In eight short presentations I will give an introduction in cross-cultural entrepreneurship. That is about the impact that cultural differences and value orientations have on doing business. Different societies adhere to different institutional frameworks and different values. I will start – in this lecture – with giving a concrete example of such differences. In the second lecture I will provide you with a theoretical framework for understanding them. In lecture 3, 4, and 5 I will go into some specific and relevant examples of such values and their impact on entrepreneurship. In lecture 6 I want you to understand the impacts of these values for civil society. Here the question actually is: how do people establish trust in each other if they have to cooperate on a larger scale. In lecture 7 I will return to the practicalities of entrepreneurship in a different cultural environment in order to apply the lessons learned. Finally I added a lecture on religion and business ethics, because it is so striking that sociologists treat cross-cultural communication only in a secular way, while most of the societies they study have a religious self understanding.
Now first an example of the impact of values on entrepreneurship from Bangladesh. I have cooperated with a consultant in civil engineering who worked for a long time in Bangladesh for a government agency on water issues. Like so many people he was depressed by the sight of the many rickshaws which occupy the streets of Dhaka, looking for customers and working hard for little money. If a farmer does not have any means of subsistence or lost his land due to debts, he will go to the city and become a rickshaw puller. My friend the engineer asked himself, whether these rickshaws and the life of the pullers could be improved by means of a gear. During three months in the evening he worked on the design and in the end he had figured it out. By the implementation of his invention the rickshaws would only increase in price by one or two dollars (it was in the 90s by then). But then he discovered that his invention would not work anyway... Why not? It turned out that the rickshaw pullers do not own the rickshaws themselves. And the owners of the rickshaws did not care about his new invention. They rented the rickshaws and they could find customers in abundance and they didn’t care about their hard labour. It’s Bangladesh, you know. There is high power distance and on top of that strong differences in status, causing moral indifference of those at the top for the workers at the bottom.
My friend gave up. But the story continues. I was surprised to find out a few years ago that a Dutch NGO is involved in entrepreneurship in rickshaw services. Normally a rickshaw puller earns three dollars a day and he has to pay two dollars for the rent of the rickshaw. What’s left is one dollar, just enough for a meal of rice for the family. But this NGO installed a rotating fund for leasing rickshaws. If the rickshaw puller hires a rickshaw from this NGO he actually participates in a microcredit system and after a while he has paid enough to become the owner of the rickshaw, thus bypassing the usual rickshaw renters and starting a business of his own. It seems to work, since a growing number of rickshaw pullers participated in and even left the system already.
But again we have to reflect on the institutional and cultural change which is promoted in this way. This rickshaw puller is now turned into an individual entrepreneur, and the Dutch NGO is promoting a more egalitarian social system within the hierarchical Bangladeshi society. The Dutch NGO as well as the rickshaw pullers in this way intervene in the value system of Bangladesh. They introduce new values and change the institutions of Bangladesh.
Even the rickshaw puller himself as to change. Until now he might have looked upon himself as a dependent and under tutelage of patriarchal power relationships (in Bengal language behind the name you will always use a suffix – -bai or -vai – that either approaches him as a brother, on an equal level, or as a father, full of respect). Now he has to take initiative, do the bookkeeping himself, plan his actions well. If he doesn’t change his mindset’s business may easily fail or he might want to help out a family member in need by selling the rickshaw after all.
Power distance, status, initiative, planning, conscientious precision at work, maintaining open customer relations, due maintenance, these human qualities also constitute values and virtues. The example also indicates that Bangladesh is in a transition from more traditional values to a new set of values suitable to conducting independent businesses and at the same time suitable to cooperation on a larger scale. We will come back to that later on.