In 2010, I experienced an epiphany. I realized first-hand at my job just how far the globalized world had progressed to the threshold of my doorstep.
At the time, I was a technology sales professional working at a cloud computing company in San Francisco, California. As a regular part of my job, I was reviewing my customer base, assessing new sales opportunities, doing what every sales professional must do to generate more sales.
As I looked over my customer list, one thing stood out and grabbed my attention: nearly half — 45 percent — of my customers were now outside the United States. Further, they were based all over the world, with cultures far more diverse and different from my own, all seemingly far from headquarters. They were in China and India and throughout Asia; several were in Latin American countries, and a few in Africa.
It was then that it hit me: my customers were global now — and indeed my entire job was now global in scope.
And I realized my methods of achieving success had to kept pace with this new global reality — a reality that is now impacting everything I do on the job.
It was then that I decided to commit myself to align my work with a decidedly global lens. I traveled to Thailand, Panama, Mexico, and India. I taught English at a women’s empowerment center in Dharamsala India and started writing in this blog.
The Global Citizen Defined: the Knowledge Worker connects to the world
When famed management scholar Peter Drucker first coined the term knowledge worker in 1959, he redefining work and society to reflect the new realities of life in a post-manufacturing world. In Drucker’s view, work and society and the means of production were being transformed and driven by “visions, knowledge, and concepts.”
Similarly, in today’s world, the forces of globalization are increasingly impacting our daily lives. From trans-border events like Ebola, to the global nature of instantaneous communications across the Internet, to the increasingly integrated way the world economy functions, to the rise of the global middle class, to the growing impact of trans-border migration — the distinction between what is global and what is local is increasingly joined.
Global citizens embrace these facts with greater ease, confidence, skill, and competence. They operate with global skillful means appropriate for a globalized world.
A global citizen is someone who accepts the world into their personal and professional lives and operates with skill and ease in a trans-border world, where relationships — both personal and professional — manifest as part of an increasingly inter-dependent world view.
Global citizens might typically be found in roles of philanthropy and corporate social responsibly, working for non-profits or NGOs. But increasingly, global citizens occupy roles in health care, teaching, project management, technology, engineering, investing, and citizen journalism.
Today we find that the world is coalescing. A global citizen accepts this more interwoven pattern as his or her own reality, and even uses this globalized vision to their advantage.
Just as Peter Drucker expressed, “the next society will be a knowledge society,” so too we find that a global civil society is emerging in response to our increasing globalized world.
The future may belong to the global citizen.
As a world watcher, I try to stay on top of what’s happening within the so-called emerging markets.
Since the early 2000s, much has been focused on the so-called BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India, and China (and South Africa frequently added). The term BRIC was first coined by British economist and former Goldman Sachs chairman Jim O’Neill in 2001.
But the winds of change — some would say storm clouds — are blowing against the BRICs these days.
So much so, many global analysts have begun to question whether the era of the BRICs is coming to an end.
Some go even further, suggesting we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of emergence for developing nations altogether, citing bearish economic cycles, uncertainty about the U.S. Federal Reserve and structural challenges dragging down continued growth — affecting prospects both here at home and abroad — and the general rising tide of strife and unrest in hotspots like Syria, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Ukraine, the Ebola virus in Africa, and so on — all weighing heavily against continued prosperity in emerging countries.
Here I’ll attempt to contrast these two conflicting themes: on the one hand, gloomy reports showing how BRIC dominance is on the wane; on the other hand, the strong and still growing case in favor of continued emergence throughout the developing world.
Indeed, the evidence supports that emergence will continue to be with us for decades to come, even if BRIC naysayers are right.
BRICs — slower growth, rising uncertainty, and lowered expectations
Clouds do seem everywhere for the BRICs right now.
Consider how Brazil is now officially in recession, according to the latest reports.
Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine, now daily international headline news, have triggered more international sanctions by Western countries, causing ripples of uncertainty throughout global markets.
In India, the new Modi government, in power just a few short months, has promised bold economic reforms in response to a sharply slowing economy, but these have a long way to go before they manifest.
China, much like India, continues to see sharply slower economic growth, but the story points to much deeper and more profound changes in China in the future.
