Holiday Reading – What’s good and worth tracking down

‘Indonesia, etc.: Exploring the improbable nation’ by Elizabeth Pisani.

PisaniIndonesia etc was a correspondent in Indonesia in the late 1980’s, returned a decade later as a medical researcher, and for a third time in 2011 to spend a year travelling the country. In her words “to look through the eyes of enough people in enough places…to piece the fragments together in to a portrait of the nation as a whole, to understand better the threads that tied the glorious disparity together”. To achieve this goal, Pisani committed to follow only one rule, to ‘Just say yes’. ‘Yes’ to invitations to tea with the Sultan, to sleep under a tree with a family of nomads, to join a wedding procession, etc.. And, as she says “because Indonesians are the among the most hospitable people on earth, this made for a lot of yesses…”. The result is a slice of Indonesia, the complex mix of islands, languages and ethnicities that makes up this improbable entity.

The book is written in a very engaging style, with fun and fascinating stories to keep things light while exploring themes of politics, change, globalisation and culture. Pisani’s humour, humility and genuine respect for the many cultures of Indonesia, and her fondness for the people she meets shines through in every chapter. I’d put it on top of my list.  But don’t just take my word for it, the Wall St Journal cite it as one of their ten best books of the year, The Economist also chose it as one of the nine best books on politics and current affairs.

‘From Vienna to Yogyakarta: the life of Herb Feith’ by Jemma Purdey

From ViennaWhat a fascinating man, and what a full life. Herb Feith has been a significant contributor to the Australia – Indonesia relationship. Herb’s family were WWII Austrian Jewish migrants to Australia, and the experience of his family contributed to his ongoing commitment to human rights and peace building. Herb first studied Bahasa Indonesia as a student in Melbourne in the early 1950’s and through a lifetime of academic work and commitment became one of Australia’s leading academics in the field of Asian studies and political science.

Herb worked tirelessly to further people-to-people relationships between Australia and Indonesia. He was the first Australian Volunteer to Indonesia, and a founding member of Australian Volunteers International, also being called upon to advise on the establishment of the Peace Corps in the United States.

The unsung hero in Herb’s life who really shines in the book is his wife Betty. The book is a fascinating look at the evolution and ebbs and flows of Indonesian studies in Australia. At 576 pages long it is lengthy, however an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

‘Wrong about Japan’ by Peter Carey

wrong about japanThis is by no means a new publication, published in 2004, however a recent discovery on my behalf.  Carey travels to Japan with his teenage son, Charley to explore the worlds of anime and manga. He meets leading filmmakers and experts in Japan, and attempts to delve into the deeper motivations and themes within the genre.   Carey also writes of the connection his son, an avid fan of manga has with a Japanese friend Takashi.

Carey, due to his fame, was able to access many of the leading players in the realm of anime and manga. Unfortunately he simply didn’t have the cultural, linguistic or interpersonal capabilities to make the most of these opportunities, in one interview explaining

“Mr Kitakubo responded to my written questions in the same style as every other damn Japanese I’d questioned. That is, he made it clear that nothing in this country was as I thought it was My misunderstandings were very interesting, he said.” ( p112)

Having travelled in Japan with my daughters recently, and visited Studio Ghibli which is featured, little of the magic was conveyed in this book. His exploration of his son’s connections and understanding of the genre and teenage friendship with Takashi are more insightful.

While it is one of Carey’s lesser-known and lighter works, this piece of writing provides a classic insight into the blunders, miscommunication, confusion and lack of understanding of Westerners in Japan.

Stakeholder engagement – How to make it work!

The challenge to find out what’s really going on and what people really think

incense1.jpgEnabling stakeholder feedback and two-way information flows can be challenging. However, intercultural communication skills and appropriate process are vital when engaging in stakeholder consultations with culturally diverse groups.

People in different organisational and cultural contexts have vastly different ways of interacting and engaging, and if you want to get feedback and know what people really think, there are some key strategies to ensure greater success:

1. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve

Don’t underestimate the power of thoroughly working through this with your team. Before embarking on stakeholder dialogue, ensure your team have a shared understanding of why  this is necessary and the process which will occur.  It can be immensely confusing to stakeholders and minimise trust if different reasons are mentioned by different representatives from the organiser.

