Selena Gomez, among many celebrities, attended the Global Citizen Festival in support of international humanitarian efforts. Although celebrities are notably some of the most generous donors to the aid industry, does merely donating to UNICEF make you a global citizen? What more does it take? The United Nations Academic Impact Hub defines global citizenship as a “term for the social, political, environmental, or economic actions of globally-minded individuals and communities on a worldwide scale” (“Global Citizenship”). According to this vague definition, most Americans probably consider themselves global citizens. Based on the pitiful standards set by society, global citizenship can be as simple as donating $1 to an international charity after making a purchase at your local Target. But true global citizenship is much, much more. After my personal exploration of the term, I have found that there are three vital components to being a global citizenship: being informed, being critical, and being humble.

Being informed takes much more effort than simply tuning into the nightly news or reading the occasional newspaper article. To truly be informed, one must search past “normal” forms of media and always question the reliability of the source. Unfortunately in many occasions, untruthful reporting has lead to the ineffective distribution of humanitarian aid. In the book, War Games, Linda Polman critically examines the role of the media in the aid industry. Polman reveals that in many cases, reporters do not truly investigate the work of aid industries. Instead, they inaccurately exaggerate certain qualities of crisis to gain more funding while embellishing stories of success for the aid organizations. Polman specifically refers to the incident in Sudan in which the media reported on “victims of drought” (177). In actuality, these victims were being strategically relocated and starved by the Sudanese regime. Once the word got out about the “starving drought victims”, aid organizations flooded the site, just as the regime hoped. The Sudanese regime took advantage of the aid organizations by taxing food and controlling the distribution of aid. Polman explains that “the government army was feeding itself on food aid” (118). Donations to these aid organizations were helping to fund and support war. True global citizens should demand accurate reporting from the media about how aid money is really used. To do this, global citizens must get informed about the real issues and pass on the information to their local communities.

Although aid organizations have good intentions, this does not mean they are beyond criticism. There is far too much corruption and too many lives at risk not to investigate the aid industry. Take, for instance, the refugee camp in Goma constructed to provide aid to the victims of the Rwandan genocide. Instead of giving food and aid to the Tutsis, the victims of genocide, the camp supplied and funded Hutu extremists, the initiators of genocide.  Polman argues that as global citizens, we must insist that aid organizations have some accountability. She states that “we should demand they [aid organizations] explain exactly what they think they are going to achieve there and how” (164). And if the aid organizations do not meet these standards, they should not be providing aid. An excellent role model for investigating the work of humanitarian aid organizations is Caroline Abu-Sada. In her book In the Eyes of Others,  Abu-Sada reflects on a group she is a part of, Doctors Without Boarders. She reveals that a lack of unity and ineffective communication with the local community are among the problems that have let this organization to provide ineffective aid. These kind of critiques will allow aid organizations to improve their overall effectiveness. As global citizens, we can not let ineffective aid or misuse of aid money go unnoticed. Unless the flaws of the aid industry are exposed, the cycles of corruption will be allowed to continue.

MFS (Doctors Without Boarders) worker providing aid in the Congo

Possibly the most vital aspect of global citizenship is humility. Many times, Western aid workers approach crisis situations believing that they know what is best for the crisis victims. In these cases, the victims are never even asked about what goods and services they would find most helpful. Instead, the personal interests of donors dictate how aid money is spent. Polman cites specific examples of when aid organizations have made donor interests a priority over victim needs. She explains that organizations have “been known to ship frostbite medication to tropical disasters, and starving Somalis received laxatives, slimming cures, and electric blankets” (49).  In the article “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” Cole argues that the needs of the victims need more attention. He explains that “there is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them” (Cole). In Abu-Sada’s book, contributor Donini remarks that “most will accept food aid and the new school even if ti is not what they asked for, many will wonder about the patronizing attitude of the outsiders who were here one day and gone the next” (189). As global citizens from a privileged nation, we must push the ethnocentric tendencies of our culture to the side and focus on the true needs of victims. This is the only way to truly provide effective humanitarian aid.

With selflessness, compassion, and curiosity, true global citizens have the potential to reform the aid industry. They can highlight the flaws of humanitarian aid and pave the way to a more effective future. As global citizens, we owe this much to the countless victims of crisis worldwide.


Abu-Sada, Caroline, ed. In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 June 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/2/>.

Donini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others. Ed. Caroline Abu-Sada. Doctors Without Borders, 2012. Print.

“Global Citizenship.” Global Citizenship. Web. 20 June 2013. <http://unai-globalcitizenship.org/global-citizenship>.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.

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