet’s climate is becoming less predictable, with the catastrophic consequences of greenhouse gas accumulation becoming bleaker and more evident daily. In addition to global warming, we are faced with other unparalleled environmental challenges, such as cross-boundary water degradation and air pollution, overfishing, declining ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity. The threats to our collective existence are quite real. Ecocide, nuclear proliferation, global terror networks, new military technologies, and the threat of pandemics remind us, as Bertrand Russell said, “it’s coexistence or no existence”. Only greater degrees of international cooperation can possibly resolve these complex dilemmas.

People’s psychological responses to a shrinking world include some mixture of fear and hope. When fear dominates, this leads to xenophobia, retreating into protected enclaves, and projecting militaristic solutions. It can also fuel fundamentalist movements that offer reassurance and simple answers for an increasingly perplexing world. When hope is strong, people’s highest aspirations motivate them to uphold their moral responsibilities to their fellow humans and the larger community of life. Countless new cultural developments manifest the growing awareness that one’s narrow self-interest is dependent on general social and ecological interests. In contrast to fundamentalism, many religious leaders now seek to emphasize the great humanitarian traditions of their faiths and the theological basis for tolerance and cooperation. Moreover, growing subcultures underscore the opportunity to increase quality of life, free from the domination of consumerism, creating new avenues of human exploration and contentment.

In developing countries this hope is expressed by communities devising new development paradigms seeking sustainable livelihoods. Indigenous groups, women’s place-based initiatives, worker-owned cooperatives, and community lending institutions all enhance local empowerment. In wealthier countries, these insights manifest in various lifestyle movements (e.g., voluntary simplicity, slow foods, cooperatives, ecovillages) seeking to consume less and devote more time to family, community, and personal projects. The hope of improved lives lived in a just and caring world is the most empowering psychological response to the turbulence of our times.

These objective and subjective conditions emerging in this planetary phase of civilization underpin the latency hypothesis, that more and more people are inclined to understand themselves as part of a common community of fate that includes all of humanity and the biosphere. This transformation of consciousness challenges conventional categories of identity. The key to the political crystallization of today’s cultural latency is the shift toward a shared identity—the co-recognition and internalization of others’ struggles as our own in a global community of fate. The historic potential for deepening the solidarity among the peoples of the world is the precondition for a GCM.

Cosmopolitan identity

The identification of oneself as part of the human family, with responsibility for one’s brothers and sisters, is an extension of the sense of kinship many already feel for their nation, hometown, and family. Political theorists discussing the sense of belonging and responsibility to an “imagined community” have introduced the concept of an implicit social contract that characterizes the presumed rights and obligations of individuals to the community, and of the community to individuals. This implied citizenship can precede explicit constitutional and institutional manifestation, and even challenge the form of established institutional structures by highlighting their failure to live up to the ideals which define the community.

The emergence of a global identity is a new implicit social contract in which increasing numbers of people understand themselves practically and aspirationally as global citizens. They share the broad values and principles that would underlie a transition to a just and sustainable planetary society, such as human rights, freedom, democracy, pluralism, and environmental protection. This new global identity need not subsume or eliminate particular subglobal or group identities, although it would certainly transform them.

Identity, like personality, is quite complex and hard to delineate as different aspects of it are evoked under varying social and political pressures. People can simultaneously identify with their local sports team, their undergraduate alma mater, their gender, their religion, their ethnic group, their generation, etc. Humans are not reducible to either the universal or the particular—we are dynamically multi-dimensional. In the US, the fluidity of identity is often observed. After centuries of migration, many people hyphenate their identities: African-American, Italian-American, Jewish-American, Indian-American, etc. Some might feel most loyal to their hometown, then their state, then their geographic region, and finally identify as American; while others might see themselves primarily as American, not invested in any specific locale. Recently, due to popularization by the mass media, some Americans identify as part of the Democratic “blue-states” or Republican “red-states”, illustrating how quickly identity can be constructed and deconstructed. While the assertion that we choose our identities is an oversimplification, it is clear that personal identity is influenced by collective human choices in relation to external factors. The question then is: under what circumstances might the identity of global citizen emerge?