For China, the era of easy growth seems to be over. Since 2007, we can compare GDP growth (based on purchasing power parity, or PPP, which is a broader, and some would argue more accurate, measure of prosperity for people in an economy, accounting for differences in currency exchange rates) when the rate in China peaked at a stunning 17.5 percent, to where it is today, at around 8.5 percent (PPP). And for the near future, forecasts are for continued moderate rates of growth for China.
In China, manufacturing has been the driver of this record GDP growth so far. But China nows seems to pin its hopes on more domestic growth spurred by its rising class of middle class consumers. In this way, China’s future might more resemble the consumer economies — Europe, Japan and the United States.
Also, as freedoms continue to proliferate, China’s centralized authoritarian government will face growing pressure from rising middle class values and the expectation for greater economic and social freedoms. Just how long can Chinese government officials continue to jail citizens who blog, for example, is anyone’s guess.
South Africa can’t add much positive news to this story either: this summer, the World Bank downgraded South Africa’s GDP growth estimates from 2.7 to 2.0 percent, as labor strikes, higher interest rates, and rising inflation drag down the economy there.
Technology and Globalization — major drivers of future progress for the emerging world
Technological innovation is making the world smaller, increasing access for everyone, to anywhere.
For signs of major hope for continued emergence, consider the progress made since the UN Millennium Development Goals: in just the past 14 years, global extreme poverty has been reduced by half.
Moreover, indicators point to a wide range of encouraging statistics in almost every emerging country: Rising literacy (especially among women), increasing education standards, longer life expectancy, better access to health care and immunizations, particularly improved access for mothers and children.
Technology, and, for all its critics, globalization, have combined and are now bringing enormous potential for democratic, civil, and social improvements throughout to the emerging world.
Progress in emerging countries, traditionally thought of in terms of diluted measures like GDP and development aid, is undergoing a revolution.
Today, a brighter, more individualized version of progress is showing up in the form access to the Internet, the use of inexpensive smart phones to access all kinds of data, to help farmers get pricing for the goods before going to market.
We can now see how the use of social media to promote democracy, fight corruption, and build civil society, is having enormous impact on the lives of billions of people throughout the world.
Trends like these are only just getting started throughout the developing world, and this is a big reason why emergence will only continue to proliferate.
In many respects, access to appropriate, inexpensive technology is enabling emerging countries to leap frog over obstacles to development — like the lack of infrastructure — so many of which have been stubbornly immovable for decades.
For example, a rural villager in India or Africa can today access a doctor in any developed countries, by using the Internet with an inexpensive smart phone equipped with free (or nearly) free application software which sends the villager’s vital statistics to the doctor in the Netherlands, or the United States, or anywhere at the other end of the Internet connection.
Using inexpensive (or even free) smart phones and Internet technology, people in drought-stricken Africa can more easily locate fresh – “there’s an app for that” too! The same technology can be easily customized to allow farmers to look up data on prices of their produce before going to market, saving them time and money.
Emerging Markets — here for the long term
Technological innovation, and its appropriate application for the developing world, is making emergence a global phenomenon. This extends everywhere and is not restricted to the BRICs.
Thus, people all over the world may soon be living in an “emerging market,” the next BRIC.
Africa may be the most likely continent we’ll find the rise of the next BRICs. Extraction of natural resources has played a big role in investment in many African emerging markets. But technology and globalization will continue to drive many countries toward middle income status — countries as diverse as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, and Morocco.
In Asia, candidates for the BRICs of the future may be among today’s poorer countries like Myanmar and Cambodia, where political and social changes point to wider economic progress for more citizens in the future.
In LATAM, Panama, Colombia, Guatemala, and Argentina, all show tendencies favoring emergence and put them on the radar to watch.
It’s an exciting to be a world watcher.
I’ve been spending a lot of time among immigrants lately.
Last week, I witnessed 1,000 immigrants from 97 countries take their oath of alligence during a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California.
I’ve also worked closely with recent immigrants to the U.S. as a volunteer at Berkeley-based Upwardly Global, an NGO that assists with job skills and placement services for skilled immigrants.
With immigration reform topping the list of agenda concerns here at home, I’ll share some brief notes — with a decidedly global perspective, backed by some recent personal experiences — on this fascinating and timely topic.
