“An inclusive economy as one that looks equitable and fair from all vantage points.”
Jana explains, “We need an inclusive economy because innovation and advancement result from having diverse voices around the table. We need to solicit and embrace the ideas, perspectives, needs and experiences of all people. The more we include different people from divergent walks, the more relevant and successful our economy will be.” Jana also backs up her argument with research done by academic Scott Page and journalist James Surowiecki, who have proven time and time again that we need diversity and inclusion to yield the best results in most situations.
Founder of SheFarms, Tiambi R Simms explains that working in such a culturally diverse team is something that happened organically and has brought the benefits of sharing different opinions and being able to challenge one another.
Tiambi is a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur who has been living in the Netherlands for the past 8 years. Since 2015, SheFarms has been changing, growing and changing some more. Yet, one idea remains the same, and that’s – empowering women who are at the core of our food production.
Tiambi explains that because of our work with women farmers in Africa, cultural sensitive must come into play. There is no space for “idealistic values” and enforcing Western beliefs. We have to build trust, be sensitive, and be understanding. And those exact values have translated into the SheFarms office.
“Not sharing the cultural background with colleagues is a challenge when it comes to explaining ideas and/or concepts.”
Argentinian born and raised, Laura Fevrier, is part of the anthropology team. Her main concerns are access to education and gender equality.
“I’m also working on how to teach the farmers to use the SheFarms app, and how to use measurements so they can properly benchmark. This will be done through tutorials, by taking advantage of the smartphones that we will provide them with, and organising study groups with a tutor, who will be one of the SheFarmers.”
When it comes to cultural diversity, Laura says that not only does it “enrich the company” and benefits it in every aspect. But it also creates a challenge.
Since working at SheFarms, Laura explains that she has learned to be more flexible and aware of her own socio-cultural background, and “to make an effort to express my ideas more accurate to avoid the cultural gap and be less prejudiced”.
Scott E. Page, a professor of complex systems, political science, and economics at the University of Michigan explains in his research paper ‘Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers’:
“Diversity in a group of people refers to differences in their demographic characteristics, cultural identities and ethnicity, and training and expertise.”
In an interview done with Claudia Dreifus from the New York Times, Page digs deeper into the benefits of diversity in organisations. He says:
“Diverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it. People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, this is what I call tools. The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.”
Page explains that when organisations employ people with diverse tools and from different backgrounds, the employees are more likely to get stuck on different challenges.
“One person can do their best, and then someone else can come in and improve on it. There’s a lot of empirical data to show that diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, the most innovative companies are diverse.”
To further illustrate the advantages, Page uses an example of when women first started to get included in economics in the 1970s.
“After you got women into the profession, they started saying: “What if Ma Ingalls opened up a business and charged for the cleaning, pie making, tending to the animals. Wouldn’t there be a lot of G.D.P. in there?”
He goes on to say that before you would only have men thinking about the economy and ignoring the productivity of half the population.
“By including the perspectives of females, the estimates got more accurate. This was important for looking at the American past and for understanding contemporary societies like those in Africa, where women are usually the farmers.”
Evidently, team diversity gives the organisation multiple ways of seeing, acting, and solving a problem.
And multi-culturalism is what all businesses, in particular, international businesses need to strive for, explains Jill Rynenberg, one of our SheFarms members.
“Don’t hold on to borders that were manmade. It’s so old-fashioned.”
Jill was born and raised in the Netherlands to Indonesian parents. She joined SheFarms in September 2016, as the communications and project management go-to.
Another man-made border that needs to go is that of gender discrimination.
“In terms of [as a woman] working in tech, I out-nerd most men I know when it comes to computer stuff and science,” says Jill. “I have a natural feel for it. It’s annoying when men think you won’t understand just because something is pretty techy. It’s just a matter of talking back on their nerdy level, I guess. My relatively new feminist persona would like to see more ladies in the tech world. That would be ace!”
Jill explains that working at SheFarms is the first time she’s been confronted with gender inequality on such a large scale.
