What You Missed: Leading Strategy and Change in Culturally Complex Contexts


By Rhiannon Williams

On April 30, 2013 MINN and ARC (African Refugee Committee) co- sponsored a presentation led by Tyler Zabriskie entitled Leading Strategy and Change in Culturally Complex Contexts.  Tyler is the Principal Consultant for Zabriskie Consulting, a leadership, strategy, and organizational development consulting business working with NGO’s, non-profits, and foundations. This workshop addressed the complexities of the competing agendas between different stakeholders working within international NGO networks. Overall the presentation suggested that the coherence of personal cultures across different stakeholder groups: local communities, NGO field staff, NGO executives, and donors is often minimal.  Western donors expect intelligent plans, efficient execution and evidence of outcomes. Local beneficiaries expect culturally adapted programs from staff that honor their social and religious traditions. Operating between these different contexts, NGOs face daunting internal challenges to maintain cultural coherence and trust among culturally diverse staff.

In the first part of the presentation Tyler draws from Pine and Gilmore’s (1999) Experience Economy framework. This framework stems from the business world, which suggests that businesses must create memorable events for their customers, with that memory itself becoming the product - the "experience". The focus becomes not on the commodity, goods, or service, but the experience and the resultant transformation.  Tyler challenged the audience to think about what “transformation” experiences in majority world development would look like and what some examples were of such work currently ongoing. 

Tyler then discussed the problematic difference in cultures within international organizations, specifically across the different levels of international organizations.  He suggested that transformative experiences could be a link to developing a more unified cultural understanding across these levels of an international NGO. What if there was a shared understanding or guiding mission of creating transformative experiences across all levels of NGO institutions? 

In conclusion, Tyler led the audience in a lively discussion around: What needs to be a part of a transformative experience? Who decides what is transformative?  He also engaged the audience in thinking about the different cultural frameworks we each bring to our own work. How these cultural frameworks guide how we approach problems, address individuals, and interact with others.  How can we come together to create a common language that all levels of international NGO organizations can understand? How do we find one that communicates and focuses on the final sustainable transformative experiences?



MINN wishes to than Tyler for taking the time to lead such a thoughtful and engaging presentation. If you were unable to attend, we invite you to view the video available below, as well as on MINN's new YouTube channel.