Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Being Global: Designing A Certification Programme

In 2013, when we started U-Aspire, I developed a certification for Global Business Professional. This was endorsed by UK's Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and subsequently, we got this recognised for Masters credit by the University of Greenwich. However, when we started marketing, we put more effort in selling longer programmes like an Higher National Diploma, offering a pathway to UK degrees. This is what everyone apparently wanted to talk about, and we somehow accepted that as a small company with little capital, we did not have the wherewithal to change the conversation. And, yet, when I look back at the U-Aspire experience with the benefit of hindsight, I consider this to be one of our 'original sins', as we got to obsessed with degrees. With the talk of degrees, comes the question of ranking, legitimacy and the rest, a conversation a small and unknown company can hardly win. Alternative credentials, even if new and unknown, has its own attractions, and, at the least, one can anticipate them coming from a start-up. 

This is my approach now is as my life comes a full-circle and I look to do new things again. The four years inbetween has taught me a lot of things, and one thing in particular: That all learning needs application. When I designed the earlier programme, it was focused on 'Competencies' for global business - something I shall talk about shortly - but it was very much about reading up, reflecting and writing. Now, as I approach the task though, I am convinced that it does not work without a clear link to practise, and I want to build this whole thing up again around clearly defined tasks.

However, while this approach may be new, the experiences of these years have also crystallised some of my earlier concepts. For example, the idea of Global Competencies. I did assume that there is such a thing, but I would have struggled to define how they may be distinct from the usual business competencies, like communication, collaboration and the like. However, the last four years for me was an intense exposure to global business in a new sort of way. Not only that I was dealing with contexts and cultures that I did not deal with before - my activities and networks in South Africa and China are entirely new - I was also working with investors, colleagues and partners with different mindsets. I spent time working in a company where most of my colleagues came from different cultural contexts, and spent a day a week, for several months, sitting in an office where everyone spoke Mandarin all the time. In summary, this made me think of Global Competencies as a distinct set, rather than just being more of some of the things I mentioned above.

When I built the earlier programme, I used a framework I came across in the work of Angel Cabrera and Gregory Unruh of Thunderbird School of Global Management. They suggested that to be truly global, one needs to have three 'capitals' - Intellectual, Psychological and Social. This was somewhat high level stuff, without too many details, but the idea stuck with me. 

The Intellectual Capital meant global knowledge, a general conception and ideas, of history, culture, rituals and customs, and perhaps language. This is the kind of ability which allows one to avoid what was perhaps one of most embarrassing moments in my business career, when, in a business meeting in Istanbul, one of my colleagues asked our Turkish business partners when Turkey became independent (only to be reminded that Turkey was an imperial power). This is also the kind of thing that saves one from faux pas of the kind I committed in my first tour of Myanmar, when I asked one of the business associates what he thought of the political stability (only to be responded with a stony silence). 

The Psychological Capital meant sensibilities, understanding of points of views on the other side. This is the kind of ability which allows people to appreciate different concepts of time and space, be comfortable with high context communication (when someone in Mumbai told you that he would come at 9am, and came at 10, he was not being sloppy - he genuinely expected you to understand the traffic context) and be able to see the differences in customs not as peculiar eccentricities, but practises coming out of thousands of years of history just as reasonably our own ways have evolved. 

Finally, the Social Capital meant knowing people from different parts of the world, and indeed, this is perhaps the most unappreciated part. I sometimes rather proudly say that I have a few people in almost every major country in the world who I can call a friend, and who, if I turn up in their city, would possibly make the effort to meet me, and I get the questioning look, "what's the big deal?" Yet, these relationships evolved without any business linkage - these are not the people I had done any business with, but more often than not, met them randomly in my travels or in their travels - and when I call them a friend, it is not for the want of another expression. I think this is unappreciated because not many people care much for such pointless relationships, but for me, these conversations, perhaps unconsciously, develop my appreciation for their ways of lives and thinking, their language and customs, and feed generally into my intellectual and psychological capital.

Indeed, that those authors call these abilities 'capital' rather than 'competencies' is important. These are meant to grow with use. We imagine competencies as something to have, a fixed stock, that we can bring to table in our work. Capital, on the other hand, is something we have and invest, only to grow it further. I grew a more acute awareness of this as I lived this 'extreme' global environment last few years, and realised my 'global stock' has gone up rather than down as knowledge led to understanding, understanding led to friendships and friends made me feel secure and connected.

Now, as I go back to drawing board again, this is my starting point. I am looking closely at creating an experiential programme to develop global 'capitals'. I am still in love with the certification - Global Business Professional - and the structure I envisaged, which combined travel and online engagement.  But, last time around, this was all built around content - articles, videos, quizzes - and less on practical work. This time around, I am looking to build a programme around global knowledge - understanding of business practises, cultural awareness etc - but applied around an area of global work - project management, account management, entrepreneurship and the like.


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