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Cross-cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission

by Mary T. Lederleitner

Understanding and avoiding the pitfalls associated with such relationships is the subject of this timely new book.

InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, 231 pages, 2010, $17.00.  

Reviewed by Steve Rundle, associate professor of economics at Biola University, co-author of Great Commission Companies: The Emerging Role of Business in Missions.

Few things are as harmful to cross-cultural partnerships as financial misconduct (real or imagined), and tales of misunderstandings and outright fraud abound. Complicating matters, financial management practices that are suspicious or insufficient in one culture may be entirely acceptable in another. As the author notes, “We cannot expect the processes that work in our own cultural context to have the same meanings or outcomes in another” (p. 101).

Understanding and avoiding the pitfalls associated with such relationships is the subject of this timely new book. Drawing from years of experience as a certified public accountant and as a trainer and consultant for Wycliffe International, Mary Lederleitner identifies the problems that often arise and provides insights into their sources and possible solutions.

The book begins with a primer on cultural intelligence, specifically as it relates to management and economic issues. Part II covers the topics of paternalism and dependency, and our natural tendency to assume harmful intent when our expectations are not met by others (the so-called “negative attribution phenomenon”). I found her discussion about the potential harmfulness of external (read: foreign) funding to be particularly interesting and insightful, and consistent with what other experts have said about the traps of paternalism and dependency.

In Part III, her discussion becomes more practical as she treats subjects such as contextualizing accounting processes, fostering a climate of mutuality, and building capacity. There are many pieces of advice in this section that I found helpful. These include “separate the compliance function from the support function,” “use webcams and video conferencing” when communicating long distance in order to pick up cues from body language, and “accountability should be multi-directional.” In other places the advice seemed, at least to someone who teaches economics, to be rather obvious, such as “create reporting that is helpful and relevant” and “develop financial policies.” She correctly notes that budgets can sometimes be counterproductive, but she offers little guidance as to when budgets should be strictly adhered to and when greater flexibility should be allowed. That criticism aside, I enjoyed the book and was pleased to find two chapters in Part IV devoted to the subject of what to do in the event of the misappropriation or embezzlement of funds.

Overall, I found the book to be a useful introduction to the subject, one that should be read by anyone engaged in cross-cultural partnerships or contemplating such a partnership. In the future I hope Lederleitner writes a follow-up book that is geared for those who are in the trenches, charged with the actual structuring and monitoring of these relationships. Given the increasing prevalence of cross-cultural partnerships, not to mention the increasing role of business as a vehicle for cross-cultural missions, the mission community urgently needs more resources like this.

Check these titles:
Corbett, Steve and Brian Fikkert. 2009. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers.

Rowell, John. 2006. To Give or Not to Give: Rethinking Dependence, Restoring Generosity and Redefining Sustainability. Atlanta, Ga.: Authentic Publishing.

Schwartz, Glenn. 2007. When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement. Bloomington, Ind.: Authorhouse.

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EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 372, 374. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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