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Globalisation or Isolation



Sometime in the early fifteenth century a group of shipwrecked Chinese sailors found salvation on the shores of Kenya. Presumably they hoped that a compatriot merchant ship would bear them home. Little did they know that a long period of Chinese maritime exploration and naval prowess was about to come to an abrupt end. China's leaders turned inwards; its international outlook diminished. It existed in relative isolation until the nineteenth century. When it emerged, it was apparent that Europe and – increasingly – the USA dominated industry, technology and international trade.

The sailors, safe but now stranded, interbred with the local women. Even now, traces of China’s 600-years-old heritage of expansionism can be traced in the DNA of a handful of Kenyans and fragments of pottery in their villages.

The widely-held perception is that both the Brexit vote and Trump’s surprise election victory can be ascribed to a rejection of internationalism and globalisation. Certainly, that’s what President Trump’s protectionist manifesto promises. But how true is it in the UK, where Prime Minister May speaks optimistically of a “Global Britain”, open for trade, with a culture that’s “profoundly internationalist”. Indeed, according to recent YouGov research (for Demos’ ongoing “Nothing to Fear but Fear itself” study) Britons are overwhelmingly pro-globalisation. 59% of those questioned think that globalisation has had a positive effect on the UK as a whole. But as ever, the devil is in the detail; one in four adults think globalisation has had a negative effect on the UK. And that important minority was certainly enough to tip last year’s referendum in favour of Brexit.

The promised benefits of globalisation – crucially the overall improvement of living standards for the majority of the world’s population – are cold comfort when your manufacturing job has moved to China, your call centre desk to India, or if you’ve not had a real-terms pay-rise in the best part of a decade.

So while we in marketing land, and our friends in tech city, may cheer the rise of robots, the automation of everything from media buying to inefficient manual processes, and the benefits of moving ideas, goods, services and people across international borders, many of our fellow Britons fear that they and their children will not have jobs or secure futures.

It’s encouraging that, in response to President Trump’s pre-emptive and controversial executive order restricting immigration, many tech giants put their names to a legal document supporting the role of immigrants within their organisations and society at large. But the cynic – and there are plenty of them – would argue that they are merely protecting their own interests; 42% of US adults, polled recently by Gallup, approve of the entry ban from the seven predominately Muslim countries.

We need to face facts. Many people in the UK and other western nations fear globalisation. Its benefits have been poorly explained and not satisfactorily shared across society. As Mark Zuckerberg told the BBC a few weeks ago, "there are people around the world that feel left behind by globalisation and the rapid changes that have happened."

At Initiative UK, we’ve spent the last two years striving to understand more about lives beyond our own media bubble. Through our Real Lives, Real Issues project, we highlight the aspirations and irritations facing people from vastly different social backgrounds and economic situations. Young and old, affluent and struggling, many are apprehensive about the rate of change in the world around them.

In Zuckerberg's 5800-word essay, published just a few weeks ago, he warns of a backlash against globalisation. The very fact that he feels the need to do so suggests that marketers, and businesses as a whole, need to do a lot more to promote the concept of a globalised economy. We should ensure its benefits outweigh its downsides, in the lives of ordinary Britons and those in other developed nations. Otherwise we risk being forced to retreat, leaving potential customers, employees and collaborators behind, like ship-wrecked Chinese sailors.

This article was taken from LinkedIn Agency Voices. See the article here