Cross-Cultural Partnerships

Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission


Mary Lederleitner

InterVarsity Press, 2010, 230 pp.   ISBN 978-0-8308-3747-2



Mary Lederleitner is part of the leadership team of the Wycliffe Global Alliance.  She helps leaders develop processes that will facilitate fruitful partnerships.    After exploring some core cultural concepts and exposing harmful practices, Mary outlines biblical and practical ways to deal with accountability, dignity, mutuality, sustainability, and conflict.


Some people see partnership as “another way for the White man to control us.” (Foreword)


“Good intentions are not enough to ensure good outcomes in cross-cultural partnerships.” (28) (Introduction)


Part I – Core Cultural Concepts

1.  Is it “Mine” or “Ours”?

“If we can see the logic of a person’s worldview, if we can value it as being wholly reasonable given a unique cultural heritage and history, from that place of mutual respect and dignity we can find new and creative ways to overcome obstacles and work together.” (34) 


People tend toward individualism or collectivism.  Individualistic cultures expect people to take care of themselves and their immediate family.  A person who manages money well is considered a good steward.  Accumulation of capital is a primary consideration.  But a much larger part of the world values the good of the group interest over individual interests.  Major values include harmony and solidarity.  People see themselves less as individuals and more as members of a group.  Putting the group first ensures security from hardship. Resources are shared so everyone may have minimum needs met—or at least survive. (35-7)


“Individualism is a luxury that can only be maintained if there is a healthy, growing economy and a well-developed national infrastructure.  Since many people take those things for granted, we misunderstand others who approach life without those safety nets.” (38)


God admonishes both groups, for they both have an innate bent toward sin.  Neither provides immunity from making idols out of things that foster security.  (39) 


Africans picture a partnership as a long-term relationship using metaphors like marriage or brothers.  Expatriates usually see partnerships like business arrangements with memoranda of understanding and time limits.  We may use family terms but contract forms.  Both partners may become confused when they work from the familiar family mentality but we are expecting to operate in a contractual mode.   (40)


Africans see loans as securing the partnership so they will tend to continue taking loans.  And less wealthy borrower assumes that he delays payment, the wealthy lender will understand because he will not be harmed by the delay. (41)


“In many contexts, any resource already belongs to the entire community.  If it is not being used by the current owner, it is allowed to be borrowed and used by others at any time.  This creates a lot of confusion when it comes to financial resources and donor designated funds. … The thing to remember at this point is that because of this dynamic, many Christian leaders might not feel they are stealing anything.  In fact, for many, not sharing resources is deemed to be a far greater sin before God.” (42)


2. Communication and Harmony

In low context cultures, people use direct communication and rely on the words for meaning.  In high context cultures, the meaning is not necessarily contained in the words.  You must discern the meaning from all the unspoken nuances embedded in the culture and the context.  (47)


Partnerships often disintegrate because funds donated for one purpose are used for another.  “They often do this because of the incredible pressure they are incurring in their community.  By virtue of their position, and because others in the community know that they have funds under their purview, pressure is exerted on them to take action in conjunction with their status to meet a pressing need.   At times, if they do not meet the need, the loss of face will be so great it will put in jeopardy their ability to minister effectively in the community.” (50)  The author suggests proactive steps at the outset.


“Majority World partners are utterly amazed and confused that Western leaders will make a huge fuss over getting detailed accounting records for $5,000 sent abroad, all the while they seem to waste so much money in their own countries on things that do not seem wise or fruitful for the kingdom of God.  Massive building programs frequently fall in this category. …These extravagant buildings are insanity from a Third World perspective.” (54)


3. Other Confusing Issues

In universalist cultures we expect the rules to apply equally to all—even though in practice they often don’t.  In particularistic cultures you treat family, friends, and your in-group members the best you can and let the rest of the world fend for itself.  Thus those in leadership may use organization resources available to help their friends—what we call corrupt.  However, in their view, they may not be able to trust westerners who “won’t even help their friends” when they could. (58)


In some cultures life has always been unpredictable; people never know what to expect.  They accept this ambiguity, do little planning, and take life as it comes.  Other cultures do their best to reduce uncertainty and ambiguity with plans and procedures like accounting systems.  When these systems do not fit in with the normal way of working, responses are likely to be vague and ambiguous.  (60) 


A monochromic orientation experiences time as fixed and limited, something to be conserved for efficiency.  In a polychromic culture, spending time with people and completing what you are doing takes precedence over rushing to the next appointment.  If you value people, you cannot rush off from them for something else.  Working in these cultures means that one must slow down.  Expect distractions and missed deadlines.  “We are serving a God who has been at work among his people for thousands of years.” (64) 


Part Two – Uprooting the Harmful

4. The Path to Premature Judgments

We tend to make snap judgments in cross-cultural situations, attributing bad motives when expectations aren’t met.


