Global Wire Associates

Better Intercultural Communication Is Doing Good Business

Global Wire Associates has served thousands of clients in 55 countries since 2005

Technology has made the world a smaller place, especially in today’s global economy.  Now more than ever businesses have to interact with customers and vendors from all over the world and across different cultures, religions and languages.

Naturally if you want to do business internationally, you would think that all you would have to do is learn another language (or two).  I first started learning Spanish in high school, and today I am able to converse professionally en español.  Also, having worked in international development for over the last decade, I have also picked up some French and Arabic.

Learning another language is a great and valuable skill to have today, even if you are not fluent in that language.  In my experience, most people I have interacted with who don’t speak English appreciate it if you even make the effort to learn some keywords in their native language, like “Hello”, “Excuse Me” or “Thank You.”

However, I must say that while language skills are vital for international business, it is just as important, if not more important, to understand social intercultural communications.

What I mean by this is do you understand how to maneuver yourself in the culture where you are trying to do business.  For example, did you know that a business card isn’t just a business card in Japan?

Years ago, I started doing business with a new Japanese client.  Right after our first in-person meeting, we exchanged business cards, or meishi in Japanese.  While I put his business card immediately into my bag, the client held up my business card and looked at it like it was a piece of art.  He kept telling me how much he liked the minimalist design of the card and how I was able to put so much contact information on it.  At that point, I immediately took out his business card and tried to look at it with the same admiration.

It was then he said to me, “You don’t need to do that. I know you are American.”

Then I first felt puzzled and then embarrassed.  He then explained to me that business card exchange in Japan is actually a very formal one.  In fact, the card presenter judges how they will be treated by the card recipient based on how they receive the card.  (You can read more about meishi exchange here.)  After he schooled me on this tradition, we both laughed it off.  Luckily, he wasn’t offended by how I received his business card, and, yes, he is still a client today!.

But I refuse to let another cultural faux pas happen to me ever again.  Now when I have to do business internationally, I try to read up on customary business etiquette in that culture.  In many countries, there is a lot of value in the handshake or eye contact.  Sometimes you are expected to bring a gift for the client.

Email etiquette is a big deal.  I’ve learned to make sure that email messages don’t have poorly conceived jokes or double entendres, as they can be misunderstood or taken the wrong way by an international recipient.

I have also learned that in some countries like South Africa or Germany, it is not customary to discuss business during a business dinner, but rather discuss family or sports.  I make an effort to keep up with what is happening in the soccer world, such as popular athletes or specific games, as that generally becomes the topic of discussion at many business dinners.

Also, being aware of who you are in a different cultural context is very important and knowing how to overcome it.  Being an American businessperson, sometimes international clients might have a preconceived opinion of you based on what they already know about American culture, both the good and bad.

For instance, Americans are viewed as rude and arrogant among some French citizens.  Race plays a role in international business politics as well.  Being African-American in global business can be a double-edged sword.  I have met people outside of the United States who say to me that they admire black Americans for our culture and endurance for civil rights, and hold up Dr. Martin Luther King and President Obama as role models.  However, I have also experienced discrimination, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa of all places, because of this horrible stereotype that all African-Americans are violent criminals.

Gender politics are also viewed in variety of ways around the world.  For example, in Muslim countries, men don’t generally shake hands with women.  However, in some countries like Ghana, it is generally expected to wait for the woman to extend her hand first.  Sometimes I have potential international male clients who contact me about doing business with my company.  However, many times they think I am the secretary and not actually the business owner.  I had one guy actually ask me to transfer our phone call to the male owner of the business because they didn’t think I was the person in charge.  Needless to say, that guy did not become a GWA client.

The bottom line: doing good intercultural communication is doing good business.

Breaking News, Fallen Heroes & New Business: My Year In Review


Breaking News

I first decided to become a journalist when I was a kid.  I just loved breaking news.  Whenever there was a big story happening, my eyes and ears would be glued to the television or radio.  I would ferociously devour every articles about that story in newspapers and magazines.  Whether it was the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal or the 9/11 terror attacks, I became a news addict.

