Global Lives Project – Building Understanding and Empathy Across Cultures
On the first day of the spring 2018 IBD class, Faculty Director Frank Schultz told 80 IBD students that they were going to learn a number of skills, including how to solve strategic problems in a business setting across cultures. Not surprisingly, this is one of the main reasons that Berkeley Haas MBAs want to be a part of the IBD program. While it is common for many of our MBAs to be have lived and traveled extensively outside the US, not all of them have worked internationally. IBD provides a great opportunity to work on this lifelong skill set.
What are the ways that IBD Faculty Mentors prepare students for challenging international work experiences? For years, IBD students have had access to the online tool, GlobeSmart, an online platform that offers extensive information on how individuals in different countries conduct themselves in a professional setting. In addition to being a resource for cross-cultural understanding, it is also a tool used by our IBD students to understand how they conduct themselves overall in business. After completing a diagnostic survey, each IBD team is asked to compare and discuss their differences and similarities on how they prefer to work. The IBD students are also asked to compare their individual and team results to the specific project country in which they will work for the remainder of their IBD project.
In our most recent IBD class, our newest Faculty Mentor, David Evan Harris, expanded on the GlobeSmart cross-cultural
assignment and asked students to visit one of the Global Lives Project exhibits on UC Berkeley campus. Global Lives Project is a nonprofit that David started after he graduated from UC Berkeley in 2003.
When asked why he tasked IBD Teams with going to on-campus exhibit, David said,
“I think the Global Lives Project and GlobeSmart are complimentary. I hoped by experiencing Global Lives, students would have the chance to really think about people around the world, and especially in the countries that they will be traveling to; just as people and not as customers, clients or a target audience. I wanted them to really think about these individuals, as people who have complex lives and go home to a family each day. I want them to really empathize and think about how people’s lives around the world are different and similar to our own. GlobeSmart is very much looking at a macro level, looking at statistics and trying to use numbers to break down billions of people into certain types. Global Lives Project is the exact opposite of that. It’s about looking at people as individuals that are really unique and that we have to take the time to study and observe carefully. There are no single answers about what you can learn from a Global Lives Project visit. The student responses were extremely thoughtful and I was really happy about that.”
What were the reactions from IBD students after viewing the Global Lives Project exhibits and getting a look into the lives of 20 people from around the globe? Here are some of their representative comments:
“As the son of immigrants, I cannot help but reflect upon the immigrant experience—the challenges and virtues of cross-cultural experiences. Some of the most transformational growth I’ve experienced has come when I was in another country; when I was immersed in a language and culture so foreign to me I did not even know how to call for a taxi. This exhibit reminds me to always seek new experiences—and pay homage to those that have done the same before me. – Gagan Dhaliwal, MBA Candidate 2019
“I liked this installation a lot. Very cool project. It’s nice that the footage was not overly edited or stylized—clearly an effort to provide as clear and unbiased a depiction of what each of these individuals’ daily lives are like. Kind of like a “presented without comment” type of approach, which I appreciated. Of course, the earnings-per-day figures listed in each description were startling, especially those in South Korea and Canada, which are largely developed nations. What went through my mind was a reaffirmation of just how privileged I am, something I don’t even need to leave the country (let alone our campus) to feel. My privilege abounds.” Daniel Clayton, MBA Candidate 2019
“Watching the Global Lives Project made me feel closer to these people who live so far away. I was able to see how we are similar and what it might be like for me to live in their situation. I love that this project will serve as a time capsule on daily life around the world for future generations to appreciate as well.” – Rachel Green, MBA Candidate 2019
“Ivan Montaño from Colombia helped remind me that all kinds of work and lives look different but can have meaning. He showed that the mentality of the person can weigh more than any other part and embodied my understanding of traditional Colombian culture.” – Tam Pace-Emerson, MBA Candidate 2019
“As I observed the exhibit, the thought that most resonated with me was how big the world is outside my little bubble of existence, but how infrequently I truly think about and empathize with people outside of this narrow view (despite my best efforts). It was a good reminder to build awareness, be curious, and keep perspective – something that can be hard at a top MBA Program.” – Jack Anderson, MBA Candidate 2019
“Going to the exhibit made me think about how personal and complicated each person’s life is. It made me want to hear more from these individuals to learn why they were doing what they were doing or going where they were going.” – Breona Jenkins, MBA Candidate 2019
“The Global Lives Project was really eye-opening to see the different ways that people across the world lived. While some things were incredibly different (people motor-biking long distances to work, etc.), we found that we could relate to every exhibit in small ways. One thing our group noticed was that for most people, there was way less dependence on phones or electronic devices. More people seemed to be “in the moment” than we see in our daily lives at Berkeley.” – Natalie Bauman, MBA Candidate 2019
“I enjoyed my visit to the Global Lives Project and seeing all the ways that people live out their lives. It is amazing how different our lives are in what we eat and how we structure our days, and yet the overarching structures of work, family, and friends is always prevalent.” – Ryan Dingler, MBA Candidate 2019
“I went to the CITRIS Tech Museum and immediately thought about how the people that we are going to be marketing to for our public health client have daily lives that are so completely different from our own. As my team jumps into thinking about potential tactics for our marketing plan, I’m hoping we can step back and view interviewing patients as a really critical process to our project.” – Rachel Lee, MBA Candidate 2019
Cross-cultural tools like GlobeSmart and Global Lives Project are important starting points to open up cultural awareness and empathy among students and viewer. Rachel’s comment above sums up some of the most important priorities for being successful at working across cultures: Talk to people; interview them; spend time listening and learning how they feel and think. This is critical to the success of the project, and at its essence, it is what makes the IBD experience so rewarding.
The Global Lives Project exhibit runs through the end of May at the CITRIS Tech Museum in Sutardja Dai Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus.