Effect of cultural differences on the project





One of the biggest challenges of this minor is managing cultural differences. Nowadays in the business world this subject is very on topic. Because of the process of globali- sation it is essential to overcome cultural barriers in order to make sure no business deals are lost. There are often differences to be found between Western companies and companies in development countries, like Ghana. Like the KITA students said, KITA is Ghana on a very small scale and so even within this project cultural differences have a daily impact. Understanding the differences between the Dutch culture and the Gha- naian culture and overcoming the language barriers is essential for the successful exe- cution of all tasks of the project.

Perception of time

One of the first differences is about the perception of time. Here a division can be made between planning in a sequential order or to do everything synchronically. We experi- enced this difference already in the first weeks of the internship. While brainstorming about the cookstove design, it turned out that for us the right sequence is to think before you act. However, Ghanaian people rather focus on the ‘acting part’ and take only little time for the ‘thinking part’. After the very first design sketches we were more thinking of optimizing the design, but the Ghanaians were already thinking about the amount of cookstoves that could be produced a year. Although time and money could be saved if we first thought twice about the design, Ghanaian people were already focused on the acting part. Although Ghanaian people are more focused on the acting, we discovered that they say a lot more than they will actually do. Sometimes we had to ask for something every day for more than three weeks until the task was finally done. In the Netherlands people are used to work time efficiently in a sequential order and to plan several tasks at one day. Therefore it is important to be on time for meetings. How- ever, in Ghana people often show up at ‘Ghanaian time’, which is at least half an hour later than planned. Sometimes we were waiting for several hours or even a whole day for someone to show up. Reasons for delay could be the inefficiency of Ghanaian sys- tems, like the transport system or the lack of electricity, but often people are just late without any reason. The KITA students explained to us that they never come on time, because they know others will also be late and then there is a big chance you have to wait for a long time when you are actually on time. It could help to say to Ghanaian

people that the meeting starts at 9 o’clock, when you want them to be there at 10 o’clock. Furthermore most Ghanaians are not used to work with any kind of planning or to do several tasks on the same day. Although we only had three months to work on the project, this was for most Ghanaians not a reason to use our days more efficiently and do several tasks a day.

Diffuse Culture

Meetings can take a long time, due to the fact that Ghanaians often talk for a long time without saying that much relevant. Even when people are saying they are working on a tight schedule and do not have much time for meetings, it can take several hours. Here it becomes also clear that the Dutch culture is more specific and the Ghanaian culture is diffuse. Dutch meetings are used to be very efficient and people come directly to the point. In Ghana people will have a friendly chat before they start the real meeting. During meetings we also discovered that the Dutch culture is more neutral and the Ghanaian culture more affective, when the director told us in an emotional way all about his family and the difficulties he had to cope with. Also, on the first day we had an introduction to KITA and all they were saying was related to the great history of KITA and it was very obvious that they were very proud of it. 

Taking initiative

When dividing tasks between the team members, it was remarkable that in the Nether- lands we were more used to take initiative. The Ghanaian students almost never came up with a task they could do and would rather wait until we said what they could do. This is a typical example of the difference between internalism and externalism. Another remarkable fact is the difference between voluntarism and traditionalism, the Ghanaian people like to keep the things the way they are used to it. In Ghana it takes a very long time to change anything. The KITA students told us that this is a major prob- lem in their country and even at KITA it takes a long time to make a change happen. This is also related to the fact that people in Ghana are used to avoid uncertainty. It is not likely they will try anything they are not familiar with. All of this becomes clear at the smallest things, like trying food you do not know, but also making a cookstove out of metal instead of clay. George had followed a training on building clay stoves, but he had never seen the process of building a metal stove. Thus it was difficult to persuade him that metal was also an option. Every time we were suggesting an idea the Ghanaian students had never seen before, their first answer was that it was impossible.

Power distance

The next big difference is hierarchy and criticism. We noticed that within companies or universities there is a hierarchical structure and a power distance. The KITA students were not quite willing to criticize anything that has to do with the management of KITA. Towards us the students shared their criticism, but towards the management of KITA they will never show their criticism or give their feedback. They also told us that in Ghana it is better to share opinions with the majority than to have your own critical opinion, because than people will think of you as an hypocrite and you can even end up in prison.

Furthermore when people hear something, they immediately believe what they have heard and do not doubt if it is actually true. At KITA everyone was willing to believe everything we were saying and they had high expectations of us and our knowledge. Because they are used to traditionalism instead of trying new, unfamiliar initiatives, they were sometimes not easily convinced of something innovative. We noticed that there was not a real equal relationship between the KITA students and us because we were often suggesting things and they took everything for granted without having any doubtful thoughts. 

Status by postition

It also became clear that in Ghana several people have reached their status rather by position than by achievement. KITA is a clear example of this, because the family of Samuel owns the institute. This way he became the director and reached his status by position rather than by his achievements. Nonetheless he often made clear that he has a lot of life experience and thus knows better how something should be done. Later it became clear for us that he actually did not have all the knowledge of all the things he had mentioned. He seemed to be a very proud man and although he was very friendly to us, he was also treating the other members of the management a bit condescend- ingly.

George was also not easily convinced of our ideas. He kept telling us that he was al- ready participating in the cookstove business for two or three years and thus he had more knowledge, even though his theories were not always correct. We actually had to show him real evidence before he would believe us. It was assumed that because of the fact that George and Samuel are older and involved with KITA for a longer time than we are, that they know everything better.

Particularism

Last but not least, particularism exists in Ghana as well. At first sight this is not very ob- vious, but if you get to know the Ghanaian policies better there is a lot of particularism and even corruption. For the poor Ghanaian people it is really difficult to get a visa for example, but if you have friends working at the immigration service it becomes much easier to travel to other countries. Not all the rules seem applicable for everyone and it can be concluded that Ghana is not universalistic in every way.

Conclusion

For us the Dutch culture seems to be normal and often we were surprised by the Gha- naian culture. Dutch people are more directly and use their time more efficiently. The consequence of this is that people stick to the point during meetings and there are no friendly chats. Dutch people are used to keep a certain distance from their business partner, whereas Ghanaian people first want to become friends and then talk about business. The friendly chats were often very nice actually. For the project cultural dif- ferences were sometimes difficult to deal with or it could cause some delay. However, Ghana is a very pleasant country to stay for three months and people are extremely kind. Everyone is willing to help you and they will do everything to make sure you feel safe. The Ghanaian culture is one of the warmest and most welcoming cultures we have ever been to.