Why Cultural Brokers are Important

By Kimberly Newton de Klootwyk, Instituto Conexiones President

Anytime that a foreigner is coming into a new culture to conduct business, non-profit work or public work, it is imperative that he/she find someone that can be an intermediary and cultural sensitivity educator for him/her.

A good cultural broker will attempt to slowly step away over time, having imparted much knowledge and perspective to the foreigner as possible so that he/she can build good relationships with the new culture on his/her own. However, the cultural broker must always be available to keep track of the progress of the relationship between the two new cultures, as he/she is somewhat responsible for bringing the two parties together and his/her personal reputation with both sides is always on the line. Thus, cultural brokers have a personal and professional stake on making sure the relationship unfolds in a positive, win-win, way.

Thus, conflict resolution and project development skills are integral to the toolkit of a cultural broker. He/she must also have a good understanding of international foreign policy, business, international cooperation dynamics, and social psychology.

However, if a newcomer does not employ the services of a cultural broker at the beginning of his/her venture, he/she may do things that upset the new group he/she is interacting with, often times unwittingly or inadvertedly. This can backfire in many ways and at times has escalated to all out war when involving larger parties, such as foreign corporations and governments.

The cultural broker works to educate and prepare the host culture as much as the foreigner coming in - dispelling social myths and working through any cultural baggage that may keep them at arms distance from each other or at odds.

A cultural broker builds community and trust among people of different backgrounds - helping them better work together and build enterprises and ventures cooperatively - visions that will benefit both groups.

This means that all foreigners coming into a new culture MUST come with good intentions. If he/she is only thinking of how the relationship will benefit himself, then the relationship is doomed from the start. A good cultural broker must learn to recognize this type of exploitative thinking and re-educate the foreigner to understand why it is in his best interest to think more inclusively and the cultural broker must be able to show why social enterprise and cooperativism are a better business and public works models to employ.

The biggest challenge of a cultural broker is being paid for his/her work because although the peace work of a good cultural broker is vital in today's globalizing world, it is not always recognized or added to the budget.