What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Daily life is busy, with friends, family, school, further education, or work to consider. So, when I was asked recently what being a global citizen means, I questioned how often I take the time to think about how people live their lives in other countries, or how my life choices might impact theirs. But this is exactly what being a global citizen asks of you.

Being a global citizen

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (which African Adventures has committed to advancing, through our United Nations Global Compact signatory status) call upon all countries to ‘promote prosperity while protecting the planet’. They recognise that ‘ending poverty must go hand in hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection’.

UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a blueprint for being a Global Citizen

This description sounds like a big undertaking for any individual, and suggests you need to offer up a grand gesture, or significantly change your life or life choices to become a global citizen, which might deter people from considering how they might become one.

But, in simpler terms, a global citizen can be someone who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. Someone who takes an active role in their community and works with others to make the world more equal, fair and sustainable.

There is also a focus on young people striving to be global citizens, through education and life experiences. This makes absolute sense given young people’s fresh perspective on the world and the confidence society wishes to instil in them to voice their opinions or challenge inequality or injustice. The next generation are the hope the world needs to positively influence others and drive change forward.

But why limit this goal to the young? Surely there’s never a bad time to become a global citizen. It’s arguable that as you become older your view of the world becomes more entrenched, and you question yourself and your preconceptions less often, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Do you ever find yourself repeating the same answer when someone asks you about a current global issue, or feel that you don’t know enough about a topic to give an educated reply? There’s no time like the present to start learning more about the world around you and become better informed.

This sounds like too big a challenge

News headlines and social media updates tell us about the big topics of the world; from the UN climate change summit urging us to do ‘everything in our power to tackle climate change’, to statistics that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish, or that over 265 million children are currently out of school.

How do these vast issues affect you, and what possible impact can you have on them? Words like ‘global’ and the use of huge statistics to demonstrate the impact of said issues can be daunting, and can perhaps make you feel like you can’t possibly have an input into creating change. But, thinking and acting globally can be simpler than you think.

Being a global citizen
Being a global citizen is about thinking globally – studies suggest that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish

What steps can you take to become a global citizen?

Have you ever considered volunteering?

For those that can take time out of their own lives to travel and volunteer abroad, this is a fantastic opportunity to be a global citizen and positively impact other communities directly.

International volunteering is a powerful movement that, when carried out in the right way, can be a force for good, helping to change lives in those communities and for those taking part. International volunteering provides an education that cannot be replicated at home and can chip away at some of those huge statistics surrounding children having limited access to an education. It offers an unparallelled insight into a new culture and a different way of life. It encourages critical thinking, community participation and tolerance, and gives people a greater understanding of both global citizenship and responsibility.

If you can’t travel abroad in the immediate future, you can still make an impact closer to home by volunteering in your local community or for a charity that you have an affinity with. Even small UK-based charities can have a global reach and offer an insight into how people around the world access support, healthcare and education that you may take for granted.

But how else can you make an impact on a smaller scale from home, or maintain your contribution as a global citizen after volunteering?

Being a global citizen
Being a global citizen doesn’t need to start with volunteering in Africa, you can still make an impact closer to home

What is your understanding of global issues?

A great start is to simply question what you think you know. When an issue or topic confronts you – either a news item, a social media post that causes you to react in a way you didn’t expect, or a comment someone makes results in you feeling a certain way – find out more about it. What’s the background? What are your opinions on the matter and why? Do you have enough of an understanding of the subject to participate in discussion? What action can you take to support a cause being championed on social media? It might surprise you what you could do to effect change.

Ask a friend or family member for their view, and if it’s different from yours why is that? Generational differences can often create a wide range of views, and discussing these to find out where those beliefs come from or when they were last discussed can broaden everyone’s view.

What do you know about different countries, communities and cultures?

When was the last time you travelled to a country that really interested you, rather than choosing a destination that was easy to get to or allowed you to travel with people you know? What reasons have stopped you from following your instincts, and how important are those reasons? Often the fear of the unknown causes us to create reasons to not pursue an opportunity; “I don’t speak the language”, or “It’s a country with a turbulent past”, or “I don’t want to travel with people I don’t know”.

If you have the opportunity to travel in a different way to gain what could be the experience of a lifetime, fight against that inner voice and go for it!

On a smaller scale, try striking up conversation with someone you don’t know to find out more about their culture, way of living and beliefs. You can develop a deeper understanding of the world through the lives and views of others.

Alternatively, why not set yourself a goal to find out more about a specific country, community or culture. Taking time out to read a newspaper, or a book set in a country you’ve not visited, can broaden your understanding of the world. With facts and opinions about global issues at your fingertips on the internet and social media it’s easy to scroll through without taking a closer look, and this different environment may just pique your interest.

Becoming a global citizen
Becoming a global citizen could start by setting yourself a goal to find out more about a specific country, community or culture

How can your life choices make a difference?

How does your way of living impact the environment or other societies around the world? Do you recycle as much as you could? How often do you drive to work when you could cycle, get the bus, or walk instead? Could you buy some Fair-Trade products instead of your usual brand?

It’s sometimes easier to not make these changes, or to take the approach that there’s no point if it’s a small change. But making these small differences can be one of the easiest and most impactful ways to be a global citizen, especially if your behaviours convince others to change too. These choices, when combined with others’ efforts in the same vein, can positively impact the world by reducing plastic waste and carbon emissions, and showing support for farming communities abroad.

Start today

Hopefully we’ve given you some ideas as to how you can be a global citizen, even on a small scale. It doesn’t have to be a huge lifestyle change, or something that impacts your life in a big way; it is really just a different way of thinking, and an awareness of how you can positively affect others through your choices.


by Jess Cannings

Admin Assistant at African Adventures

Jess supports the Finance and Admin team with anything from booking hotels for the office team, to managing the My AA Shop.

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