by Daniel Obst, AFS President & CEO

Who would have thought two simple words—global citizen—would cause such an emotional debate around the world.

Perhaps one reason, says global trendcaster Josh Bershin of Deloitte consulting firm: “While the idea of being a “global citizen” is attractive, it turns out that citizenship is a very local thing.”

I agree. I also believe that individuals afraid of differences, sharing resources or giving rights to people not born in their countries are clouding the more important conversation: how global citizens are changing the world. On that front, focusing on Oxfam’s definition of global citizen puts any contentious discussion back on track:

A global citizen is someone who is aware of and understands the wider world—and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair and sustainable.

The good news is that more people around the world identify themselves as global citizens rather than citizens of their country, according to a 2016 BBC World Service poll conducted by GlobeScan.

More than 20,000 people worldwide in 18 countries took part in the poll—and for the first time in 15 years of tracking, more than half of the respondents saw themselves as global citizens rather than national citizens.

There are many ways to read into this statistic and the poll itself. I will leave that up to you. But my call-to-action after reading this study was simple: Find ways to nurture and harness the sentiment of this growing band of global citizens to help them better communicate and collaborate with each other to improve the prospects of all.That’s embedded in the mission of AFS.

Leading a not-for-profit organization and global network with operations in 60 countries comes with its share of challenges. But the reward of seeing the tremendous contributions of thousands of active global citizens working across 60 countries outweighs losing some sleep working late nights.

These are just a few examples of the amazing work AFS alumni are doing around the world:

  • Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba is a former Mayor of Hiroshima and a committed advocate for peace, the abolition of nuclear weapons, environmental protection, and open, transparent, democratic government. Dr. Akiba has held commendable positions as president of the Mayors for Peace Network, Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), President of AFS Japan, in addition to a post as a Professor by Special Appointment at Hiroshima University. For his commitment to peace building Mr. Akiba has received many international prizes including the prestigious Ramon Magsayay Award, the Buddha International Peace Award and the Otta Hahn Peace Medal.
  • Lisa Sophia Marti, AFS Switzerland volunteer and alumna, is the leader of an extraordinary changemaking project, “voCHabular”, that fosters inclusion and integration by helping refugees in Switzerland learn German, and by providing workshops for immigrant teenagers to reflect on their intercultural experience. The project now includes 50 volunteers in various teams, and it has been expanded to include interactive books covering Arabic, Persian (Farsi/Dari) and English translations to (Swiss) German. Lisa co-created the working group which incorporates aspects of global learning into the trainings of AFS Switzerland and she has facilitated numerous workshops on active citizenship, global learning, racism, gender, stereotypes, debriefing, refugees and sustainability, all with the aim of fostering peace and understanding.
  • Shafiq Najib, an AFS alumnus from Malaysia, says the following: “My AFS experience taught me to be more compassionate, and to always think outside the box. Since then I have gone on to pursue my passion to become a journalist. I gained life skills that have been very useful to my career and life in general. I learnt to adapt to a foreign environment, communicate with people from all walks of life and accept people for who they are, without judgement. I am very appreciative of these experiences and will never trade them for the world.”

Share what are you doing as a global citizen in 2019 by posting your stories in the comments below.