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Active global citizens

Dan Wood, who takes up the role of International Commissioner in September, reflects on Scouting’s strengths as a global Movement.

Scouting’s particular role does not focus on political activism or advocacy, but on practical education and on empowering young people as active global citizens.

If Scouts really want to keep their promise of ‘helping others’, they have to help themselves by getting a rounded education that cultivates their practical wisdom and character and then continually puts these to good use. 

Armed with an appreciation of the world’s challenges, its diversity and interconnectedness, along with knowledge and belief in their own power to effect change, what is possible for young people is only contained by the limits of their dreams and imaginations. As Scout leaders, we should not just be educators but awakeners. Socrates said: ‘Education is the kindling of a flame not the filling of a vessel.’

Our role is to help young people to learn how to think, not what to think, and to facilitate this ‘learning through doing’, imbued with fun, friendship and adventure. And, that’s exactly what I saw in abundance this weekend during two fantastic examples of vibrant and exciting international Scouting events. The wonderful settings just added to the inspiration.

I travelled via the Commonwealth Games city of Glasgow from my home in Bristol to Blair Atholl in Perthshire, Scotland. After five hundred miles and quite a few hours I arrived in this picturesque corner of the Highlands. This year the event hosted over 1,350 Scouts from all over the world, transforming the tranquil castle grounds into a bustling town.

Despite what felt like my own epic journey literally involving planes, trains and automobiles, I was definitely not from the furthest afield! Scouts came from Japan, Zambia, Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong and the USA. Scouts camped together in twinned patrols without leaders and they had an amazing time. Many of the volunteers enjoy the event so much that they come back year after year. There were three generations of one family from Gibraltar, proudly celebrating the centenary of Scouting in their country. 

Before I set off, I read the news which reported that a new British Council survey of school children across the Commonwealth found that UK children are falling behind their peers globally in cultural awareness and international understanding.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. Referring to the survey findings, its director stated: ‘It is essential for the UK’s future global competitiveness that our young people are highly internationally aware and willing to engage with other cultures – this survey suggests our school children are lagging behind the rest of the world in fostering an international outlook.’

Whilst ‘big ticket’ sporting events like the Commonwealth Games have a vital role to play in inspiring young people not just to embrace sport, but also embrace the world, Scouting provides horizon-expanding opportunities all year round.

The jamborees I attended this weekend provided wonderful opportunities to share cultures and develop mutual understanding. At Red Rose in the Lake District one group of Scouts from Croatia who had connected initially with Scouts from Chorley through Jamboree on the Internet (JOTI) were now camping together after a 13-year-old Scout had struck up a friendship. The UK group hosted the Croatian Scouts in their local community for a week prior to the Jamboree.

This is one of our great strengths as a global movement. Perhaps there are opportunities in future for us to collaborate and cooperate with the British Council and other organisations with shared goals in this area. This is something I am keen to explore as International Commissioner.

Whether it is addressing poverty, climate change, fundamentalism, inequality, violence or intolerance, education really matters.  Such issues are not specific to a particular country or community – they affect us all – so addressing them presupposes a shared responsibility. The lives of people in different parts of the world are more and more socially, politically, economically, environmentally and culturally intertwined. That’s why young people today, more than ever, need a global perspective. If it is to be relevant in pursuing its mission, Scouting must be at the very forefront of this.

Our forward-thinking founder promoted internationalism and cultural exchange as a means of creating a more peaceful world, so this is nothing new. However, we live in a world today where trust between countries and people, despite increased access to information and communication, is becoming fractured and more uncertain in some important respects.

Successful international relationships are those where trust is earned by a commitment to mutual understanding, listening to different points of view, and accepting that no one country has a monopoly of wisdom and that we all have much to learn from each other.

Our work of building mutual understanding and broadening the international view of young people will not necessarily directly or immediately affect the underlying conflicts. But, it can and does break down stereotypes and prejudice and make dialogue possible. We should not underestimate the long-range difference this will make. Scouting has always aimed to broaden the international view of young people and I think that it should be an increasingly important dimension of what we do. When I see international jamborees in action like those I visited this weekend, it gives me great hope for the future. We’re cultivating the hearts and minds of citizens and leaders and there are few tasks as important for the future of our world.

Relationships between nations are shaped by the perceptions and ties that are created by people connecting with one another. The relationships that last are those which are built on trust and mutuality. One of the paradoxes of globalisation is that despite the lowering of many of the barriers to the free movement of people and ideas, the relationships and understanding between cultures often remain fragile, sometimes perilously so. That’s why I believe that our approach to cultural relations, which is all about building trust and mutual understanding, is more relevant today than it has ever been.

When we look at what Scouting has done for people who are or have been Scouts, and what those Scouts have done or gone on to do, there is no mistaking just how powerful it can be in transforming life outcomes, creating leaders and shaping society. Though it may not be obvious at first glance, that’s why we have such a crucial role to play in helping to face some of the most significant global issues of our time.

Mandela said that ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ He was right, of course. It is no coincidence then that we should find goals relating to active citizenship, empowerment, community impact and social change at the very heart of Scouting’s 2018 strategic vision and plan.

When we set up a camp to bring people together, go on an expedition, climb a mountain, sing songs or travel abroad, I find it inspiring to think that all this is actually directed towards our educational purpose – and essentially to changing lives. What’s more, as all the Scouts proved this weekend, it’s enormous fun!



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