A risk management lesson in culture learning

Today saw the release from prison of Gillian Gibbons,the British teacher arrested in Sudan for blasphemy. Miss Gibbons had recommended that the students should name a teddy bear “Mohammad”. By law, Miss Gibbons could have received 40 lashes for taking the name of the prophet in vain, but there were many protesters demanding that she receive the death penalty.

By all accounts, Miss Gibbon did not realize the seriousness of her statement. The school Director, Mr. Robert Boulos told the BBC that the whole incident was a “completely innocent mistake”. The school was originally founded by Christian groups, but now 90% of the students are from the Islamic faith.

This case should be noted by all companies who intend sending employees overseas and into different cultures. Without proper cultural training, the employee is not going to know how to act and may make mistakes that can not only get him/her into trouble but it could also cause embarrassment to the whole corporation and draw much negative press. Not only could the employer lose out on a lucrative contract but in severe cases such as this, be liable for legal costs and lose out on future contracts in similar countries.

Do not let your employees “wing it”. Organize the needed training before they depart. Let the records show that you did everything in your power to prepare them for the particular theatre of operations. Instead of worrying about damaged diplomacy, let them be shining ambassadors for your firm and reap the benefits when word gets around to other potential clients.

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