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This article appeared in the June 2011 edition of the Presidency Key Brief Magazine. View their website here.

Multicultural Education is a ‘Must’ in a Globalized World

“Ignorance is the night of mind, a night without moon or star.” — Confucius

Knowledge is light. Knowledge of different peoples, cultures and religions can help us to bridge differences in this increasingly globalized world. Understanding each other’s languages, social norms and mores is a good place to start in building, and hopefully sustaining, positive international relationships.

What is Globalization?

Globalization is not a choice, but an energetic force, mixing various cultures and economies; it is driven by technological advances and the logic of the market. (1) The result is a third entity with a life of its own, beyond the control of any individual or nation. While we cannot stop it, we can — and must— help to shape it. Globalization is transforming the way each of us lives and works – the way we do business and exchange ideas. Globalization didn’t just happen. Cultural exchanges have been evolving over time, dating back more than a million years when the first African hunter/gatherers began spreading their food production techniques, followed by craftsmen who did the same. The evolution of writing in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China, coinciding with the invention of the wheel, accelerated the process. (2)

As people continued to travel and share languages, music, ideologies, governance, and economic systems, like it or not, we became intrinsically linked to each other. Because of this global interconnectivity, we operate on a multidimensional level, creating an expanded social consciousness regardless of where in the world we are. Some of us may not even be aware of where or from whom we learned the “high-five” or the “peace” sign that also means “victory” in some cultures – but most people make the hand gestures and there’s a common understanding of what they symbolize. Some argue that the American view of globalization is merely to export its culture – from Coca-Cola, Why Is Multicultural Education a ‘Must’?

McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken to Madonna, Hip Hop and Michael Jackson. But many fail to realize that numerous cultures make up America, which is comprised mainly of immigrants who came to the country by choice, and millions of Africans who were brought to the U.S. enslaved.

Why Is Multicultural Education a ‘Must’?

In this 21st Century, globalization has greatly increased the need for multicultural education, including learning foreign languages, social interactions, histories, protocols and social norms. Not only must we understand ourselves, but we must learn how to respectfully acknowledge those who may be different from us while seeking similarities, synergies, and ways to collaborate. Multicultural education provides tools, and is a conduit for more effective interaction and communication with people from other parts of the world. Because we are more connected socially, economically, and environmentally, especially with the unbridled access and use of social media and the Internet as a seamless communications tool, global education provides additional understanding of how to better manage the numerous challenges facing our world today, including security issues.

Further, global education has become a necessity for today’s business world. In a recent publication focusing on the new generation of diversified global business leaders published by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, numerous prominent business executives agreed that “successfully conducting business on an international scale requires unique specific knowledge and a particular skill set to maximize the benefits of the unique relationship between firms from different nations.” (3)

Youth are our Future

There has been an uptick in globalized education among youth worldwide, including America’s. According to the Open Doors report published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), American student participation in study abroad programs has more than doubled over the past decade. IIE is the leading non-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the U.S. that is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. During the 2008/2009 academic year, 260,327 American students studied abroad, and nearly 40% participated in work experiences as part of their study. (4)

The Open Doors report for the 2009/10 academic year also shows an increase of 3% in the number of international students studying at colleges and universities in the U.S. The top three countries sending international students to the U.S. are China, India and South Korea, which comprise nearly half (44%) of the total.

Why is Chinese Language & Culture Education on the Rise?

China is the new global powerhouse. First, the country has emerged from isolation to become the number two economic giant in the world, second to the U.S., with India and Brazil rapidly developing close behind. Because of sheer numbers – 1.3 billion people – China’s influence and success cannot be ignored. Much of China’s success with reform over the past 30 years is due to embracing multiculturalism and “emancipating their minds” as the authors of China’s Megatrends: the 8 Pillars of a New Society coins it, to “gain power and self-confidence in the family, in a group, in the network in which they are integrated.” (5)China has successfully transformed and embraced a market economy while remembering and honoring its rich 5,000-year history. Chinese often say they are “Seeking common grounds while reserving differences.”