People have identified themselves as “citizens of the world” at least as far back as the Stoic philosophers in the Roman Empire who argued that all humanity belongs to a single moral community. The Stoics have their roots in the Greek Cynics of the fourth century B.C. who coined the term “cosmopolitan” meaning “citizen of the cosmos”. To embrace an identity as a cosmopolitan, one need not abandon specific loyalties—one can continue to take pride in one’s local, regional, or ethnic culture and community—but add a healthy respect for other cultures in the context of pride for the diversity of human achievement.

What does need to be abandoned is any fundamentalist notion that all of humanity must conform to a specific cultural expression—no longer can we afford to tolerate chauvinist pretensions. The reification of cultural archetypes ignores the fact that culture itself is always fluid and evolving, and that human societies have continuously traded ideas, cuisine, music, etc., while absorbing, blending, and innovating. As a practical matter, such hybridization makes it nearly impossible to delineate the boundaries of a specific culture. Cosmopolitanism rejects chauvinism and values diverse cultures, regarding all people of the Earth as branches of a single family tree. The diffusion of this old consciousness in the new context of globalization is the basis for forging global citizenship.

Lest this sound too utopian, let’s remember that the extension of identity has historical precedent in the enlargement of society from clans to tribes to chiefdoms to city-states to nation-states. At one point the crystallization of national identities seemed as implausible as global identity might seem today, and yet, with hindsight, the formation of nation-states appears natural, almost inevitable. More recently, we can observe social and political forces attempting to construct identity around multinational regions. But, as the struggle over the European Union constitution shows us, identity realignment is a nonlinear process that must overcome historically rooted inertia. As identities enlarge, so do the existential fears that what one cherishes may be dissolved. Today, powerful conservative elements are mobilized to resist the loss of autonomy to broader decision-making communities that include people of other cultures, languages, and histories. Such fears should not be dismissed as mere xenophobia. The historical expansion of identity is a process riddled with wars, genocides, and subjugation. Threats to the identities of peoples, certainly in past times, have been quite deadly.

In fact, the threat of an external foe has often been a significant part of the impetus to overcome regional antagonisms and forge new bonds of cooperation (e.g., the Greek city-states vis-à-vis the Persian Empire). Ideology, myths, and religion often serve as the tools to weave people together in the context of common defense or conquest. For example, after centuries of Moorish rule, Catholics united across regional differences and languages under the leadership of Castile to push the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula. Castellano—literally the language of Castile—is the language English-speakers call Spanish, yet even in Spain today regional languages are quite popular (and there are ongoing movements to reject national unity). The complexity of this example illustrates that for robust new identities to cohere, in addition to external threats there must be the internal motivation of a shared dream of people-hood.

Culture can play a powerful role in expressing and reinforcing identity. For example, it has been argued that the novel, a relatively new art form that offered a narrative story written in vernacular, played an instrumental role in helping construct the imagined community of the Italian nation-state, which had to overcome strong antagonisms between city-states. The novel helped inspire people to conceive of themselves as part of a common cultural group. While other factors such as leadership and the role of elites were essential, the novel seeded the cultural moment, or latency, for national identity.

Thus, the push of necessity (external threat) and the pull of desire (internal motivation) are both critical in the construction of identity. In retrospect, the specific boundaries framing national identities are somewhat arbitrary, while the case for global identity is more objective: we all share one world. Many people, from the Stoics onward, have noted this. While past movements for world citizenship were premature, the objective and subjective conditions shaping the current historic moment create conditions that are ripe for the emergence of global citizens.

Of course, latency cannot be directly observed since, by definition, it is yet to manifest. It is a multi-layered phenomenon with many cultural currents just under the surface, that occasionally bubble up as movies, books, lectures, songs, websites, study groups, new organizations, protests, or other modes of expression. As these signifiers of new identity become more noticeable, they feed back and amplify, stimulating reflection and action on the part of others, bringing the latency in the system closer to the surface. New information technologies accelerate this process. For example, the Internet is increasingly a space to connect with others around the world, trade and share information about lives and cultures, learn new languages, collaborate remotely on projects, and to collectively bring dreams and concerns into the open.

