Define Collaboration

Hannah Bouline - Ecuador


January 28, 2013

I must have re-written this blog post a thousand times. If not on my computer, then at least in my thoughts. As I navigate each day living with an Indigenous family in rural Ecuador, my version of this blog post has constantly been changing. I suspect that this arises from my continually changing vocabulary. Yes, my Kichwa vocabulary grows daily, but I am actually referring to the vocabulary of my native tongue. Every word is a single, distinct, conceptual unit of language. However, the definition of each of those words is a fluid relationship of relativity and perception. A dictionary can assist in the process of defining a word, but without context, that definition offered up by Merriam-Webster is a hollow statement composed of idle words. My vocabulary has changed each day not in its size, but rather, in the definitions I place to previously known words. As the breadth of my context around words such as poverty and development grows and changes, so goes my perception of their definition. This holds especially true for one word in particular, and thus my ever changing draft of this blog post: collaboration.

Cross-cultural collaboration faces many barriers. From the basic barrier of language to the complexities of deeply-rooted stereotypes and conventional images, it seems as if cross-cultural collaboration is not meant to take place, as if cultural groups were predestined to live out their lives as separate entities. But in the constantly developing era of globalization and the increasing interdependency of these separate groups, cross-cultural collaboration is not only necessary; it is inevitable. It is inevitable, because despite difficulties, there is too much to gain from collaboration for the barriers to ever inhibit it. As humans we share common needs, and each day that passes without open collaboration comes at a cost. The opportunity which collaboration can afford us is lost each day that cultural groups instead choose to resist this merging of ideas and resources.

Groups like my apprenticeship have recognized this cost, and search for ways to break down the barriers between cultural groups and begin effective collaboration. The Andean Collection provides a forum to create understanding and respect contrary to popular media images. I have learned much from working with this social enterprise, especially on the theme of cross-cultural collaboration. I have seen how the universal connection of artistic expression allows each group to leave behind preconceived notions in order to see and feel creation and share it outside of their borders. This foundation between disconnected groups creates a space to start the dialogue that can lead to understanding, forming bridges over cultural disconnects.

Many have asked, “What else could this collaboration look like?” I have grappled with this question day to day – each day the slippery definition of “collaboration” changing and molding to fit my new context. My answer has finally been decided upon in the form of another question: What should this collaboration not look like? Collaboration through all mediums and methods can serve as a platform to start dialogue and understanding, and not only is this helpful; it is ultimately imperative.

Business models of social enterprises and large-scale international businesses are beginning to reflect the importance of cross-cultural collaboration. Increasing consumer awareness has made it so that having a product is no longer enough. Consumers want a face put with their products and services, a connection to others. Technology has increased so rapidly that collaboration can hardly keep up. Social media has only just begun to realize its potential for initiating cross-cultural dialogue and social change. Service projects and NGOs use goals common to all to encourage collaboration and overall growth. Educational initiatives have begun to stress the importance of cultural awareness. On a smaller scale, exchange students and cultural ambassadors, like myself, are defining the subtle contrasts and continuities between separate cultural and ethnic groups.

All of these mediums are beginning down the path of cross-cultural collaboration, and can be extended even further to create greater reward. There are, however, other aspects that have been slow to recognize the cost of moving forward without regard to the power of collaboration. A clear example is the constant battle waged between the authentic faces of cultural and ethnic groups and their media portrayal. Storytelling through the media is clearly a powerful tool, but misused it can merge an individual and an entire cultural group as one. This view of others from the outside can distort opinions and further build the barrier to collaboration.

My perception of collaboration may seem fanatical, but it is justified by the innumerable advantages it presents. The possibilities for collaboration are endless and everywhere. Collaboration can begin on all levels through mediums of every sort, because there is no one path to understanding and respect. The Andean Collection have created their path through artistic expression, many have begun through a wide variety of manners, and others have yet to jump onto the bandwagon. When it comes down to it, the interconnectedness of humans and our world makes cross-cultural collaboration powerful and meaningful. A dictionary can assist in the process of defining this word, but it is context that is needed to transform this conceptual definition into a meaningful word for all.

Hannah Bouline