Graphic for webinar, "Corporations as Global Citizens"

Imperatives of Leadership for Business and Society with Spotlight speaker Emma Sky

Corporations can embrace global citizenship just as individuals do, but while this can lead to great positive impact, it also comes with its own challenges. How do businesses continue to drive innovation and global economic growth while preserving the climate, protecting human rights, and ensuring that the most vulnerable are not left behind?

This panel will bring together business and economics leaders to discuss how corporations are incorporating global citizenship into their strategy and highlight global challenges where the business community can and should play a greater role in ensuring a sustainable future.

Immediately following the panel, Emma Sky will deliver closing remarks and answer questions. Emma Sky is director of Yale's Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program and a Senior Fellow at the Jackson Institute, where she teaches Middle East politics.

Watch the replay of this event here. 


Remarks by Emma Sky

Global citizenship: Citizenship for the 21st century

Back in 2016 at the Conservative Party Conference, the then British Prime Minister Theresa May declared that “If You Believe You are a Citizen of the World, You are a Citizen of Nowhere.”

Her words were an arrow through my heart. I had always aspired to be a citizen of the world, someone who, wherever I went, could find a way to relate to everyone I meet – someone who searched for the common humanity in the other. Someone who felt passionately about issues of global justice, whether it be Free Mandela, Free Tibet or Free Palestine.

So why would the Prime Minister be so scornful and criticize someone for that?

Her target was global elites, wealthy individuals who flit regularly from Doha to Davos, living on jets and in five-star hotels – a cabal who have benefitted greatly from globalization, who know each other and have lots in common with each other – but are not connected to or rooted in any local community.

May’s comments resonated with people who feel very attached to their communities, and connected to those with whom they share the same history, language, customs, culture, food.

In his book “Winners Take All: the elite charade of changing the world,” the writer Anand Giridharadas was even more scathing in his attack on global elites. He skewered the tech billionaires and bankers who gather in Davos and Aspen to speak about making the world a better place – and yet entrench the existing economic system which has made them hugely wealthy while leaving others stuck in poverty. They use the influence over government that their wealth brings to prevent redistributive taxation – while presenting themselves as generous philanthropists, “doing good”.

In recent weeks, we have heard corporate America – the leaders of tech companies, banks and businesses – express support for Black Lives Matter, pledging their commitment to inclusion and diversity. This is of course a good step. But what we don’t hear from them are commitments to pay their taxes, to offer to pay higher levels of tax, to increase the salaries of their employees, to really put their money where their mouth is.

We are witnessing great polarisation within our countries these days. Commentators argue that these divides are between those who believe in open and close societies; or those who benefitted from globalization and those who were left behind; that it is cultural wars, identity politics – black lives matter versus all lives matter; that it is between those who are from somewhere and those who are from nowhere.

COVID has wreaked havoc around the world. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives. Millions more have lost their incomes. Businesses have gone bust. Education has been disrupted.

We all found ourselves in the same storm – but it soon became clear that we are in different boats. The shockwaves have not spread equally.

COVID has shone a spotlight on what is wrong in our societies. Our neoliberal economic systems meant governments prioritized efficiencies, cost reductions and just-in-time supply chains, at the expense of strategic investments in innovation, emergency stockpiles and sustainable food chains. Wealth creation has been concentrated at the top, with tax avoidance hindering redistribution.

COVID has sharply displayed the inequalities in societies – and increased them.

But it has also brought out a spirit of service and sacrifice, from health workers on the front lines to those who deliver supplies and stack shelves, putting their own lives at risk to help others. Many have rediscovered the joy of performing random acts of kindness, putting their skills to use for the benefit of others, looking after their neighbours, caring for their elderly parents and being present with their children.

Our air has become less polluted due to the dramatic drop in carbon emissions from halted industrial output and declining energy demands. People have also discovered that many meetings can be held virtually without plane travel. Modern technology has enabled us to stay connected even when physically separate.

As our governments competed for medical supplies and miracle cures, and as leaders pointed fingers at each other and spun up blame-game conspiracies, the virus itself has reminded us that we need to increase cooperation, to share scientific knowledge and coordinate global responses to global challenges.

The pandemic is a wake-up call. We need to change the way we live – or else we will become extinct.

The cataclysm that is COVID provides a unique opportunity for a reset – to build back better.

But will we take it?

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In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Francis Fukuyama noted that effective performance in the face of the pandemic was not dependent on whether a regime was democratic or authoritarian. He wrote: “The factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been state capacity, social trust, and leadership. Countries with all three—a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust and listen to, and effective leaders—have performed impressively, limiting the damage they have suffered. Countries with dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable.”

It is hard to predict the long-term consequences of COVID.

Look at what emerged from 9/11. It led to the invasion of Iraq – which had nothing to do with the attacks; the rise of ISIS; refugee crisis in Europe as people fled from wars in the Middle East; contributed to the loss of faith in the ability of elites and experts to make the right decisions; the rise of populism; Brexit and Trump.

It is not difficult to imagine that out of the pandemic we will see escalating tensions between the US and China; increasing authoritarianism; rising populism, misinformation; increasing domestic inequalities.

All the indicators are there.

But nothing is pre-ordained.

COVID has forced us to reflect on what is important to us and has given us a moment to reflect on how we might re-configure the world in the future, away from individuals maximizing income, towards a collective commitment to building a better society.

