Think Global, Act Global

How can Madison, a midsize city in the heartland, embrace a global mindset? The real question is: How can we not?

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While a global Madison can perhaps best be viewed through the work of the institutions like UW and Chamber of Commerce, or individuals like an advocate for international studies or a small business owner, there is also a growing network of civic players on the global scene and many examples of world-wide connectedness. Those players range from the mega-international event that puts Madison on the world map every October, the World Dairy Expo, to the K–12 school system where global-ness is being taught earlier and earlier. Kids at the Verona Area International School at Stoner Prairie Elementary are studying Mandarin. Think of it as the new Spanish. In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is moving strategically to increase global education in the state’s K–12 system.

Kerry Hill is the director of public affairs for UW–Madison’s Division of International Studies, president of Global Wisconsin, Inc., and a member of the State Superintendent’s International Education Council. He’s been working on efforts to create a Wisconsin Global Education Certificate that would enable high school seniors to earn recognition for successfully completing an international curriculum.

“We need to focus on the development of a global citizenship, and by that I mean by developing in students the knowledge skills, attitudes for living and working/interacting across cultures.”


From K through college, UW’s Kerry Hill says global citizenship should be a core competency throughout a student’s academic career. 

Hill, a former national editor for the Wisconsin State Journal, says that focus is deeper than the trappings of international, of just going somewhere. The new certificate, says Hill, would “provide a pathway for students to internationalize their education and to recognize them for that.” Hill says both businesspeople and administrators see the need for students who have global competence, “the knowledge and the skills to live work, with, and across, cultures,” including knowing more than one language.

“It’s a skill level to go in, if you’re sent to another country, even if you don’t know the language, to be able to land on your feet, learn how to pick up customs, learn how to acquire that knowledge,” says Hill. “Being able to understand and see the world from different perspectives and to recognize these differences.”

Not a week goes by anymore without another story making the connection between Madison and the rest of the world. The University Research Park is recognized for being a business incubator “that is changing the world.”

The Madison Region Economic Development Partnership, or MadREP, which has made global relationship growing a foundation of the region’s economic development strategy, is a presence at the International Conference on Foreign Direct Investment. Sonic Foundry announces it is acquiring companies in the Netherlands and Japan. GMCC partners with the Madison International Trade Association, then the National Business Coalition on Skilled Worker Immigration Reform. (By the way, every person we talked to for this article mentioned immigration reform as a critical need.) Analysts and thinkers like Wisconsin Technology Council president Tom Still pen important columns like his “Hurdles to global trade would be worth clearing.”

The list goes on. All of it makes the case for Madison as a global city on the move. A little recognition never hurts, of course. Having the British Broadcasting Company rate Madison, Wisconsin, among the Top Five College Towns (along with Cambridge, England; Valparaiso, Chile; Uppsalsa, Sweden; and Kingston, Ontario) is yet another feather in our cap, and a delightfully global feather at that.

We have a nationally recognized plethora of international cuisines represented in our restaurants. There’s a market for the diverse international cultural performances offered at Overture Center and the university. All of this and more contribute to the global ecosystem that is flourishing in Madison. Chicago author Longworth says it straight out, right there on page 233: “Madison ranks as a global city in its own right.”

So, why is this so important, in addition to the aforementioned role of ensuring a future?

Because our nation is also changing, along with the rest of the world. Our politics are changing. The relationship between cities and states or even nations is changing. Modern global cities, in the words of Canadian-America architect, professor and writer Witold Rybczynski, exist within nations, but their global network “appears to be supra-national, unaccountable to national control and strikingly autonomous.”

He’s talking about more obvious models of city-states, like Chicago, Toronto and Frankfurt. But remember what Longworth said about Madison. And if we are not an autonomous city-state now, we have enough ingredients to aspire to such status, and certainly to recognize that by not having such aspirations today we perhaps lose our opportunity to minimize the risks to cities posed within our state and national capitals.

But ultimately the importance is beyond politics, beyond business and beyond growth. It’s about who we are, and it’s about what the place in which we live says about who we are. What Mark Schmitz says about Zebradog is precisely why Madison must, and will, be a successful global city.

“It’s really about humans. We deal in emotional outcomes. We can measure a project’s successful completion through an emotional measurement, through an emotional outcome. The fact is, companies don’t make decisions; people do. If you’re in the people business, you’re supposed to be in the world. We’re supposed to do this in the world.”

After all it’s not what you make, it’s what you do. And where you do it.

Neil Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine.



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