THE BLOG
07/24/2015 04:06 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2016

Are You a Global Citizen?

"Matone de Chiwit" is an ambitious project. Meaning "drops of life," its name derives from three languages that represent the different continents suffering most heavily from water scarcity: Kiswahili for Africa, Spanish for Latin America, and Thai for Asia. Despite its broad mission and international name, however, the project focuses on the very local and attainable goal of providing a clean drinking water source to rural communities in Mombasa through a water filter unit made of locally available resources, costing less than $10 for a minimum of18 months of use.

The mastermind behind "Matone de Chiwit" is 18-year-old Karishma Bhagani, who grew up in Mombasa and is enrolling at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Karishma has lofty global ambitions, but pairs these with a clear and local focus. The ability to apply an international perspective to a specific problem is the result of Karishma's strong sense of "global citizenship."

The concept of "global citizenship" can be difficult to grasp precisely because it necessitates a careful balance between wide ranging global knowledge and a more personal sense of culture and self. As defined by UNESCO, global citizenship is not a legal status, but rather a way of relating to the world that includes respect for diversity and recognizes that every individual's actions can have implications for the greater global community.

In many respects, Karishma is representative of a new wave of "global citizens." The city of Mombasa, Karishma's home, has long been a cultural and economic hub in the region, and as a child, she was exposed to various cultures and languages. Her parents, Karishma explained, cultivated her curiosity about the world, but also emphasized the family's roots in Gujarat, a state in western India. From these experiences, Karishma developed a deep desire to promote social good and develop her global connections.

This urge for fostering social change and global interconnectedness is at the heart of what it means to be a global citizen. Global citizens are in touch with universal values, which are invariably tied to a more personal moral compass. In order to remain grounded while navigating an increasingly interconnected world, it is important for any global citizen to have a strong foundation of his or her own. This kind of foundation is often linked to family--which can refer either to a traditional family or to whatever support group may take its place. No matter how far we may travel or how closely we may connect to another culture, we carry with us a set of values and experiences that we develop through the close circle of our community. It is precisely this kind of grounding that allows for the most powerful kind of global citizen, one who can understand the true scope of a problem without feeling discouraged by its immensity. Global citizenship is what opens our eyes to an issue without crippling our ability to take action.

Although the cultivation of global citizenship is a lifelong endeavor, it can be most impactful when targeted at the generation that is maturing. The millennial generation is lucky to have greater opportunities to see more of the world, but these opportunities can also bring a keener understanding of the world's daunting vastness. This generation is often criticized for laziness, but it is not difficult to imagine how anyone who is faced with complex global challenges may feel powerless to take decisive action against global problems. In the face of issues like global warming or economic inequality, the best way to empower youth to come up with innovative, effective, and feasible solutions is to focus on teaching global citizenship.

Of course, a strong capacity for leadership is part of what makes a strong global citizen.To teach these skills in a traditional school setting may seem paradoxical: wouldn't a leader and a global citizen be someone who ventures far outside the four walls of a classroom? Travel, cross-cultural communication, and a readiness to transcend boundaries certainly contribute to global citizenship. But a discussion based and reflective style of teaching can be an equally important contributor. Becoming an effective global citizen and a valuable leader requires the ability to listen, engage with, and reflect on ideas that may be radically different from our own.

Back in Mombasa, Karishma has recently filed for patenting rights for her water filter and has delivered twenty of the filters to the poorer parts of the city. Reflecting on Karishma's success, Yumi Kuwana, a supporter of the project, and founder and president of Global Citizens Initiative, commented that Karishma's strong leadership skills have allowed her to challenge herself while at the same time consciously encouraging those in her community to do the same. Having witnessed the unnecessary suffering of people, Karishma has set out to improve standards of living for people everywhere, regardless of their nationality, color of their skin, or religion.

Encouragingly, Karishma is only one of many young people with ambitions for a more peaceful and equitable world. As a society, we have an obligation to support our young people in these endeavors and encourage them to take action as integral members of our global community.

Written by: Hana Connelly, a member of the Global Citizens Initiative team (GCI Inc. www.glocalci.org)