What effect will Brexit have on globalization?
Depending on your perspective, Brexit is either fantastic or catastrophic. Personally, I have a hard time taking either point of view seriously.
Just over a year from now, Brexit will be complete and the United Kingdom will no longer be a member of the European Union. Depending on your perspective, this is either fantastic or catastrophic. Personally, I have a hard time taking either point of view seriously.
Of course, I realize that a lot of people in Britain (and outside it) take their perspective very seriously. The 51.9% of voters who supported Brexit care passionately that the country puts its interests, culture, and economy first. To them, Brexit = good. The dissenting voters want Britain to be an active and vibrant participant in the European (and global) community: Brexit = bad. Long past the vote, each side is still trying to persuade the other that it’s right. To me, that conversation is a waste of energy (and time) because Brexit – along with the EU and globalization itself – is both a good thing and a bad thing.
Brexit has often been attributed to nationalism, the same word used to describe political and social movements in numerous other countries. But Brexit isn’t so much the voice of nationalism as it’s an in-your-face statement of anti-globalization. And no, I don’t think that’s two ways of saying the same thing. Nationalism – in any country – is simple, really: Us first! Anyone can understand that idea. In contrast, globalization is the most dramatic social and economic shift in human history. It is simultaneously compelling and horrifying, exciting and frightening, beneficial and destructive. It is messy. Although many are trying, I’m not sure anyone fully understands it. And what’s mysterious is frightening to a lot of people.
Which is, to my mind, where the global business community comes in. You understand that a prolonged shouting match about the merits of being global – as if it’s a decision yet to be made – is pointless; it’s a done deal. What we need instead are two things: 1) education about what globalization really is and how it works, and 2) a nuanced conversation about how we want to be global moving forward. Our political leaders have abdicated both responsibilities, which leaves an opportunity for business leaders to fill the void.
Let’s start with education. No CEO decides to pursue any level of globalization on a whim; it’s too costly and complicated. There are always solid business reasons. But do your own employees – let alone stockholders or the public – know what those reasons are? Do they have any idea what the challenges have been or the benefits? Do they know how long it will take to get a return on your investment? Do they know what the future of the company looked like if you didn’t pursue globalization? They should. If you have expatriates on the payroll, do employees in the home country have a clue about how they’re contributing? Even when global teams communicate regularly across borders and time zones, the rest of the organization often has no idea what they’re up to. And speaking of expats: leading companies offer expats cross-cultural training. But why aren’t we offering that training to all employees? If we’re really committed to globalization, the better we all understand each other – the better we understand what culture is – the less likely we are to be frightened by the 'other'. These are just a few thoughts on ways in which we can educate; I’m sure you have many other ideas.
But let’s not stop with education. Let’s also lead a deep conversation about how we want to be global. Proponents believe that globalization creates new opportunities in developing countries and helps every country to find its economic niche. Opponents see inequalities that favor free-market, export-oriented economies and exploit both resources and people. It’s certainly true that some businesses have exploited workers and resources. It’s also true that worldwide rates of poverty and disease are declining. If we could be truly global in a way that honored all cultures and resources, that focused more on our common future and less on quarterly earnings, and that directly confronted issues of equality and human rights, wouldn’t most people be in favor? I think that’s a conversation worth having.
Global corporations have considerable resources and outlets to further that conversation. Don’t limit yourself to how you use them. In addition to internal communication and training, marketing, advertising, public relations, distribution, and manufacturing can all play a role in education and dialogue. Neither will be easy, because globalization is enormously complex, and we’ve let it become emotionally fraught. But however difficult it will be, it’s nothing compared to how difficult things will be if we don’t keep talking and learning. Unconvinced? I have just one word: Brexit.
Written by Allan Halcrow
Article originally appeared on Culture Wizard