Global citizen

Global citizens have an illustrious history and have important responsibilities to fulfil. We explore what it means to be a global citizen.

Citizenship sits at the intersection between the communal and the personal. It is something that every person should have but affects every person differently. To be a global citizen is to share the rights and obligations of citizenship with the rest of the world.

A legal and social concept, citizenship deeply affects how individuals fit into society, granting important rights and obligations. In other words, citizenship is not only about things you are entitled to (rights), but responsibilities you must observe on behalf of these rights (obligations).

These obligations are meaningful and have important implications for how people can engage with their society — from voting rights to military service obligations. But what is a citizen, really?

And how could citizenship, so tied up with ideas of nationhood and cultural particularity, be in any way global?

This article will explore citizenship and discuss the responsibilities, role, and history of global citizens.

What is a citizen?

A citizen is a legally recognised subject or national of a state or commonwealth. As a citizen of a particular nation-state, individuals can feel protected and affirmed in their identity as nationals of a particular place. Global citizens can feel affirmed in their identity as citizens of the world, even if this identity is not legally binding.

Citizenship is therefore a kaleidoscope of different rights and obligations. These rights and obligations  contextualise and deepen a citizen’s relation to their nation and the rest of the world.

How might citizenship be granted?

Citizenship can be granted through birth, descent, naturalization, and investment. It can also be honorary. It might not be a singular citizenship; rather, dual citizenship and global citizenship are both gaining prominence.

Birthright and descent

Birthright citizenship (jus soli) and descent citizenship (jus sanguinis) are common types of citizenship. While birthright citizenship is given to individuals born in the territory of a nation, descent citizenship grants citizenship to individuals who have ancestral ties to a particular nation.

The United States, Dominica, and Canada are examples of countries with unrestricted birthright citizenship, while the United Kingdom, Italy and Australia offer descent citizenship. People with either of these citizenships may still regard themselves as global citizens, with particular interest in, and engagement with, the international community.


Naturalisation, which is given to people not born in a country, involves a legal process to gain citizenship. This process can require different steps depending on the country; these might include civic and language tests, residency for a certain amount of time, oaths of allegiance and other requirements.

Most of the world’s countries offer citizenship through naturalisation, through the completion of various steps and processes. Naturalised citizens might have to give up their citizenship but may also retain their citizenship, becoming dual citizens. Naturalised citizens, with an increased awareness of more than one country, might be interested in global citizenship.

Dual citizenship and Citizenship by Investment

Dual citizenship is the act of holding more than one citizenship. Though some countries do not allow dual citizenship, others allow it. Dual citizenship grants rights and obligations of citizenship, but to more than one country.

One way of receiving dual citizenship is via Citizenship by Investment (CBI). In CBI programmes, also known as economic citizenship programmes, applicants can receive citizenship by investing in a particular country.

These investments might be in particular sectors, such as sustainability, public services or real estate. Countries such as St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, and Saint Lucia offer CBI programmes. Global citizens may find dual citizenship and CBI compelling, as both offer the opportunity to live a multicultural, globally engaged life.

Global citizenship: what is it?

Increasingly relevant in a globalised, interconnected world, global citizenship is defined by Oxfam as

‘the social, environmental, and economic actions taken by individuals and communities who recognise that every person is a citizen of the world.’

What are my responsibilities as a global citizen?

Global responsibility

Global citizenship challenges the notion that individuals only have responsibilities to their respective nations. Rather, global citizens have responsibilities to the world, whether these responsibilities are environmental (as set out in the Paris Agreement), social (as set out in the SDGs), or political (as set out in the UN charter).

More specifically, global citizens should use their position as cross-cultural communicators to advocate for values such as dialogue, diversity, cooperation and justice.

With their knowledge of different languages, cultures and ways of thought, global citizens are open-minded and willing to engage with people and ideas that they disagree with. They seek out challenge and excitement, unsatisfied with staying in the same places and doing the same things.

Privileges of global citizenry

Empathetic and willing to listen, they know that their position is a privileged one. The global citizen’s education, financial resources and comfort is enviable and should be acknowledged.