Contrary to some recent heated rhetoric, immigration is increasingly a driver of economic growth and technological innovation among advanced economies throughout much of the world today.
And a country’s ability to attract mid- to highly skilled immigrants correlates strongly with increases economic growth and social good.
It’s not hard to see how. Confirmed by studies by the Brookings Institution, people who are immigrating to the U.S. today — and broadly throughout the world — are increasingly college educated, with more technologically advanced skills, and more motivated to succeed than ever before.
In today’s 21st century globalized world, immigration is clearly not about our grandfather’s “aliens” who arrived in great numbers to this country, mostly poor, uneducated, and hungry.
This immigrant success story is true not just here in the U.S., but also in Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Iceland — countries where immigration accounts for an even higher percentage of total population. (The U.S. accepts over 1 million immigrants per year, less than one half of one percent of total population.)
Consider Germany’s experience.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and later the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former West Germany absorbed nearly 2 million immigrants from the east. Today, many analysts point to how Germany successfully assimilated these immigrants as a major contributing factor to it’s latest rise as the top economy in Europe.
Here in the U.S., it’s no surprise to find that states with the fastest rates of economic growth and rising median household income are among the top distinations for immigrants, including California, New York, and Texas.
My personal experience with the immigrants I have met lately seems to illustrate how helping others is about helping ourselves.
I recently engaged with a few remarkable global immigrant heroes at Upwardly Global in Berkeley where I volunteered as a mock job interviewer.
I met engineers and environmental scientists, computer programmers and project managers. What impresses me most is how stunningly experienced, qualified and highly skilled they all are at what they do.
As mentioned at the top, I was present at a recent U.S. Immigration and Naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California, where I saw 1,000 immigrants from 97 countries take their oath of alligence and become U.S. Citizens for the first itme.
Expressed by the U.S. State Department host who presided over the oath ceremony: “Today, you come from 97 countries, but from now on you represent ONE country.”
Recently, at the World Affairs Council, I attended an inspirational talk by Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, and renouned author of several books, including The True Patriot, The Gardens of Democracy, and his latest, A Chinaman’s Chance.
Liu sums up the uniqueness of the global immigrant story here in the U.S. as follows:
“The United States of America is the only country in the world that creates Chinese Americans, or Mexican Americans, or African Americans, or Asian Americans. It’s not possible to go to China to become an American Chinese.”
It’s time to step back from the heated politics and bitter partisan debate over children, mothers and unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Central America right now.
Seen in a global context, the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border reveal far wider currents of globalizing economic and social integration. For better solutions to these problems, we need more constructive global policy thinking — now and into the future.
1. The U.S.-Mexico border is a regional border — well beyond just Mexico — with economic fortunes of multiple players tied together and transnational implications.
The busiest, most transited in the world, with 350 million legal crossings each year, our southern border is actually a North-South border, a gateway to the entire Southern Hemisphere.
Economic growth in many countries in this region rank as among the fastest emerging economies in the world: Mexico, Panama, and Brazil. It is here that the middle class is rising, wages are increasing, governments are reforming and becoming more transparent, and opportunities are growing.
We typically think of our southern border as restricted to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Actually, in terms of global flows of capital, people, and investment, our border extends to Florida.
For example, Miami is the investment capital for Latin America and the Caribbean basin today, home to more foreign banks and investment firms than even New York City.
2. Mexico stands as the shinning example of prosperity and stability for the region — it’s not the source of the problem
Changing patterns of flow of people, goods and money are changing the dynamics in the region forever.
Improvements in infrastructure in Mexico now allows agricultural products to be grown in Mexico and transported north to markets in the U.S. Thus, what used to be produced in the U.S. using farm labor from Mexico is now being produced in Mexico and imported into the U.S. from Mexico — the result is a higher value-add for Mexico.
Mexico has taken steps to open its previously nationalized oil company (Pemex) to private interests. While some have cited issues with privatization as the source of inequality and environmental concerns, this privation will only contribute further to Mexico’s rising tide of direct foreign investment, trade, and growth.
3. National interests here at home in the U.S. are joined at the hip with the need to help foster the rule of law in Central America.
