The term globalisation has come to mean the way in which the world economy is run and dominated by multi-national corporations and the international institutions they tend to control.
This interpretation has led to an anti-globalisation movement, campaigning against the way financial institutions appear to be assuming the role of global government and the inexorable rise of inequality and social exclusion.
While it is right to condemn globalisation as defined in this narrow way, it has also led to a refusal to perceive any positive aspects in the globalisation process of the past two decades which have led to an ever more interdependent planet. For, the true meaning of globalisation is about those processes and developments, which have made the concept of the global village a reality. These are to do with:
All of these characteristics and capacities of globalisation can give truly positive benefits just as they can also be used in a negative fashion. They may be used for good or evil, to benefit the many or just the few.
Thus, global capacities permit terrorism to be organised on a global scale. Equally, those who combat global terrorism can use, for example, the capacity to track financial transactions around the globe to clamp down on the assets and money movements of suspected terrorists.
Simply because we can transport all things around the globe at great speed does not mean it is sensible to do so. It is a choice, which determines that we transport food huge distances at considerable environmental cost to the planet rather than encourage home production and consumption near the point of production.
A global institution such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) does not have to be the instrument which exacerbates divisions between the rich and poor and which appears consistently to favour the rich trading nations through the fiction of a level playing field. Who wants a level playing field if you are a village team playing a professional club? Playing off a handicap as in golf would be a more apt analogy allowing equal rather than unequal competition.
The problem is not in globalisation itself, but in how we, as global society, manage and regulate the positive capacities of globalisation and set about achieving our global aspirations. It is a question of governance, of who makes the decisions and from what value base.
We are presented with the notion that only private business and financial institutions are capable of delivering growth, and only economic growth may deliver social progress and justice.
On a global scale we are effectively being offered government by financial institutions, which are secretive and unaccountable. It is arguable that the World Economic Forum and its annual meeting in Davos have far greater authority than the United Nations. And there is evidence to suggest that the closed shop of the Business Round Table in Europe have a very significant influence on the policies and direction of the European Union.
So the key question is: How do we develop processes globally - as well as within nations - that can reign in and control the way the world is run and make these global institutions accountable to the peoples of the world?
In the rhetoric of recent years in the European Union has been the concept of subsidiarity; meaning that decision-making and power should be vested in the lowest levels of society which, in turn, delegate upwards (reverse delegation) those tasks which can best be done on a larger scale or at a higher level.
In practice this does not generally happen in Europe, which in fact is a highly centralised and controlling bureaucracy, but the concept is exciting, dynamic and in essence quite revolutionary. Power to do things should be delegated upwards from the grassroots and those powers which are delegated may, of course, be taken away if the higher level of government or society does not adequately discharge its responsibilities.
In a global context the idea of subsidiarity correctly infers the need for global institutions - as well as global/regional, national, regional and district institutions - but institutions which take on only those tasks and responsibilities which have been handed to them and institutions which are always accountable to the levels below them.
This line of argument then brings us to the importance of community-based actions and community-based structures as the test-bed for development, which is founded on certain values and principles and as the grassroots level from which the first responsibilities may be delegated upwards.
Within community-based development there is general agreement about the core values which underpin thinking and action about the way community should work:
Involvement at the community level is a training ground for the development of a civil society; indeed it is the bedrock of civil society and an essential tool for the development of a civilised society. And the values, which underpin community-led, grassroots institutions, are a direct challenge to the values which influence the prevailing status quo.
Our task however is surely to build a global movement for change from the grassroots which does challenge the status quo, which demonstrates and argues that globalisation is managed in the interests of the few rather than the many, which insists that there are other values which matter, and which proposes that global institutions can be developed to serve mankind and be accountable to the people. The ethics, values and culture of the community development sector must permeate upwards and outwards. To do that we can:
It is a large and long task. Maybe time is against us. But there are gains, which can be noted:
Small steps perhaps, and by no means any reason for complacency, but evidence that global movements and pressure from below can have some impact, that we can use the capacities of the global village to challenge the way globalisation is managed.
John Pearce can be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Sector magazine seeks to promote the principles and practice of collective enterprise, common ownership, co-operation and community control. In particular it promotes enterprises whose governance, management and ownership are characterised by democratic and participative structures at worker, community and member levels.