It is in the latency hypothesis that we find the potential for the emergence of a historically novel phenomenon: a Global Citizens Movement. Although it would emerge from the inchoate pool of latency, in its robust form a GCM would be a coherent movement of a significant segment of the world population. Such a movement would emerge in opposition to mainstream trends, notions of development, and the meaning of “the good life” and would seek to provide plausible alternative visions (of necessity, rooted in the shared values of quality of life, human solidarity, and sustainability). A movement that engaged ordinary citizens throughout the world, as it expanded and matured, would eventually connect with sympathetic partners in political parties, governments, corporations, even the military—and individuals from these sectors could be involved in a GCM in their personal capacity. Thus, a GCM would be distinct from, but engaged with, other major global actors.

To be clear, we do not accept the notion that a GCM would spontaneously self-organize once a critical mass of civil society activity is reached. Such convenient fatalism downplays the need for intentional leadership. A GCM is not a foregone conclusion, or even a probable outcome. Assuming we accept the latency hypothesis, the pertinent question becomes: how could cultural latency crystallize into a robust GCM?

We believe that hope is a crucial missing ingredient. Increasingly, the general public is aware of emerging dangers but, in the absence of compelling alternative visions and a clear way to take action, apprehension can lead to apathy and resignation. Should the de-stabilizing tensions in the emerging global system ultimately lead to some form of global crisis, people well could embrace authoritarian solutions out of desperation and retreat into national enclaves. Fear without hope is not a powerful basis for social change. The crystallization of a GCM depends on the creation of a framework for common action that moves beyond reactive protest to the proactive implementation of a hopeful vision. By definition, a robust GCM would have cultural, economic, and political dimensions at local, regional, and global levels—and the people engaged in each dimension at every level would recognize their diverse activities as part of a common effort. The development of a shared vision that reflects our highest aspirations while respecting local differences and the diversity of human culture would provide a plausible basis for hope that is a key ingredient for such a movement.

Contours of a Global Citizens Movement

Our analysis puts an emphasis on imagining a process by which diverse actors could come together to articulate a shared vision and framework for joint action. As we have shown, there already are many groups taking action on a wide range of issues. If a GCM were to coalesce, these groups would continue to be active even as new groups emerged—thus the level of activity would continue to increase. The challenge facing a GCM is not promoting action per se, but increasing the strategic impact of action as part of a common project—this means more space is needed for dialogue, analysis, and visioning. Without clarity of vision, tapping into the latent potential of the concerned but currently inactive, and thus mobilizing the requisite numbers of people for a truly global movement, will not be possible. Many of the people in our lives are in this boat: they would love to be a part of a movement if they could find one they could believe in. Instead, they see cacophonous efforts that don’t seem to be building in strategic fashion toward plausible solutions.

In its early phases a GCM can perhaps be thought of as a seed crystal, containing within the means it uses to organize itself the ends of a just and sustainable world. Organizing this seed crystal prior to any emerging global crisis increases the likelihood that, should crisis strike, the vision of the GCM could spread rapidly to inspire humanity’s efforts toward renewal and hope.

A sustainable world is one of biodiversity and diverse, healthy ecosystems. Likewise, a just world is one of human liberation, filled with cultural diversity and creative expression and exploration. Thus the means by which a GCM is organized must honor the diversity of voices that give rise to its creation. The tension between unity and plurality, like many of the paradoxes in life, is not to be overcome; instead a GCM must somehow hold both truths simultaneously. This inherent tension between unity and plurality always persists—indeed it is the cause of political struggle in all societies—and gives rise to ongoing conflict. Thus a GCM will have internal conflicts; it will contain its own politics. Bounded by the container of a shared vision of a just and sustainable world, conflicts can be engaged through a politics of trust—i.e., a collective commitment…emphasizing a predisposition toward seeking common ground and tolerating proximate differences in order to nurture the ultimate basis for solidarity.

Creating an expedient unity—through majority rule or authoritarian leadership—is a form of tyranny counter to the vision of justice that would animate the GCM. Rather then replicating domination, a GCM must seek to create mechanisms for authentic partnership and cooperation between equals. This will require clear shared first principles that protect the rights of minority and deviant voices—identifying these principles creates a framework for justice claims to be negotiated and conflicts to be resolved. Similarly, informal, unspecified power structures have a tendency to be dominated by cliques and remain unaccountable—potentially corrupting into their own form of tyranny. Explicit, transparent power structures are needed to hold authority figures accountable and promote active leadership at all levels.

