Citizens of Everywhere: Why Influence Is Young, Mobile, and Portable
After the Great Lockdown comes the next Great Migration. People are already on the move in new directions and patterns of relocation. Before the pandemic, only two nations had “digital nomad” visas; today more than 75 countries do—and counting. Health certifications, a solid bank balance, and skills are becoming more important than citizenship—as it should be. But is our influence as portable as we are?
I hope so. One of the psychological underpinnings of today’s new mobility vectors is that young people identify less with their nationality and more with their generation. They want to be among young changemakers, and seek out the places where youth culture thrives. We can judge the success and failure of entire societies in the 21st century by whether or not they are attracting young migrants and leveraging their skills to “build back better” in the post-pandemic world.
Mobile youth therefore have more leverage than ever in history over the trajectory of policies, both as citizens and consumers. They should deploy their influence constructively wherever they call home, no matter how long they are there.
A “citizen of everywhere”, in my view, is someone who actively seeks to contribute to all places they live and work in.— Parag Khanna
This is the essence of what I call being a “Citizen of Everywhere”. A citizen of a single place with no allegiance or interests beyond its borders can be a very influential patriot. A “global citizen” may identify with causes everywhere but not act on his or her beliefs. A “citizen of everywhere”, in my view, is someone who actively seeks to contribute to all places they live and work in.
It is here the distinction between visibility and influence becomes very important. These are two notions that we very often confuse. Many people who have significant visibility through their social media following are considered “influencers”, but in the real world, their influence may be very little. In a world of constant mobility across new cities and countries, tangible influence must be built from the ground up through meaningful action—not just via Tweets and Instagram posts.
I believe this is something to celebrate. Immersing in the metaverse is a sign of the irreversible directions technology is taking us, yet people are physically moving because the real world still matters very fundamentally. Improving the world—whether through electrification, desalination, education, or vaccination—therefore also matters to our own well-being and that of every society we reside in. We can measure visibility in followers; we should measure influence in deeds.
Parag Khanna is a leading global strategy advisor, best-selling author and the founder and managing partner of FutureMap, who has been named Tatler Asia's Most Influential: Singapore 2021. He has written six books largely on the theme of the future of world order, the latest of which is Move: The Forces Uprooting Us (2021) released in October. Based in Singapore, Khanna has travelled to nearly 150 countries and is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
This essay is part of an op-ed series written by Asia's Most Influential 2021 honourees. See and learn more about Asia's Most Influential here.