Cultural differences encountered in Bondo

Living and working in a different society and culture gave us new insights on cultural
differences. During our project, we had an intensive exchange of thoughts and opinions,
especially with the University students. This gave us a very good impression of the
Kenyan culture; the lifestyle, manners, traditions and norms and values.
We will appoint some of the differences we’ve encountered during our internship by
using the list of cultural dimensions of Trompenaars & Hofstede. This list shows 10
categories with which to describe a culture. Along these categories we discuss our view
of Kenya.

Power distance (Hierarchy – Egalitarianism)

Power distance is defined as the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed inequally (Hofstede, 2014). Most public organisations in Kenya know hierarchy. At JOOUST, this form of power distance is also visible. Most decisions are taken by the management. People accept the hierarchical order and will not ask for further justification of decisions. They are afraid of their superiors, which makes discussions on the workplace very rare.

During the construction of the greenhouse a discussion arose about the placement of the water tanks. When Dr. Andika arrived and explained how it should be done, everyone stopped arguing and did what Dr. Andika said.

Individualism - Collectivism

This dimension addresses the degree of interdependence between members of a society. Do people define themselves in terms of ‘I’ or ‘We’? People have an in-group mentality where individuals are not praised. One of the characteristics of a collectivistic society is the high esteem of loyalty. Kenya shows many signs of a collectivistic society. Due to the lack of a well-functioning social security system, most matters are organized within the family and the community. This results in a close long-term commitment to the ‘group’, which can be either family or extended relationships. When you’re sick, your family takes care of you. When someone dies, the whole community contributes to the funeral. When you’re doing well financially, you share your earnings and food with those who need it, because you never know when you’re the one who needs help. Even running a business is often a collective process.

- A good example of collectivism in business is the privately owned matatu . To run a matatu-service, you have to be a member of a “SACCO ”. These SACCO’s manage collective savings and give out loans with low interest rates. SACCO’s are not only common in the public transport sector, but almost everyone in Kenya is a member of a SACCO.
- More than once, we encountered people at the University who asked for a small donation for a funeral of a friend.
- On the way from Bondo to Kisumu, a woman stepped into our Matatu with a sick baby in her arms. Another woman was so touched by this sight that she gave her money for the doctor

Masculine - Feminine

In a Masculine society, values as competition, success and achievement are considered important. If quality of life is seen as success, the society is more feminine. Kenya scores higher on masculinity than the Netherlands. The result driven attitude mostly seems to come from the urge to survive and is clearly visible in the context of work. People study and work hard to improve the living standards of both themselves and their family. In social context, Feminism prevails. There are many aid organizations, micro-finance institutes, and other organizations that strive for solidarity, equality and well-being of employees.

- We experienced that many Kenyans have found a good balance between feminism and masculinity, between doing what earns you money and what you like. We take a friend of us as an example. He grew up in a small village without parents but had the opportunity to go to school. He enjoyed horticulture and found a job on a big flower farm. He was promoted to his current job at the Ministry because of his hard work. He is proud of his success, but this success is partly a result of the fact that he loves his job so much.

Uncertainty Avoidance – Traditionalism

Uncertainty avoidance is a way of dealing with the unknown future. ‘Countries exhibiting high uncertainty avoidance maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviour and are intolerant of unorthodox behaviour and ideas. In these cultures there is an emotional need for rules (even if the rules never seem to work), time is money, people have an inner urge to be busy and work hard, precision and punctuality are the norm, innovation may be resisted, security is an important element in individual motivation (Hofstede, 2014). Kenya still scores high on Uncertainty Avoidance. They fear taking risks and rather stick to the traditional ways. However, with all the Western influences and the increasing level of education, this attitude seems to change. What is fortunate for us, as we need farmers to step out of their comfort zone.

Both students and local people fear to express unorthodox behaviour. Cigarettes and alcohol are a taboo. They are only tolerated on Friday and Saturday, when students can be found in the local bars or the famous Kings Club. Religion is a big part of the life in Siaya County. The majority of people strictly goes to church on Sunday and lives by the rules of God. They react shocked when we explain that we are unreligious. It is against the moral codes and the traditions that they value so highly. For our project, Uncertainty Avoidance is a hinder. It is crucial that farmers let go of this value in order to convince them to start greenhouse farming instead of normal open field farming. They have to step out of their comfort zone and take a financial risk.

