Friday, 2 October 2009

Globalisation has created a borderless world? Yeah right! Kid yourself.

It was Mark Twain who said "I didnt have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one ...". When you have numerous ideas and extensive information, the challenge is always determining what is pertinent and essential to impart the right message. This is a vital skill.

On Monday, as part of my media training on my course in diplomacy, I am meeting with Simon Cructhley and Deborah Mckenzie, two prominent media consultants in the UK, who have been involved with the BBC at the highest level in Journalism and Political Analysis. I am giving a 3 minute presentation of any subject of my choice in International Relations. 3 minutes! There are subjects I could talk about for 3 days, never mind 3 minutes. Now I understand how Mark Twain must have felt. Especially as the subject I've decided to give my presentation is one on which numerous volumes have been written - Globalisation.

I have just read a few chapters from Thomas Friedmann's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" where he talks about a new world of globalisation and how we now live in a borderless world. He introduced the concepts of the democratisation of finance, technology and information. In other words these 3 areas are now more readily available to a larger pool of people than ever before. As a management consultant for over 15 years working primary with IT Financial Systems that provide 'better information', I agree with the concepts of this so called 'democratisation' which has exponentially accelerated in the last decade especially since the ready availability of the internet.

Where I begin to be more doubtful is where people begin to talk about a 'borderless' world, where this globalization has broken down the traditional borders and walls seperating countries, people, cultures and religion. Somehow I cannot understand why the young muslim boy, Mohammed, in Indonesia feels the borders which define his culture, religion or sovereignty of where he lives are dissolved just because he has access to the internet. I would even go as far as stating that the discovery of a 'new world' helps to further define your own identity and the borders are even more clearly defined and obvious.

I've got 3 minutes, so I'll look at 3 of the main illustrations put forward by the proponents of the theory that globalisation is creating a borderless world and explain why I think each of these is slightly flawed.

Firstly there is information, knowledge and the good old world wide web. The hyperglobalist is quick to point out the emergence of the new Knowledge economy, a common example being that of the intelligent Indian woman in Mumbai being able to take advantage of her good grasp of English and Accounting making her responsible for the large call centre of a major investment bank in the United States. What they conveniently forget to mention is that she still proudly wears her sari everyday to work, would rather spend the evening at the temple than watching CNN at home and a weekend with the family celebrating a new baby by feasting on vegetarian delicacies still rates much higher than a shopping trip to the glitzy shopping mall in the posh central mumbai district. Borders are defined by these. Sovereignty is defined by this. its not the mere availability of information that creates a borderless world but what people, organisations and governments do with that information.

Secondly there is technology. There are many facets of technology that have promoted globalisation (or should I say capitalism?). I'll focus on just one aspect however. Communication technology primary the rise of email and mobile communications. Ok, I'll admit one thing ... the perception and concept of time and distance has changed with this. Of course twenty years ago when I first started living in London and posted letters to my Dad in Nigeria once a month to tell him how I was, is a far comparison to today where I could text him 3 or 4 times a day to let him know how his grand-daughter's piano concert went. It could make you feel closer and distance is blurred. Importantly though distance and borders are two different things. Because you can get to the border quicker doesn't mean its disappeared. Remember the feeling you get when you get off a long haul flight and have this deep sense of being in a 'different world'. That feeling doesn't go away if you fly by concord. Arguably I might even say it's enhanced.

Larry Summers, a former US deputy treasury secretary always liked to tell the story how in 1988 on the campaign trail for Michael Dukkakis, he was once met by a car at the airport that had a phone in it. He was so thrilled by this that he called his wife to tell her he was in a car with a phone. Incredibly 9 years later, he was visiting Ivory Coast on a US funded health project in a village miles from Abidjan the capital. Having to travel part of the journey by canoe, he didn't even blink when he was handed a cell phone during this river journey to take a call from Washington. Of course, globalisation exclaims at the cell phone but the canoe, the long established river route and the African Chief and villagers decked out in robes that met him on the other side, remind him there are still borders.

Thirdly, there is the democratisation of finance. According to the hyper-globalists, the possibility of financial prosperity is now open to an increasing percentage of the people in the world. Or is it? A Harvard Business School report titled "Saving the Worlds Poor" by C.K. Prahalad shows that 65% of the world population still lives on less than $2000 a year. Maslow's hierarchy of needs has been turned upside down because ironically a good percentage of these own a television and telephone and have access to the internet. Of course in theory, globalisation via the democratisation of information and technology, means these people have the possibility of financial prosperity and they could invest and profit from the stock exchanges in New York, London or Tokyo. How many actually do? I'm not a betting man, but I'll be willing to put a large sum that the percentages are really low. Finance helps people to move between borders more easily. As a young Nigerian man who saved up to come and study in England and subsequently go on to have a successful career, finance was always a key factor.

It's 2009 now, and there is a growing trend of many friends and colleagues of mine, going back from the West to their home countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East. They are going back to reclaim their own olive tree in their back gardens and leaving their Lexus' in the driveway. The Lexus and the Olive Tree was Thomas Friedmann's analogy of the irony of globalisation. He recalls a journey on a bullet train in Japan following a visit to a high technology Toyota plant where the Lexus car was made. He had been completely blown away by the incredible robotic technology that created the automobile, but even on his journey back, he was sat in this train reading an article in the International Herald Tribune on an aspect of the Arab/Israeli conflict basically an argument in one of the oldest corners of the world, a fight, in his analogy, about who owned which olive tree.

The truth is you and your neighbour may both have a Lexus' in your driveways, but who owns which olive tree in your back gardens is still as relevant as ever if not more so. Globalisation hasn't created a borderless world so don't kid yourself.

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Senior Management | Business and IT Administration | Strategic Workforce Planning | ERP | Executive Leadership | Public Sector and International Governmental Organizations Specialist | Budget Management | Diplomacy & International Affairs Expert | Organizational Development | Project Manager.