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Exploring the impact of culture: Technology transfer to five African countries

Janssen, R.L. (2010) Exploring the impact of culture: Technology transfer to five African countries.

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Abstract:The increasing globalization of economic activities has made cross-border transactions an important activity for companies. As competition among companies intensifies, the role of an effective cross-border transfer of organizational knowledge also becomes a crucial part of business activity. According to Szulanski (1996), knowledge transfer occurs where organizations try to recreate and maintain complex, causally ambiguous set of routines in a new setting. This process is complicated for international technology transfer in the sense that technological knowledge draws on both tangible and intangible inputs (Pavitt, 1987; Dosi & Grazzi, 2010). Since technological knowledge transfer is complex, an understanding of this process is not only crucial for the success of commercial activity, but also critical for successful transfer of any organizational knowledge across national and cultural boundaries (Javidan et al., 2005). The transfer of technology is not just a movement of idle machinery and equipment from one place to another. It also include the transfer and adoption of technique, know-how and information. It involves the acquisition, development, and utilizations of technical knowledge by a company other than in which this knowledge originated. Technology refers to the class of knowledge about specific product or production technique and often accompanied by the technical skills necessary to use a product or production technique. However, as technology can include both tangible and intangible attributes, technology transfer is difficult to achieve, primarily due to the communication of intangible attributes. Bhagat & Kedia (1988) argued that besides the nature of technology, cultural differences is a major barrier that can hinder technology transfer. Culture is reflected in values, norms, and practices. A person’s particular cultural context, acts as a standard for perceiving, judging and evaluating experiences. The degree to which norms and values between two individuals from separate nations differ can be explained as “cultural distance”. Cultural distance has been noted by Williams et al. (1988) as a major obstacle in cross-cultural business relations. According to Kogut & Singh (1988), perceived cultural distance influences managerial decisions to enter certain foreign markets based on the national cultures. To comprehend the impact that cultural distance has on cross-border transfer of technology, the purpose of this thesis is to examine how perceived cultural distance is managed by a Dutch commercial organization. I examine how the company manages this distance and seeks to transfer technology to five African countries through the purposeful use of communication. The five African countries selected for this research are: Botswana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, Mozambique and Tanzania. The aim is to develop an understanding of the influence of cultural barriers on technology transfer to Africa, and how can Soil & More address these barriers? Since individuals and organizations are part of their societies, and culture manifests itself through individuals, it is plausible to expect them to reflect their national culture in their thinking, practices, values and therefore also in the transfer of technology. The five dimensions of Hofstede (1980) were used to describe differences between societies: power distance, collectivism vs. individualism, femininity vs. masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long- vs. short-term orientation. In collectivist cultures, individuals recognize their interdependent roles and obligations to the group, while in individualistic cultures individuals prefer self-sufficiency and to be independent. Power distance refers to the degree of equality and inequality and the extent to which less powerful members expect and accept unequal power and wealth distribution within a society. Masculinity referrers to the way in which people are motivated towards different types of goal, either concerned with the quality of life (feminine) or money and recognition (masculinity). Uncertainty avoidance reflects the degree to which cultures have a Master thesis “Exploring the impact of culture” 4 willingness to take risks associated with new methods and procedures. Long-term orientation reflects the extent to which a society pursue instant benefits or long-term commitment. Structured interviews were conducted with the management and employees of the case company. In total seven individuals were interviewed at the case company. Although, seven interviews is a very small sample and the conclusions not being able to be generalized, the results might give a good indication of how perceived cultural distance is managed by a Dutch commercial organization. In order to prevent bias in the results, the gained data were compared with an independent control group, represented by country specialists of the NL EVD International (formally known as the EVD or in Dutch “Economische Voorlichtingsdienst”) and is a partner to businesses and public-sector organizations. In total six individuals were interviewed at the NL EVD International. The coupled data from the case company and control group indicated that in practice masculinity tend to be perceived as less influential to technology transfer than the other four cultural dimensions. The coupled data also indicated that gender tend to be negatively related to individualism. Women tend to perceive that individualism is a smaller barrier to technology transfer than men do. The data also indicated that experience tend to be negatively related to masculinity. This implies that when someone is more experienced, he perceives that masculinity is less of a barrier to technology transfer. The figures also revealed that experience tend to be positively related to power distance. This implies that as someone is more experienced, he or she perceives power distance as a greater barrier to technology transfer. Research on articles and books indicated that people in individualistic cultures tend to emphasize explicit knowledge and knowledge independent of its context, whereas those in collectivistic cultures emphasize tacit knowledge and prefer systemic or contextually relevant knowledge. When transferring knowledge between nations with a differing power distance dimension, knowledge rejection could emerge. Uncertainty avoidance influences the degree to which cultures want to take this risk. Long-term orientation reflects the degree to which culture recognize the future value of new technology. This information was combined with the cultural dimensions of each of the five selected African countries and resulted in a list of possible barriers with technology transfer as summarized in table 5.1 and explained in the next paragraph. Mauritius is high in power distance and individualism and therefore more comfortable in transferring and receiving knowledge that can be easily codified and stands independent of the organizational context. Differences in power distance between Soil & More and Mauritius might be the greatest barrier during technology transfer, this because the data from the case study indicated that the more experienced someone becomes the more he perceives that power distance influences the transfer process. Mauritius has a high score on uncertainty avoidance which might improve the technology transfer process due to more structured communication, rules/regulations and time-schedules leaving less room for any inconveniences and unstructured situations. A high score on long-term orientation means that people in Mauritius value long-term commitment and respect for tradition, thereby supporting a strong work ethic where today’s work will result in long-term rewards. Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania will be further referred to as “Botswana”. They need face-to-face contact to exchange knowledge because people depend on context more than do individualists who are quite satisfied with written communications. Botswana is high in power distance. Differences in power distance between Soil & More and Botswana might be the greatest barrier during technology transfer, this because the data from the case study indicated that the more experienced someone becomes the more he perceives that power distance influences the transfer process. A higher than average score on uncertainty avoidance might improve the technology transfer process due to more structured communication, rules/regulations and time-schedules leaving less room for any Master thesis “Exploring the impact of culture” 5 inconveniences and unstructured situations. From a financial and organizational perspective, Botswana scores very low on long-term orientation which implies that this culture is likely to emphasize on short-term gains and are also less likely to recognize the future value of new knowledge. In order to address the cultural barrier, the researcher observed that four methods can be used to improve the transfer of technology to the five African countries: communication, franchise handbook, training and creating cultural awareness. The first three methods are already used at Soil & More but have to be improved, while creating cultural awareness is still lacking at Soil & More. Creating cultural awareness is the method that has to be applied first, because it improves the effectiveness of the other three methods. For instance, greater cultural awareness will improve the second method “communication” and reduce misinterpretations because both parties better understand each other. Cultural awareness also has positive impact on the third method, local training courses. Since the instructor knows how to communicate with local workers, he can lower the cultural barriers and effectively transfer his knowledge. The fourth method is to use a franchise handbook. Franchise handbooks with all the rules and regulations of the company enables the receiver to better intervene
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Clients:
Soil & More International
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/60168
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