Focus on Happiness vs. Growth!

“Overconsumption” photo ©The Guardian.

Interculturalists have long known that the answers to our world problems lie within the diversity of values and wisdom in the people of our world. Today I learned that economists are now agreeing with us.

For over seventy years economists have told us that growth is the solution to world poverty, that “growth” equals “progress.” Progressives and some of the world’s wealthiest have recently begun to advocate taxation schemes to redistribute monies from the wealthiest and thus build a bit of justice into our systems. Yet, neither approach will work.

Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.
—Jason Hickel in The Guardian, 23 September 2015

We are already over-consuming Earth’s bio-capacity by 60%. The real problem is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest countries, and the way in which we conceptualize “progress.”

Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares—many times their fair share.
—Jason Hickel

In a wonderfully insightful article in The Guardian, Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, tells us that an intercultural approach and cross-cultural values may be the solution to problems facing our world. Jason tells us how “economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.” Costa Rica, for example, manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.

“Perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses! According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.”

Jason directs us to Latin American values such as “buen vivir,” living the good life, to which I’d add also a respect for the planet, Pacha Mama, and community values such as the African “ubuntu.” You can find in-depth explanations of hundreds of non-dominant values in Cultural Detective Online. Changing our western- and northern-centric definitions of progress to a definition more inclusive of the eastern and southern value system could be just the ticket to our survival as a species. Jason also points us toward books such as Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough?

As Jason concludes his article:

Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one.

This is not about giving anything up. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.

Cultural Detectives, let us use this new-found recognition as a catalyst to breathe new motivation into our efforts!

Development or Displacement?

ICIJFormed at the end of World War II to help develop countries torn by war and poverty, the World Bank is dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s poorest: to getting them clean drinking water, housing, food, and basic services like electric power. It is a challenging and complicated mission.

The Bank loans $65 billion annually for what have become increasingly large, high-profile projects such as dams, pipelines, and power plants. Projects of this magnitude can displace whole communities and wreak havoc on the natural environment. Sometimes providing water or energy to a city can drastically reduce the quality of life of rural farmers and fishermen. While the Bank has a clear policy of “do no harm” to people or the environment, all too often the Bank’s projects do negatively impact the environment and the lives of the very people the Bank was designed to help.

“Over the last decade, projects funded by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced anestimated 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods.”
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Complaints about the World Bank are nothing new; protests have taken place throughout much of my adulthood. Just a couple of weeks ago the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists added data to fuel the fire when it released the results of a year-long research project involving more than 50 journalists from 21 countries. They analyzed thousands of WorldBank records, interviewed hundreds of people, and conducted on-the-ground investigations in Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Kosovo, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, South Sudan, and Uganda. They titled the report, “Evicted and Abandoned: The World Bank’s broken promise to the poor.”

The report states that the World Bank has “regularly failed to enforce its rules, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.” The most common hardship suffered by those in the path of “progress” is lost or diminished income. Forced relocations involve millions; they can rip apart kinship networks and increase the risk of illness and disease. Resettled populations are more likely to suffer unemployment and hunger, and mortality rates are higher.

“From 2009 to 2013, World Bank Group lenders pumped $50 billion into projects graded the highest risk for ‘irreversible or unprecedented’ social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

What causes such a well-intentioned mission to go awry? When the Bank is filled with so many people who are dedicated to serving others and making the world a better place, why do the systems become dysfunctional?

