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The Globe and Mail

How can Canadians become more engaged with the world?

John McArthur is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and also the UN Foundation. Eric Werker is an associate professor at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business.

The election of a new federal government has sparked a widespread sense of generational transition in Canadian public affairs. Concurrently, a horrific string of tragedies in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere has prompted many Canadians to also feel we are confronting a new generation of global challenges. As a society, we need to weave these two sentiments together. Canadians require a new generational mindset for engaging with a changing world.

Perhaps most poignantly, in recent decades we as Canadians have fallen behind our peers in adapting to the dramatic changes and geopolitical shifts driven by fast-evolving "developing countries."

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A long-term strategy is needed to build the range of academic, business, civil society and government assets that will get Canada back to the frontier. This is the core message of our report issued with colleagues earlier this week, Towards 2030: Building Canada's Engagement with Global Sustainable Development.

Consider just a few of the complex global transformations underway. Over the past 25 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has plummeted, and that's not just a "China story." Since 2000, 33 countries have graduated from low- to middle-income status. At least 15-million more people are alive thanks to a revolution in global health.

But the flip side of progress is unprecedented stress on the environment, which itself poses deep risks to prosperity. And hyper-connected societies can transmit threats as quickly as opportunities. Such interwoven dynamics frame the challenge of global sustainable development: the pursuit of a stable, thriving and inclusive global society that lives within nature's means.

Why does this matter to Canadians? First, our security is affected by the progress of developing countries. We can all recognize the importance of places such as Afghanistan, Liberia and Syria. Second, our long-term prosperity hinges on our ability to promote trade and investment with the emerging economies that are driving global growth. Third, our economic and physical well-being depends on global environmental sustainability – think droughts, floods and sea levels. Fourth, providing global leadership and forging deep partnerships with new powers earns agenda-shaping influence to help advance Canadian interests and values.

Other countries provide important examples to learn from. In Sweden, CEOs from companies such as Ericsson, IKEA and Volvo partner with government and scientific bodies to advance global sustainable development priorities. In the United States, leaders spanning science, business and civil society have pushed their government to be a global health innovator. The United Kingdom's academic community is deeply involved in global policy debates, informing a national political consensus allocating 0.7 per cent of national income for public investments in developing countries.

For Canada, there will be no quick fixes. Actions are needed across all sectors. We recommend increasing the pool of Canadians directly engaged in global sustainable development. This can start by Canada convening annual meetings of international leaders from business, science, civil society and government in the lead-up to the United Nation's High-Level Political Forum focused on the new global goals for sustainable development. And our top CEOs need to create a joint platform to move global issues forward in a way that's good for business. Canadian philanthropists ought to create prominent foundations that advance global solutions.

And every undergraduate student, by 2030, should have significant international study or work experience before they graduate, ideally in a developing country.

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We also recommend targeted investments in the people, evidence and ideas that will inform strong policy and practice. Applied research and teaching programs should be built across multiple Canadian universities. An innovation hub should seed and scale civil society innovations, partnerships and financing vehicles.

Finally, the government needs to reframe its role to become a "systems architect" deploying its full range of policy, convening and funding instruments. This could draw from the insights of a recommended multi-generational task force that identifies the mix and scale of investments required to advance Canada's strategic interests.

Altogether, this adds up to a broad agenda for building Canada's long-term engagement with the world. In Ottawa, the new federal cabinet has a major role to play. But it's equally important that all sectors of society start investing across the country today – building the key societal assets that will guide a new Canadian generation's successful engagement with the world.

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