Where two cultures meet

I must have been ten when I started dreaming of becoming a development worker. But that was 45 years ago and instead of building my life abroad, I worked in financial services in the Netherlands for 32 years. For the last 15 years I have been working on supporting people and building teams. Also a kind of development work. But not quite the same…

Two years ago I decided to become an independent professional and focus my work on developing untapped potential within organizations. This was also the time to start combining my dream and work, because I had the freedom and space to do assignments abroad. Like for Women on Wings. It turns out so special and enriching to do! As an expert and in a number of days I carry out an assignment within my field of expertise: HR and organizational development.

I may be an expert in my line of work in the Netherlands, but feel the people in India the same? In the Netherlands, our organizational principles have led to high prosperity, but also to individualism, consumption dependency, environmental pollution, unnecessary protocols and bureaucracy. After 1960, prosperity in the Netherlands, measured in hard guilders, is growing, but welfare is at a loss, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics in the recently published book ‘The fragile prosperity of the Netherlands’, the result of a years-long research project to which various universities have contribute.

That means that we cannot’ simply translate’ our solutions to other cultures. It is my challenge to take out those things which are important and desirable in India too. But how do I do that? How can I be of added value to the people I work with in other countries in just a few days? It forces me to step out of my comfort zone (my expertise). To look for what is needed and to connect with what is already present.

For me, this is important: value addition, trust, connection and responsibility. They are leading me and help me to look for suitable and realistic solutions, jointly with the business partners. Only then, we can achieve results. It means starting with defining what you want to achieve and which values are required. Or; what is your ambition, your dream; what drives you, what inspires you and what matters to you. Listen to your inner-voice, make your ambition and values explicit and find the connection with others from there.

Listening carefully and asking questions are more important than showing off my own expertise. In that sense, my work in India does not differ essentially from what I do in the Netherlands. Although it is more complicated in India since for none of us English is our mother tongue and sometimes we have to work with an interpreter.

When two cultures meet, I notice that asking questions is very enriching for both parties. It is like ‘flip thinking’ or playing a game without knowing the rules. The first condition is to really want to understand each other. Everything that happens next is surprising and provides valuable information. And I am truly convinced that we can actually learn more from the other cultures than they do from us …

The two Women on Wings partners that I worked with in India, strongly act from their mission, vision and values. A beautiful and powerful experience. For them, the financial independence and enhancement of women’s well-being in rural India is the guiding principle in everything they do.

In both workshops professionalization and development of the organization and management was the most important theme. Open discussions and managing mutual expectations provided new insights and inputs to take next steps, like updating the organizational structure and describing roles & responsibilities of the managers. During which the process (the conversation) was more important than the proceeds (the organization chart and the job description).

I had a wonderful week with great returns!

Nicole Doornbos
Expert HR and organizational development