Second, the Chinese government is proactively exporting Chinese language (Mandarin) and culture institutionally. The Chinese Ministry of Education through its government affiliate, Hanban, has successfully established more than 300 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms worldwide in 88 countries, with approximately 80 Confucius Institutes in the U.S. According to a December 2010 Newsweek article, the Chinese government estimates that approximately 40 million foreigners are studying Mandarin worldwide. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 50,000 of them are in the U.S. (6)

Marketing Multiculturalism in a Globalized World

A major part of globalization, including China’s rise and increased world influence, is a new emerging international business culture. More importance is being placed on inclusiveness and developing cross cultural trusting relationships. As a marketing communications professional, it has become undeniably clear to me that business people must incorporate an understanding of local cultures when doing business internationally. Cross cultural sophistication can make the difference between success and failure in international business affairs.

From the lessons I learned as an Anthropology exchange student studying Bedouins in Israel, to living in Africa as a TV journalist turned entrepreneur, my cross cultural thinking and my firm’s culture evolved. Our 8-member staff in South Africa spoke 11 languages, and we positioned the Coke brand with high-level government visits that included the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Prince Charles. Our work promoting the top 100 companies in Ghana during President Bill Clinton’s visit to Accra increased our knowledge of Africa, which we shared with CNBC-TV viewers during President Barack Obama’s 2009 visit to Ghana. Today, Wilson Global has created a niche market, and continues to promote multiculturalism by interacting with foreign embassies, governments, higher learning institutions, NGOs, and a host of civic and professional organizations.

What can we do?

“Our central challenge is to harness globalization’s tremendous potential for good, ensuring it honors our values while working to mitigate its risks,” states Professor Lael Brainard, Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. “And America—because of its size, its strength, and its place at the center of the global economy-has both a special ability and responsibility to lead.” Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, one of the two largest civil rights organizations in the U.S., is a two-time mayor of New Orleans and former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Morial is renowned for his visionary leadership and states that it is important for “Europe and the U.S. to embrace and adapt to multiculturalism.” We must also be diligent and learn about people through independent study, experience and consultation from professionals — and question cultural stereotypes. “Stereotypes are especially effective in conveying ideological messages because they are so laden with ritual and myth.” explain editors Janette L. Dates and William Barlow of Howard University in “Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media.” (8)

There are many multicultural lessons to learn, and numerous ones to share. Below are some of my tips for success in multicultural markets:

  • Do your due diligence before visiting a foreign country so that you can understand the lay of the land before going;
  • Be sensitive, supportive, and open to learning new processes, prepare yourself to learn as much as teach;
  • Be cognizant that Western timetables may not apply;
  • Socialize and build local community relationships;
  • Be willing to learn the culture and language, at a minimum, learn local greetings;
  • Express your passion, which can be contagious; but start small, building for sustainability.

In order for us to win as a global community, we must embrace multiculturalism. As global citizens, we must find common ground, think inclusively and seek collaboration. The knowledge of others – or light in the night of mind – is critical for the development of long-term positive relationships across cultures. I believe we can. I am optimistic that we will. And I know that we must, at the very least, meaningfully try.
1) Globalization—Globaphobia, Globaphobia by Lael Brainard, Foreign Affairs
2) Globalization by Manfred B. Steger, Oxford University
3) When Diversity Meets the Global Market: Forging a New Generation of Business Leaders. Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs 2010
4) The Open Doors Report and Fast Facts, by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 2010
5) China’s Megatrends: The 8 Pillars of a New Society by John and Doris Naisbitt
6) Newsweek, America’s Chinese Problem by Jerry Guo Dec. 2010
7) The Economist “Revamping the Royals”
8) “Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media,” edited by Janette L. Dates and William Barlow, Howard University