2.  Engage with a representational group

Knowing who to engage with is critical. In many cultural contexts, the most accessible people may not be the most representational. They may be the most available, be the gender who are traditionally ‘spokespeople’ or the best English speakers.

Sometimes it’s better to use various engagement strategies for people at different levels. For example, a Country representative may meet for a formal lunch with senior Ministers or bureaucrats, while country staff meet with mid-level managers over a more formal casual lunch or small meetings.

3. Know how your intent might be perceived

In non-democratic political contexts, sharing information without permission can be risky.  What may be perceived as ‘sharing opinions’ in a Western context may be seen as criticism of the government in other cultures with potentially damaging personal consequences.

Don’t assume trust is a given or transparency and disclosure are easy.  In communist or socialist governments and in very hierarchical cultures, information is power and rarely shared openly. Instead it travels through trusted networks as a tradeable commodity and source of favour.

4.  Negotiate a process which meets everyone’s needs

When asking stakeholders what their needs are, sometimes it’s best to consult those with experience and knowledge of what works best.

For instance in most Asian cultures, putting people from different levels an organisation in a room and asking ‘what they think’ is highly ineffective. In many cases, the boss will speak on behalf of their team who will remain silent and share only positive information.

Often it’s more effective to have multiple smaller consultations rather than one large gathering. Wherever possible, ensure your stakeholders are in their comfort zone. Go to their world and where they feel comfortable.

5.  Ensure language is inclusive and relevant

Wherever possible, ensure stakeholders are speaking their first and most fluent language.  There are significant risks in conducting stakeholder engagement in English in non-English speaking countries.

Effectively engaging with local stakeholders can provide information to significantly influence project success and minimise the potential for violation of safeguards. Knowing in advance how your actions may be perceived, likely challenges and pitfalls and strategies to avoid them can minimise cost overruns, poor management choices and reduce risk.

The people ‘on the ground’ are the usually the most valuable resource in terms of insight and knowledge. Development of staff and employing specialist facilitators with the intercultural essentials of awareness, perspective, knowledge and capability, is critical.

What’s wrong with the world? Can you see it in this clip?

Watch the clip and see if you can work out what’s wrong with the world…

Recently, while searching for video for our new website, this clip was the best we could find.  I thought I’d found what we’d needed in finally locating a globe that didn’t start and end on the USA or Europe, only to discover some fairly significant issues.  Did you notice them? Tasmania is missing, as is half of Indonesia, and some rather strange things have happened to the Malaysian peninsula.

compass_imageIt is all too easy to overlook the local, or to define the world in the eyes of the beholder with scant regard to the ‘detail’ on the ground.  What did you do when you looked at the map?  Typically we first locate our home.  Once we have oriented ourselves, only then do we scan the periphery and ‘other’ spaces.  If our home space isn’t accurately defined, recognised, acknowledged and respected we turn off, log off, or react with anger.  Our respect for those who have ignored or misrepresented us is greatly diminished.  We can feel ‘unseen’ and invisible in the eyes of the other.

When operating globally it is critical we recognise, engage with and respect the local.  This does not only require defining the ‘boundaries’ accurately and seeing what is local, but engaging with local perspectives, opinions and ensuring collaborative and two-way engagement.  Such engagement enables honest feedback and the challenging of (mis) perceptions and an essential education on what’s really going on at the local level.

As was discovered by the US forces in Afghanistan, and as is so often discovered by multinational companies attempting to sell standard products in local markets,  the local matters.  The capacity to ensure local participation, engagement, collaboration and partnership can make or break a mission, project or business.  Skills in intercultural collaboration, cross-cultural engagement and partnership are critical and must be front and centre of any effective global/local engagement.

Getting Diversity Right – It’s not just about the numbers

So often, the focus of ‘getting diversity right’ is about the numbers. Yet, we often forget that it’s not just the numbers which matter – it’s the interaction, collaboration and capacity to engage and achieve results among people from diverse backgrounds which matters.

Ian Dalton, Kirrilee Hughes and I at our session

I presented a session yesterday at the Australian International Education Conference, and was fortunate to attend another session on ‘Internationalising the Curriculum’. The conversation was vibrant, and highlighted the risk of just focusing on ‘the numbers’ to demonstrate internationalisation. It’s all too common to have huge numbers of international students from all over the world attending Australian universities, who can complete an entire degree with little or no interaction with fellow local students. The challenge with an internationally diverse group is to ensure we don’t end up with a ‘classroom of tribes’ where the Indian students sit together, the locals from the private school who know each other sit together, the Chinese from Hong Kong are at another table and also separate from the Mainland Chinese, with little or no interaction between groups. In such an ‘international’ classroom, global mobility does little to expand intercultural engagement or understanding, and can actually reinforce stereotypes of other groups.

One of the key challenges of getting diversity right, is to enable and facilitate the expansion of interactions beyond one’s own comfort zone and in-group. It’s not enough to simply reach ‘the numbers’ and assume internationalisation has therefore occurred. Intercultural learning, collaboration and engagement is a process of learning, reflection and challenging of stereotypes and assumptions. Intercultural capability requires the capacity to engage with others, to understand their world-view and perspective, and to demonstrate the behavioural flexibility to negotiate differences and find common-ground. These skills are the ones which make the difference whether working in international business, or with people from diverse backgrounds at home.

Building Workforce Capability for the Asian Century – Is knowledge what counts?

Last week I really enjoyed attending and presenting at the Asian Studies Conference of Australia.  Click here to see my powerpoint presentation summary Is knowledge what really counts? Exploring ‘Asia Capability’ and ‘Asia Literacy’ in Australian workplaces.  So often we assume that it’s knowledge which matters, and this focus on ‘Asia literacy’ can sometimes detract from the more important and bigger picture issue of capability.  When we are thinking about our future in the Asian Century, it’s not enough to be ‘literate’,  we also need to be ‘capable’.

People who are effective when working in complex intercultural workplaces demonstrate: high level interpersonal skills; tolerance for ambiguity; an awareness of the subjectivity of their own perspective; and the capacity to adjust and adapt as required.  These skills are not just formed through formal study.  In many instances, the nature of formal study in disciplines such as business, economics and commerce can detract from such tolerance for ambiguity, as people are taught about black and white ‘facts’, and ‘externalities’ are ignored.  The evolving world of the Asian century requires creative thinking, tolerance, negotiation skills, and a capacity to operate in an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity.  Great opportunities exist, but only for those organisations with the people capabilities to leverage them.

Some of the most interesting sessions at the conference addressed the broader issues of capability and Australia’s future in the region.  Dr Ken Henry’s session was well attended as he provided some insights into his White paper on Australia in the Asian Century which is soon to be released.  He emphasised  “change is not easy, reform harder still, yet a new mindset is required for the Asian Century, and the test will be how we adapt to it”.  He added “There has never been a more important time for Australians to understand the vast and diverse region in which we now live”.  A standout conference presentation was also from Emeritus Professor John Ingleson on the need for sustainable, long-term policy commitment to engagement with Asia.  His emphasis on the crucial question of  which institutions will responsible for the implementation of Australia in the Asian Century recommendations is a valid one.  Ingleson mentioned the critical role of the Australian Olympic Committee and Australian Institute of Sport in preparing Australia for the Olympics and asked, which institutions have a comparative role in preparing us for the Asian Century?  Ingleson also emphasised the valuable learning outcomes of cultural immersion programs for Australians in Asia, and of the need for longitudinal research on the impact of such experience.

There is a lot to talk about, and even more work to do on workforce capability for the Asian Century.  We’re looking forward to some more quality dialogue on the issue.  It’s been a long time coming!!

 

BI Update – What we’ve been up to lately…

It’s been a while – our silence has been caused by the busiest two months ever in the history of BI.  A good thing, but we are looking forward to a little time to digest the experiences of the last few months and do some writing and publishing.  The BI team has been constantly travelling and we’re looking forward to the Easter break to spend some time with friends and family.

Tom and his China map!

What we’ve been up to:

– Rolling out ‘Unconscious Bias’ training to the entire staff of a large financial institution focusing on the skills to engage with and leverage diversity

–  Delivering ‘Global Virtual Team Effectiveness’ Programs to corporate clients

– Delivering the Parents Understanding  Asia Literacy program around Australia.   I also went to Canberra to meet with Peter Garrett to discuss business needs for an Asia literate workforce.  Click here to see his related press release

– Meeting with the Review Team to provide input, and writing our submission into the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ Government Review. Click here to read.

