To me, culture is a word of wonder because it opens windows to fresh perspectives and rich lifestyles. In our daily lives we navigate a multitude of cultures - from our home and family environment, to the professional organization we work it, our academic affiliations, interest groups and the list goes on. Our adherence to a certain number of common values and beliefs within each of these different groups creates a sense of sameness and in this way we share a common culture.
Recently I was one of ten participants that had the privilege to take part in the Acumen Leadership Essentials course. At the outset, the only visible thing we shared in common was the fact that we all live in Geneva.
|Some members of the Acumen Leadership Essentials Group, Geneva 04 2013|
Over the next six weeks, we came together weekly to discuss specific issues related to global development, aid, social entrepreneurship and leadership. During these 2 hour discussions we learned from and about, each other’s perspectives. By sharing our experience and heritage we could sense how each one of us had crafted our perspective by weaving our faraway roots into our real-time aspirations.
At our second meeting the homework assigned related to a real case study about a health care start-up in India that would provide free ambulance service.
Based on the four criteria below, we were asked to assess and explain whether or not to invest in the new venture:
- Whether there was strong leadership; do they have the required expertise and are the creators truly committed
- Whether the investment will truly make a difference to the low income community
- Will the business be able to become financially sustainable
- Will the business be able to scale on its own
We watched a video regarding the startup and had numerous questions assigned to us for discussion to help us understand the issues and take a decision regarding whether or not to invest.
On this particular evening seven people, (three men and four women), from six countries (Canada, Greece, Ivory Coast, Singapore, Russia, USA) attended the meeting. What was really very interesting to observe after all the discussion, questions and information had been exchanged was that the men chose not to invest and the women chose to invest, in the start up. The women all agreed that the social impact of such an investment would be huge, and were willing to mitigate the risk, while the men felt that the risk was too great for the estimated potential return.
I came away from the evening with numerous insights:
- From a cultural perspective, each sex came together around their social identity (in this case gender and generation) their shared beliefs and the perceived "value" that emergency medical assistance would provide.
- Culture is complex - ever changing it morphs depending upon a specific context and environment.
- Culture is “practiced” best by cultivating affinity and seeking to understand differences from a non-judgmental perspective.
On this specific occasion our decision reflected our social identity, on other occasions the entire group has agreed to taking the same decision based on a larger set of shared values. The richness of this cross-cultural exchange has undoubtedly helped each of us to listen, to remain open to other peoples opinions, to value what differences bring to the discussion and above all a sense of appreciation and gratitude towards each other.
Originally published in IWM May/June 2013 pgs. 30-1 Culture issue http://bit.ly/12O77d8