Universalism - Particularism

Universalism and Particularism are ways in which rules are applied. Do they count for everyone or are they exceptional? As a mzungu in Western Kenya, where there is rarely any tourist, we mostly experienced a particularistic approach. Everything was adjusted for us, whether we wanted it or not and both in negative and positive way. This approach is also applicable to rich Kenyans.

Specific – Diffuse

How far do people go in participating in each other’s personal sphere of life (Kroesen, 2015)? Do subject- or object-oriented relationships prevail? In Kenya, the object-oriented (diffuse) relationships dominate business life. A reason for this is that Kenya is a relatively low trust society, where it is easier to maintain a personal relationship with your customers.

The normal way to greet someone is by asking: ‘How are you?’, where after a short conversation about someone’s personal life follows. Only then you can start doing business. It is usual to invite guests and people you just met to your home for lunch or dinner. That is how we ended up at Rosemary’s place to have lunch, a staff member of JOOUST whom we had never met before. In Holland, we are used to online shopping, ordering on a bill and paying in advance. Because of the low trust society, these things are out of question in Kenya.

Neutral – Affective

Are personal affections mixed with business or are they strictly separated? Opposite to the Dutch mentality that favours a strict separation between business and personal life, Kenyans can be very affective. However, this only counts for the in-group sphere. In public, they are reluctant to show their emotions.

Showing signs of anger or raising your voice in a conversation are seen as rude. The Kiswahili word ‘Asante’ is generally translated as ‘Thank you’ but the exact translation for ‘Asante’ is: ‘You did what you were supposed to do’. This is perhaps not only a lack of emotion but also the expectation of your loyalty towards the community.

Status by Achievement – Status by Position

What is the way you obtained your status? By working hard (achievement) or by your position? Status is very important in Kenya. Once you have achieved something you want to show it to the world. Education is seen as the key to success and status. However, status by position is also very common. Elders and for example mzungu’s are treated with the most respect due to their position.

At JOOUST, people in high positions have acquired them due to their achievements. They all have PhD’s and most of them have studied in Europe. 

Sequential - Synchronous

Do you favour planning, schedules and time management, or in other words, a sequential way of working? Or do you have no care for time and work synchronous? Many Kenyans will tell you time management is one of their weaknesses. There are people who have no problem with this, but more and more people are discovering the efficiency and practicality of time management.

Internalism - Externalism

Do you adapt to traditions and let everything come to you as it is, or do you think you can make a change? ‘Hakuna Matata’ seems the word to describe the favoured lifestyle in rural Kenya. Live per day and don’t worry about tomorrow. However, we have seen many examples of a change in this attitude. People are becoming aware of the importance of education, of entrepreneurship, of management etc. They take initiative and visit informational gatherings, open houses and courses. They take matters into their own hands.

Personal space

During our three month internship, we also encountered differences that cannot be described by the cultural dimensions of Trompenaars & Hofstede, but which are fun to note.

Arriving at the well-known Kingsclub for the first time, our mouths fell open of amazement. Personal space is definitely not regarded as useful. Dancing is a very intimate concept here that involves a lot of physical contact. Sybren was offered many things, including a mobile phone, if the students could have a dance with one of the mzungu ladies. Which one didn’t matter so much. This physical contact is not only present in the bar. In daily life people touch you a lot more than in the Netherlands, especially men. When someone wants to show you something, they often hold your hand to guide you there. After shaking hands someone might also hold your hand during the conversation. This means that someone feels comfortable around you. It mostly made us feel uncomfortable. Luckily it is not seen as rude to drop the hand, people will keep on talking anyway.

Contribution to an Effective Business Culture

In order to contribute to an effective business culture, it is important to create a mix between old and new values. In this way, people can relate to the old values, but still innovate by means of new values. Our project aims to do this by introducing values such as the technology of greenhouse farming, managerial knowledge, extensive bookkeeping and entrepreneurial skills. With these, innovation, increase of production and a reduction in risk can be accomplished. However, to convince and encourage farmers of this added value, these innovations have to be justifiably mixed with Kenyan habits and traditions. Thus, crops that are produced in the greenhouse are indigenous crops, the course is given according to Kenyan habits and given by Kenyan teachers and the board of the foundation mainly consists of local people.