–  Delivering ‘Re-entry’ de-briefings, ‘Pre-posting Training’, ‘Intercultural Effectiveness’ training and ‘Working with Local Staff’ training for internationally engaged government departments

–  Advising the CEO’s and Senior Leadership teams of three large companies who are navigating key challenges in Asia

Tom, Judy, John and Ramona at BI Planning Session

–  Working with the leadership team and staff involved at a corporate client to facilitate transitioning key work to Malaysia

–  Submitting a tender to renew our preferred provider status with the Dept of Immigration & Citizenship

–  Working with a highly diverse team of an International NGO in SEAsia focusing on enabling better intercultural collaboration, dialogue and engagement

–  Planning for the Australia Thailand Business Council key event on 28 May, and the 14th International Conference on Thai Studies

Phew!  I promise our next blog post will be a review of the great books and podcasts we’ve enjoyed over the Easter break.  Hope you have a good one.

Tamerlaine

My Favourite Poem – To an English Friend in Africa, by Ben Okri

Be grateful for the freedom to see other dreams. Bless your loneliness as much as you drank of your former companionships. All that you are experiencing now will become moods of future joys. So bless it all.

Do not think your way superior to another’s. Do not venture to judge, but see things with fresh and open eyes. Do not condemn, but praise when you can, and when you can’t, be silent.

Time now is a gift for you. A gift of freedom to think and remember and understand the ever perplexing past and to recreate yourself anew in order to transform time.

Live while you are alive. Learn the ways of silence and wisdom. Learn to act, learn a new speech. Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit. Learn to free yourself from all the things that have moulded you and which limit your secret and undiscovered road.

Remember that all things which happen to you are raw materials. Endlessly fertile. Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change your life and go on doing so forever.

Never forget to pray and be thankful for all things good or bad on the rich road; for everything is changeable so long as you live while you are alive.

Fear not, but be full of light and love. Fear not, but be alert and receptive. Fear not, but act decisively when you should. Fear not, but know when to stop. Fear not, for you are loved by me. Fear not, for death is not the real terror, but life magically is.

Be joyful in your silence, be strong in your patience. Do not try to wrestle with the universe, but be sometimes like water or air, sometimes like fire, and constant like the earth.

Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery. Never forget that love requires always that you be the greatest person you are capable of being, self-regenerating and strong and gentle–your own hero and star.

Love demands the best in us. To always and in time oversome the worst and lowest in our souls. Love the world wisely.  It is love alone that is the greatest weapon and the deepest and hardest secret.

So fear not, my friend. The darkness is gentler than you think. Be grateful for the manifold, dreams of creation, and the many ways of the unnumbered peoples.

Be grateful for life as you live it. And may a wonderful light always guide you on the unfolding road.

Parents Understanding Asia Literacy

Tom Parker and I are gearing up to deliver a series of 15 training workshops to networks of over 220 parents from around Australia in 2012 focusing on the why and how of Asia literacy.  The project will establish a network of parents who can work collaboratively with school leaders to build student demand for knowledge, skills and understanding of Asia and increase opportunities for them to be exposed to high quality and sustainable teaching programs.

Click here to listen to project leader Ian Dalton, and BI Consultant Tom Parker discuss the project on ABC Life Matters.

As parents of school age children, Tom and I, are deeply committed to Asia literacy in our schools, and concerned about the lack of momentum on this issue.  In Australia, Asia focused curriculum content and language competencies are both really important.  It’s vital our children understand the geographic region they live in; are well rounded individuals who thrive in the diverse cultures of Australia; and have the requisite skills and knowledge to be global citizens.

Parents play an important role in the subject choices of their children, and have the capacity to influence important choices in their local communities and schools regarding Asia literacy.  In recognition of the role of parents, this exciting new program is funded by the Department of Education and Workplace Relations to build parent understanding and advocacy for Asia literacy.  A consortium of providers consisting of Beasley Intercultural, the Asia Education Foundation,  the Australian Parents Council, The Australian Council of State School Organisations, the Family School & Community Partnerships Bureau,  and Erebus are working together to design and deliver the program.

To find out more or register your interest at the project website click here.

A Final blog Post from Emilia our Intern from Finland

The last three months have passed so fast. My BI internship has come to the end.

