Saturday, September 01, 2007

Importance of Multiculturalism Expertise, and a Program to Acquire It

By Dr. V. H. Manek Kirpalani and Dr. Leif Thomas Olsen

Multiculturalism is growing by leaps and bounds due to three driving forces.

Ø Multinational Enterprises with their explosive expansions into different regions.
Ø Emigration and Immigration.
Ø Increased Communication Speed and the Internet Highway.

The rationale for the growth of these driving forces and the environment they create are the following:

The Rationale for Growth of Multiculturalism

Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) have been growing at some 8% a year in terms of total revenues for the last 50 years or so. The environment of globalization has helped. International trade talks have aided the creation of a substantially large world market for many products and services. Other types of international cooperation have helped speed up growth in previously stagnant economies by providing investment and credit opportunities across the globe. Thus the business environment has encouraged the expansion of MNE products and services, and facilitated the internationalization of production. The latter has allowed the MNEs to produce and/or purchase many components from countries with lower costs of production. Today the total revenue of MNEs is greater than the GDP of any country in the world, even greater than that of the USA which produces roughly 25% of the world’s GDP. Moreover the MNEs dominate world trade with a roughly 60% overall share of this trade. The MNEs thus need the cross-cultural expertise to produce and market their products and services in countries worldwide, to deal with component suppliers from different cultures, and to manage employees who come from diverse countries and cultures. Further the successful manager and/or business owner must learn about a range of cross-cultural experience in order to continue their success. Furthermore every manager and policy maker in business or government and its public sector organizations has to deal sooner or later with people from different cultures who are workers or consumers.


Emigration and immigration provide other driving forces that contribute to the creation of diverse cross-cultural environments in many countries. All in all it is estimated that worldwide over 600 million people or some 10% of the world’s population are living in countries outside their country of origin. The richer North American and Western economies have served as a magnet to draw immigration from all over the world. The USA and Canada have been importing well over one million people a year as immigrants from overseas for the last 50 years. Further, today the USA has some 50 million Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal (the term for the latter is ‘undocumented’). The European Union has served as a draw for immigrants from the colonies of its imperial countries. Furthermore today it is seeing a strong flow of people from its Central and Eastern European segments into its Western regions. Emigration from China and India has been large over the last 100 years or so.

Increased communication speed and its constantly decreasing costs, coupled with the Internet highway and the flow of information technology have resulted in more direct communication between head offices and subsidiaries, emigrants / immigrants and their original home bases, and by the flow of global promotion of products and services, and of global news via established outlets such as CNN and BBC World, as well as more recent additions, such as Al Jazeera and Russia Today.

Demand and Supply of Graduates with Multicultural Expertise

All the above developments have increased the need for cross-cultural expertise. But the demand for graduates, trained with the capability of doing well in multicultural environments, is far greater than the supply.

In a multitudinal world, where issues like sustainable development, shareholders' value and ethnic-religious conflicts are all 'hot', and the North-South divide seems to be getting wider by the day, corporate, technical, political managers and professionals must become more able to see beyond their own respective area of direct involvement and responsibility. Future leaders and managers have a rapidly growing social responsibility to the society their employing organization operates within - a task that current management training programs tend to underestimate. An elective course or two on good governance or socially responsible investments is unlikely to change the thinking deeply enough, especially as they usually are just electives rather than high-profile mandatory courses. Moreover, snapshot courses are no longer enough. One must go deeper and develop knowledge and thorough understanding of the subjects that are being learnt.

If future professionals and academics, whether in business, governance or technology, have to keep pace with todays, and even more so tomorrow's, development speed, a different approach must be instilled in people through the educational system. The ambition of a learning program must be to install a multi-cultural base and a more socio-economic oriented leadership focus. The graduate with such leadership training will be able to apply it in a scientific or social environment, and/or in a corporate or political context. Leaders and managers who do understand their responsibility in its broadest meaning will also understand that there is no contradiction between ROI and social responsibility. A good example of this lies in the industrial tradition that built most of the companies now considered backbones of the societies from which they emerged. Had it not been for hardworking entrepreneurs with very long-term vision and far-reaching social responsibilities, there would be no Ford Motor Co, no Sony Corporation, no IKEA and no TSMC (Taiwan's largest chip manufacturer). Only leaders who can read both the social and the financial sides of the socio-economic equation will succeed.

Program to Acquire Multicultural Expertise

The overall objective of a multicultural expertise program for managers across the corporate, political and social spectra must be to offer a curriculum with a leadership focus that can be adjusted to the respective cultural and socio-economic environments in which it is to be consumed. For managers with social or political ambitions, such cultural sensitivity is already a 'must'. Nevertheless it is rare to find evidence for development of this insight when looking at the curricula offered by most business institutions.

Future managers must develop good abilities to see different societies in different lights. The same goes for social workers, politicians, and international officials, such as those at the International Monetary Fund, United Nations, WTO, and the World Bank. It once took an almost nationwide boycott of McDonalds' hamburgers in India before McDonald executives realized that their products had to be diversified for cultural reasons; righteous Hindus found it unacceptable to eat beef. Nowadays all international fast food chains offer localized menus. The 2005/06 boycott of Danish products of any sort in many Muslim markets, as a result of what came to be known as the 'Mohammed-cartoon incident', indicates how important cultural understanding is in an increasingly global marketplace.

