Humanity’s cultural diversity can be a huge driving force for the development of our cities. Australian Peter Mousaferiadis wants to tap into this potential – with the help of the BMW Group.
How many different nationalities do you encounter when you have lunch in the cafeteria? How many languages do you hear when you go for a walk? And how many different cultures are represented in your neighbourhood – second, third or maybe even fourth-generation? It can be difficult to answer questions like this – not least because there are barely any statistics on these things.
Peter Mousaferiadis, founder of the Australian NGO Cultural Infusion, believes this is a mistake. His argument is that, according to UNESCO, around 75 percent of all conflicts in the world have a cultural dimension. Culture is a potential point of conflict we must recognise and put to productive use, he says, because cultural diversity can also form a crucial basis for creating new and wonderful things. An outstanding example of this is our medical system, which combines the “best of” European, Jewish and Arabian culture.
Companies can also take advantage of this potential – and they should: for example, to reach out to new target groups in response to demographic change or migration; or even just to support ideas and collaboration in teams. To encourage this, Cultural Infusion has developed Ancestry Atlas, a knowledge tool that can be used to “measure” a company’s cultural diversity. Employees simply answer a few questions online about their cultural background. "This information is then used to create a "diversity map" with which the company can better assess whether it has already made full use of the potential offered by diversity or where improvements are possible.“
The BMW Group invited Mousaferiadis to Berlin to present Ancestry Atlas and discuss how cultural diversity can move society and companies forward at the annual alumni meeting of the Intercultural Innovation Award in April. The award is a unique form of cooperation between the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) and the BMW Group. Each year, it honours projects that promote intercultural communication and education. Peter Mousaferiadis and Cultural Infusion won the award in 2013.
“For me, the award not only provided important support for our organisation, but also gave us access to a global network of committed leaders,” he emphasises. The recognition received through the Intercultural Innovation Award opened important doors for furthering his work in promoting intercultural understanding.
Originally a conductor by profession, Peter Mousaferiadishas learned a great deal about people: how playing together in harmony creates a bond, for instance or how great performances can be achieved together or how important the sound of each different voice is. He also learned that it is extremely important to pay attention to discord to improve togetherness. That is why he has made it his life’s work to leverage our experiences of the “cultural hotchpotch”, in a positive sense, to prevent misunderstandings and feed creativity. Being aware of people’s different cultural influences is particularly important in the age of urbanisation. “Most global cities are a convergence of different cultures. It would be extremely negligent to simply let these cultures coexist alongside one another, without giving people any guidance on how to interact with those who are ‘different’,” says Mousaferiadis. Sustainable urban development should therefore have a cultural dimension as well as an environmental, financial and social one. This is the idea behind Cultural Infusion.
Cultural Infusion has, for example, recruited people from different cultural backgrounds to deliver cultural education workshops in schools. Hundreds of these culture ambassadors now work for Cultural Infusion all across Australia. Mousaferiadis’ idea for school workshops crossed over to other sectors years ago: Cultural Infusion now operates on the level of a professional event organiser and hosts events on promoting interculturalism for companies and cities worldwide – for example, to coincide with the Indian colour festival, Holi; Ramadan; or Chinese New Year. In the meantime, it organises countless per year, usually attended by several hundred people. The outcome is clear: Diversity makes the difference.