I have learned heaps of new things during this time at BI. I am ‘interculturally trained’, since I have taken part in so many BI workshops, while documenting them. Trust me, every single one has been interesting and raised my awareness a lot.

I think one of the many great things I learned, is the SURF model:
Stop and suspend judgement
Use your observation skills
Recognize and respect difference
Find common ground.

I think this model is great when you are experiencing cultural differences: either at home or abroad.  I use the model with the different people I meet, when I am unaware of their culture, for example sometimes with Aussies.

Getting to know culture or language is interesting and exciting process.  It’s the same thing than trying to learn to surf.  I have been really unfamiliar with surfing, since I have never lived near the beach and since all the sports that I do are related to snow, not ocean and waves! No matter how hard I try, there are always the waves that I won’t catch, but I just keep on trying and trying. It’s kind of the same thing when for example going abroad or working with people from different countries: no matter how well you think you understand the cultural differences, there is always something that you can’t understand. But when you keep going and trying you always learn more.

In the first blog post I was wondering am I in the ‘panic zone’? Well, now I can tell you, I’m definitely not in the panic zone.   I have been in the learning zone for a long time and I’m fully enjoying it. I have been learning bunch of different things, that I can use the rest of my life.

It’s been great to work for this team, thanks BI team for this good opportunity. Now, I’ll start new projects; including writing my Master’s Thesis and looking for some new opportunities in the Australian job markets. My adventure in Down Under will continue and I’m excitedly waiting for the new challenges.

Remember to keep on surfing!

Cheers!

  Emilia

BI Update – What we’ve been doing, new people, transitions…

What we’ve been doing…

Emma Kettle in the Solomons

It’s been a busy start to the year.  I have enjoyed working with the Asia-Pacific leadership team of the International Committee for the Red Cross, delivering corporate keynotes, working with the leadership team of an ASX listed company and working with the ABC to facilitate the ‘Freedom of Expression’ event in Jakarta.  Emma Kettle has been in Honiara working on Australian/Local Staff Intercultural Essentials for an Australian client, Tom Parker has been delivering training on Intercultural Communication in and working on our new ‘Parents enabling Asia literacy ‘ program with peak parent bodies, the Asia Education Foundation and funded by the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations. Ramona has been working with an internationally focused government client on Values and Ethics – training their trainers to take our BI program in-house, as well as continuing to deliver ‘Intercultural Essentials’ programs around the country.  Robert Bean, our Adelaide based consultant has also been delivering ‘Intercultural Essentials’ programs for government.  John Fawcett, our NZ based consultant is currently directly engaged with the provision of counselling services to government in Christchurch.  After 30 years of post-crisis HR Consulting, this is the first time John has had to work in this capacity in his home country.

Joe Crumlin, our International Negotiations specialist has been working with our team to deepen our understanding of values-based negotiation. It’s interesting to note how the ability to engage with others, to find common ground and understand deep values not only underpins effective negotiations, it is also essential for good business, and effective intercultural engagement.

Honey has stepped into a new Client Relationship Management role at BI and is coordinating our service delivery.  It’s been a busy time for our home base in Surry Hills as we’ve also transitioned all of our IT systems and platforms and moved from PC to Mac.  We have even deeper empathy for our clients undergoing change and transition as a result!

Transitions and new people

Judy Hui

Emily D’Ath, who has done a superb job of Coordinating the BI team for the past four years has now taken up a position in Corporate Social Responsibility in Beijing as an AusAID Youth Ambassador for Development.   You can follow Em on twitter @EmilyDAth  We have a wonderful new Administration Coordinator at Beasley Intercultural.  Judy Hui loves excel spreadsheets and is keeping all of us organised.  She also happens to speak fluent Mandarin, Cantonese and English and has grade 8 piano.

Another intro – BI Consultant Tom Parker and his wife Rachel have just had their second daughter.  Welcome to the world Lila and huge congrats to Tom, Rachel and big sister Sylvie.  Lila will be speaking Mandarin in no time…Tom and Lila

Former BI Consultant and member of the extended BI Clan, Dr Melissa Butcher, who is now based in London, is finishing her next book – watch this space.  I’ve only read Chapter 6 so far and it is great stuff!  Will tweet when it’s out.