The session Impacts of Globalisation kicks off the core curriculum of our Global Leaders Programme.
The purpose of the session is to challenge the often-narrow outlook on globalisation held by participants — mostly high-potential business managers — and expose them to different ways of understanding the associated effects, challenges and opportunities.
When asked to define 'globalisation' in small breakout discussions, many answers tended towards the usual buzzwords: "convergence," "connectivity", "borderless", and so on. References to iconic American multinational companies like McDonalds and Starbucks were made. Most participants assumed that economic globalisation is an unreservedly positive phenomenon.
But is there more to globalisation?
Globalisation goes beyond trade liberalisation
Globalisation has become a buzzword over the past two decades. Commonly defined as “the acceleration and intensification of economic interaction among the people, companies and governments of different nations”, this contemporary, business-oriented understanding views globalisation as the inevitable and universal march of progress.
This understanding, however, fails to include the many mechanisms where we see cross-cultural influence and integration, including historical, cultural and non-commercial elements. If we are to fully understand globalisation, we must look beyond the definition conveyed in traditional mainstream media and Western business schools.
First: globalisation is not a new phenomenon. Some see globalization as a late 20th / early 21st Century phenomenon, happening alongside the end of the Cold War and the rise of the Internet. Others see it as a post-World War II event, with the implementation of the GATT and the WTO to ease free trade between countries.
However, cross-border integration and interaction have happened throughout history. The Silk Road, first the land route over Central Asia, then the maritime route through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, connected East and West. The Atlantic Ocean saw its own intercontinental trade routes (involving the inhuman slave trade, with ships bound for plantations in the Americas). Finally, the Pacific Ocean saw the exchange of Chinese goods for Mexican silver, carried by Spanish ships.
Globalisation has happened before, as shown by this quote by economist John Maynard Keynes
The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.
This matters because globalisation is far older than the current economic system. One can have global economic integration without the particular geopolitical and economic structure of the 21st Century. Also, just as important is the fact that the world has often “de-globalised”: globalisation is not necessarily inevitable or stable.
Second, the rapid advancement of technologies and transportation is going hand in hand with a greater movement of people, capital, ideas, information and goods around the globe. Globalisation is much more than just “free trade”, or market liberalization.
If we take a broader view of global connections, what events might we consider as part of “globalisation”?
- The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, for example, marked an unprecedented global recognition of the risks of climate change and a pledge by over 185 states to protect the environment.
- The Ebola outbreak is one of the world’s most challenging health problems. Less developed countries, particularly in the sub-Sahel region, were affected the most. Poor health surveillance in the region’s ports and increased mobility between countries allowed the infectious disease to spread. The region soon suffered from the effect on its labor population and the quick restrictions on cross-border movement and trade.
- The Arab Spring saw ideas spread across the region from one single event in Tunisia, sparking a wave of protest in five different countries. In the wake of these protests, many observers pointed to digital technology and social media as what allowed people to circumvent state-operated media channels, and to scale ideas and ideology across the region.
Participants on the 2016 Cambodia Global Leaders Programme during Module One.
Globalisation captures more than just capitalism and growth, spreading to almost every aspect of human life, from political and social norms to cultural and spiritual values. Non-economic globalisation, much like economic globalisation, has both positive and negative effects. For example: globalisation has added to the “cultural capital” of the world’s major cities, which can now tap into global flows of people, ideas and culture. But this has diminished the cultural value of small towns and the countryside; this has contributed to the anti-globalisation backlash seen in many countries today.
Up until recently, these more nuanced takes on globalisation were ignored in favour of a simpler, “feel-good” narrative about the benefits of economic integration and re-regulation. To avoid making the same mistake, business leaders of the 21st Century must acknowledge that globalisation goes beyond economic growth, and recognise how the actions of themselves and their companies have unintended consequences under this complex, intertwined global system.