Young westerners are embracing a global outlook

The contrast between global and local is becoming one of the defining features of the 21st century, according to Canvas8's Global Mindset study.

Travel has become less about holidays, and more of a way of life
Travel has become less about holidays, and more of a way of life


A young, aspirational generation of westerners, reared on a diet of diversity, democracy, travel, globalisation and foreign food, are embracing a lifestyle with a global outlook that is in stark contrast to the more nationalist tendencies of their elders.

In theory

There are several drivers which are facilitating a global mindset. The first is a growing disillusionment with 'The western way of life', which has been deemed unsustainable and which has repercussions - excessive consumption, economic instability, environmental degradation, social inequality, corporate greed - that can be felt at a global level.

The consensus is that the west doesn't have all the answers, and cannot be relied upon to act in the world's best interests.

Anglo-American authority, a linchpin of the west, is waning, not just for outsiders, but insiders too.

Ask a bunch of senior Americans whether they think the US stands above all other nations and half will agree.

Ask their grandchildren and only a quarter will agree. In short, the west is having a crisis of confidence from which it will emerge with a more global sense of responsibility, particularly towards developing countries and their cultures.

This is creating a demand for diversity and equality. People are searching for new ways of doing things, and looking to other cultures for hints.

Gen Y, for whom a mix-and-match culture of diversity is the norm, are the leading exponents of this; they're already more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults, as well as less religious and less likely to have served in the military.

These digital natives grew up online and are accustomed to globalised visual media.

By a ratio of more than two-to-one, young people are viewed as being more tolerant of races and groups different from their own.

Perhaps the best expression of this lies in attitudes towards travel, particularly among Gen Y.

In 1950, humans made 25 million trips abroad. By 2020 this will have risen to 1.6 billion. A quarter of baby-boomers had travelled abroad before their 16th birthday; for Gen Y, this is closer to 80, and one in ten has visited Africa.

As tourism matures, tourists crave authenticity. Travel has become less about holidays, and more of a way of life.

Gen Y go on gap years in search of the intangible: ideas, beliefs, friends, experiences, and tattoos. Writing in Forbes, Eva Pereira commented that "Millennials, more than any generation, are eager to understand perspectives that are different, even antithetical, to their own, rather than push them away."

They are the 'mobile generation' who couldn't afford a house even if they wanted to settle down (which, on average, they will at 35).

Home is the where the heart is, and among cosmopolitan Gen Y, homes and hearts are scattered around the globe.

They possess a unique pick-‘n’-mix sense of self that is informed by their wanderlust; they clutch copies of Monocle magazine (the global cultural briefing whose revenues grew 30% last year, despite the 'death of print') wherever they go, and surf AirBnB (whose bookings are growing at a rate of 40% per month).

In action

The Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, serves cuisine from countries the US is – or has been – in conflict with
. Each iteration is augmented by events, performances and discussions about the culture, politics, and issues at stake within distant communities, from Cuba to Afghanistan.

Packaging is also emblazoned with cultural information about the nation, from perceptions of the US to political issues, and collaboration with immigrants from these countries is encouraged.

Similarly, the Culture Kitchen in San Francisco, started by two Stanford design graduates, fosters an appreciation for diversity through ethnic cooking. It empowers non-professional immigrant chefs to share their native cooking skills, the idea being that food acts as a kind of global language.

Allowing native members of the community to represent their culture directly enriches notions of authenticity.

Prada's "Made in..." campaign exposes the hidden global narratives of its products at a time when fast-fashion labels are attempting to gloss over their use of cheap foreign labour.

This clever initiative emphasises that just because a garment is made in India, it doesn’t have to be poor quality.

It empowers authentic local artisans to proudly express their nations under the banner of Prada.

Sales of Fairtrade products in the UK rose nearly 30%, from £836m in 2009 to £1.17bn in 2010, despite the recession.

Back in 2010, Cadbury's Big Swap campaign sought to portray the culture its raw materials are rooted in by commissioning local musicians to sing western songs.

Insights and opportunities

When navigating the global space, brands should be careful not to promote their own cultures too strongly.

For example, a growing number of Japanese are rejecting the French 'Michelin standard', and Japanese food guide ‘Shominchelin’ positions itself as resolutely ‘anti-Michelin’.

On the other hand, there is a need to avoid a patronising or condescending approach; in Israel, McDonald's had to withdrawal its McFalafel, since Israelis found it odd that the American brand would try to sell their own culture back to them. They wanted American burgers.

Interestingly, there almost seems to be an inverse correlation between the fall of American power, and the rise in interest in its culture.

Herein lies the presumed dichotomy of local v global. Local may have sustainable, even economic aspirations, but in a globalising world it exists more as an emotional reflex than a rational pursuit. Stripped back, local is really about authenticity of provenance.

It doesn't need to exist down the road, but can be found in Thailand, Brazil, or Ghana. Brands must be sensitive to local customs.

Shang Xia is Hermes's home-grown low-key Chinese luxury brand. Instead of copy-and-pasting its western brand, the label sought to build a brand that was authentically Chinese, exhibiting an intimate history of China's culture as told through the personal stories of its inhabitants.

In India, Wieden & Kennedy created Motherland, India's first magazine dedicated to its subcultures.

This forms part of the agency’s global commitment to being a part of local cultures, rather than leeching off them.

Ridley Scott's Life in a Day takes a snapshot of the most diverse corners of the world, and weaves them into one global narrative, putting all residents in the same frame. Brands have sought to capture this bubbling sense of global citizenship.

Diesel Island sees youths the world over shunning their home-nations to create an entirely new country; their mission is "To take what is great from the countries we know, and ditch what is bad".

If Diesel provided the outfit, Smirnoff brought the booze. The Nightlife Exchange Project, which piloted last year saw, city-dwellers all over the world from Cape Town to Berlin define their quintessential local nightlife experience, box it up and then share it with sister cities around the globe.

In their words, this led to a "cross-pollination of nightlife around the world creating an iconic, global THERE moment."

Of course, global is not all fun and games; it raises serious questions too.

Between 1960 and 2000, per capita GDP in the 20 poorest countries rose marginally from $212 to $267. In the 20 richest countries, it tripled from $11,417 to $32,339.

In a time when multinational corporations are treated with cynicism, Global Mindset can be harnessed as an opportunity to leverage size for good.

This can involve helping to accelerate cultural exchange and integration, as well as demonstrating the benefits of 'big'. In a recent Edelman study, one in three said people they looked for brands to make a positive impact on the world.