It is hard to believe we are already at the midpoint of the project and the semester. It feels like just yesterday when I was excitedly reading the project briefings in my email, excited to get to work with such an amazing client like CEOLI! While we have not particularly run into any issues with CEOLI, we definitely have to remain alert for any cultural nuances we may not be cognizant of. In trying to better understand Bolivia’s culture and the possible challenges we may run into in the future, I decided to look for some outside sources regarding their mannerisms and preferences that may be different to those of the United States. The institute that conducted this study is called Hofstede Insights and can be found here.
Bolivia is a very collectivist society, meaning that there is a high degree of interdependence and focus on togetherness, the greater good. They also place high importance on fostering strong relationships within their communities, which is especially important to remember since America is one of the most individualistic cultures. Along with collectivism is the concept of saving face. In collectivist cultures, shame is viewed as much more of a faux pas than in America. Losing face is offensive and humiliating, but especially in these societies. As Americans we may interpret something as realistic, but to a Bolivian, it may seem harsh and even offensive. Being as our project deals with a lot of financial details, we have to be extra mindful of the in-between the lines cultural context when it comes to talking about this taboo topic. Being on the exact opposite sides of the spectrum, this is something we will need to keep in mind when interacting with our client.
Something in my research that stood out to me was that Bolivia is technically a more “feminine” leaning society. While this doesn’t specifically correlate with gender, these characteristics are based on broad stereotypes. Masculine societies are driven by competition and personal gain, whereas feminine societies center on caring for others and upholding modesty and fairness. This femineity also signifies a dislike of conflict, which can have the potential to emotionally and socially harm everyone involved and also negatively impact the outcome of the project. In my opinion, I think a lot of American culture encourages conflict, and disputes are often made out to appear as a strengthening and even fun experience.
Hand in hand with conflict, Bolivia also values uncertainty avoidance, “People do not readily accept change and are very risk adverse. They maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior and are intolerant of unorthodox behavior and ideas”. While I think the word “intolerant” is a little harsh and unapplicable to our situation, there still may be some degree of resistance to change. If for some reason an aspect of our project proposes a major change to CEOLI, we must be considerate and aware of how to properly approach the situation.
It is incredibly crucial to keep all of these traits in mind when dealing with our client. First and foremost, we have to remember that CEOLI is our client, and their wants and needs are paramount in this project, no matter how good we think any of our ideas are. In order to avoid conflict and miscommunication, we have to remain apt to their cultural discomfort with unprecedented changes and anything that can accidentally come off as accusatory or rude. Our group ran into this issue with some of the questions we had prepared for the client meeting; we had to reword the tone of our concerns to come off as more neutral. This aspect is something we will have to be attentive to in the following interactions with our client.
On top of all these factors, the most obvious challenge is the language barrier. Even with a translator, the direct meaning can be misconstrued by even the smallest of nuances or word changes. It also puts stress on Jean Carla, who functions as our official translator. Lucky enough, our group has a native Spanish speaker who has been able to create a more cohesive and direct bond with our client and take some of these responsibilities off Jean Carla. Several of us also understand Spanish fairly well, which helps us feel more connected to CEOLI.
This is my first taste of working with not only a real-life client, but also collaborating professionally with clients in another country, let alone continent. To be entirely honest, global business is exactly how I thought it would be. In high school, my international studies class would do a lot of international business case studies and simulations with clashing cultures, and this experience is pretty in line with the lessons I learned all those years ago. I have always wanted to work in some international capacity, and this project is living up to all my expectations!
Being a college student, I have worked on countless group projects. That being said, there is an expansive difference between a five-minute class presentation on an article and providing actual deliverables for a real client. In addition, our client is also a small nonprofit across the world. I feel as though our work has much more weight than any other project I have ever worked on; we all care deeply about CEOLI’s mission and want to support them to the fullest extent. While this project might be more work than we were all expecting, we recognize the importance of the work we are doing and are only more determined to do our best.
One aspect of global business that had not occurred to me before is how difficult this type of cross-cultural collaboration can be. For a large corporation, I can only assume that these interactions are not too difficult. With a small client in what is considered a lesser-known area of the world, this is not always the case. Our clients dedicate countless hours to keeping CEOLI running and will not always have the time to pencil in a meeting here or there. Also, the methods of communication may be different. Even the smallest societal aspects of communication may be different. For example, Instagram is probably the most popular social media in the United States, but Ronald had to point out to us that Facebook is the primary social media in Bolivia. Even learning these miniscule details will really give us a better platform to appropriately carry out our objectives.
Meeting with our client has truly opened the door for us to be able to brainstorm more creative ideas. They provide us with more insight into the innerworkings of CEOLI as well as a broader look into the culture of Bolivia. Rodrigo’s dance lessons and Jean Carla’s culture presentations have made me love Bolivia, and I cannot wait to have the opportunity to visit someday! I have also learned a lot about the subculture of Latin Americans with disabilities, which has been very interesting. Overall, I am excited to further our progress and continue meeting with our clients!