  1. Bias is a human reality, and partnership is tricky. All too often, well-intentioned efforts to serve result in the world’s poorest and most historically oppressed suffering even more. Partly that is because we don’t validate what local communities know, and lenders want “experts” in the lead on projects. No matter how committed the Bank might be to partnering with local communities, bias runs deep and it’s an enormous challenge to be sure the expertise, experience, concerns and insight of all involved are heard and valued. It is a reality ripe for Cultural Detective and other intercultural tools, wouldn’t you say?
  2. Greed and glitz, blind capitalism, and the appeal to ego (and to continued funding) of the big, dazzling projects. Major infrastructure projects look good on a dossier or resumé, and they help ensure that member states will pony up the money to support the Bank’s efforts. According to the Evicted and Abandoned report, a 2012 internal audit found that projects in the Bank’s pipeline triggered the Bank’s resettlement policy 40 percent of the time—twice as often as projects the Bank had already completed.
  3. The gap between international funders and national and local governments. The Bank negotiates with those in leadership positions, who themselves may not only have the welfare of the people at heart. Or, there may be different leaders who control different regions or areas, and who consider an agreement with the national government not worth the paper on which it’s printed. Cultural Detective West Africa includes a critical incident on this very topic of negotiating with national governments when it’s local chieftains who control the territory.
  4. Corruption. Corruption can exist at all levels, including soldiers who have been known to beat, rape, and murder in the course of forced evictions. The Huffington Post reports: “’There was often no intent on the part of the governments to comply—and there was often no intent on the part of the bank’s management to enforce,’ said Navin Rai, a former World Bank official who oversaw the bank’s protections for indigenous peoples from 2000 to 2012. ‘That was how the game was played.’” While there are cultural variations in whether we hire those we know and trust or whether we have public, transparent job calls, there is a line beyond which corruption must be called corruption. For example, relocating poor villagers without restitution so that your son-in-law can own an elite oceanside resort is clearly not true leadership. The Cultural Detective series has some powerful critical incidents about the effects of cronyism and how to honor preferential treatment for family, while also ethically honoring one’s goals, as well as incidents dealing with bribery and other ethical issues (Cultural Detective Global Business Ethics).
  5. The world stage is shifting. There are new development banks on the world scene, competitors to the World Bank, that often don’t have the same social standards. Many say that this is leading to ever-lower standards, and disregard for the people and environments that “development” seeks to serve.
  6. Changing a large dysfunctional system is far from easy, no matter how well-intentioned even a top leader is. I’ve seen this in many of my clients over the years, and in a few corporations I’ve worked in as well. Many felt hope when Jim Yong Kim took over as president of the World Bank in 2012. A Korean-American physician known for his work fighting AIDS in Africa, Kim Yong became the first World Bank president whose background wasn’t in finance or politics. Twenty years earlier, Kim Yong had joined protests calling for a shutdown of the World Bank and accusing it of valuing economic growth over assistance to the poor. Despite expected improvements, “an internal survey conducted last year by bank auditors showed that 77 percent of employees responsible for enforcing the bank’s safeguards said they think that management ‘does not value’ their work. The bank released the survey in March, at the same time that it admitted to poor oversight of its resettlement policy,” according to the Huffington Post article. A 2014 World Bank internal review found that in 60 percent of sampled cases, Bank staffers failed to document what happened to people after they were forced from their land or homes, and 70 percent of the cases sampled lacked required information about whether anyone had complained and whether complaints were resolved.

In my opinion we need the World Bank, just as we need the United Nations. For all their foibles and failures as human-run entities, their missions are crucially important. Incorporating cross-cultural best practices into the manner in which projects are managed, meetings are conducted, and decisions are made is a critical first step. Developing intercultural competence in the Bank’s staff and local partners in an ongoing, sustained manner, can make a major contribution to preventing the devastating downsides of development projects.

New Ways of Working Together: Technology, Innovation and Intercultural Collaboration for Africa

ngoFrThis is a guest blog post by Jolanda Tromp, co-author of Cultural Detective Global Teamwork.

In February 2014, n’GO magazine published a review of the Cultural Detective Method. For readers of n’GO not familiar with Cultural Detective, the article provided a way for them to learn about this unique intercultural-competence tool, grounded in developmental theory, yet simple to use and very practical.

n’GO magazine is free, published online in French and Dutch, and offers insights, reflections, examples, and tools around behavioral and relational aspects of intercultural contact. Its goal is to search for the truth behind prejudices and blockages, and provide positive alternatives by interviewing experts and academics. n’GO is produced by the Belgium NGO Echos Communications, which runs a variety of projects aimed at helping to redefine the Euro-African dialogue by showing that Africa participating in the world community is value-added. They work to demonstrate their belief that the Internet is a communication tool that can help strengthen the relationships between the actors in the North and South. They believe the Internet may change the course of action in the field of international cooperation.