With the above lessons in mind, we can assert that in addition to a wide-range of ongoing activity with its diverse tactics, campaigns, and actions at local and global scales, an authentic GCM needs a shared vision emerging from a process of engaged dialogue effectively coordinated through new forms of leadership.

Constructing a shared vision

A shared vision would naturally rest on principles that were forged through centuries of struggle and are the heritage of all humanity: freedom, equity, democracy, and sustainability. Articulated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Agenda 21, the Earth Charter, and scores of other documents, these principles provide a framework for ongoing discussions on how to realize them in practice.

A GCM would continue the elaboration of these principles as the basis for a planetary transition. The ethical foundations would be based on individual and collective responsibility for the well-being of others, the wider community of life, and future generations. The value foundations would be quality of life, human solidarity, and ecological sensibility…. A culture of peace, reconciliation, and non-violence would infuse the new global movement.

Local actors who adopt such ideals would of necessity imbue them with place-based meanings connected to local cultures and traditions. These essential values and principles form the boundary conditions within which we can imagine meaningful global citizenship that does not deny local diversity. Proclaiming these ideals of global citizenship could help a cosmopolitan identity coalesce.

An effective alternative vision must clearly articulate why we are at the present historic moment, where we hope to go, and how we hope to get there. It would tap into the latent desire for a hopeful framework for collective action if it were:

  1. widely seen as legitimate—emerging from a process that engaged the full range of diverse voices that would be part of such a movement;
  2. constructed with sufficient detail and rigor to be plausible, yet fluid enough to recognize the deep uncertainty of the long-range future and allow for plural viewpoints in shaping and reshaping the vision;
  3. able to evolve and adapt to changing local, regional, and global circumstances; and
  4. able to provide a framework that could be used to help individuals understand how they might effectively contribute.

Such a vision would not spell out solutions to every world problem in substantive detail—many solutions can only be discovered in the doing, and not in abstract contemplation. But it would provide a framework for thinking about specific issues in fresh ways. In turn, experience drawn from practice would enrich the vision. This interplay could play a powerful role in helping deepen and crystallize the latency for a GCM. “A living movement must be fashioned by participants in a process of adaptation to one another and to changing circumstance”.

The iterative articulation of a shared vision would rest in a process of engaged dialogue. Engaged dialogue means that conflicts are not avoided, but are approached with skilled facilitation and a commitment to a politics of trust, so they don’t become so disruptive as to cause disengagement. Constructively engaging conflict requires that all parties are open to transforming their identities in relation to new learning. In successful dialogue process, disputants learn to express their own voices (empowerment) and hear one another (recognition). Identity is reframed from “I” to “we” as shared values and concerns are recognized.

The WSF demonstrates the potential to convene a large number of actors to a space of dialogue, but it fails to generate the type of engagement necessary for a reframing of identity. An authentic GCM would have spaces in which conflicts are surfaced and relationships are transformed and strengthened through dialogue. Thus, a GCM would not be free from dissent and internal politics, but rather would express a new form of politics bounded by shared values. In fact, a movement that embodied diversity engaged in constructive dialogue would carry within it the seed of a new global governance system. Modeling such engagement would also create a plausible basis for hope and attract many more participants.

There are numerous examples of citizen involvement in complex policy making. In one example, as a routine part of policy making in Denmark, a panel of fifteen ordinary citizens is convened to represent the full spectrum of diversity in Danish society. This panel interviews technical experts as it studies a particular complex social or technological issue to recommend policy guidelines. A professional facilitator helps this lay panel articulate a consensus statement that is then presented to the government and the press, and citizen study groups may then be organized throughout the country to discuss the report.

During the transition to democracy in South Africa, scenarios proved to be a useful tool for illuminating choices and exploring competing priorities, helping adversaries reframe their conflict and find common ground. Scenarios, which paint plausible images of our future and the pathways to get there using rigorous qualitative and quantitative analysis, have long been used to foster informed debate. The power of these examples is that they show how diverse and divergent views can be transformed through facilitated dialog into a shared vision that satisfies originally competing parties.

