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Design for 'Glocal' Innovation: The Power of Cross-Cultural Groups

It had been about two months since I packed up my bags and moved from Israel to New York to pursue a masters degree in Design for Social Innovation. I woke up, made some coffee and logged on to Facebook, my informal news agency for updates from home.

My news feed was resonating a public outrage about something the Israeli Minister of Finance had said. Since taking office, our Minister got into the habit of using his Facebook page to voice very opinionated and arrogant statements—he did it on such a regular basis that I stopped feeling affected by them some time ago. I expected this last instance to be no different, but when I read his post harshly criticizing Israelis that had moved away (for example to Berlin or... New York City) for being selfish deserters, I lost my cool.

In Israel, as in most parts of the world, there is a pattern of immigration to Europe or the U.S. in search of better opportunities and more promising futures. Among social unrest in recent years, this trend seems to be increasing, and the Minister's statement came among a renewed public debate about people "giving up." When I announced my departure plans, many assumed this was the case for me. But it really was quite far from the truth—as it is far from the truth of many other emissaries currently spread out across the planet.

The recent social unrest in Israel and massive landscape of problems it had bubbled up from was what inspired me to leave, but not out of a wish to run away. I left because I had looked for a framework where I could acquire a stronger and more elaborate skill set to tackle those issues, and where I found it just happened to be on another continent.

My cohorts at DSI are very culturally diverse and each of us is connected to our roots. We pepper our discussions with examples and experiences from our home countries, sketching a layered diagram of social issues in local and global manifestations. We are, in fact, exercising one of the valuable tools for innovative thinking and problem-solving—mapping elements and their interactions, cross referencing, and making creative comparisons on varying scales and resolutions.

The process of working as a multi-cultural group mirrors some characteristics of design thinking—it is multi-disciplinary, contextually sensitive and rich, divergent and convergent. As in most culturally diverse team-based frameworks, the mix proves to be instrumental to successfully co-creating ideas to tackle local and shared problems—problems like the immigration of young talented minds from our own societies to others, perhaps. Or disconnects between civilians and their political representatives. I have already had the fortune to engage in some practical discussions with Middle Eastern peers that political barriers closer to home would not have otherwise allowed. Such barrier bridging conversations about actual viable solutions could one day become game changers in political hot spots such as ours. Hopefully soon.

How do we zoom in and out between global and local without compromising either view? How much can we leverage interactions between change agents from different places? and what kind of interactions could we have beyond conversations? Here is a challenge—try a conversation with someone from a different culture, but not in words. It could be dance, food or visuals. Try it in a group. See what boundaries you overcome and what you co-create. And share it with the rest of us—we're listening.

Image courtesy of Covadonga Abril Paredes

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