Extending Global Citizenship; Lessons and Challenges to Involve the Middle Class in Responsible Development

Since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were confirmed, important global changes have taken place. An important transformation is the rise of the emerging economies and, related to this, the rapid growth of the middle class in these countries. At the same time there has been an economic slowdown in many higher income countries. Worldwide there is a decrease in the number of people living in absolute poverty, while at the same time inequality within many regions and countries has increased. Due to globalisation, population growth and economic development, there also is an increased urgency to address issues of common concern, like climate change.

In the professional discourse about development cooperation messages about the relevance of these changes are phrased and rephrased at different scale levels, indicating the importance to adapt to these changes.  However, within the public debate the ‘old discourse’ on development cooperation -providing aid from ‘the rich global North’ to ‘the poor global South’ – is still the dominant discourse. For instance, opinion research in the Netherlands has shown that most Dutch citizens do not see a clear link between poverty alleviation and ecological sustainability (Hogeling et al. 2013). Bridging the gap between the professional and public debate was identified as one of the key challenges by experts in the field of development cooperation in the Netherlands (Spitz et al, 2013).

(Global) education – both within and outside formal structures – is a way to raise awareness among citizens and stimulate social change. Ultimately the aim is to contribute to strengthened global citizenship with a keen eye on social justice and more sustainable life styles. While several countries have a long tradition in global education, in many others countries this role is either absent or weak. Countries which have been  focusing on raising global citizenship are facing new challenges like ‘reframing the messages’ including issues of global concern and extending these messages beyond the group of people who are already interested and involved. In the emerging economies, the increase of the middle class poses new fundamental questions like; what is the role of the middle class related to alleviating poverty in their own countries and to global sustainable development? These questions are particularly relevant as many people aspire a ‘western’ life style based on increased consumption.

The UN High Level Panel, which has formulated new goals on poverty alleviation and sustainable development from 2015 onwards, has emphasized the importance of involving a wide range of actors in reaching the new goals (UN 2013). Moreover it is emphasized that the role of higher income countries to alleviate poverty and to contribute to sustainable development goes beyond Official Development Assistance (ODA). It can be argued that global education is more important than it has ever been.

The panel aims to address the following questions;

  • What can be learnt from current practices in promoting global citizenship, including efforts to involve the middle class?
  • To what extent are lessons obtained in higher income countries useful and applicable to upcoming middle class in emerging economies?

Which forms of mutual learning between higher, middle-income and lower income countries can be identified?