Gangs, corruption, and violence against women are at the root of the problems in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It is in the national interest of the United States to foster stability and rule of law in the region. And strengthening civil society in Central America — through NGOs — is the best policy choice here in the U.S.
One notable example that policy makers might consider is that of Guatemala attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz. Her innovative efforts to go after organized crime and stop violence against women in Guatemala has won her international praise from the likes of Forbes Magazine who named her one of the “five most powerful women changing the world” in 2010. Ms. Paz y Paz has been named as a top candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.
According to the UN Development Programme, violence is estimated to have cost Guatemala $2.6 billion in 2006, deterring tourism and reducing GDP.
As Americans consider policy choices, the best way to counter problems of violence and corruption and help foster rule of law is to ask those countries affected what they need to address the problems. NGOs have proven to be among the most effective tools to funnel aid and services to needed areas.
From Dharamsala, India
Does living and working abroad make you smarter?
I’m here in northern India on the front lines of this very question. I’ve come to volunteer, to live in supported communal, cross-cultural settings, teaching English and basic computer skills to young women at an “empowerment center” in this largely rural (though fast-growing) village in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
I’m also here to find out first-hand what can be learned by altering my own cultural lens to a “foreign” living and working environment, one that’s far beyond the comforts of my own.
Here in India, I’m finding out a lot about how a different experience can reshape my attitude, and what that can end up teaching me about the rest of the world, and myself.
A recent Time Magazine article investigated research of study-abroad students that reveal their enhanced skills in creative problem solving and superior insights that help them draw connections between disparate ideas as a result of their multicultural experiences.
So far, my experience in India has taught me that connecting the dots is about putting aside expectations. It’s about confrontations with difficult circumstances and surprises around limited resources — frequent electrical outages, unreliable Internet services, students going without enough pens, paper, computers, or even white boards.
I’m learning how dealing with difficult circumstances is the catalyst for innovation — and also the genesis for deeper understanding, patience, compassion and essential lessons learned. It’s about how to drop ones own limiting assumptions and doing what can be done with what you have (versus what you don’t).
Indian Innovation — Adapting to life’s challenges
Here in India, there’s a simple word that sums up the spirit and culture of innovation in the face of enormous challenges:
Jugaad (sometimes referred to as jugar) — the challenges and difficulties of ones circumstances become the motivation to innovate; to respond to constraints with creative, practical workarounds; to make the most of limited resources by improvising and through creative adaptation.
As one of India’s gifts to the world, jugaad is a certain kind of inventiveness or innovation, particularly born out of difficult circumstances. If you have a huge load of goods to take to the market and all you have is a bullock cart, no problem! You invoke jugaad to creatively hinge a motorcycle engine to your bullock cart, adapting with limited resources to build a solution that fits your needs.
For India, a country filled with exciting opportunity but hugely constrained, with a teeming population of 1.2 billion, deep poverty and limited resources, jugaad is a necessity. Jugaad seems to come naturally for many Indians, like a good habit. Jugaad seems built-in, for the challenges here are everywhere, all-pervasive, daily, and inescapable, impacting rich and poor alike.
In India, one must often learn to cope. And armed with jugaad, coping can mean innovating, adapting, and overcoming– in creative, often surprising ways. Jugaad is good practice for India, but it’s implications extend to benefit the rest of the world as well.
Teaching English as Cross-Cultural Immersion
My work here involves teaching English and basic computer skills to women who live in this small (though fast-growing) village in Himachal Pradesh state, a largely rural region of northern India.
My day begins much as you’d expect a teacher’s to unfold — planning lessons over breakfast with field workers and fellow volunteers, coming up with creative ways to help make learning an unfamiliar language more fun and engaging, and less like a visit to the dentist. (The students love word games like hangman and Apples-to-Apples!)
As a novice teacher with no particular training (except for the fact that I know something about the difficulties of studying a foreign language — French in my case), I’m picking up a trick or two about the art of effective teaching. I’m learning to use more visuals and images and do less talking, to do more showing and less explaining. I’ve become reacquainted with that wonderful proverb:
“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Engage me and I understand.”
