From the Ebola crisis to climate change, from the rise of the Islamic State to the Sony hacking, we have been repeatedly reminded over the past year of how porous and thinly constructed national borders are – and of the increasingly evident fact that the most important challenges facing us today are interlinked and global in nature.

Successful corporate and business leaders already know this: they understand well the interconnections between markets, the media stream, technology transfer and labour.

Yet, at the level of global governance, the concept of unfettered national sovereignty remains the dominant paradigm, limiting coordinated and effective action to address humanity’s most pressing challenges.

As anyone who studies the UN well knows, its effectiveness is limited – hobbled might be a better word – by the perceived imperatives of national interest and the archaic emphasis on state sovereignty as the supreme value.

One step that can help us in our transition to the new era is to begin to reframe the underlying question from “what can I do for my country?” to “what can I do for our world?”

A global mindset

Making the transition from nationalistic to global thinking is the overriding challenge of our era. It is also one of the most difficult, made more so by the degree to which present day leaders are bound to the paradigm of “national interest” in all that they do.

The answer to this conundrum, I believe, lies with a renewed focus on what is happening at the grassroots. For, only as people everywhere come to understand their essential oneness will national leaders be forced to reflect this new reality in dealings at the international level.

The fact is that people everywhere are recognizing their common identity as global citizens – and, equally importantly, see that the pursuit of justice and peace is consistent around the world.

Ordinary people increasingly understand that humanity is one. The signs of this extend from the degree to which popular culture is now a global phenomenon – from football to Bollywood – to more urgent issues like climate change or attacks on the education of girls, where solidarity campaigns now make use of viral technology to organize and advocate for change.

The degree to which these trends and movements can be converted into a deep commitment to global citizenship and raised to the level of leadership, however, is partly dependent on our recognition of the connection between material prosperity and the moral and spiritual dimensions that makes us human.


A moral argument for global citizenship

The connection between the material and spiritual can be illustrated in many ways. Among the simplest is to think about how the issue of trust – a moral value – is in fact essential to all manner of material prosperity. Without trust to oil the wheels of commerce, for example, not only would investment be reduced, but ever-increasing controls would be required, slowing economic growth. At the heart of nearly every economic principle is a moral principle, whether trust, honesty or stewardship. In fact, any material gain – be it economic, political, or otherwise – is reliant upon moral principles in order to achieve sustainable success.

In my work as a representative of Baha’i, a worldwide religious community dedicated to the idea that “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”, I see the powerful effects of the application of spiritual and moral principles on changing culture and thinking.

Baha’i, along with many others around the world, are engaged in activities that enrich the character of their communities. Our activities promote not only the idea that we are one human race, but also that justice, the equality of women and men, and the elimination of prejudice are fundamental values that are necessary for the creation of a new governance paradigm that goes beyond state sovereignty.

In order to solve global concerns, we need global thinking. We also need thinking that is deeply informed by spiritual and moral values. Let’s learn from and advance the momentum happening at the local level all over the world.

People are calling for change, and it is time for leaders to respond.

Author: Bani Dugal is the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community’s United Nations Office

Image: Ana Navarro, 33, plays with a giant inflatable balloon of planet Earth as she takes to the streets during a protest march marking the first year anniversary of Spain’s Indignados (Indignant) movement in Malaga, southern Spain May 12, 2012. REUTERS/Jon Nazca