Business is now more global than ever, challenging us to expand our understanding of other cultures and develop deeper cultural knowledge. For Zeynep Ozenci, principal investment officer at International Finance Corporation (IFC), developing this sort of cultural consciousness is not a choice, it is needed to effectively do her job. She states, "having a global cultural consciousness is at the core of what I do in terms of both of who I work with in my organization, but also with external stakeholders because regardless of where you're based very few people at IFC work in their own country with their own country people. In fact, 90% of what I do is working with people whom I’m not in the same country."
In her 12 years at IFC, Ozenci has worked in Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Latin America. She says while she enjoys working with such a diverse range of people, there are challenges especially when it comes to building authentic relationships. "I manage people who are all from different cultures and experiences, that includes clients and colleagues. I have successes and failures, to be honest. One of the things I really like to do is to travel with people. It gives you a chance to connect with people and get people to see your point of view and your good intention." Ozenci recalls a story in which she was managing a client in Kyrgyz Republic. While some of her colleagues were not open to cultural activities and even made verbal complaints, Ozenci’s cultural consciousness allowed her to succeed. "I did everything from doing a banana boat with the governors to eating horse meat and drinking lots of vodka, so I was able to manage that client and I actually take pride in that."
While Ozenci has now developed a strong cultural awareness, growing up she had limited exposure to other cultures. "I went to school with the same people starting from primary school all the way to the end of college. My best friends are friends that I had when I was 6 years old. They don't only look exactly like me, but they also talk and think exactly like me." She credits her time at Maryland Smith, where she participated in an internship with the World Bank, for exposing her to working with people from different cultures and countries. "After I started at the University of Maryland, I felt like I wanted to do more. I started interning with the World Bank and that actually really changed my mindset because I realized although that's not what I had been exposed to up until that point I really enjoyed working with people from different cultures."
She advises students and alumni interested in a role in global business to get started early and find mentors from whom to learn. "I think getting exposed to things at an early stage and working with very experienced people learning from them things like: How do you manage clients right from different cultures? How do you manage colleagues from very different cultures and generations? is an amazing experience. And perhaps at the end of the day you may not have a choice to avoid being in a global setting, so developing that cultural awareness and that self-awareness is very important and it never ends."
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