The setting here also involves going on excursions — to museums, attractions, cultural festivals, temples, and the like — and hearing lectures on anything from the basics of Hindi to marriage and religious customs.
We take yoga in the mornings (yoga being yet another one of India’s gifts to the world!). And I’m even learning a few dance steps to Hindi pop songs courtesy of my always lively students!
All of this I try to simultaneously digest and integrate within my teaching in a kind of cross-cultural immersion. In a two-way loop, we are learning as much about another culture as we are trying to offer our own culture through teaching to our hosts. Giving and taking, sharing and learning — all of it taking place in a country far from my own.
In so doing, it is I who ends up learning — as much, if not more, than my students and the staff that so graciously support me here.
My experience also serves to alter the lens though which I view India — and the world! This is direct experience, the kind that is real-world and all-encompassing. It can be about meals and cuisine. It can touch on daily needs in a country such as India, including healthcare issues, sanitation, and family planning education — all within a context that is profoundly different from my own cultural “norms.” It’s life outside the box on all levels.
Is India a Superpower?
India is a superpower, not for its military or even economic prowess. Although fast-growing, India is a superpower because of her people and their brainpower. India derives its strength from its diversity (the world’s largest democracy). India gets its power from jugaad, with its ingrained, innate ability to creatively innovate and adapt to — and achieve through — difficult and challenging circumstances, crippling poverty, and limited infrastructure.
As embodied by the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, and through its long history of strife, enormous struggle, and sometimes violent conflict, India’s gifts to the world stand as a shinning example, a beacon lighting the way toward hope for peace, genuine prosperity, and happiness, for all of us.
Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of one thousand miles starts with a single step.”
Today, my own journey of a thousand miles begins as I step outside my house here in the San Francisco Bay Area; in a matter of hours and days, I will be transported by Boeing 777 across continents with a single hop — from SFO, to Dubai, then to New Delhi, then on Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh state nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India.
This journey is both personal and professional. One might think of it as the Peace Corps for busy professionals. I am traveling not merely to sight-see, though I will be doing plenty. It is not just for my personal benefit but to serve others as a volunteer as well.
I will be working in a women’s empowerment center in lower Dharamsala, teaching English and basic computer and communication skills to women who might not otherwise have access to resources. In so doing, I will help to empower a circle around that woman, the extended family that depends (directly and indirectly) on that woman for support.
I will be living among other volunteers — Brits, American, Aussies. They are health professionals, and teachers, and students and assistants for people with HIV, and advocates for the disabled.
I also embark on this journey as a global citizen. I seek to discover relevance and practical skills within globalization — for myself and for others. These are the new life skills for living in a globalized world, to help us understand how to live, work, learn and thrive in an increasingly inter-connected world, an emerging global life that exists ever closer to the threshold of our own doorstep — closer than we think.
I will be coming into intimate contact with day-to-day life in another country — food, public transit, work, study, family life, a wedding, a funeral.
In so doing, i will witness what life is like in a hot, crowded, smoggy mega-city like New Delhi, as well as a small rural village in the Himalayan foothills.
I expect to learn something from India as the world’s largest democracy — on May 16, the elections in India, 6 weeks in the making with over 1 billion people casting votes, will come to a dramatic conclusion and the results will be announce, and I will be there in India as this happens.
I expect to experience how cross-cultural understanding is a two-way street: today, I travel to a place like India and engage as a volunteer and serve and give of myself, sharing my own culture with others; at the same time, I end up transforming my own cultural perspectives of the world, shaping and inspiring my own understanding in new ways, developing an emerging sense of what it means to be a citizen of the world — or of any one place anywhere — one among many on this increasingly interdependent planet.
To comprehend global climate change, we must understanding how we’re all in a relationship with ice.
So says Olafur Ragnar Grimsson at a briefing I attended this week — fittingly on Earth Day — here at the World Affairs in San Francisco.
As president of Iceland since 1996, and serving in his fifth term, Grimsson is easily one of the longest-running democratically elected heads of state in the world today.
An Outspoken Voice for Change
Grimsson has emerged in recent years as one of the world’s most outspoken voices in the cause to address climate change. Indeed, he leads an Arctic nation on the front lines of melting sea ice and deals first-hand with the effects of our warming planet.
