Raising Our Game: Universal Human Responsibilities and the Future of Civilization

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"The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility".

-Vaclav Havel 

Something special happened last year in Paris, and the word is spreading. It happened on 20 and 21 May, 2019 at the annual OECD Forum, “World in Emotion” – with 4,500 registered participants from 135 countries. In an interactive session, a group of 70 citizens from across the globe talked deeply and from the heart about universal human responsibilities. They created a draft open declaration of universal human responsibilities (please see the infographic attached below) and founded campaign to bring it to life around the world in a way that raises our collective game on pandemics, climate, poverty and inequality. This article shares the reasoning, what it means for all of us and how you can get involved in this historic effort. 

Transforming the Game – A Rebellion Within 

This is humanity’s moment of truth. The stakes are high and levels of trust in governments are low, while entrenched forces give up territory in inches, voices of blame are often louder than those of compromise and youth cry out in anger and frustration. 

Market signals and values are diffuse and misaligned for business; co-ordination across sectors is uneven; and politics is more chaotic than coherent. More and more of us understand national output is an ever-poorer proxy for quality of life and realise that falling behind a steep curve of compounding risk requires exponential change to catch up. 

The situation is crystal clear, genuinely frightening and yet full of extraordinary opportunity.  Pandemics, climate, poverty and inequality aren't our first global crises, and they won't be our last. But as our crises pile up, it’s about time all of us think about getting ahead of the curve. Co-operation and collaboration are necessary but insufficient. 

Societal transformation through self-alignment and mutual support within a simple, specific, systemic societal contract is the only way to initiate a rate of change at scale that will guide us through pandemics with safety and compassion to minimize suffering, limit us to 1.5 degrees on climate; shrink structural inequality; create equal access to high quality education; and build a 21st century workforce around a just transition to a circular economy that leaves no one behind. 

We need to seize the global possible. The true target is a cascade of societal transformation at all levels from families and neighborhoods to companies, cities and nations to the emergence of a powerful sense of authentic global citizenship. But digging that deep, looking at ourselves that clearly in the mirror and being that ambitious requires a transformational act citizens and leaders can all engage in. 

Conscious and heartfelt acceptance of personal responsibility is a transformative human act. It is the act of accepting responsibility for ourselves, for each other and for the changes in our world we want – and the means to achieve them. It requires accepting, defining and then living universal human responsibilities. 

Accepting universal human responsibilities is a rebellion of conscience from within, one which can release and channel unlimited amounts of energy, resources and action to grasp this moment and open a new political centre. For 70 years, the universal declaration of human rights helped to align citizens and leaders in the fight against oppression. It is time to add a companion universal declaration of human responsibilities so that together, they can form a cornerstone of a new societal contract for the world. 

Bolder Ends and Better Means – Building a Societal Contract for the World 

The simple truth is that to create the world we want and avoid the one we fear, we must think, communicate, work and learn more like a world. Success on global challenges requires upgraded self-governance with better knowledge, more confidence, more control, better transparency and more speed and scale, all without unjust or unintended consequences. 

If the game of world civilization is merely individual success, corporate profit or being the best among all societies, some of us win. But if the game is to become our best selves as citizens of the world, we all win. To be human is to live in an often complementary but sometimes conflicting set of identities.  We can belong to a family, reside in a neighbourhood, live in a city, be a resident of a region or state, have status as a citizen of a country and feel passionate about being a citizen of the world – all at the same time. 

Universal human responsibilities and rights are the cornerstone of a transformative societal contract binding citizens together in a way that is legitimate, deeply felt, goal oriented and enabled by sustainable civic capacity. Such a contract helps all of us do things together that would be improbable without an organising architecture. An effective societal contract is a widely understandable shared reference point for vital conversations that citizens and their leaders have about ends and means, tradition and innovation, success and failure, cohesion and conflict.  

