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  • Writer's pictureFarah Rani

Happy 13th Birthday Cultural Impact!

13th Anniversary Special: Origins of Cultural Impact - The Quest For Cultural Competencies

Cultural Impact began with simple curiosity. Founder and director Marie Tseng, an expert coach and facilitator, was already exposed to the working culture of different nations when she arrived in Malaysia. Having already lived and worked in 8 countries in 30 years, Marie was on a quest to see how different cultures can work together cohesively. She found her answer with Dr. Asma Abdullah.

A cross-cultural expert, anthropology PhD and author of the books ‘Understanding the Malaysian Workforce: Guidelines for Managers’ and ‘Going Global and Understanding Multicultural Malaysia’, Dr. Asma had developed a framework to look at culture. The method had its foundations in the works of Edwards Hall, Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars but had a unique edge; it was the only tool developed in Asia.

For Marie, it was eye-opening. Despite the fact that the intention behind looking into culture is usually to be culturally neutral, the tools that look at cultural dimensions tend to be biased towards a western perspective. Dr. Asma takes into account religion and spirituality, something most Western experts are reluctant to do as in the West those are considerations only for private spaces. But in many parts of the world, they are important to address as they are not only a private matter but exist in public spaces as well.

Dr. Asma also gave a more balanced perspective on other cultural dimensions such as hierarchy. Many tools that have a strong western bias tended to put hierarchy in a negative perspective. Dr. Asma’s approach was more neutral. Hierarchy was just a way certain cultures functioned. The key is that no culture is better or worse, good or bad; just different. With Dr. Asma’s influence and Marie’s tenacity, Cultural Impact was born.

Marie’s philosophy was simple: to make the world a better place. She knew that to build the bedrock to that would be by encouraging people to connect, to expand their circles, to reach out to one another and to be properly inclusive. She works on the simple premise that the more connections we have across cultures, our worldview broadens and the better people we become. Once all that is in place, we are better able to engage and come up with greater solutions to the problems we face.

When asked about the name ‘Cultural Impact’, Marie noted that it is because we underestimate the impact of culture. In her experience, it is a challenge for people to understand the benefit of addressing culture upfront. Diversity and inclusion is about making the most of what we have, and what each of us has to bring to the table. Our differences are not a negative, they are an addition.

Starting from a French, individualistic way of working, Marie has now opened up to collaborations for better solutions for clients. Since 2010, Cultural Impact has used tools to provide a vocabulary to talk about cultural differences; to discuss other cultures without judgement. This neutral vocabulary to talk about culture, to discuss facts rather than sentiment or perception or preferences has been invaluable. Tools such as the CIS (Cultural Impact Scan), Action Learning and Exchange Theatre have been used to spread this philosophy to multinational corporations around the region.

Celebrating the 13th anniversary of Cultural Impact, Marie is looking forward to more future collaborations and to further spread the philosophy. She aspires to continue working with corporations but also wants to focus on education. She is aware that to make change awareness must be raised among the younger generation who are going to enter the workplace. Marie is excited for many more years of Cultural Impact.

Written by Farah Rani


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