A program designed to address the need to acquire multicultural expertise should build on three interrelated cornerstones. Each one is outlined with its underlying logic.

Corner Stone 1:

Multitude culture-sensitive. It must not assume a global westernized mono-culture such as most MBA programs tend to do.

Underlying Logic:

The cultural issue will never go away, and multitude culture-sensitive importance will increase once China, India, Korea and other countries with different cultures gain fuller influence in global matters.

Corner Stone 2:

Open social platform. Rather than viewing management as a limited task

Underlying Logic:

The management of just about any entity, whether public or private, now affects significantly larger circles of society than it used to do. The Internet as well as other open access platforms also has dramatically increased the possibility for information-sharing. This have allowed also participative democracy representatives, who for long mainly expressed their views and opinions through NGOs and/or street rallies, access to, and increasingly efficient use of, the kind of information that was formerly controlled by ´the establishment elite,’

Corner Stone 3:

Future oriented. Rather than business-as-usual.

Underlying Logic:

The speed of development in general and technical development in particular, is in-creasing. Therefore to be successful a future orientation in thinking and strategy is necessary.

Rushmore University New P2M Program

The new Rushmore University P2M program emphasizes the post-modern need for a global horizon with a depth understanding of cultural silos. . It is worth looking at and can be seen at Rushmore's website www.rushmore.edu. It consists of 30 credits spread over the following five courses plus a thesis in your preferred cultural area. :


1. World Religions and Philosophies

Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam are the six major religions that historically, as well as in terms of current affairs, have a global impact. Metaphysics, Ethnocentrism, Relativism, Socio-biology, Individualism, Collectivism, Utilitarianism and Pacifism are some philosophies that also, with varying success influenced, or tried to influence, our societies over time. Students are requested to analyze at least three different accounts of each one of these.

2. World History as Viewed by the World's Major -isms

Many ideas have grown so strong over time so they developed into social and/or political systems, entirely governing the societies over which they wrestled control. The most influential ones, here identified as "-isms", are Feudalism, Capitalism, Imperialism, Nationalism, Colonialism, Modernism, Liberalism, Post-Modernism, Neo-liberalism, Secularism, Globalism Consensus, Fundamentalism, and Good Governance-ism. The course will cover all these, and some others, in depth.

3. A Changing World: Ecology, Anthropology, Demography and Economic Geography

Climate-change is only the most recent of many pressing issues showing how interlinked are ecology, anthropology, demography and economic geography. When the UN's Security Council finally took this issue on in 2007, it simply confirmed what was already well known: migration - whether caused by war, economic inequality or climate-change - is a serious cause of concern, whereas millions of people are moving, and will continue to move, to new localities, in turn affecting those millions of people who already live there. We must learn how to adapt to it, and make good from the situation it creates. This requires leaders and managers with the right abilities and a strong social sensitivity. These aspects will also be discussed in depth.

4. Future-Studies Related to Cross-Cultural Issues, including Social Research Methodology

Future-studies related to cross-cultural issues can help predict developments and prevent problems, assuming they build on a good methodological platform. This course on such future studies as a means to understand and influence the future, therefore also includes social research methodology.

5. Cross-cultural / Interdisciplinary Interaction and Psychology

With globalization comes cultural interaction. There is very little evidence to say that a homogeneous global culture will develop. It is more likely that the concept of glocal - a mix of the two words global and local - will best describe the future world order.

To understand and facilitate this development one must understand what constitutes a culture, and how and why cultures clash. Cultures are however not only social, they can also be religious, professional, disciplinary or otherwise. By understanding the psychology and methodology of bridging cultures one can help not only peoples from different parts of the world to co-habitation, but also specialists from different disciplines to co-operation. Using such insights one can also more easily understand how the world can develop, as development always is a result of such co-habitation and co-operation.

6. Thesis: Linking directly to a Chosen Elective

Students are asked to submit a thesis discussing one of the four electives listed under item 6.1 to 6.4 below. They are:

6.1 Capacity Building for Diverse Cultures, focusing on managing human capacity creation and development, as well as evolutionary processes and technology transfer on a micro as well as macro level.

6.2 Structures and Systems, analyzing how institution-building processes take place; how they are managed and influenced, including not only the processes aimed at developing a State's administrative and juridical bodies, but also those developing capital markets and political - as well as multilateral - institutions.

6.3 Inter-Cultural Leadership, through (i) case research based on the past, (ii) scenario building based on the future, communication theory and/or technology, and (iii) negotiation techniques looking towards the future.

6.4 Western-styled Corporate Philosophy; intended for those non-westerners who wish to have a thorough introduction to western corporate philosophy and behaviour. This thesis would typically focus on similarities and differences between your own cultural setting and the type of cultural setting that the western-styled corporate philosophy would assume. It should also discuss how your own cultural tradition can serve as a platform not only for a local enterprise, but for an internationally viable business model. Further, it should identify steps for how western MNEs can adapt to local conditions, not only in order to respect cultural diversity, but also to better tap into markets that are culturally sensitive.

Leaders who possess the insights that this program offers will be better suited to meet the challenges that our future has in store for us, no matter where we live or in which segment of the society we wish to succeed.

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