San Francisco's Stewards of the Global Village: An Introduction

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An introduction to Holly Pearson's monthly series featuring organizations based in the Bay Area promoting sustainable development efforts around the world, particularly in developing countries. “San Francisco’s Stewards of the Global Village” will be featured on the second Saturday of each month.

I just got back from my fourth trip to Latin America in five years, so I have travel on my mind (then again, when don’t I have travel on my mind?). I’m a traveler who wanders the globe in search of more than just beautiful beaches or impressive architecture. For me traveling fulfills a fundamental need to connect with people and places that embody different social, cultural, and political contexts, and through these connections, to better understand myself and my place in the world.

During my time abroad as well as my time at home, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the relationships between the U.S. and other countries. I’m intrigued by where and why we migrate and immigrate, as well as how we interact with and influence each other – our citizens, our cultures and the institutions that represent them, our economic and foreign policies, our companies and the goods we import and export.

One of the main reasons I live in San Francisco, and why I love this city so much, is its cultural diversity and international connectedness. There are probably half a dozen or more languages that you’re nearly as likely to hear as English on San Francisco’s streets, and in many neighborhoods you could easily forget that you’re in the United States and think that you’re in China or El Salvador or the Philippines. 39% of San Franciscans were born outside the U.S. These immigrants have a major and significant impact on the cultural, social, and economic life of San Francisco.

In keeping with its role as an international city, San Francisco is home to several institutions focusing on global issues and affairs. My new monthly series, “San Francisco’s Stewards of the Global Village,” will highlight the work of local organizations that are committed to promoting sustainability in the developing world. These groups work in a variety of areas, including environment, fair trade, social justice, human rights, and local economic development.

What does a sustainable development project abroad, like a organic farming cooperative project in Nicaragua, have to do with “today’s solutions for a greener, more livable San Francisco?" A lot more than you might think.

There’s a complex web of factors and forces that drive large numbers of people to leave their countries and their communities in search of a better life in places like the Bay Area. Environmental degradation, poverty, lack of access to land and/or jobs, war, political corruption, and a host of other conditions in areas of the developing world have forced many of the planet’s most vulnerable citizens to seek refuge and jobs in places with relatively strong economies and greater opportunity, including San Francisco. In return, the choices that we make as citizens, institutions, and governments of the industrialized world have a profound impact on the stability and the social, economic, and ecological well-being of lesser-developed countries.

In our increasingly globalized world, everything is connected. As residents of San Francisco, we’re intimately linked to the conditions and realities of every place in the world that we represent. At the individual level, this means our consumer choices and our level of awareness about the impact of our actions on distant shores. At the institutional or governmental level, it means our business practices, our laws and policies, and the example we set through our role in the world.

This series will document the work of Bay Area organizations that are working to transform that complex web of global relationships. Their efforts have direct positive impacts on the communities that they serve abroad. But in strengthening local communities in foreign countries, they also have a ripple effect on the stability and well-being of our globally-oriented local society here at home.

In advance of the first feature article of the “SF Stewards of the Global Village” series, to be published March 10th, we invite readers to contribute to the dialogue about local-global connections by sharing your stories and comments about your own travels abroad and how they’ve influenced both your perceptions about global issues and your relationship to your local community at home. Where have you traveled, and for how long? What were your perceptions of the local people in the places you visited? How did you feel about being a tourist there, and more specifically, how did you feel about being an American?

We’re also interested to hear your thoughts about our international and multi-cultural identity in the Bay Area. What do you notice about immigrant communities here? How do you think these communities influence the lifestyle and culture of our region?

For an overview of local organizations doing sustainable development work abroad, visit the Bay Area International Development Organizations website. We also encourage you to share your own knowledge and insights about organizations or programs based in the Bay Area that focus on sustainable international development. What specifically do these organizations do? What kind of involvement have you had with their work?

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