Recently, more than 200 community foundation leaders from around the world convened in the once-divided city of Berlin to reflect on community-based philanthropy, volunteerism and civil society in an era of globalization.
At this historic meeting, a fundamental question that civic leaders from across the globe was asked: How can we expand the definition of community in an interconnected, increasingly globalized world?
Today, whether one lives in North America, Europe, Africa, Oceania, Asia or Latin America, the impacts of immigration, the telecommunications revolution, expanded cross-border trade, and the declining cost of global air travel are forcing community leaders to look beyond their own neighborhoods to global problems such as war, natural disasters, hunger, HIV/AIDS, poverty, human trafficking, and the oppression of women that affect us all directly or indirectly.
According to Tim Broadhead, the president of the Montreal-based J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, “In an interconnected world, all problems become everybody’s problems: Disease, conflict and pollution spread rapidly and affect each of us no matter where they originate.
“The scale of the challenge is daunting, and an easy response is to conclude that there is little individuals can do. But stretching our perspective to embrace the world and our time horizon to hundreds of years, not just a decade or two, will not happen by government decree or spontaneously by the ‘hidden hand’ of the market. All of us must be involved in bringing about this sea-change; there is no alternative.”
Nowhere are the challenges and opportunities arising from globalization more real than in San Diego-Tijuana, the largest and fastest-growing binational metroplex in the world with a population of more than 4.5 million people. Here, the trans-boundary impacts and interconnections of our two fast-growing communities are ever-present.
With growing in-migration, trade and foreign investment to our collective region from every part of the world, the concept of our binational community in a traditional U.S.-Mexico context is no longer valid, requiring a growing acceptance of other ethnic and religious groups that are becoming increasingly a part of the multicultural tapestry that is defining our shared binational region.
The San Diego-Tijuana region must work toward mutually advantageous binational solutions that require overcoming a number of longstanding linguistic, cultural, political and perceptional differences that have historically divided us.
These differences are made all the more difficult given the current public stalemate that is evident with the recent mayoral elections in both San Diego and Tijuana; Mexico President Vicente Fox’s lame-duck status during his remaining two years in office; and the deep social divisions reflected in the recent U.S. elections.
Our binational region faces a critical historical moment. For the past decade, Mexico and the United States have joined forces to pursue a strategy of aggregate economic growth to improve the well-being of the border region. However, the strategy’s track record, identified primarily with NAFTA, remains mixed and controversial.
The aftershocks of the 9/11 tragedies also continue to dictate priorities that, as time passes, need to be fully integrated into the longer-term interests and needs of our binational region. At the same time, public policies along our shared border are often reliant on governmental actions originating in Mexico City or Washington, D.C.
With the growing regional needs and priorities in San Diego-Tijuana, civic leaders cannot afford to wait for political enlightenment among our elected officials. A vigorous binational public policy agenda requires collective actions organized and pursued by local and regional interests, working effectively across our binational border and reflecting the way that business, communities, and families organize and pursue their own activities.
Here, philanthropy has an important complementary role to play in the San Diego-Tijuana region to build a vibrant binational, civil society that looks beyond traditional political boundaries to convene and unify communities and interest groups across borders in ways that would be difficult for governments to do alone.
Today, more than ever before, if the walled San Diego-Tijuana region ever hopes to succeed in strengthening its collective social capital, its civic leaders will be well served to learn from the new unified German capital city of Berlin that, while acting locally, it has boldly embraced the notion of thinking more globally.
Richard Kiy is the president and chief executive officer of the International Community Foundation and executive committee member of the U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership. Lucy Killea is chairwoman of ICF’s International Advisory Board and the foundation’s former president.