A Global Approach in the Era of Skepticism

Last year I had the privilege of visiting Europe as part of a delegation of Canadians furthering Transatlantic relations. As part of the delegation, I was the lone representative of civil society amongst a sea of bureaucrats, businesspeople, academics, and politicians, giving unique insight into the conversations taking place on the range of topics that were part of our programme.

Our visit began in Berlin with the awarding of the prestigious Eric M. Warburg award to Canadian Foreign Minister Hon. Chrystia Freeland by German thinktank Atlantik-Brücke for Canada’s role in advancing human rights and multilateralism on the world stage. This too provided unique insight, in seeing Canada’s brand on full display to a European audience.

Young diplomats of Canada meet with Peter Beyer, member of the German Bundestag (CDU) and Coordinator, Transatlantic Relations at the German Foreign Office

Throughout the journey, recurring themes were the focus of discussion, but the topic which held most relevance to my role in philanthropy was this: multilateralism is increasingly under threat and must be proactively advanced if we are to continue a cooperative approach to our affairs on the world stage. If we do not, global institutions will be undermined by populist forces and rule-of-law will be interpreted by the hegemonic superpower of the day. As philanthropic professionals, practitioners of the advancement of the common good of our humanity, we should all be concerned by forces that threaten partnerships and cooperation that bring us together, and wedge us apart in the process.

It was also a reminder that we have many friends in the world. While we see conflict and disagreement with some nations today, in Canada’s case with Saudi Arabia and China most notably, we have also seen new opportunities for cooperation to advance common values and outcomes. Whether our philanthropy is focused on a climate crisis that sees no borders, or on international aid, or on education and the rights of women, or otherwise, we all have a calling to resist turning back the clock on human rights, environmental protection, social services, health care, or the other advancements that we have made together.

Today it is harder than in recent memory to take a message to the wider world, because of our increasingly polarized society. Philanthropists from George Soros to Warren Buffett, who have donated billions of dollars of their own self-made money, are subject to conspiracy theory accusations of political agendas through their philanthropy. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where the very belief in a rules-based order, in democratic process, in decency, have become a political stance rather than the societal custom we have taken for granted.

Even still, we cannot allow the attacks and polarization to take away from our missions toward a better, more inclusive society. The good news is that we have many friends in the world who share our beliefs, and by working together, now more than ever, we can rise to the challenge and continue to push our humanity forward despite the tide of populism.

As our delegation sat around the conference room of the Canadian Embassy, Minister Freeland spoke about the successes that Canada has had. CETA and USMCA on the trade side, lifted visa restrictions and increased opportunities for exchange of professionals and students, and cooperation with our allies around the world to defend institutions like the United Nations, WTO, World Bank, WHO, IMF, and others that are under pressure by the United States government. Her point was that despite these setbacks, Canada remains a player on the global stage, ready to partner with NGOs and businesses and governments to work toward common goals in our common interests.

The experience of being in Germany and having discussions about Canada’s role in the world impacted me significantly. Knowing that the values we stand for – democracy, human rights, universal healthcare, and multiculturalism to name some examples – provides a light for other nations, including those which have experienced the horrors of fascism, to see possibility and opportunity through our pursuit of an open and just society. So many of us not only believe in these values, we depend upon them. The choice now is whether to continue our advancement of humanity, the very meaning of philanthropy, or whether we will be complicit as silent actors as forces of populism push back against our progress.