5. Paternalism Couched in Accountability

“A somewhat common scenario arises when a national partner is given a formal position of leadership but ‘unofficially’ a foreign partner uses financial resources as a means to continue to control the ministry.” (77-8)  One definition of paternalism is “acting for the good of another person without the person’s consent.” (78)  People from a more affluent country often assume they know best, allocate funds only for ideas that meet their assumptions, and fail to listen.  And chances are they never realize it.   (79)


“Parochialism means viewing the world solely through one’s own eyes and perspective.”  “Superiority cloaked in a desire to serve is still superiority. … If you try to serve people without understanding them, you are more likely to be perceived as a benevolent oppressor.” (80, quoting Duane Elmer)  “Paternalistic thinking causes people to not let go of control, for they feel others will not do as good a job a they would.” (80)


6. Common Unintended Consequences

There are many ways to partner and give financially that reduce or eliminate the likelihood of dependency and do not create divisions in the body. 


Part Three – Partnering in Better Ways

7. Biblical Foundations for Accountability

8. Contextualizing Accounting Processes

Good financial processes at home do not assure fiscal integrity elsewhere.  For example, in many places receipts mean little and audits are only as reliable as the auditors are trustworthy.  The context is important for the process.  “Frequently, if Majority World partners are hesitant to implement our request, it is because the processes are not even rational in their cultural context.” (113)


Expectations must be tailored to mesh with reality and not create unnecessary burdens.  A close personal relationship is one of the most important things to ensure fiscal integrity.  (114)  “It means there needs to be a person who takes the time to form a level of warmth, care and trust with the financial staff on the other end of the partnership.  This person creates a feeling of safety, and people can admit if they are having a problem or are unsure how to handle a given situation.” (115) “…compliance functions, by and large, do not engender trust and openness.  However, ministries need both support and compliance functions to ensure the highest levels of fiscal integrity.” (115)


“However, in many cultures the best way to ensure good fiscal integrity is to form a network of contacts who can verify that the results being portrayed are true.  Other missionaries and other indigenous leaders are good sources for this type of information.” (117)  Be sure to hire your own translator.


“Much of the world does not work from budgets.  A budget assumes a level of normalcy and a reliable infrastructure whereby people can actually plan ahead and assume those plans are likely to occur.”  However, in much of the world life is so unpredictable that planning and budgeting seem useless, even crazy.  When they have money, they spend it.


There are innumerable ways to commit fraud. At the same time donors very highly value integrity and sound business practices.  So we have to find ways to work together, acknowledging this pressure on Western partners.  We must take the time on the front-end to contextualize and form processes to ensure fiscal integrity and accountability in ways that model dignity and mutuality. (120-21)


9. Fostering Dignity and Mutuality

Power, relationships and equity are the issues in question.  Westerners have economic, educational and organizational strengths.  Too often we don’t notice and appreciate the strengths of non-Westerners.  This blind spot grows as affluence increases. It takes much effort in partnerships to build capacity and sustainability.  Dignity and mutuality derive from how we perceive ourselves and others.  The more affluent tend toward a false sense of superiority, over valuing their own contribution. 


Steps that will help:

Value all resources, not just financial ones.  Put in writing what each partner brings and why they are committed to the partnership.  Put everything on the table so it can be seen that money is only one resource.


Develop accountability that goes in both directions.  It should not be just those receiving the money that are accountable.  “No person giving any resource to the partnership should be unaccountable.” (128) 


Make sure communication goes both ways.  Typically, when a “paternal” figure speaks, everyone listens and no one disagrees.  The thoughts and opinions of others are often not expressed or taken seriously.  Everyone must be drawn into the dialog and genuine concerns addressed. 


Forgive while remembering to effect lasting change.  Remain alert to not repeating painful and unjust actions.  “Forgiveness makes it possible to remember the past without being held hostage to it. … It makes it impossible for past hurts to keep hurting and injuring us.” (130)


10.  Building Capacity and Sustainability

Partnership means helping all partners become stronger, to develop infrastructure and capacity to become sustainable. To do that we need reasonable assessments of the strengths and abilities of all partners. 


Vision is built by investigating the positive results and life-giving stories in each organization and in the culture to feed shared images of a possible future.  We need to see people in light of their capabilities and strengths and to see ourselves in an empowering versus a rescuing role.


We must work together to create reporting procedures that are helpful and relevant and help the partnership be more effective.


“Dependency is a problem when we do not see correctly and discern correctly.  What is a need in one place might not be a need in another.  Often there are local resources and ways to solve issues that are far wiser and better than imported solutions.  We need to take time to examine these before we begin to import outside funds to do what the community, church or ministry can accomplish on its own.” (144)


Part Four – Redeeming Conflict

11.  Choosing Your Method Carefully

We are pretty much blind to the family and cultural backgrounds that influence our default method for handling conflict.  These ways just seem to be the natural way.  In our individualistic culture, we tend to face problems directly.  Speak directly to the other person.  Get it all out on the table and talk about it.  Many cultures do not deal so straightforwardly, except for parents with children.  So such approaches are very demeaning.  Collectivist cultures tend to avoid shaming someone by confronting them with shortcomings.  They want to resolve conflict in ways that preserve the person’s dignity (or face) and thus use high-context, indirect methods that preserve relational and social harmony. 


Taking time to dialogue and examine this topic with your cross-cultural partners may help to design methods that will work. 


12.  Options if Designated Funds are Misallocated

Good section making suggestions for appropriate steps.


13.  Options if Embezzlement or Fraud Occurs

More helpful ideas.


Conclusion: How to Tell if Christ is Lord of Your Partnership



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