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There is a research group at the London School of Economics called The Centre for the Study of Global Governance (see http://www.lse.ac.uk/Depts/global/researchgcswhatis.htm ):

Global Civil Society is about understanding globalisation ‘from below,’ from the perspective of ordinary people.

It is a highly contested concept, for which many meanings have been proposed but no agreed definition reached. Far from an obstacle, this ambiguity is an opportunity. Debate about its meaning is part of what global civil society is all about.

We defined global civil society, for operational descriptive purposes only, as a sphere of people, events, organisations, networks – and the values and ideas they represent – that exist between the family, the state and the market, and which operate beyond the confines of national societies in a transnational arena. The concept describes an emerging reality of global civic action and connectedness.

Expat Nation is a subset of global civil society; it is a subset of the population that has chosen (or, in many cases, has at least adapted) to live away from their homeland. For many expats, of course, their identity is completely nationalist. For another large fraction of expats, they are clearly in transition from one national citizenship to another. But for a large and growing group, their citizenship is as much in global civil society as it is to any national state. When expats cross this line, they become citizens of Expat Nation.

This definition, of course, begs the question: “What is citizenship”? At a pragmatic level, it is as basic as the country that issues our passports. For many reasons, this definition is inadequate – dual citizenship, exile, and landed immigrants all defy categorization in this way. But more important, as an accident of birth instead of choice, and as a characterization of loyalty, national citizenship is no longer adequate.

Beyond representation overseas – i.e., passports and embassies – expats experience the ties of citizenship in many ways. Most of us still pay taxes to our homeland; we have family members who are subject to real or potential military conscription; and we are often discriminated against by host nations according to our nationality.

Similarly, representation of expats is already performed by many organizations other than national governments. For example: the chambers of commerce, the International Baccalaureate Organization overseeing international schools, and professional certification organizations are global institutions with some measure of membership and professional control. Charitable organizations like the Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation are international in scope and governed solely by their donors, however subject to public and international approval for their legitimacy. In the financial realm, stock exchanges and GAAP define the parameters of disclosure for public and multinational corporations. In addition, internationalist organizations such as the WTO, the WHO, and the UN peacekeepers around the world demonstrate the increasing reach of nationally-controlled international institutions and conventions. The emerging governance of global civil society is already well underway.

The key political question regarding governance of global civil society is “Who controls it”? There is a big difference between institutions under national government control – such as the UN, the WTO, and the IMF – and “bottom-up” organizations with specific missions and constituencies. Trying to satisfy the disparate and conflicting interests of national governments is like herding cats. Membership-driven institutions “from below” are likely to be much more effective in representing the interests of Expat Nation.

Expat Nation members have legitimacy in representing global civil society that nationals do not. As invited guests in host countries, subject to a clear “balance-of-payments” that always favors the host nation, expats are limited to win-win policy formulation. The days of colonization and imperialism are over – expats know that their social value must exceed their social cost within each host country.

Because of this legitimacy, the exercise of collective power by expats could be profoundly effective. We have already seen the power of NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders or the Clinton Foundation. Expat Nation could potentially exceed the membership of a large NGO (e.g., the Chambers of Commerce) but with a truly global constituency. With funding (a subject for later. . .), Expat Nation could become the major representative of expat interests.

Equally important, Expat Nation should be different from NGOs and organizations like the Centre for the Study of Global Governance in that it will be interest-driven rather than purely philanthropic. Expats are clearly beneficiaries of globalization, even if they are employed by NGOs whose primary function is to mitigate the adverse consequences of globalization. Finding a balance between narrow self-interest and advocating for global constituencies will be difficult, but hardly impossible. These somewhat-conflicting interests are at the heart of so many global issues today. By addressing these conflicts first within the purview of expats, it is highly likely that a reasonable balance can be struck, and hopefully, one that is transitively win-win for the global commonwealth.

The Governance section of the Expat Nation blog will explore the nature and potential of grass-roots initiatives for global governance. I hope that readers will submit ideas and suggestions that are prescriptive and normative. One reader coined the term “poli-fi” with its allusions to science fiction, political science, and Semper Fi – I think this pretty much captures the ideal spirit of Expat Nation.

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