In this way, we can regard Iceland as a laboratory, a microcosm of causes and conditions — scientific, economic, and political — that help us understand the complexities and interrelationships between melting ice, energy, and impacts on people and global markets that are sure to come for everyone.
Greater economic sustainability from investment in green energy
Grimsson also leads one the most “green” countries in the world — Iceland’s energy consumption is now more than 85 percent from renewable sources, including geothermal and wind.
In the span of just one or two generations, Iceland has successfully made the transition from a nation dependent on coal to one of the world’s leading green energy consumers. This serves an example to the world — particularly China — as it prepares to shift away from dependency on fossil fuels and come up with real answers to global climate change.
Grimsson attributes his country’s aggressive investment in renewable energy as a significant reason why Iceland emerged from the global financial crisis healthier than before. Indeed, evidence suggests that green energy investment yields greater increases in GDP, and Iceland is a shinning example where this bears out.
A Time of Shifting Rhetoric on Climate Change
Grimmson’s talk this week comes at a time of profoundly changing attitudes among climate experts. Within the recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations, and others, the rhetoric is no longer “if” the effects of climate change will be felt but rather when, where, and how much.
For many climatologists and environmental experts, the world has crossed a tipping point where the effects of a warming planet will be inevitable. Many now realize that and the time for prevention has passed us and preparation for action is now necessary to manage the impacts that are certain to come. This rhetoric is in sharp contract to the tone of scientific discussions just 2 or 3 years ago.
A Third Pole
As an Arctic leader, Grimmson stresses the need to rethink how we view the world as a whole, interrelated system rather than separate parts. The idea that the North and South Poles are remote, desolate, and isolated places won’t advance the cause to address global climate change.
He introduces the need to consider the idea of a “Third Pole” — the Himalayas — when considering the consequences of melting ice.
Consider that about one billion people in a dozen countries are in some way dependent on the waters that flow from the great glaciers in the Himalayas — contributing to the great rivers of the Indus, the Ganges, and the Bramhaputra.
Impacts of melting Ice being felt in China
Grimmson also cites recent scientific studies that reveal a startlingly close interrelationship between melting sea ice in the Arctic and the severity of storms in central China. In the past 4 or 5 years, rapid sea ice melts are contributing to recent devastating winter storms and cold temperatures in China, according to these scientific studies.
Opportunity for U.S.-Russia cooperation at the Arctic Council
Iceland has played a major role in the eight-member Arctic Council, and Grimmson sees the opportunity for greater cooperation in the future.
Especially for the United States’s bilateral relationship with Russia, the Arctic Council represents one of the best examples where the U.S. and Russia are cooperating.
Need to stay informed, and stay active
Grimmson encourages world watchers to stay informed on Arctic issues — and even to become active if one can. Awareness of Arctic issues is on the rise lately — especially in China, which has begun sending it’s top scientists and engineers to the Arctic to study and learn. We in the U.S. especially have a role to play in continuing to spread awareness and advocate for change. Indeed, Iceland is the star example.
Today, as part of my path toward greater global engagement — in my life, my work, my studies, and career — I prepare to travel to Mexico and India.
These will be my second and third “travel with purpose” journeys in the past three years. (In 2011, I traveled to Thailand with Cross-Cultural Solutions where I served as volunteer for an NGO helping to write a website, and engaged locally in Bangkok.)
My travels begin in mid-March and end in late June, and I intend to continue to report on my progress on the pages of this blog. These travels are for me part personal, part professional, part career redefining, and part ongoing study in global affairs.
As I prepare to embark upon these journeys, I intend to document and share how I find relevance within the context of a globally engaged individual — the Chief Global Officer, the advocate for mindful global connections, the advancer of new skills for a global world.
I have chosen travel with purpose over all other types of travel because I know it offers the greatest potential to change me, deeply. I know from past experience how it can put me up close and personal, intimately engaging me with the “real world.”
But what is travel with purpose? How is it different from traditional travel, such as taking a beach vacation or an island cruise — the so-called “sea, sand, and sun” motivations so typical of mass-produced corporate travel.
