intercultures | News

We Are (Re-)Creating the Culture of Our Economy


Note: The following article was included in our Jan. 2017 intercultures e-newsletter. Email the Editor to receive our next quarterly edition in your inbox well in advance of website postings. We offer fresh, intercultural information and insights for working better globally.

Caption: A Metaphor for Our Human Economy . Photo credit: Malii Brown.

Caption: A Metaphor for Our Human Economy . Photo credit: Malii Brown.

The quality of our collaborative efforts in global business necessarily influences progress in the world economy that brings us together in the first place. We are individual actors whose collective energies create the layered worlds of culture[i] in which we live. Our economy is intimate to us; a product of how we live and value ourselves and others; a magnifier of our individual actions and non-actions[ii]. Together, we are an integrated ecosystem, creating a dominant, global culture of economy that lives and thrives just as we do. The world economy does not operate independently of how we collectively include or exclude others.

See related July 2015 intercultures e-newsletter article, Imagination Is the New Black, on the so-called post-capitalist, global economy.

In Jan. 2017, the 28th African Union Summit commenced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (22-31 Jan.) just as the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting culminated in Davos-Kloster, Switzerland (17-20 Jan.). Recognized business and political leaders with an intention to shape how we think of economic exchange attend such events, though the predominant number of us who do not get a golden ticket to attend are arguably the most significant thinkers and practitioners on the world economic stage. People, after all, are at the heart of any culture. It makes sense then, that how global society exchanges with “others” within our human systems determines the quality in which we all live.

“The future of the world must be defined by what we share, not our differences.” 

– Rawan Al-Butairi, World Economic Forum Global Shaper[iii]

With the intention to offer a productive critique of, and discussion about, of the status quo, global market economy to which we collectively contribute, intercultures offers three perspectives—and possibilities—that may influence the way you make the connection between, a.) how we demonstrate our value of others (social currency), and b.) the value they represent in the world economy (financial currency). Accompanying discussion questions are included to prompt conversation, and we invite you to continue the conversation virtually among our global network by sharing your comments for publication in a future e-newsletter edition. The following views are lent by nonprofit, nongovernmental and academic sectors, respectively, and are transferrable to our business context.

  1. Contrary to popular public portrayal of Africa as inferior and dependent in more ways that one, six of the top ten 2017 fastest growing economies are on the continent[iv]. Only four years into Agenda 2063, we can already continue down the list of fastest growing economies to find that 12 of the top 25 are also African. “Sharity”[v], according to Mallace Bart-Williams, a Finance and Economics-trained writer/ filmmaker/ designer, is a sustainable alternative to a charitable approach to Africa, and a resolution to economic disparity that requires a change in your perspective of others. In her presentation at the TEDx Berlin Salon, “Chances. Challenges. Changes.”, Bart-Williams makes a profound critique from her bi-cultural perspective about how thinking about others with prejudice and paternalism informs the culture of the world market economy. She also shows sharity in action, a practice “based on mutual respect and sharing; a blueprint that can be replicated anywhere, and under any circumstances.” Question for discussion: Imagine how a model of sharity would profit your business relationships. What would have to change—and why?
  2. Developed by a nongovernmental organization that has consultative status with the United Nations, the statement, “Take No Pride in Gold and Silver: A relationship lens on financing for development”, also offers insight into how intercultural business relationships inform—and can productively influence—world economics. Issued in July 2015 from the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia office of the Baha’i International Community, it reads, “Under current conditions, the majority of the world’s people live in societies in which relationships of dominance prevail—dominance of one nation, one race…one social class…Development can no longer be viewed as something that one group of people does for the benefit of another. The equitable and effective allocation of resources enables even the materially prosperous to benefit the as-yet-unrealized contributions of the materially poor. The relationship can no longer be one of donor-recipient…but must mature to one of assisting all to be protagonists of [economic] development.” In short, relationships characterized by mutuality build mutual benefit. Question for discussion: How do relationships of dominance within your workplace(s) influence the value of your own and others’ social capital—and the value of work produced?
  3. This time from the academic sector, a third illustration of how perspective shapes reality is inspired by Harvard’s Center for European Studies’ Nov. 2016 workshop, “Social Inclusion and Poverty Eradication”, that was attended by an international cadre of specialists from Greece, Italy, and South Africa, among other countries. Given that stigma against the poor actually promotes poverty, workshop participants explored how inclusion—socially, politically and economically— may reduce poverty. The perception of welfare mothers in the U.S. is mentioned as an example: “If you were to Google images and look for welfare mothers in Israel, you’d see a beautiful, blonde, healthy mother—that’s a celebration of the Zionist ideal of building the nation through a high fertility rate. But in [U.S.] America, you see the oppressed African-American mothers at the bottom of the social latter”. (This false perception of Black U.S. American women is debunked by actual statistics—and in the Feb. 2015 Huffington Post article, Who Gets Food Stamps? White People, Mostly). Lack in our own perceptions limits others and ourselves. Question for discussion: How will you investigate the ways in which socially marginalized people are excluded in the dominant culture of the spaces you work—and measure the potential gained from reversing the trend?

How you do what you do at work with others is a part of a local and global, living whole. This is a universal truth that has been popularly accepted as part of the phenomenon of globalization, but which has roots that are much deeper to our human history. As reflective practitioners, we possess the power to influence the world beyond our daily, technical tasks, and as a part of a living culture of economy which many have not yet recognized.

[i] Culture is the set of learned and shared values, beliefs, assumptions and behaviors that characterize a particular group.

[ii] For more on the concept of our whole, living ecosystem, see the book, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society by Betty Sue Flowers, Joseph Jaworski and Otto Scharmer with Peter Senge.

[iii] Quoted from Rawan Al-Butairi’s article, What Does Leadership Really Mean? Two Things, one of the short-listed entries in the 2016 Global Shaper essay competition on the theme of responsive and responsible leadership. In the article, Ms. Al-Butairi states that leadership means two things: “First, globalization, like capitalism, must be effectively managed to be more inclusive…Second, responsible leaders must have deep social capital, particularly ‘bridging social capital’.”

[iv] Source: Info compiled from International Monetary Fund (IMF) data, Oct. 2016.

[v] To the best of our Editor’s knowledge, “sharity” is an economic concept coined by Mallace Bart-Williams. The reference made in this article is in no way related to the nonprofit organization by the same name—and its ironic tagline, “Be clothes minded”—that raises funds from the purchase of celebritys’ clothing items for the benefit of charitable organizations.