This vision and effort is clearly part of many African progressives’ point-of-view, as witnessed by the young social innovator and blogger, Mac-Jordan Degadjan, blogging about African and Ghanaian technology and innovation:

“The world’s impression of Africa is hopelessly outdated. Africa’s technology and innovation boom is rapidly expanding. The penetration of the internet and mobile technology is radical and unprecedented. Across African cities, technology innovation hubs are mushrooming and playing a central role in the fledgling technological and entrepreneurial innovation scenes, all over the African continent.”

For the computer-savvy, Generation-Y Africans, Cultural Detective Online (CDO) can be a great resource, because it is accessible from anywhere as long as you can get onto the Internet. CDO combines 60 of the series’ culture-specific and topic-specific packages into one integrated and easy-to-use system, including access to over 400 critical incidents involving people from 90 cultures and spanning multiple industries and professional functions. Subscribers receive a personal virtual intercultural coach that is available anytime, anywhere, online.

Currently, the Cultural Detective series includes culture-specific packages on Cameroon (by Emmanuel Ngomsi), West Africa (by Emmanuel Ngomsi and Seidu Sofo), and South Africa (by Kathi Lyn Tarantal and Denise Hill).

Cultural Detective: West Africa looks at core values of the 14 countries and 250 million people of the region, ethnically heterogeneous and mixed with two other non-indigenous cultures, the French and the British. The critical incidents describe individuals from several different backgrounds including a Nigerian, a Senegalese, and a Ghanaian.

Cultural Detective: South Africa provides insight into this country that is both first world and third world. There are eleven official languages and a multi-coloured landscape of people. The values of these different groups are contrasting, and CD: South Africa explores both black and white cultural values. It contains critical incidents with individuals from several different cultural backgrounds, including an Afrikaner, a Northern Sotho, a Zulu South African, an Ndebele South African, and a Tsonga South African.

Clearly, the work of describing African cultural values has only just begun with the writing of these brave African pioneers. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda at the World Economic Forum, in Davos said: “The major problem I see is that Africa’s story is written from somewhere else and not by Africans themselves. That is why the rest of the world looks at Africa and Africans and wants to define us. They want to shape the perception about Africa. The best thing we can do for ourselves is own our problems, own our solutions and write our own story.”

The n’GO editor and journalist who authored the article about Cultural Detective, Sylvie Walraevens, is based in Waterloo, about 20 km south of Brussels, Belgium. She put out a call on the Internet for people to interview about the Cultural Detective Method in a LinkedIn forum. I replied, explaining that I am not an expert on African culture, but work as an online sparring partner and coach for Global Teamworkers and managers; I am in the Dutch section of the ISO Norm Committee for assessing the usefulness of an International Norm for International Business Collaborations; and a certified Cultural Detective facilitator.

We discussed the options via email and arranged to meet in Amsterdam for the interview. The interview went very smoothly in my favorite flex-workplace—the lobby of a 5-star hotel with WiFi, directly opposite Amsterdam central station. After the interview, we talked about the African economy and the fact that it is actually growing fast despite the global economic downturn.

We agreed to end the article with a call for African authors to chart their culture’s values and write about them in order to facilitate successful intercultural collaborations. Emmanuel Ngomsi, Sylvie Walreavens, myself, and—we are sure—many others, offer our assistance. We are curious to find out which African experts will take on the challenge of writing Cultural Detective packages on all the African cultures that have not been charted yet!

You can register for the n’Go newsletter here: [FR ] – [NL ] and read the article about Cultural Detective (French and Dutch only) here: [FR ] – [NL ]. For additional information about Cultural Detective Online, register for a free webinar and receive a complimentary 3-day trail subscription. For information about authoring a package, contact Cultural Detective.