diversity and strength


Joseph Antoine Kasonga Mukuta, applied to become ICO’s new Executive Director, with the support and endorsement of the government of the DRC. On 9th September Désiré M’zinga Birihanze, from the DRC, wrote to Mr Sette, whose tenure will shortly end, to endorse Mr Mukuta.

In the letter, attached below, Mr M’zinga asks that Mukuta’s limited command of the English language not be held against him in his application. He is right to do so.

Indeed, I would ask the Council to consider that the command of the English language should not be the determining factor for a multilingual organization.

Letter from drc government to ico

The current board members at the ICO, are from diverse cultural backgrounds, but if there is not a single common language, shouldn’t you expect there to be some detriment to performance? And poor communication is the cause of many organisational maladies.

But as prolific author Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his last book ‘Talking to Strangers’, assumptions we make based on ‘common sense’, are often utterly flawed logic in practice.

So I did some research into the subject. The first thing I discovered was that distinguishing on language is a form of discrimination, as it is a form of national origin discrimination, and therefore prohibited by law in several countries.

But speaking practically (pun intended), how are boards supposed to perform if they don’t clearly understand each other?

Technology, at least in part, comes to the rescue here as new functionality in video software like Microsoft Teams, allows the speakers to be translated and presented in captions, in real-time. I’ve tried it, and it works very well.

But we might be missing the wider point. The ICO is an International organization, and that is represented by an already diverse membership. This is good, and with Officers from India, Switzerland and South America, there is already a multilingual capability on the board.

This is relevant because a diverse multicultural and multilingual board performs better than its less linguistic counterparts.

I found some data supporting this from Mass Challenge, which is a US accelerator – a company that helps startups grow quickly with access to advice, contacts, and funding.

They looked at investments they had made into different companies – some with boards composed of exclusively English only speakers, and others with bilingual speakers. They found that for each dollar of funding they provided, the boards with bilingual directors generated 78 cents, while those with English only speakers generated a meagre 31 cents. Laidlaw Scholars noted the following benefits.

  • investment in companies founded by someone who is bilingual generates 10 per cent more in cumulative value over a five year period than English only speaking founders
  • bilingual entrepreneurs create more long term value
  • 55% of companies that fell off the Fortune 1000 index had only one or no bilingual directors on their board
  • a ranking of Fortune 500 companies by number of bilingual speakers on their boards, found those in the highest quartile had a 42% greater return on sales
  • companies with at least one bilingual director on the board, outperform those with none.

We have seen the ICO go through some serious challenges over the last few years, recently with Uganda pulling out of the organisation.

Mr Mukuta has a very different profile from that of the outgoing Mr Sette, with perhaps a more hands-on understanding of coffee, and a reported good sense of humour? Perhaps it’s time for the organisation to consider a fresh approach, and embrace the challenges faced not only by the industry but also, to the organisation themselves.

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