Mountain Top Reflection – Blog #2

Cultural differences between the United States and Sierra Leone:

My project revolves around growing mushrooms in Sierra Leone. In the past seminar we learned about possible cultural differences that have the potential to impact our ventures: like gender, race, identity, existing cultural norms, politics and technology.  Though our mushroom growing group will not have as many cultural issues as perhaps the motherhood group simple because our project is less sensitive by nature, we still need to be aware of any cultural issues we may encounter in country. Even just a few moments of forethought can save your venture hours and hours of work in country.

A cultural difference that Sierra Leone has with the United States is that their culture is not as familiar with mushrooms as our culture is. This will affect how difficult it is for our group to explain mushroom production and also the potential market for the mushrooms.  While I don’t think this cultural difference needs to be directly addressed or solved by my group it is something we need to be aware of while we plan out how to best educated people about our ventures.

While I don’t think race exactly will present an issue for my team, there is no denying that being white instantly makes you appear to be a foreigner in Sierra Leone. In my experience traveling abroad, being seen as foreign makes people more likely to take advantage of you because you are most likely not comfortable where you are. This could affect aspects of our project like buying materials and things of that nature, however, if my team is aware of this aspect of our project it shouldn’t be an issue.

Along this line of thinking, the technology and concept of time in Sierra Leone is something I believe we will also have to be aware of when working. In the US things are very “go-go-go” and “don’t be late” all the time, and being used to that, my team and I will have to be aware that this isn’t the case in Sierra Leone. Time estimates will not mean the same thing they do here. On top of this we have to be conscious of the difference in materials. The group that went last summer just assumed that mason jars were a universal commodity.

I’ve never experienced these issues at home because they stem from cultural issues but I did experience issues like this in my travels to the Dominican Republic. Especially the concept of time was a huge issues when we ordered materials to build a house and they didn’t show up until after we were on a plane back to the US.  However, we learned to work around this and that getting local people who understand the culture and the way things work is a valuable thing to do.

A cultural practice that can be leveraged to address a market problem we have is the style of market itself. Because of how sensitive mushrooms are, loading them into a truck and driving them for hours to be put on a shelf at a grocery store is an expensive and complicated process. Alternatively local open air markets that are common in Sierra Leone make transporting and selling mushrooms much easier and cheaper. The seminar also mentioned the difference between a grease payment and a bribe which is important if we need to put a rush on any aspects of our project and is definitely something we could use  to our advantage.

The African context for our project does present issues that we wouldn’t necessarily encounter in the United States. Some of these issues are mentioned in the above segments of my blog; for example, resources will be different, concept of time, and dealing with language barriers.  Something else to be aware of was brought up during the presentation is that if you don’t really understand the culture you can encounter problems with “sticky information” or your project failing for reasons you couldn’t have foreseen. In the seminar on Mountain Top examples like treadle pumps, only having power windows in the front of a car, growing short corn, and coca-cola advertising in the middle east all showed projects failing for various reasons that weren’t predicted by the team.

While the African context gives my team more to think about, it also provides different resources than the American context. I think that their lack of mushroom supply provides us with a great opportunity to fill an empty space in the market with few competitors. While the materials available in Sierra Leone are different than here in the United States, they are cheaper. Labor is also abundant.

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