Recently, I watched a documentary called “Ants and men.” It’s about the life of EO Wilson, an American biologist who is the world’s leading expert on ants. He is also the father of sociobiology and biodiversity. Humans – like ants - are social animals. The desire to belong to a community is what makes us human; it’s how we are built. Cooperation is the key to our survival and domination. But we still carry with us the less efficient elements of individual competition. And it is this dual nature that makes us both tremendously powerful and deeply flawed. So we have the potential for both cooperation and destruction. Wilson posits that the path to the former lies in reclaiming our place in the natural world. "We belong to nature."

So let us imagine an optimistic future.

One in which we slow down climate change because governments put the same energy into addressing climate change as they did to COVID;

One in which we build stronger, healthier and more resilient communities because we change our economic model to prioritize human well-being and the environment;

One in which we increase international cooperation to deal with the global challenges of the 21st century.

Of course, it is not enough to just imagine. We need leaders who share that vision, are actively working towards it, and are building alliances.

So when I think of what it means to be a citizen of the 21st century, I think of individuals deeply rooted in the communities in which they live; dedicating their talents and resources to improving their societies; recognizing the common humanity in others; building solidarity and mobilizing others; and sharing their knowledge and learning with others, cooperating and collaborating.

Through my time as Director Yale World Fellows, I have come to know many people like this.

In April, after a few weeks of lockdown, I set up the Good Society Forum, with a 2019 World Fellow Niz Uddin, to connect World fellows and other change makers, to engage on ideas and to inspire action.

The Israeli environmentalist Gidon Bromberg noted how Covid has increased public respect for expertise and science. It has shown that those who belittle science can put the public, the country, and the planet at risk; and that the public is willing to pay a high economic cost with lockdown because they understand that lives are at stake. Covid also revealed the importance of strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries because your neihbour’s failure affects you – pandemics do not respect borders. He revealed how Israeli and Palestinian health officials cooperated to decrease infection rates. Gidon is the co-founder of Ecopeace, a regional organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists to promote sustainable development and advance peace efforts in the Middle East. Gidon is advocating a project in which Israel and Palestine provide desalinated water to Jordan – a country that suffers from water scarcity - and receive renewable energy from Jordan in return. Covid has shown that in the face of a common threat, countries can come together. The sweeping policy responses to COVID19 have revealed that governments could tackle climate change if they could muster the same focus and zeal they brought to bear on the coronavirus crisis.

Dora Siliya is Zambia’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, and Chief Government Spokesperson. She told us how she travels around Zambia, going out into the poorest communities, explaining in person, and in local languages, why people need to wear masks, constantly wash their hands, and keep a physical distance from each other. Not long after speaking to us, and despite taking all the precautions, she herself tested positive for Covid19. She immediately released a video explaining that she had the virus, and was self-isolating. Thankfully, Dora has now recovered. She is back at work. She is an incredible leader, brave, and ambitious, who has earned the trust of her fellow citizens.

Rema Rajeshwari is a district police chief in the state of Telangana in the south of India. She spoke of the difficulty of enforcing lockdown in a country where informal workers are the backbone of the country. People were fearful and anxious – and it was crucial to prevent panic. So Rema set up food banks on national high ways to feed the drivers who were transporting essential workers and conducting deliveries, as well as the daily wage labourers, migrant workers, poor, and homeless. Rema has had an amazing career, from conducting operations in the jungle against left-wing extremists through to tracking down human traffickers. During Covid, she has found herself providing for the most vulnerable. This was not a role that she was used to playing in her police job. But as we have seen all around the world, people have wanted more government involvement – not less.

Julio Guzman is a candidate to be President of Peru in 2021. He is the leader of the Partido Morado (The Purple Party), a centrist-political national party. He told us how the pandemic has really changed perceptions of the role of the market and the state. For the last 17 years, the economy in Peru has grown building a middle class. But during the pandemic, people noticed how essential workers – those essential for the daily functions we take for granted – tend to be not only from the most vulnerable populations but are also assigned low wages by the market – wages that in light of current circumstances appear to be grossly inadequate. People have viewed with approval how the state intervened, providing credit, subsidies and cash transfers. As he prepares his Presidential campaign, Julio spoke of how the government must offer a new social contract that puts human wellbeing at the centre, and is supported by structural reforms which ensure a universal basic income, higher levels of taxation for the rich, and improved health and education outcomes.

The challenges facing the world are immense.

Each one of us can – and should – make a difference.

Yale gives its graduates the solid foundation and the tools for success. It instills values, with its motto of אורים ותמים (Lux et veritas, Light and truth); and its commitment to improve the world today and for future generations. we all have responsibilities that go beyond our immediate community, because indeed our community as human beings is increasing as the world heats.

It provides the education to contribute to our communities, to improve our societies - and to understand that we all have responsibilities that go beyond our immediate community, because our community as human beings is increasing as global warming reaches dangerous levels.

And it makes us part of an international network of talented, brilliant individuals with whom we can share our experiences and learn from. The most powerful tool we yield is cooperation.

Being a Yalie is a privilege and a responsibility, to be a citizen of somewhere, and a citizen of the world.

For God, for Country and for Yale.

That’s what it means to be a global citizen in the 21st century.

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April 29, 2021

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