How to bond a multicultural team: snacks from around the world, hummingbirds and honesty

Digital Action team

How can we work with each other, with respect and understanding, when we come from such different cultures? With team members from Brazil, Zambia, Palestine, the UK and Kenya, Executive Director Anne Ikiara shares her reflections on the Digital Action team’s away-days to bond our team.

What a week that was at Digital Action! We have grown exponentially in the last couple of months and spread our wings to Africa, the MENA region and South America. Being a remote-first organisation, the multicultural team had never met in person. Finally the long awaited time to see each other off-screen happened last week in London. We had a great time having meaningful conversations in person, and sharing snacks from our homelands such as eccles cakes from Wales, biltong and baobab seeds from Zambia, toffifee from Germany, and homemade ka’ak from Palestine. Each snack has a story about a place, a time, and its people.

Be more hummingbird

As well as snacks, day one afforded the team an opportunity to hear some inspiring remarks about what led us to joining Digital Action. It was great to hear the reaffirming words about the importance of our major 2024 campaign, and each person’s motivation for fighting disinformation. The energy, passion and enthusiasm from the team echoed through every statement, every action and every plan. 

It is a small team with a big vision to protect democracy from digital threats globally, and I shared a story, first told by environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangarĩ Maathai, to bring to life Digital Action’s purpose. 

A forest is on fire and a little hummingbird goes to get water in its small beak and drops it on the fire, again and again and again. The other bigger animals in the forest ask “What are you doing? You’re too small to put out this fire.” And the hummingbird replies “I am doing the best I can.” This inspires other animals, including the elephant with its big trunk, to pour water onto the fire.

This metaphor aligns perfectly with Digital Action’s role as convenor of the Global Coalition for Tech Justice. Small actions can lead to big change.

Valuing honesty and diversity

The second day we had a cultural session facilitated by Grace Mansah-Owusu of Oxford HR. Using different cultural theories such as the cultural iceberg (see diagram below), we explored some of our different cultural attitudes and beliefs which can have an impact on ways of working. For example, we found out that in Africa, looking someone straight in the eye can be disrespectful, whereas in Brazil the opposite is true. Time and authority is also perceived differently. And we became more aware of our countries’ political, religious and legal context which can hugely impact someone’s freedoms and behaviours.

The major takeaway is that honesty can help us have conversations about culture. And that we should never make assumptions about people’s abilities. Although we come from different locations and cultural backgrounds, we are more similar than we are different. We all have the same aspirations, we all thrive in a supportive and stimulative work environment. 

There are universal values that are present in every person. I am really proud that Digital Action lives these values every day. We particularly value diversity as a strength that adds value to our work and brings different and balanced perspectives into everything we do. There cannot be a better ingredient for an organisation mounting a never-done-before global campaign against the formidable tech companies. 

In between the action packed sessions, we had time to talk to many of our partners and funders. We were thrilled to share our exciting plans with them all and get a chance to include their perspectives. We all left London with great plans coupled with energy and vigour to take the campaign to even higher levels. This, coupled with the better understanding  and appreciation of different ways of working and perspectives, can only propel Digital Action, and our work, forward.

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