Mayors and City Officials Lead Communities Toward Global Engagement

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Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades.

(photo: travelobservatory.com)
Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections – and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. (photo: travelobservatory.com)

This is a guest post by Reta Jo Lewis and Lora Berg.

The peaceful and prosperous future of transatlantic cities and regions depends on their ability to recognize and seize opportunities for global engagement. As refugees flee from war torn regions in historic numbers, as the effects of climate change disrupt vulnerable communities, and as a slowing Chinese economy reminds us that recovery from economic crisis involves acknowledging our shared economic ties, municipal officials must transcend their local perspectives and access shared resources and agendas to address international challenges. Subnational leaders, such as governors, mayors and local leaders, stand at the forefront of efforts to link local and global action and implement policies enacted at national levels to create meaningful change.

Thriving local economies capitalize on global investment opportunities. The average major metro area in the United States leads the country in foreign direct investment (FDI) from 33 different countries and 77 different city-regions worldwide. Similarly, the European Union is the largest recipient in the world of FDI, at approximately $US 246 billion. Jobs, moreover, increasingly depend on global economic links. Foreign-owned U.S. affiliate companies directly employ some 5.6 million workers spread across every sector of the economy. In the European Union, 14 percent of the total working population is employed by foreign controlled enterprises. Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections, and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. Trade ties, use of natural resources, increased labor mobility, and shifting demographics impact a community’s economic health, job creation, ability to innovate, and capacity to create schools and cultural centers for diverse populations.

Economic imperatives are not the only motivation for greater global engagement. As natural resources diminish and the dangerous effects of carbon emissions — on both large and small cities — become apparent, nations are increasingly working together to build resilient communities by  developing renewable energy resources and curbing emissions. At the 2015 COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, governments around the world agreed to limit temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through historic commitments to cut carbon emissions. Local leadership was vital in pushing for this agreement, with cities and regions at the forefront of climate action, through their own ambitious commitments to carbon reductions and green investments.

Mayors and regional leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand the value added by their own citizens. They also understand that newcomers, who are part of the sweeping demographic change remaking Europe and the U.S., serve as a stock of innovation and a resource for future growth and stability. In the United States 9.2 percent of public school students — approximately 4.4 million students – are learning English as a second language. In large U.S. cities, students come from hundreds of different language backgrounds; the New York City Department of Education reports that there are 180 different languages spoken in the homes of students citywide. In the EU at large, an estimated 33.5 million people born outside the EU now live in an EU member state. Globally engaged communities that are inclusive, recognize the realities of demographic change and encourage global economic ties demonstrate the highest rates of growth, lowest unemployment, and highest rates of social stability.

Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades. They provide the opportunity for cities and regions, large and small, to lead from the front, and to drive international agreements rather than simply react to national priorities.

About the Authors:

Reta Jo Lewis is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She has been a global business affairs adviser since leaving government in April 2013, and specializes in working with U.S. governors, mayors, legislators as well as provincial leaders across the Atlantic.

Lora Berg is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She develops partnerships on the international stage to strengthen diversity and inclusion, and designs leadership programs such as the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN), which builds the capacity of rising diverse young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic who hold or plan to run for public office.

Please note that the opinions here are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the German Marshall Fund.