Last month, Marcio Soares achieved what he once thought impossible.
After years of working hard and growing a successful fitness business, he was awarded British citizenship.
“It was the greatest day of my life,” Soares said, describing when he was invited to participate in a citizenship ceremony.
For him, and many like him, the aspiration to be British wasn’t about a passport. As a Brazilian he could travel to almost as many countries as he could with a UK passport.
Instead, his pride at achieving citizenship was more personal than practical. When he pledged to respect the “rights and freedoms of the UK”, he said he was confirming the ideals that had attracted him to move to Britain over a decade ago.
He had chosen the UK, and the UK had recognised his value.
Soares’ story is just one example of how the complex issue of citizenship is in flux. A century ago, he would have had little hope of ever starting a new life on the other side of the world. But times have changed, and as the world gets smaller, peoples’ horizons are getting wider.
For individuals who have grown successful businesses, the world is opening up. Over 100 countries now welcome new citizens on the proviso that they invest in their country, including in its schools, hospitals, and infrastructure.
Such economic citizenship programmes are not new – the ancient Romans had similar ideas. But they have grown particularly quickly in the last 15 years, as the movement of people and capital has increased and technology has made our world ever more global.
The concept of citizenship – what it means and who is entitled to it – is evolving. And looking at demographic shifts, this isn’t something that looks set to change back any time soon.
Today, most millennials don’t identify with the nation state. Research shows that more and more young people believe themselves to be “citizens of the world”, identifying predominantly with values and issues that don’t follow boundaries on a map.
In the online communities we increasingly belong to, where you are from is less important than what you believe, and far less important than what you want to do with your life.
Technology has enabled people to access knowledge faster than ever before, allowing individuals to share news and make connections, regardless of nationality, identity or language. This year, Greta Thunberg, a teenager skipping school in a climate protest in Sweden, inspired 1.6m students from 125 countries to do the same.
Tellingly, the protest centred around a problem that no nation state can solve by acting alone. These were citizens of the world, holding all nations to account.
Of course, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. As new ideas of citizenship grow and a younger generation looks beyond the nation state, leaders around the world are harnessing traditional concepts of nationality to win over those who are uneasy with the pace of change.
Be it Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric and his weaponising of trade with China, or the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the pace of change for many has been too fast, and nationalism is a resurgent force, as evidenced by the swell of support for populist and nationalistic parties in the recent European elections.
The rejection of globalisation and defence of the nation state has comforted some and worried others. It has split generations, old from young.
For every person looking back to the traditional nation state, there is someone else, most likely younger, who feels that this movement is closing down their options, pulling up a drawbridge at a time when opportunities to “go global” have never been greater.
This friction is set to continue, but one thing is certain. The future belongs to the young. In the hands of these globalists, concepts of citizenship are set to change beyond anything we can imagine.