We found that global agility also requires digital savviness. Not an ability to code. But more a sense of how to use different platforms effectively and responsibly, and to navigate between them. Young people who struggled to adapt were often those more likely to be propelled by social media towards getting stuck in a gang or echo chamber. Again we found that refugee communities, often those who had not grown up with constant access to social media, were better able to use the access to the internet they had to establish more meaningful connections, for example with distant family, and as the key to accessing essential information. The most adaptable humans of the future will be those who have the flexibility of thinking and doing to be ready for unexpected changes. Developing this skill reduces the culture shock we all experience when encountering new places or people. It increases our resilience.
Our worldviews are shaped by where we come from, and we have multiple, overlapping identities: a child can be a girl, European, tennis player, Muslim and Justin Bieber fan. The key is that she can understand how these different tribes shape her life, and therefore apply the same thinking when she meets people from other tribes. Our individual cultural affiliations are unique, fluid and dynamic. Our values are not uniquely special.
That does not mean that we all become, in Theresa May’s regrettable phrase, citizens of nowhere. The more globally agile individuals we interviewed recognised that their cultural identity was neither fixed nor superior; they saw their self as something they could continue to inform, value and nurture it. They could connect the global and the local. We need to know what baggage we carry, and why. The answer to the 21st century is not to let the friction of globalisation grind away our differences or let us lose a sense of where we are from. We often need to make the connection between local and global, for example understanding the risks of climate change by studying floods in our own neighbourhood. We will be better able to tackle those global challenges when we retain an ability to root them in experiences that people understand.
The more globally agile young people we interviewed also had stronger communication skills: they were more likely to be able to interact respectfully and flexibly with other cultures. Future assessments of young people will need to evaluate whether people can read others’ approaches to communication and adapt, building bridges to new people and cultures, especially those that initially appear most different. It is about listening as much as talking.
The most effective global operators in our study had exceptional antennae. Can you zoom out and see a person or situation in 360 degrees? This means being able to listen humbly and observe, including body language. At its best it also requires a good dose of empathy: can you get in the other person’s shoes, and understand their motivations? The most globally agile people care about the world around them, and think that they can make it better. They can see that people from other places share the same basic rights to food, shelter, work, education, happiness, dignity.
As the late Ken Robinson argued, education should equip people to live together in tolerant and culturally diverse societies, “to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens, able to build lives that have meaning and purpose in an unpredictable future.” Ken told me that the question he is asked most is “where can we go for ideas on how to get that understanding?”
Future humans should be equipped with the vision, judgement and patience to be more global. We should teach students how to be citizens of everywhere, active in creating a more equal, just, peaceful and sustainable world. In doing so, we would do the work of good ancestors, making the world fairer and safer for our descendants. This requires an overhaul of why, how and what we learn.
But it is worth it: education is upstream diplomacy.