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Going Global for Good

The Washington Times (US)

09 July 2007

By Ban Ki-moon

It is commonly said we live in a globalized world. Less well understood is that globalization is taking place in stages. We are in its second stage: the Age of Mobility.

In its first stage, as flows of capital and goods were liberated, the benefits of globalization flowed primarily to the developed world and its principal trading partners, among them Brazil, China and India. As we enter the newer age of mobility, people will move across borders in ever-greater numbers. In their pursuit of opportunity and a better life, they have the potential to chip away at the vast inequalities that characterize our time — and accelerate progress throughout the developing world.

To take just one example: Migrants sent home $264 billion in 2006, triple all international aid combined. In some countries, a third of families rely on these remittances to keep them out of poverty. Across the developing world, remittances underwrite health care, education and grassroots entrepreneurship.

The freer movement of people helps oil the global economy. When a hospital in London needs nurses, it recruits them from Ghana or Sierra Leone. When Google seeks programmers, developing nations are often the source.

Until now, this flow of people mostly has benefited richer countries and generated worries about brain drain in poorer ones. But our knowledge is growing about how to make the migration equation work for everyone.

Yet, rather than looking at the potential developmental gains from migration, governments have been slow to adapt. The result is burgeoning illegal immigration, social tension, discrimination, loss of faith in government and the empowerment of criminal networks.

Earlier eras witnessed migration on a similar scale. At the turn of the 20th century, approximately 3 percent of the world"s population was on the move. A hundred years later, the United Nations estimates there are 191 million international migrants, a roughly similar ratio. And this number is growing. A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says developed countries saw permanent migration rise in 2005 at an annual rate of about 10 percent.

Today, migrants move quickly and easily, thanks to low-cost transportation. The Internet, affordable telephone connections and satellite television keep them in constant touch with home. Banks wirelessly and instantly transmit hard-won earnings to their families. Globalization, meanwhile, has radically transformed our labor markets, while growing economic inequality (together with natural and man-made crises) prompts more emigration. This fluid tableau makes ours the age of mobility.

Almost all these changes can be harnessed to reduce poverty and inequality. Remittances are a case in point. Until just a few years ago, migrants paid exorbitant fees to send money home, losing as much as 20 percent in transaction costs. But then governments, civil society and the private sector mobilized to drive down those costs. The British government, for instance, stoked competition by setting up a Web site (www.sendmoneyhome.org) that allowed users to compare transaction costs. Banks created prepaid and debit cards specifically for migrants and the families. Mobile phone companies are introducing technologies that allow money to be transferred by phone.

These innovations underscore migration"s potential to contribute to development. In September 2006, for the first time in its history, the United Nations held a migration summit. Many predicted that developed and developing countries would come to blows — the latter would decry brain drain and the violation of migrant rights, and the former would simply walk out of the room. Instead, more than a hundred countries engaged in a constructive exchange. The experience was so positive they embraced a proposal championed by my predecessor to create a Global Forum on Migration and Development. The inaugural Forum begins today in Brussels, Belgium, with some 800 delegates from more than 140 countries.

The Global Forum represents an important first step in our efforts to harness the power of migration to advance development. We will learn of efforts like IntEnt in the Netherlands, which has helped migrants establish some 200 businesses in their native countries; of microbanks in Mexico that allow local communities to leverage remittances for investments in education, health and businesses; of the U.K./South Africa International Code of Practice on the Ethical Recruitment of Health Workers; and of how dual citizenship laws ease the way for migrants to play a bigger role in development by bringing their capital, knowledge and networks back home.

We cannot hide from the fact that migration can also have negative consequences. The Global Migration Forum provides an opportunity to address these problems in a comprehensive and pro-active way, so the benefits are fully realized both in developing and industrialized countries. The keys to making this happen are fundamental to our shared global humanity: tolerance, social acceptance, education and mutual openness to cultural differences.

Migration can be an enormous force for good. If we follow the evidence and begin a rational, forward-looking conversation about how to better manage our shared interests, we can together help usher in the third stage of globalization — a long-awaited era where more people than ever before begin to share in the world"s prosperity.

Ban  Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations