The Role of Civil Society in Advancing Global Citizenship.

Author:Carlin, Scott
Position:Global Citizenship issue

It is the responsibility of civil society to experiment with models of effective global citizenship, to understand, care and act on behalf of people and the planet through ecological and socially inclusive principles and practices. Global citizenship is transforming the worlds of art, business, culture, education, human and labour rights, religion, public health, politics and our relationship with nature.

The United Nations is particularly important for global citizenship initiatives. The Charter, which begins with the phrase "We the peoples of the United Nations", became the first international instrument to popularize the term non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the face of global crises, the United Nations has achieved several critical milestones in recent years, including the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017. These successes would have been impossible without the vigorous and determined support of thousands of NGOs from around the world. This article explains the importance of the concept of global citizenship for civil society, emphasizing its role in achieving the SDGs.


Despite its flaws and differing perceptions, global citizenship is one of the most defining paradigm shifts of the contemporary world. We share three complementary viewpoints:

  1. It is a way of living that recognizes our world as an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies, in which our choices and actions may have repercussions for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally.

  2. A global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community's values and practices.

  3. Global Citizenship Education (GCED) aims to empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world.

The SDGs and their 169 targets are one of the world's most meaningful and measurable expressions of global citizenship. The United Nations adopted the SDGs at the seventieth General Assembly in September 2015. Their ultimate realization would be manifested by a world of global citizens responsible for:

"Creating a world with sustainable peace--a world without poverty or hunger and where all have health and education ... A world where we honor and protect life under water and on land. A world of peace and justice for all."

To achieve the SDGs, we must a) understand our global interdependencies; b) strengthen our care and commitment to the world community; and c) prepare the next generations by educating empowered learners who can resolve global challenges. These three complementary themes flow from the viewpoints noted above.

The United Nations Open Working Group (OWG) began formulating the SDGs in 2013. The involvement of NGOs in these negotiations was "unprecedented in their openness and engagement of all key stakeholders." The OWG organized civil society participation into the following major groups, joined later by other stakeholders: women...

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