I am a strong believer, that they key to healthily and genuinely engaging with the subject of diversity is to more fully understand the context and circumstances that have shaped the individual(s). Rather than dismissing difference as something that needn’t be discussed because “it doesn’t matter where someone comes from”, we should look to first accept that everyone is different, and then look to understand the culture that shaped their difference. Culture, in this sense, is extremely broad, and can range from social circles, family dynamics, religious beliefs, career history, individual engagement with personal interests, and/or pretty much anything pertaining to the environments that have shaped an individual.
For this reason, in perhaps one of the truest conversations to the Digital Anthroconomy brand yet, I had a lengthy conversation with Patricia that lay at the intersections of development, growth, economy, culture and my own personal development to satiate my understanding of how culture is correlated with economic development in Africa.
Patricia Monthé, Founder of MEDx eHealthCentre, who does a lot of work in emerging countries, is currently focussing on effecting change in the continent through the African government. She strongly believes that to transform healthcare in Africa, you need to take a top-down approach, rather than a bottoms up approach; contrary to the rising-star startups of the western world. In actuality, her vision is much larger than just the healthcare domain: as we discussed in the following conversation, the real change for healthcare needs to start at a socio-cultural level.
Structuring a society
To better frame this “top-down-bottom-side-to-side” jargon that I just used, I’ll share with you Patricia’s socio-economic framework that set the lens for the rest of the conversation – “when you look at things from a rational angle, I see society as a three pillar element. Hierarchically, from bottom to top, you have the citizens, you have the organisations (so the guys that make the money and create the stuff for the citizen to survive and go about life), and, you have the guys at the top that are government, policymakers, decision makers, looking after, from a macro perspective, what’s happening with the citizens while governing the middle layer”.
Another way of looking at this hierarchy from bottom to top is consumers, marketplace, and, governance at the top. We agreed that this was the same structure for most societies. We also agreed that the globe is organised according to this structure… as are countries…as are regions…as are companies…as are families.
I reinforced this structural simile with the example of my own crazy family, as I described the 3-generational Punjabi household in leicester that produced an utterly confused being of limitless internal conflict that is me – “My Grandad is the CEO, my parents are the managers, myself and my younger brothers are the citizens”. The example that I gave is extremely important to take into consideration because by the end of the conversation we established that the same cultural challenge that has been the dominant theme in my own family, is also the exact same challenge facing Africa: An elder generation, with an outdated vision, unable to let go of the steering wheel, which causes a host of trickle- down issues – and so provides something of an individual case study to the more macro conversation that we discussed.
For those unaware, a key difference between Eastern societies and Western societies (European) is that in most Eastern cultures, an individual’s identity is extremely embedded within group identity and community. I see this strongly in my own Sikh-led family, and as is the case with the African parallel that Patricia described – “The society there functions as a community. The moment you want to live as an individual, you are pointed out and the community puts you aside and so often you don’t have a supporting system with you. And because its community and communities, when you go towards another community they say “okay show us your community so we can relate and learn from who your parents are”. And when you start mumbling and talking about how you don’t really work well with your original community, they label you as a bad kid, and so don’t fully accept you either. So you end up being a single element which is tough. Luckily I went through that process being in Europe, and in Europe, because it’s an individualistic society, I could find individuals here that wouldn’t even question me about my community”.
European VS African/Asian Values
European culture (which broadly includes the UK, Europe and US), as we discussed, is far more individualistic. Perhaps owed to capitalist consumer culture being the dominant mode of societal organisation, or perhaps other arguments about growing family wealth allowing for more disposable income for millennials and Gen-Z to freely explore. But regardless, there were two interesting examples that Patricia brought up in conversation that supported these cultural differences –
- “In this part of the world (in European cultures) after 18 when we are confronted with life and we have the luxury to be able to explore more than back home. As a female I can say to you, you know strongly, that confrontation makes me realise, gosh, why am I acting like this? Oh, maybe I need to talk to a psychologist to start going in there and figuring out what happened in my childhood so I can look at it, confront it, and change and transform myself if I want. This is strongly not a belief system in most Eastern cultures. The trauma created within the family in that tightly-knit community structure, stays with you till you die”. – I can testify to this, as I myself, am still working strongly to break through a bubble of personal restricting beliefs within which I was brought up.
