Across Continents: Bridging cultural differences in our African Practice
While there are many similarities between working in Africa and the U.S., it is understanding the differences that often spell success. Cultural literacy is always a winning strategy. Currently DLR Group’s African operations are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, operating in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Zambia. In 2014, we opened an office in Kenya, staffing it with local professionals who are key to interpreting critical norms and customs.
Of course, hard work and excellence, especially in the field of education, are shared American and African values. And as has been the case since the founding of the United States, education in Africa is very much a pathway for upward mobility.
However, many of the African countries have emerging economies, and are still trying to position themselves globally. Much of this entails constantly leap frogging technologies and practices to keep up with the rest of the world, making business sectors like banking, retail and education very innovative. For example, lacking the infrastructure to support landline and cable Internet, much of Africa leapt directly into wireless mobile technology.
One of the most noticeable differences in business development is how relationship-based African culture compares to the transactional nature of American business. This factor is magnified when considering how vast and diverse the African continent is. Many people don’t know that the U.S., Europe, China and India can all fit within its landmass!
Our choice to focus on one major area – Sub-Sahara – allows us to delve more deeply into regional and local essentials. Given the relative lack of infrastructure, exploitation of natural resources, and a myriad of geopolitical challenges, we are very strategic and locale-centered in selecting projects, clients and business partners, with an overarching goal of ensuring direct impact to the local communities.
A main part of our strategy is to educate ourselves about the local and regional requirements. In fact, we initially won the Kenyatta University project because we attended an event honoring the former Vice Chancellor of that university hosted by the World Food Prize and Iowa State University. We were there to learn; she was there to accept a high honor for her work in food sustainability – to teach and share.
This fortuitous meeting underscores the fact that in African culture, business is built on relationships and shared values. Yet, we have continued to grow our work with multiple higher education institutions due to the universal values of hard work and striving towards excellence. These criteria bring us full circle to the fact that there are more similarities than differences in growing strong practices on both sides of the ocean.