The Importance of Impacts over Activities
According to the United Nations Center for Global Tourism and the Center For Responsible Tourism at Stanford University and Washington DC, tourism worldwide accounts for more economic benefit to poor communities than any source of international aid or direct foreign investment. In 60 countries, tourism is the largest export.
Accounting for nearly 10 percent of world GDP (over $600 trillion spent annually) and with over 1 billion people now traveling as tourists every year around the world, and with double-digit annual growth rates, no other sector delivers more benefits to the world’s poor than tourism (UN Center for Global Tourism and Center for Responsible Tourism.)
But what differentiates “responsible tourism” from mere recreational tourism seems to be the way it emphasizes impacts over activities. These impacts include:
- Maximum benefits to local communities (vs. large-scale tourism typically characterized by distant corporate ownership, minimal investment in the destination country, and package tours)
- Respect for fragile local cultures, habitats and species
- Direct benefits for poor people in the destination country
- Conservation — both environmental and cultural heritage
- Sustainability — tourism that helps to enhance the quality of experience for future travelers
In His Own Words — U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus and a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ to Travel With Purpose
As a testament to the impact of travel with purpose on one’s life and views, how it shapes understanding of the world, consider what a U.S. Senator (and now U.S. Ambassaodr) recently said.
This month, Max Baucus, the U.S. Senator from Montana, was confirmed to become the U.S. Ambassador to China. In his acceptance speech, he cited his own travel with purpose — something he embarked upon while a student at Stanford, describing it as “an epiphany,” as a “definitive year,” as an experience that shaped his whole life toward service to his country.
U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus:
“Fifty two years ago, I was full of youthful idealism and curiosity about life beyond the ranch. As a college student at Stanford, I decided to take a year off from my studies. I grabbed a knapsack and hitchhiked around the world.
“I set out to visit countries I had only imagined – India, Japan, and China, to name a few. Before I departed, I had never thought about a life of public service, but that trip opened my eyes. It charted my course.”
“I realized how people across the globe were interconnected, and I saw the indispensable role, America plays as a leader on the world stage.”
“I had an epiphany in what was then the Belgian Congo. It just hit me. The world is getting smaller. Our natural resources are diminishing.”
“I would not be standing here today had it not been for that trip around the world. It was, by far, the most defining year of my life.”
While by itself, Ambassador Baucus’s “gap year” does not make for the only qualification for success to become ambassador to China (or any country), it does speak to the power and profundity of travel with purpose and a way it moves us to understand ourselves, to understand who we are in the world, and to inspire us positively to want to engage to help address the many problems we see in the world today.
What My Own Experience Has to Offer
My own recipe for success with travel with purpose seems to point to the importance of local engagement. It seems the more more local I become when in country, the richer the experience (and hopefully the greater the impact for the local community as well).
Here are a few approaches I have found to make travel truly travel with local purpose:
- Take local public transportation — within a busy city especially, get around in the same way that average citizens travel
- Participate in local family rituals when possible, like weddings and funerals, graduations, and family celebrations
- Share in local meals, not only to sample the indigenous cuisine but to experience local culture, family life and traditions in and around mealtime
- Become familiar with local work-life routines — there’s something about getting up and commuting to work in busy city traffic and helps you to become more intimate with a place, the ebbs and flows of a city and its people
- Help to build something or engage in local work — but when doing so, it’s vital to invest particular attention to the needs of the locals, to become aware and understand what is appropriate and ethical and what it not (and I’ve found it helps to drop as many of our own cultural attachments, comforts, habits, and biases as possible)
Purposeful Travel as Competency for a Global World — Tools for the CGO
Ultimately, travel with purpose ends up being a two-way street. As travelers we go in search of an experience, an adventure, but we end up transforming ourselves in the process. Travel reshapes our world view, just as it did for Max Baucus when he hitchhiked across the world. Done mindfully and with examined intention, travel both helps the world and changes our destiny, it alters our path through life, and orients us to what is vital in our world and in ourselves.
As I prepare to embark on my global travels, I intend to share first-hand my personal investigation of what it means to live, work, study, and relate to the people, places, processes and things that make up our increasingly globalizing world today. I’m committed to finding relevance to advance practical skill-building and to connect it to my own understanding, and hopefully for others as well.