Interview: UNA NZ on global citizenship


What does global citizenship mean to you?

Global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks, or the number of countries to which one has traveled.

The following are essential elements of global citizenship:

  • The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.
  • The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them.
  • The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

The recent publication ‘Education for Global Citizenship: A Guide for Schools’ (Oxfam 2015: 5) defines a global citizen as someone who:

  • Is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
  • Respects and values diversity
  • Has an understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, culturally, technologically and environmentally
  • Is passionately committed to social justice
  • Participates in the community at a range of levels from the local to the global
  • Works with others to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place.
  • Takes responsibility for their actions.

In what ways is UNA NZ helping New Zealanders become active and responsible global citizens?

UNA NZ aims to educate New Zealanders about the workings of the United Nations.

Our Youth Association runs the well-established New Zealand Model United Nations programme, holding events at both national and international levels. By role-playing delegations to the UN, students learn about different countries and the complex interactions between national interests. Several of our Branches also run Model UN programmes.

The Canterbury Branch is developing an education programme on New Zealand and the United Nations to inspire global citizenship in our young New Zealanders and to raise awareness of the UNA and the UN.

What is one global challenge you would like to bring to the attention of New Zealanders?

We face only two truly existential threats today, climate change and nuclear war. At a recent address to some of our members, Terence O’Brien, former NZ UN Ambassador spoke eloquently of the current challenges we face, and the role of the UN.

In our world every generation believes, or likes to believe, that it exists at a time of great change. This mentality seems to be an integral part of human nature itself. Right now there are multiple layers of change reverberating around the world which challenge the role and potential of the UN system, and the international legitimacy that the UN embodies. What follows is a brief selective view of some of those layers of change.

Democratic popular choices in the US and in Europe throughout 2016, with more to come, are providing seismic shocks to the landscape of international relations. These occur in a global context where, in addition, the accomplishments of large newly emergent economies plus others, are changing the world’s centre of economic and social gravity; and in the process affecting the international pecking order amongst leading nations.

This is a time too where technology and economics are shrinking the planet, where governments are no longer in control in quite the same ways as in the past , where non-government influence upon international relations is expanding (through single issue advocacy groups or powerful private enterprise) and radicalised violence employing the tactic of terrorism, has achieved global reach.

There are moreover modern threats to security and wellbeing that are appreciably greater than terrorism. These are comprehensive in their nature and impacts – climate change, environmental disfigurement, resource depletion, footloose migration, grave poverty and inequality, the spread of weapons especially of mass destruction all combine to present significant dangers. No one country or group, no matter how powerful, is able to master let alone solve these afflictions; and only one institution, the UN, conceptually possesses the competence and potential for comprehensive appraisal and collective action – across such a range of multiple challenges. 

It is often said that if the UN didn’t exist, someone would invent it. Put simply, issues and problems of a global nature need a global solution.The UN – as an almost universal forum – is the best place for such solutions to be devised. And we do have a plan. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals address the real threats to humanity and the ecosystem and the commitment to meeting the real needs for health, housing, education, social justice 2017 and environmental restoration.

However, we will often be the first to admit that the UN is not perfect and needs change in order to fulfil its potential. UN renewal is of utmost priority. Therefore our current priorities are to promote community understanding of the UN, and to ensure that government policy is oriented towards enhancing the effectiveness of the UN.