Saturday, December 3, 2016

4 things International Organizations do which Facebook cannot do

I love to sing “Imagine” by John Lennon. It gives me goosebumps. But are we able to build a global community that is capable of sharing and solving global challenges in the real world? 

Let’s be realistic: global citizenship and solidarity doesn’t exist that much. This picture shows that comically and dramatically well:

Climate Change
This picture shows us making our boat sink by changing the climate and still acting as if the danger (the sinking) is only going to hit “them”, not us. We may understand that we’re all going to suffer, we just don’t feel it that way. That’s why the Paris Climate Agreement was not able to commit governments to cut co2-emissions enough to keep our global home from warming more than 2°C. We only agreed on good intentions that still add up to a staggering temperature increase of 2,7°C which is a recipe for, well, lots of bad, bad news. 

How come it is so difficult for the human population to build a global community?

I think because we are not global citizens but local citizens; at best we are “glocal” citizens. We may be able to think global, but we can’t be and feel global. If we were suddenly threatened by Martians we would probably feel global enough to put our money and armies together to do something, but for the moment we don’t.

Our thoughts, our feelings and our intentions to do something are always rooted in a much smaller community that is not “the world” but a local community like our relationship, our family, our school, our city, our region or our country - no wider than that. That is how the Brexit could happen: the Brits didn’t feel European enough to justify the bill they had to pay to Brussels every month. Interestingly the opposite is true for the bill they have to pay to their own government: no matter how high it is, the Brits would still feel Brits! Apparently, the “global citizenship feeling” stops at national borders. 

Stretch our governments
Despite the fact that almost the whole world is now connected via the internet and social media the global population has not become a global community. Facebook is a very powerful tool to connect people, but not strong enough to build a real global community. Although we like to think of ourselves as globally connected people and communities, we are still organized as Nations with national governments, presidents and strategies we vote for, and with national budgets, national education systems and national armies. Psychologically speaking we are countries at the most, not members of humanity.

To stretch our local community to the global level we need to stretch our governments. Facebook can help here, but we really need International Intergovernmental Organizations like the United Nations to actually do this. 

Which 4 things can International Organizations do which Facebook cannot do to build a global community?

1/ Provide a room

Social media can connect, but they cannot make people care for each other as a community. Because to care, people need to meet physically. They need to be with each other and get used to each other as a person. They need to "sniff" each other.

Facebook cannot do that because you cannot meet in Facebook, even though it may feel like it. When you react to someone in a Facebook conversation you may think you are meeting someone, but in reality you are only reacting to an opinion and to a profile. To build a community you need a physical room where you can meet the person behind the opinion. Because with an opinion you can do nothing, but with a person you can.

2/ Convene people to the room

Providing a room is not enough. You need to bring people to the room. While Facebook only connects you to a virtual room, UN organizations provide real rooms and invite people to come to these rooms for meetings. For example UNESCO has many of rooms in the world: not only in its 52 Field Offices, but also the rooms they rent when they want to convene one of its many communities.

3/ Planning and coordination

If you bring people to a room and think they will automatically become a global community that produces global solutions, you are too optimistic. It takes coordination and a plan to turn a group of people into a focused community of interest. 

International Organizations provide these plans on a global level. A good example is the World Heritage Convention: it’s a recipe for the global community to preserve its common heritage. And it works: the Deputy-Major of Paris just decided to close the banks of the River Seine for cars to protect this UNESCO World Heritage that belongs to humanity ( This is a local sign of global solidarity.

4/ Make people accountable and follow-up

When I tell people about UNESCO’s plans, like its plans to promote the protection of documentary heritage, they say: yes, you had a nice meeting and then… what? It’s just words and vain promises they say, made by people who don’t need to make money in the real world.

That’s not quite true. International Organizations have a mechanism to turn words into reality: accountability and follow-up. They ask people (both governments and citizens) what they do concretely to implement their promises and what the results are. This is really key, and Facebook really doesn’t do this!

Example: PERSIST
Take the global problem of “digital unsustainability”. This is an unknown but very serious problem: what you write today can be no longer accessible tomorrow because software evolves all the time. 

We discussed this issue in a room in the Netherlands with representatives from many countries. There was a powerful momentum in the room to do something - pure people enthusiasm!- and we decided to create an initiative called PERSIST. “We’re gonna do this, its important!” we said. By the end of the meeting we said to each other: “We have Facebook and internet so we can continue to work on this via internet when we’re back home”. 

But back home we got absorbed by our day-to-day reality and obligations. PERSIST started losing its “We’re gonna do this!” momentum and became work on top of our regular job....

To overcome this you need accountability: someone who keeps the global conversation going to see if the community makes progress. Not just by ticking the boxes via e-mail (this done, this done) but also by talking. It’s hugely important to bring the community members together in live (skype) conversations because these conversations bring back that feeling of enthusiasm and fervor we had in the real room. 

These conversations also remind the virtual community of the real community behind it: real people doing real things together they really believe in. It energizes the community. International organizations provide that positive, catalyzing follow-up and accountability. In this video I explain this function and other functions of International Organizations:


Don’t think that Facebook is going to build a global community: Facebook connects opinions but doesn’t make people meet. International Organizations not only make people meet, but their strength is that they do this in the name of Nations. 

Like UNESCO's PERSIST programme, which is more than the activity of some individual experts. It is foremost the commitment of 195 governments to the following Recommendation about preserving documentary heritage: That involvement of the governments of the world actually creates the global solidarity that you can feel when you sing “Imagine” but that is still so difficult to implement in the real world.


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1 comment:

  1. Simple yet Deep, absorbing, futuristic indeed !!