It would be possible to adapt such tested methods of citizen dialogue to the task of developing alternative scenarios as a means to explore and construct a shared vision of a GCM. Local citizens from Boston to Bogotá, Uppsala, Bamako, Damascus, and Chang Mai might be convened by coalitions of existing social movement organizations to come together to create alternative scenarios consistent with a GCM framework and relevant to their local cultures and situations. Within any community, multiple scenarios might be developed as a mechanism for exploring the pros and cons of various options. Across communities, regional meetings might be places to examine the inter-relations of scenarios and to create relevant regional frameworks. Numerous variations of visions, based on a set of shared principles, could emerge and evolve iteratively from hundreds of dialogues engaging experts, activists, and the general public. These visions would embrace multiple local and regional solutions expressing diverse aspirations, rooted in the cultural traditions that provide people deep meaning and identity. These images of the future would have to be continuously revised as conditions changed and the movement learned from its experience. Sharing scenarios through films, video games, books, articles, websites, courses, workshops, and lectures would provoke contemplation and conversation among the broader public. Feedback could be used to improve them, deepening their validity and acceptance across a widening spectrum of society. This process could generate its own momentum, as materials and images are picked up by the media, incorporated into educational curricula, and generally woven into the cultural matrix.

As it matured, a robust GCM could gain the social authority and political power to convene government, business, and NGO sectors in various regions of the world to discuss how its alternative scenarios might be expressed in regional development. These conversations could become the basis by which a non-violent movement begins to institutionalize its concerns in a new global society.

New forms of leadership

Rather than understanding the GCM as a single organization (e.g., as a global political party), we should bear in mind that, historically, social movements are composed of multiple, even competing, organizations. What binds a GCM is a shared identity, not a single organizational structure. A GCM would grow through widening circles of participation and dialogue as increasing numbers of citizens join in a shared vision and identify as part of a common movement.

A specific type of leadership is required that would have the authority and resources to convene and maintain the dialogues for developing shared visions and perspectives. A GCM might develop a new form of leadership—movement diplomats—that would complement civil society’s paid staff, charismatic visionaries, influential philanthropists, community organizers, and organizational heads. Trained and supported directly by organizations or communities, these diplomats would be charged with the task of building systemic coalitions. They would seek to translate the rhetoric of different factions, foster communication, and find common ground. They would provoke learning in their own organizations in addition to reaching out to form alliances. Ideally, this new evolution in leadership would include core competencies of facilitation, strategic dialogue, systems thinking, and familiarity with future scenarios and the requirements for a sustainable world. This new role of leadership would not replace other necessary types of leadership, but would complement them in helping to maintain the balance between coherence and diversity within a GCM.

This difficult work of diplomacy, often unglamorous and contentious, could become a highly respected and influential form of leadership. If such roles are given recognition and support, a network of movement diplomats and diplomatic training programs could help a systemic movement overcome barriers of language, class, region, and outdated “issue-silos”. It would be through the work of these diplomats that spaces for engaged dialogue would be developed, multiplied, and enhanced. Movement diplomats could be a key to developing coherence while avoiding the evolution of stultifying movement hierarchies.

caption Figure 1: Ecosystem of a Global Citizens Movement. (Source: Tellus Institute)

Sharing an identity and constructing a vision through multiple spaces of engaged dialogue, the GCM would be an “ecosystem” of organizations, networks, and individuals all occupying the “niche” of sustainability and justice. This essential “biodiversity” of the movement encompasses a world with diverse cultures, regions, and modes of life. The diagram in Figure 1 suggests the relationships between elements of this ecosystem.

The upper left of the diagram in Figure 1 depicts the diverse organizations and informal groups that will continue to be active at local, regional, or global levels. This could include political parties, faith-based communities, and NGOs engaged in campaigns, protests, and construction of positive alternatives. Individuals would join the GCM by linking to existing groups or creating new ones. Taking advantage of increasingly high-powered information and communication technology, many local, regional, and global networks would continue to form on a range of themes. Importantly, those organizations with transparent, accountable lines of decision-making authority might more easily forge linkages among plural actors.