But something changed this year.  2014 was just full of bad news, starting with the MH370 disappearance.  How does a plane just disappear into thin air?  It really hit home with me because I once flew Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur years ago on business and know of at least one person who has actually flown on that flight to Beijing within the last year.  At first I was addicted to that “breaking news,” for the first month, although there hadn’t been any real news about MH370 since the day it disappeared.  But after that month it became so clear that the plane may never be found and it just made me sad to watch the story play out.

And then after that, it just became one depressing story after another.  Another Malaysia Airlines plane is shot down over Ukraine, airstrikes in Gaza, school shootings, Ebola, Boko Haram, the CIA torture report and the ongoing war on black males.

This year we lost some really great people like Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Amiri Baraka, Nadine Gordimer, Pete Seeger, Tom Menino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and most sadly Robin Williams.  One of my heroes Stuart Hall also passed away this year.  He was one of the reasons I minored in post colonial studies in college and his communications theory even influenced my ideas around branding and marketing for my business.
However, when I heard about the beheading of Jim Foley by some “aspiring rapper” in ISIS, I had to just stop looking at the TV because I literally felt sick to my stomach that something like that could happen to a fellow journalist.

Now I just try to meditate to take my mind away from the horrors happening on this planet, even if it is just for a few minutes.

Fallen Heroes

I grew up watching the Cosby Show literally.  I remember when I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch TV one night during the school week and that was on Thursday nights when the show was on in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  My parents were big supporters of Bill Cosby’s family values philosophy.  Sometimes I would wonder what it would be like to be Rudy or Vanessa and have Dr. Huxtable as my dad.  I would still watch reruns of the show well into adulthood because the show is the most enjoyable, family oriented thing to watch on TV these days, compared to the sea of garbage reality TV shows.

But this all changed in a matter of days when I saw video of Hannibal Buress’ now infamous rant.  And then came all of the women.  All of them had the same story of being drugged and raped.  So many women.  How did I not know about this when a woman sued him in 2005?  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention back then or maybe I was in denial that he would do such a thing.  As more women come forward, I say to myself “Who is this man?”  This is not something the morally upstanding Dr. Huxtable would do.  Or would he?  Dr. Huxtable was also a gynaecologist, which makes the whole rape thing even more creepy.

I really want the charges to be false, but if they are true, I hope the women get justice and can find closure.  But, if they are true, my childhood is ruined.

New Business

In business news, it’s been a good year for me.  This new journalism startup I have been working on for the last two years is starting to pick up steam with the possibility of going live in mid to late 2015.  The project will be focused on economic development in the Caribbean.  I also had the opportunity to work on two documentaries and instructed three media development courses for journalists from Senegal, Lebanon and Cambodia.

I got my certification in web design this year after months of learning and mastering four programming languages.  I created a test prototype Women Talking which gave me the opportunity to combine my journalism and programming skills.  I was invited to speak about interaction design at Columbia University and teach a web design class for a group of journalists from developing countries at UN Week.  I am also developing a brand new media development project that I will be announcing next year.

I also presented an instructional web design prototype at ATE PI, a conference for educators and policymakers looking for new ways to improve STEM education in community colleges nationwide.  It was an honor to be invited and play a role in how STEM is taught to future leaders in the field.

I launched a creative design studio within my company called Global Wire Design over the summer.  I hired three new employees for it.  Global Wire Associates as a whole is doing very well.  We have seen our highest profits ever this year.

As I go into my tenth year of running this business, I am grateful for my success and all the great people who helped me get to this point.  There were a lot of “haters” at the beginning who didn’t think I could do this, but I have proved them wrong.  When you put your mind to it, you can be successful at anything.  I am here and ready for whatever new challenge comes in the new year!

