There is a kind of mantra of our time that occupies people all over the world: It’s called sustainability. No matter whether someone lives in the Global South or in the Global North, at least for my generation the desire to live in such a way that the earth remains habitable for our children and grandchildren is dominant. However, in my experience, the perspective on the challenges of sustainable living differs depending on from where you look at the world. I don’t see this as a problem - on the contrary! Different parts of the world are faced with different pressing challenges and the existing realities by far differ. That's why the United Nations adopted the so called “glocal strategy” which means “think global, act local”.
Allow me to divulge you to my personal experiences how this can work. But let me first explain what my understanding of sustainability is. I like the 1978 Brundtland Commission definition that describes sustainability as the ability of the current generation to meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In this regard, I always pose a question to myself, “Am I aiding or barring the ability of future generations to meet their needs?”
Back to my experience: In 2018, I took part in an exchange program between Germany and Kenya in the name of ASA Program. During this time, I met amazing for everyone. In the recent past, thanks to a DAAD scholarship, I was a master’s student in Germany - a class composed of brilliant minds drawn from all over the world, too.
Of the many friends the globe has offered me outside the confines of my motherland Kenya, I have made a deep connection with Lucas from Germany and Magdalena from Switzerland - my former colleagues in the ASA program at our project office in Berlin. We positively, occasionally and sometimes unconsciously influence each other. Recently, we all decided to pursue master’s studies. Magdalena went to Sweden, Lucas opted for Switzerland, while I returned to Germany.
Magdalena researched on mechanisms to tackle food wastes in major European cities. Lucas on the other hand was looking into mechanisms to ensure energy adequacy and possibilities of continental energy sharing that is, being produced in one continent and being shared for consumption in another country. On my part, I delved into policy reviews and mechanisms to tackle undernutrition among young children in Kenya.
These projects were amazing, and they were particularly depicting priority and urgent issues needing our countries’ attention. It later became clearer to me that we unconsciously depicted the Global South-North realities. We, in a subtle manner, painted the pressing issues of our environments.
Climate change, energy production and consumption, sustainability in the food systems, water, health and environment are differentially impacted by the issues based on our locations in the world and socioeconomic standards in the societies we live in. Despite the similarities in the challenges, we react and prioritize them differently. Least to mention, we are differentially defined by them.
Our reaction to these challenges differs based on how impactful they are to our immediate surroundings. With this in mind, could our sustainability lenses and desire go beyond the prevailing realities? Could we tackle the global challenges while considering the perspectives of the other group on the receiving end of our alternative action or lack of it thereof? Yes, I believe, and I am strongly convicted that this is a great possibility. Far most important starting point is the global approach while acting locally.
Also, reflecting the impacts of our actions to the people not holding similar geographic and socio-economic advantages and perspectives as us. And finally, monitoring how widespread our beneficial actions can be globally extrapolated to make the world fairer.
From my two experiences in a global and multicultural setting, I have adopted a global lens or perspective in life. I try to see life from the position of someone else. Kind of, if roles were reversed, would I act differently? Whenever I find myself in dilemma of important life decisions, I am always cautious to act in a responsible manner lest I hold the future generation hostage. Also, I believe this should be the concern of everyone to make the world a better place for all.
Life is better when we become more aware of the impacts of our actions on the recipients of them thereof. And this makes us more tolerant and empathetic. If governments, institutions, policy makers and implementers, and societies could be guided by the same question, then I believe the world could be a better place by now. Many wars and calamities could have been averted, most communities could not be reeling from the pangs of climate change, and racial discrimination could have been a thing of the past.
Contributions by external authors do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors.