The other day I had to drive from Baghdad to Basra. On the surface it might sound faster to fly, but with delays and limits on transportation upon arrival, I find it easier to drive. Shortly before my trip began, I had a meeting in the International Zone of Baghdad with a man who was incredulous that a westerner would get into a vehicle and attempt the six-hour voyage to southern Iraq. He was very concerned that I was engaging in unnecessarily dangerous behavior. Then we started discussing the concept of Socio-Cultural Security.
At Strategic Social, we define Socio-Cultural Security as a way to maintain the safety of a person or group based on an intimate understanding of the people, culture and customs of one’s surroundings. For years the personnel at Strategic Social have lived and worked in some of the most challenging and austere political climates on earth. Our track record of safe and secure success is attributable not to guns and armored vehicles, but rather to understanding how to move, act and interact with various cultures. This is not to say that we don’t take precautions; we have our protocols and we are very detailed in our adherence to them. I just stress that our protocols are different. They are based on a socio-cultural understanding of the geographies in which we live and work.
Strategic Social’s approach to socio-cultural understanding begins with history. We first seek to understand how a people arrived at their current cultural and geographic reality. This admittedly academic step is followed by tactile diligence: we get up close and personal with the audience to understand the grassroots of a people. Initially, this consists of polls, surveys, interviews and simple conversations. Over time we develop relationships enabling deep understanding and empathy. We typically take a localized approach by finding partners from the community that we can work with and learn from. For instance, our team in Kabul consists of men and woman from every major ethnic group in Afghanistan. Each one of our team members is both a valuable employee and a cultural advisor. The results include media products that resonate deeply with the audience, social science research that provides actionable information and technology products that are relevant and usable both locally and throughout our global enterprise.
Recently, we have been able to take this approach to our historic markets and expand into new lines of business. We are now growing our core business to include infrastructure development and new areas of IT and technology services. In the case of infrastructure development, our approach leads to safer and more productive work sites. We know who to hire and how to train them. We can build local capacity while growing our business. As we build local capacity, it creates more opportunity both for Strategic Social and for the communities in which we work. Our growth is fueled by an infrastructure that is less expensive than it would be with a traditional approach to security. We also have a great sanity check on our products and services because our staff members are also our customers in many respects. I am very proud of our efforts in each country, province and village in which we have team members.
As I drove into Basra earlier this week, I was struck by the surge of foreign nationals that have descended upon the governate. As we expand our work in the area, I am just hopeful that the companies and individuals building the new Basra are mindful that socio-cultural engagement and empathy are a far greater source of safety and success than guns and armored vehicles. Socio-Cultural Security is the key to developing the lasting partnerships that will lead to long-term success, be it in Basra, Kabul or anywhere else.