We break the game wide open if a) an influential plurality of citizens and their leaders genuinely accept the idea of universal human responsibilities, b) define them specifically to complement human rights, c) forge the cornerstone of a societal contract and d) do their best to fulfill them using a simple, specific and scalable civic system, with strong citizen engagement and mutual accountability.  

The simplicity and power of legitimate universal responsibilities and rights means that hundreds of millions around the world at all levels of stature – from the average citizen to the most accomplished leaders – can accept a shared frame of reference, and shift from doing just what they know to doing everything that is possible. This means focusing on the highest-priority issues with the best existing solutions. It requires keeping all eyes on the numbers, getting more hands on the right levers, working out in the open and building self-reinforcing cycles of growing confidence until we are on the right path at the right pace with the right probability of success. 

Raising Our Game – The Campaign for Universal Human Responsibilities 

2019 OECD Forum: Building a Societal Contract for the World
Photo: OECD / Christian Moutarde

Most members of the group that arose out of the Paris workshop felt a sense of urgency to spread the transformation we all experienced. A Campaign for Universal Human Responsibility was formed to spread this conversation around the world. We are ensuring that the diversity of participation continues to grow and working to improve the draft in subsequent iterations to steadily increase its accessibility and influence. 

To date, hundreds of citizens from twenty-six nations have participated in workshops, both physical and virtual, to define universal human responsibilities. Translations of the version 0.2 Declaration into fifteen languages have been completed by members of the Campaign. More nations and languages are being added each month. For more information and to get involved, please visit us at  www.universalhumanresponsibilities.org  A Frequently Asked Questions document is complete, and a manifesto is in near final form to show how universal human responsibilities can help transform global self-governance. 

The current version of the universal declaration defines a few dozen specific universal human responsibilities in four categories with simple descriptions, all of which can be felt, understood and acted upon by individual citizens: 

  • Set Goals to Enhance Quality of Life and Reduce Suffering
  • Become Informed Citizens and Make Conscious Choices
  • Create the Means to Achieve our Goals Efficiently and Effectively
  • Care for Ourselves and Treat One Another Well

What is revolutionary here is not the soaring language, but the quality of feeling and intensity of personal commitment to defining, measuring and implementing simple, clearly stated human responsibilities on a global scale. 

Our aim in the Campaign is to open a doorway to transformational change that can cascade across all levels and sectors of society and in all the countries and cultures of the globe. Our three goals are: 

  • Define Universal Human Responsibilities. Legitimise the dialogue with the highest levels of professionalism and spread it worldwide to define universal human responsibilities as part of international law as a complement to universal human rights. 
  • Upgrade Civic Systems. Design universal human responsibilities and rights as a cornerstone of a 21st century modular architecture of self-governance that includes key building blocks of civic systems needed to upgrade their capacity to achieve global goals.
  • Increase Rates of Change. Collaborate with a wide range of partners to develop practices, incentives and programmes that use upgraded civic systems and intensified civic engagement to increase our rate of change in achieving global sustainable development goals. 

The Campaign can use contributions of time, energy and resources at all levels, from citizens and families to communities and congregations, from companies and regions to countries and the world, including: 

  • Membership – Grow the campaign worldwide to make it diverse, meaningful and legitimate and to produce a continuously improving declaration that liberates and channels civic energy through a thriving global community.
  • Partnership – Collaborate around messaging, infrastructure, fundraising, technology solutions, legal innovation and gatherings to ensure our work is a truly valuable catalyst to the work of other citizens and leaders, institutions and nations around the world.
  • Sponsorship – Show the world that you think universal human responsibilities are an important factor in solving climate, poverty and inequality by donating time, energy, knowledge or resources to the cause.
  • Scholarship – Help design and fund research programmes to understand more about how responsibility can serve as a new political center and how to create a best practices network for sharing approaches to upgrading self-governance with universal responsibilities.
  • Leadership – Engage with our best thinking by reviewing our strategic plan and key documents, give us your best constructive criticism, find a role you wish to play and join us as a co-founder of the Campaign. 