Design Highlight: Global Exchange Reality Tours

Reality Tours

I had the opportunity to be the web and graphic designer on an educational project with a team to build an e-commerce website from scratch. We decided to redesign the Reality Tours part of the Global Exchange website because we really liked the mission of the organization and thought they were deserving of an updated website that showcased their values.

Global Exchange is an international human rights organization based in San Francisco. One of their initiatives is called Reality Tours, a educational travel program that supports progressive values and people to people connections.  I traveled to Jamaica and South Africa with them years ago, and learned a lot about myself and the people I met in those countries.  The Jamaica trip focused on how free trade has negatively impacted the island’s economy, while the South Africa trip addressed race relations, HIV/AIDS and human rights in general in the post apartheid era.

I was given the task of redesigning the website with a more up-to-date, polished look. The current website uses many dark colors with tribal motifs. In the redesigned prototype, I chose to use a minimalist theme with black text on white background and simple, clean code so there would be more emphasis on the images representing the many tours offered worldwide. The website uses responsive design.  Due to the controversial nature of some of the tours and the goal of Reality Tours to give an alternative view of these countries, I made sure to pick images that reflected the different perspectives. I chose the brand identity “Where do you want to learn today” to help users think about what it would mean to travel on these tours.

The design for the logo was also clean and straightforward, as we wanted to emphasize the global reach of Reality Tours with simple black and white. Social media and email sign up share the top space with the logo to make it easier for users to share content online. The responsive navigation is the color red because we wanted users to be able to “travel” through the website with ease. Redesigning the website was a wonderful experience of bringing communication and social justice together.

Check out the website prototype here:

Where I Get Business News

News image

I have been an entrepreneur for most of my professional career, first as a freelance journalist and then as the founder of my media firm Global Wire Associates.  I started GWA as the sole employee writing on my first blog in 2005. Today I employ a team of 10 people and service hundreds of clients in over 60 countries.  In the last two years alone, my revenue has grown since I launched a digital imprint and a creative studio. I didn’t go to business school.  Much of what I know about running my businesses comes from good intuition, taking risks and learning from my mistakes.

I also learn from reading a lot of publications that provide insight and resources on business trends.

Here is where I get my business news:

Inc. – This is a great magazine for both new and experienced entrepreneurs.  I like that most of the articles are written by real entrepreneurs who share their experiences and best practices.  Also, as a web designer, I really appreciate the responsive design of the website.

Fast Company – This is right up my alley – business, technology and design.  This magazine is great because it focuses on how business trends impact the future.  It also does great interviews with visionaries like Ivan Chermayeff, co-founder of the legendary graphic design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, the people behind iconic logos like NBC’s rainbow peacock and the MBTA’s T symbol.

Black Enterprise – What I appreciate about this black-owned magazine is that it mostly features pictures of black entrepreneurs on its cover, and not just entertainers and athletes like other black publications.  It’s good to have more stories and images of African-Americans doing positive, entrepreneurial activities.

Your Business – I get up on Sunday mornings to watch this show on MSNBC.  It’s cool to learn about how many small businesses around the country started from humble beginnings and are now thriving.  I also like their board of directors’ advice and elevator speech segments.

Smashing Magazine– This is the premier website to go to for professional web designers and developers.  Most of its content is inside baseball, but many of the entrepreneurial tips can be universally understood.

Wall Street Journal– Well, of course, this is the premier business newspaper of record.  I really like the small business section.

Devex – This is a clearinghouse of news and business opportunities for international development contractors.  This has been very useful in expanding my reach internationally.

The Economist – I read this mainly for international business trends.  I particularly like their blogs and their quirky take on the news, like the rise of the tea industry.

Financial Times – Also a must for international business news. And who doesn’t like to read a pink newspaper!

Other outlets I check out regularly:


Talking Business

African Business

Are there other outlets I should be checking out? Let me know in the comments below or email.