- “The one year transformation that happened in me was because I was in a school that had a vision to dig out of a human, the best that they could find. The school system made me realise my self- actualisation”. She added, “having that insight makes you a bit more arrogant, a bit more confident, and to believe in yourself” – herein lies the key general differences between individualistic European culture, and community-led African / Asian cultures: whilst the latter values trust in the group, the former values trust in yourself. Indeed I have found this myself, where whilst British and American education systems teach each student to become a leader in their own right, Asian education systems teach students to follow the method and follow the order.
So what does this mean for trying to effect change in Africa?
“Health is wealth. When physically and mentally you are wealthy (better off) you can then manifest financial wealth. For me this is the direct impact MEDx will bring into society, and thats why I’m still a strong believer of looking at the problem from a top down angle. Finding the money is not the problem. There is enough development fund resources, and, also ways to build it in such a way that it becomes sustainable. Up until the 19th centuries, European societies didn’t have a structured healthcare system, but they looked at resources and best practises from across the world. This is what we’re doing for African governments”.
The key challenge here, however, goes back to the vision. “They (the baby boomer generation of governance) don’t have a vision where they actually want to empower the people, because they want to stay in control. They’re not thinking about giving the power back to someone new, so they’re no real democracy yet. It’s more of a Kingdom, where they add elements of democracy simply because they want the international community to embed them into some discussion and get access to funds. In French we say cashe cashe, meaning hidden, so they are playing a hidden game. They don’t let the Prime Minister organise things because if the President were to pass the Kingdom on to his son, his son would let the Prime Minister set a vision. And so, the President has a vision that is ultimately no executed on. Ministers also pretend, so they will invite people like us, listen to us and even sometimes sign the documents. But ultimately will put a barrier on real-world implementation because implementation requires transparency, and transparency means showing up the flaws in current systems. Additionally, they keep citizens in the dark in terms of knowledge and education, which is a slavery-era method to stopping people from rising in power”.
The overall problem, in a word, is Leadership.
The Bigger Picture
Whilst a picture here is being painted of a suppressive Kingdomship in Africa, it is just one perspective of a broader picture related to the political economy of structuring a society.
The world works in cycles – “There is a generation that builds, a generation that takes advantage, and, a generation that destroys”. “I think on the European side we are seeing the final generation of enjoying and taking advantage. Whilst, in China and India, they are very much in the builder phase”.
European societies, for example, have seen heightened phases of pushing societal values e.g LGBTQ and Ethnic Minorities pushing to be represented. The qualities of society arising from this are a disintegration of traditional structures with the norm being shaken and stability decreased (thus, the generation that destroys norms). As Patricia said, “When I meet a man, instead of wanting to take his role I still want a family structure with a man. He could be higher than me or have achieved, it’s not a problem, but I need a man. And what I see in a lot of European families is that there is so little structure that men don’t know their role any more. Many women might say this isn’t true, but I think many women are frustrated. I still want to be treated as a lady, and whilst I might be out there and sit on a high stage, when I get home, I want to be taken care of by a man”. She noted, “The beauty of this phase is that it is good for the outliers of the traditional norms, and the few that lived with feeling bad couldn’t have the luxury they do today” – This includes myself relative to the structure I grew up in.
The key takeaways from this conversation start with taking an objective view of these issues, and its purpose, to inform a healthier and more active / discursive approach to engaging with wider global views. Seeing past the ignorance and trivialisation of “good” and “bad”, we are able to better assess the qualities that are provided by different approaches to governance. The most important insights gathered from our conversation come in the form of more questions – “now that we can see a certain resistance to change in the culture, why is this the case?”. “Who exactly will a culture change benefit?”. “How can macro-level governance relate to an individual’s family culture?”. If governance is to be for the benefit of the governed, these are the questions and lenses that must be openly engaged with.
Whilst this conversation did not approach subjects related to “Digital”, it stayed close to the macro view of “Anthroconomy”, taking the broad lenses of Anthropology and Economy, with a central effort to engage with diversity through cultural awareness.
Naturally, as you may imagine, our conversation was broad, constructive and explored many tangents and interesting deviations that informed a wider humanitarian picture. But, for now, Patricia’s sights rest in effecting change in Africa, starting from health, and ending in wealth.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to further explore these issues. My aim for this piece, and this brand, is to educate, inspire and develop bodies of knowledge through conversations that resonate with the most human element of our existence. I find that people simply speaking their mind in open dialogue is the most effective to achieve this.