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About Globalization

Globalization can be described as the combined influences of trade liberalization, market integration, international finance and investment, technological change, the increasing distribution of production across national boundaries and the emergence of new structures of global governance.

Globalization and its impacts have profound implications for a broad range of issues important to the funding community. These issues range from the sustainable use of the worlds’ resources and the protection and preservation of the environment, to the need to improve living standards, safeguard human rights, promote and protect cultures, and ensure democratic and responsive global governance.

While the idea of globalization has only recently captured public attention, “globalization” has been occurring for centuries. Indeed, current trends continue age-old interactions among societies and historic struggles between nations for economic and cultural primacy. Over the last few years, attention in the U.S. has been galvanized by the “Battle in Seattle” and subsequent demonstrations in Washington, D.C., Davos, Prague, Quebec City and Genoa.

But if we step beyond these recent events, we see that neither the globalization debate, nor the passions and interests that inform it, are novel. Rather, they constitute the latest incarnation of longstanding battles about the appropriate relationship between the state, the market and society; acceptable levels of economic inequality; and the appropriate ways to manage the impact of economic change on the environment, culture and tradition.

Public debate about globalization has too often suffered from confusion and oversimplification. Former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once famously claimed about the basic economic and political principles behind globalization, “There is No Alternative.” Such an approach encourages us to presume a single path forward; while denying the existence of a range of alternative models of globalization and options for organizing economic activity in society. It conveys the impression that globalization is difficult, complex, and impossible to navigate, manage, challenge or redirect.

The author and activist Susan George has countered Margaret Thatcher’s “TINA” with an acronym of her own: TATA: “There Are Thousands of Alternatives.” A vital issue to consider is that many civil society organizations perceived to be “anti-globalization” and “anti-trade” are neither. For many, the struggle “against” globalization is really a struggle against the current project of globalization, and for globalization projects based on different principles, norms and priorities than those that inform the current model.

Some groups advocate a more socially-responsible globalization project through reform of key institutions. Others promote special initiatives for the poor and the environment, “fair” trade over “free” trade, or new regulatory frameworks and global public policies for environmental and social ends. In addition, some groups argue against a “globalization from above” that puts a premium on corporate profits and economic growth and for a “globalization from below” that focuses on sustainable communities and social justice.

Of key importance is the notion that globalization is not out of our control. Its shape and direction are controlled by decisions (or the lack thereof) on critical issues. Globalization has many–not just one–possible forms. Each is likely to lead to different social, environmental, political and economic outcomes. To the extent that funders, NGOs and other organizations of civil society have a vital interest in these outcomes, we must deepen our understanding of these issues, and engage in efforts to fashion and help shape a “globalization” that conforms to the ethics and values that each of our institutions was created to uphold.


For a history of the current globalization movement from a progressive perspective, see Alec Dubro’s piece posted at Foreign Policy In Focus: “The Anti-Corporate Globalization Movement: Where Foreign Policy and Organizing Meet”

A website maintained by Emory University provides a useful overview of some of the key issues (http://www.emory.edu/SOC/globalization/issues.html) and some of the main debates connected with this phenomenon (http://www.emory.edu/SOC/globalization/debates.html)

Click on the Globalization button at http://www.rcci.net/index.htm for additional articles and links.

The Policy Forum -Issues and Debates: Towards Defining Globalization also provides a series of articles on this subject.

Further Reading

The Globalization Reader (Blackwell, 2000), edited by Frank Lechner and John Boli, contains a wide variety of texts illuminating political, economic, cultural, and individual dimensions of globalization. The book illustrates key issues in public and scholarly debate about globalization. This website complements the materials collected in The Globalization Reader.