Privileges should not breed entitlement. Rather, global citizens have a responsibility to the rest of the world to use their privileges to improve environmental and social justice.

Global citizenship is sadly not accessible by everyone. Rather, there is a certain level of knowledge and wealth that is required to fully engage with global perspectives. Many do not have the privilege of leisure time, education on global issues, or ability to move.

Indeed, travel is expensive and so to is time. Global citizenship may require a significant amount of both. This means that global citizens should employ their education, time, and ability to travel to make the world better.

Strengthened by their global perspective, global citizens can make the world better through their knowledge of world events and global problems. They can put this knowledge into practice through promoting international policies, treaties and agreements that level the playing field between nations.

Though global citizenship makes use of rapidly changing modern technologies to travel and learn, global citizenship itself is a historic concept. Dating from the ancient Greeks, global citizens have popped up in many eras since, from the early modern period, to the Enlightenment, to contemporary times.

History of global citizenship

From the ancients to the Enlightenment

Beginning in ancient Greece, the ‘cosmopolitan’ was a citizen of the world who advocated for world peace and global prosperity.

Global citizenship gained prominence in the early modern and Enlightenment periods, with authors such as Erasmus of Rotterdam drawing on the term to champion world peace and tolerance for different religions.

In the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, philosophers such as Immanuel Kant promoted cosmopolitanism as necessary to preserving a ‘moral’ worldwide community. Ideas of universal human rights, tied to global citizenship, helped guide the American and French Revolutions.

In a similar vein, global relief organisations such as the International Red Cross were formed the nineteenth century. The Red Cross, founded in 1881, aimed to alleviate suffering regardless of the citizenship of the sufferer.

United Nations and global agreements

Global citizens came back into the spotlight in 1945. The year that the United Nations was founded  and again after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

As a global federation of states, the United Nations is well-placed to protect citizens across the globe. In its charter, the organisation vows ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.’

The 1970s saw the formation of economic organisations that promoted global citizenship through their convening of global meetings of political and business leaders. The World Economic Forum (WEF), for example, held fora of leaders from countries around the world.

The WEF has hailed global citizenship as ‘an extremely powerful tool’ to build ‘a more sustainable, resilient and compassionate world.’

Sustainable Development Goals

Global citizens also found a voice in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the UN in 2015. From ending poverty to promoting environmental and social sustainability, the goals act as a ‘global call to action.’

The fourth SDG, ‘Insuring Inclusive and Quality Education for All and Promote Life Long Learning,’ is especially operative in global citizenship. Global citizenship requires participation in global and local networks alike to bring about justice. However, a barrier to participation in these networks is education.

By recognising this SDG and promoting education, the international community can help global citizenship become more widely accessible. This can be through the university system, as universities can not only teach students about global citizenship but help provide knowledge needed to participate in local and global networks.

The same year, 2015, the Paris Agreement elaborated on the SDGs commitment to promoting sustainability. Further committing signatories to fighting the climate crisis through substantially reducing carbon emissions.

Bringing the international community together, the Paris Agreement prioritised global citizenship obligations over individual national concerns.

Now, as the world rebuilds from a pandemic which interrupted global interactions, global citizens can use their responsibilities to build a better, more tolerant world.

How to join the global citizen community

Global citizenship itself is nothing new. The opportunities afforded to global citizens continue to change for the better, becoming more attractive than ever. To become a global citizen, spend time educating yourself and those around you on global issues. Engage in cross-cultural dialogue and learn a new language. Travel widely and seek new sensations and experiences.

Consider, too, investing in a second citizenship. There are many reasons to consider citizenship by investment programmes. From the safety and security second citizenship can provide, to the ability to engage in robustly democratic countries. The Caribbean, particularly Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis, offer safety and democracy to global citizens willing to undergo proper due diligence checks.

Global citizens have history, human rights, and sustainability on their side. Cognisant of the responsibility and privilege that comes with their position, global citizens play a fundamental role in changing the status quo for the better.