“I never wanted to call myself a feminist, since I have no experience in how much of a detriment it was to be female. I mean, I live and work in a world where men and women are more or less treated equally. But through SheFarms, I see the cons and disadvantages of being female in the developing world. It’s an urgent matter and I now have learned that it affects the global condition. People need to be made more aware of these facts and figures. I would more likely call myself a feminist now,” she says.
As chair member of the LOVA, the Dutch Association for Gender Studies and Feminist Anthropology, Filipa Oitavén is very closely involved with thinking critically about gender equality.
“For me personally, here and now it’s a great time and place to be a woman. But I have been a woman in places where it is not. Gender equality is cultural related. I mean, what women want in Ghana manifests differently from what women want in Brazil, or in Europe. It is important that gender equality initiatives really pay attention to these differences. Gender equality global campaigns might do some good to our consciences but all real change is locally rooted.”
Originally from Portugal, Filipa’s role as an anthropologist and team project manager at SheFarms is to think, analyse and do, from the ‘other’ point of view.
“The work of an anthropologist is especially relevant when a company is interacting with the world which is very different from its own. People are easy to underestimate cultural differences.
“This is especially important if you work with farmers all over the world. So, our main goals are to ensure the meaningful participation and inclusion of rural communities we work with. For instance, we design interviews, prepare the meetings and the activities for the field trips.”
Having done research in rural development and spending time with rural farmers in the inner north of Mozambique, Filipa saw first hand the effects of aid programs in such a context.
“My experience showed me that development happens best when knowledge, good will and resources meet, and I was inspired to be more engaged with development organisations.”
Gender equality affects us all, some experience it in close range and others from afar. It also impacts people in different ways. For, Dymphie Burger, our sustainable agriculture intern, gender equality means sustainability.
“This might be strange because many people might link sustainability to plants and climate change, but I see it as the human/social part of sustainability. Exclusion of one group can not make processes last for different generations. Also, I think that gender inequality can make people understand the general issue of inequality because everyone in every place in the world can relate to gender (in)equality in some way.”
“For me personally, here and now it’s a great time and place to be a woman.”
Dymphie, born and raised in the Netherlands explains that working in a team that’s predominantly women is new to her.
“Due to my study in Earth Science, I’m not used to working in a team with that many women. I have worked in a start-up before, but what I especially like about SheFarms is the commitment of everyone, the diversity, the experience in the team, and that the team functions really well.”
The co-founder of SheFarms, Margot Barreveld, is Dutch with Moluccan heritage. After a seven hour long discussion over lunch, Margot joined Tiambi in 2015 to fight gender inequality and ensure food security.
Margot explains that “first of all, to be able to do what you love, to do how you want to do it, is amazing. Next, it is very exciting to be part of the start-up scene, as every day is different. And of course, the social impact of SheFarms makes it possible to work with a very devoted, kind-hearted, extremely motivated team.”
Margot says that the quote – ‘Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer’ can be applied directly to the SheFarms team.
“Our multicultural team is a realistic reflection of the world. The different perspectives, experiences, views on life, morals, and values create an atmosphere where diverse ideas can be expressed and problems can be solved. Life is about sharing and we can learn so much from each other.”
She adds: “It’s is an honour to work with so many positive, good-hearted people, in an environment where you know you can make a difference.”
Working in a multicultural environment with a diverse team adds to the growth of SheFarms. It gives us the opportunity to view a situation in multiple ways and come up with alternative solutions through creative thinking.
“Our multicultural team is a realistic reflection of the world. The different perspectives, experiences, and views on life, morals and values, enable the chance to create diverse ideas and solve problems. Life is about sharing and we can learn so much from each other.”
In her article, Jana says that behind companies not accepting change, inclusion and multiculturalism, is fear.
“Fear is the enemy. The biggest obstacle to creating an inclusive economy is fear — fear of change and fear of loss. “
According to Jana, each leader, team member, employee and employer should ask themselves these questions:
“Are we building an inclusive society that makes honest work and entrepreneurial opportunities accessible to all? Or have we shrouded opportunities in a hazy maze of biased obstacles that exclude people based on cruel and unfair standards?”