Regional councils governed by transparent and accountable leadership structures and funded by constituent organizations could be open to all who agree to the ground rules necessary to generate engaged dialogue. Scenario-building methods could be used to develop consensus around regional visions. Delegates from community groups and organizations could be organized into discussion groups with a full range of diversity (class, gender, ethnic, age, etc.) to engage in dialogue with the help of trained facilitators. The results would be synthesized, debated, refined, and taken back to constituent groups for input and improvement. Councils would reconvene annually to repeat this process as conditions evolve.

The goal of this process would be to produce a broad consensus that was rooted in sophisticated analysis that rigorously weighed various options, guided by the values underlying the GCM. Different regional councils could develop their own cultures and might differ in their decision-making practices; importance would be placed on the engagement and dialogue across sectors and issues. These councils would be the operational hub of a GCM, and would have trained staff skilled in dialogue and facilitation, scenario development, and diplomacy.

To coordinate issues of global concern, regional councils would need to develop processes to select regional representatives for a global council. In an authentic GCM, the formation of a global council would be guided by the same principles that define the movement (e.g., equity, democracy, freedom, sustainability, reconciliation, nonviolence, etc.). Elected representatives would be held accountable and could be removed from office. However, elections that are decided on majority votes could perpetuate the historic marginalization of minority voices. Each regional council would have to engage these concerns, and solutions might vary (some might choose to guarantee slots to indigenous communities, women, and other historically marginalized groups). The power of the global council within the GCM as a whole would reside in the wisdom of its suggestions and whatever resources it could direct toward these ideas. As a body representative of the regional councils, it would have the moral authority to speak to the press, governments, and corporations on behalf of a growing global movement. As the GCM matured, this global council could offer clues for the establishment of a global citizens parliament.

While the communities, organizations, and institutions inhabited by global citizens would use a range of democratic decision-making structures, from representative democracy to consensus, the dominant ethic in all these endeavors would be to seek first to understand, then to be understood. This new mood of discourse and listening could allow the movement to transcend the stale dichotomy of highly centralized decision-making versus uncoordinated, weak alliances.


While more thinking is needed about the relationship between latency, vision, and social movements, it does seem possible that a positive feedback loop could be established. A vision that convincingly describes a hopeful image of the future and a plausible pathway for getting there could inspire more people to believe in the possibility of a sustainable global civilization and, thus, to take up the challenge of global citizenship. Strategic campaigns initiated by widening circles of activists in concert with this vision would inspire more people to believe in its possibility and this, in turn, would allow more impressive victories to occur, inspiring yet more people, and so on. The combination of a shared vision with clear victories expands the frontiers of the possible—hope is contagious and change happens quickly. As substantive gains are made and the lives of the poor improve, the solidarity of the peoples of the world deepens, and a new sense of identity as global citizens takes hold.

The future is not someplace we are going—it is something we are creating. Ultimately, the exact shape and form of a Global Citizens Movement is not to be predicted, but to be lived. A GCM must be able to contest power and shape the global future—without this there is no “movement”, just a lot of chaotic activity. It will take a tolerant, exploratory attitude and forms of governance based on democratic principles of participation, openness, transparency, and accountability to nurture a unified movement. A Great Transition is a vision of “plural solutions”—alternative local and regional approaches that are compatible with global responsibilities and citizenship. Thus, a GCM will have different local and regional expressions, but share similar values. Informal and formal leadership will be essential at all levels to help educate, coordinate, facilitate, and motivate.

Such a process can only be built in stages, as groups and individuals increasingly recognize themselves as a “we” and come together around a shared vision and framework for action. Each stage would mobilize more citizens and revise organizational structures and processes. This movement would draw its energy from multiple sources. Certainly, local conditions and the struggle against direct oppression would be central. But more, it would be animated by concern with the well-being of the whole human family, with the fate of future generations, and with the sustainability of the broader web of life. Such a shift in consciousness toward a capacious cosmopolitan identity is a historic potential resonant with the objective conditions of deepening global connectivity. This is the hope of a Global Citizens Movement.

Further Reading



Kriegman, O., & Initiative, G. (2007). Global citizens movement. Retrieved from


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