7.7 Case Study 7: From Hometown to Global Village

Community Action and Development (CAD) is an economic development center located in a small town a few miles outside of Fargo, North Dakota. Lori has served as its president for the past 10 years. The organization is a resource and business development center that brings local, regional, county, and community leaders together to partner on economic growth strategies for the region. Over the years, the organization has successfully created business financing programs, small business incubation, and new jobs, and it has established career and employment services to support local and regional business retention.

Having lived in North Dakota all her life, Lori has noticed a visible cultural change in the area. With several universities and colleges in the area that attract a diverse student body, an increasingly growing population of immigrants and refugees, and a large number of Native Americans, Lori knows that CAD will need to think differently about its work and who it serves. Leaders from different cultural communities have already approached the organization about potential initiatives to help develop business programs for their groups.

Lori knows that the diversity of changes can only be of benefit to North Dakota. She has read reports by the state demographer and has researched population changes in the United States, and she feels that CAD must make strategic decisions to embrace and involve the different communities in the area. If they time it right, CAD could be seen as a leader in developing services and programs that meet the needs of immigrant and Native American populations. Not only that, the labor shortage that North Dakota has seen in recent years, due to an aging population, could be addressed if the center worked on developing a new generation of workers.

Although there are many challenges to this work, there is one significant challenge that Lori is most concerned about. Her board of directors and many leaders in the community are fearful of the demographic changes. People are most concerned about illegal immigration as well as the perceived loss of German and Scandinavian culture. Lori has brought her ideas to the board; each time, she has been told, “We have to be careful with this issue” and “We’re doing just fine with our programs.” The board chair has even told Lori directly, “We have to respond to our constituents’ concerns and right now they don’t feel this is an issue they want to tackle. Let’s focus on them and their businesses.” Lori argued, “But, the new immigrants are our constituents too! We can’t ignore them. And, we haven’t done all we can to help bridge trust and understanding between ourselves and the Native American tribes here. We can’t keep going in this direction when the fact is that our community is changing.”

Lori has recently learned about cultural intelligence (CI) as a tool in business. She wants to introduce the idea of CI to her board and staff. She thinks it will be useful for them to understand the cultural shifts the community is undergoing and to recognize their values and beliefs. What suggestions do you have for her as she implements the CI principles in her place of work?


Lori knows that she has to be careful when talking to her board of directors. There is already tension about cultural diversity issues and lack of awareness of the changing demographics. Many in her town feel threatened and do not pay attention to the changes. Lori has several challenges ahead of her, but there are several things she can do to make progress toward her goal:

CI Model in Action

  • Acquire: She can use her experience and research around data collection to demonstrate the different ways in which the community is changing. Using data enables her to bring concrete facts to the table. Additionally, she can evaluate the board’s understanding of culture and how cultural differences are played out in the community.
  • Build: Lori has the opportunity to find allies and supporters of her goal who have positional power or influence with board members. She can also find members on the board that can sway or influence others to a different perspective. These strategies can help move her closer to her goal and help the board recognize the importance of cultural changes in the community.
  • Contemplate: She can help her board build their self-efficacy. Because they fear the ambiguity that change brings, she can develop systems or processes that enable her board to build their self-confidence. Additionally, if the board feels any anxiety or stress related to the cultural changes, she can help create a positive environment, gently reminding them of their successes when working with similar cultural situations.
  • Do: An exercise to identify cultural changes, the results of the changes, and what can be lost or gained because of change would be helpful to this organization. Through this process, board members can specifically identify and articulate where their resistance lies. Additionally, Lori has the task of painting a different picture of change for the board members that are resistant. She will need to select her words carefully and be mindful of how she communicates and responds to board members. She can adapt her behavior and how she communicates to be less threatening to board members who fear change. Paying attention to the verbal and nonverbal cues she receives from the board can move her one step closer to her goals.