Invitations are open to anyone, anywhere, in any language. Just send a simple request, including how and why you would like to get involved, to universalhumanresponsibilities@gmail.com or info@citizens.worldWorking together, it is possible to raise our game in ways that defy the pessimists, surprise the optimists and thus honor the legacy of past, present and future generations.

Declaration of Universal Human Responsibilities

(Working Draft for Discussion Only – Version 0.2 – October 22, 2019)

Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities


Related Topics

Climate Sustainable Development Goals Income Inequality People Power Reimagining Democracy

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Go to the profile of Chris Hoenig

Chris Hoenig

Co-Founder, Citizens Alliance

Chris Hoenig is the Co-Founder of Citizens Alliance, a community fighting to grow the world we want, and avoid the one we fear, one child, one family, one citizen at a time. He is also the CEO of The State of the USA. He is an innovator at the leading edge of 21st century civics, a citizen who lives a life of service, a visionary leader schooled in history, a practical executive with a philosophical perspective, an author with a cause, a poet with passion and a father who knows love is the most powerful force on Earth. He is dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s children and families through collaboration on fundamental innovations in lifelong education, civics and citizenship. Over a 40-year career, his path of service took him from research director to public speaker; private enterprise and government service to civil society; artist to innovator; and from entrepreneurship to leadership at the national and global levels. He founded five institutions in business and civil society and worked at several of the world’s leading organizations, including McKinsey & Co., the U.S. Federal Government, IBM and the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of The Problem Solving Journey: Your Guide for Making Decisions and Getting Results; The Code: A Good Life as a Global Citizen (forthcoming); The Seed: The Art of Growing Dreams (forthcoming); and The Moment: Citizenship, Civics and Civilization in the 21st Century (forthcoming). He has degrees in history and global affairs from Yale University, Cambridge University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Email: chris.hoenig@citizens.world

6 Comments

Go to the profile of Beatriz de León Cobo
Beatriz de León Cobo 8 months ago

This initiative is an example of the cultural change our world needs. Living in an interconnected world, our actions as individuals have repercussions beyond national or continental borders. Today’s existential global threats, such as inequality, radicalism and climate change, require global solutions.  It is time to start a dialogue on what it means to be a responsible citizen in this world. Thank you to Chris and the OECD for starting this revolution to make the world a better place. 

Go to the profile of Mouhamad Mamdouh Alqudsi

This campaign is the first step we need in transforming our planet to a better place, in making peace and equal opportunities, and in achieving global citizens collaboration which put the world citizens interests over states agenda. It is always an honour to serve with you in this campaign.

Go to the profile of Tomás Neves
Tomás Neves 8 months ago

Raising our game means adapting the current state of global discussions for them to encompass the notion of responsibility in addition to the rights already established. This shift in the terms of global dialogue could entail the type of change needed for the global issues to be taken into account with an increased sense of urgency and accountability. For the Campaign to thrive, we need representation and legimitacy, which can only be achieved through the involvement of committed individuals from all parts of the world who share the belief that they can do something to help change the game. Come join us!

Go to the profile of Diego Gutierrez Rodriguez

Discussion and cooperation ensure that this campaign is made by citizens and for citizens. It spreads the conversation above national interests to talk about humanity. Do not hesitate to join the campaign to create the world we want and avoid the one we fear! 

Go to the profile of Meeri Tarvainen
Meeri Tarvainen 8 months ago

A multilateral bottom-up approach to try and create global framework to remedy to the challenges humanity is facing today. The Universal Human Responsibilities initiative is a very inspiring campaign that complies with today's trend of increased citizen participation in international issues and therefore should achieve great success.

Go to the profile of CRISTINA GALUE
CRISTINA GALUE 7 months ago

Interesting campaign which aims to create change in the world, beyond governments and countries, meaning the proper citizens, organizations etc are the ones in charge to become responsible in all senses and act in consequence. It is time to collaborate more with one and another.