I had a meeting with our University’s Dean of Law to discuss my novel on human smuggling. We also discussed Syria, which he described as “Hell on earth”. Bombing indisciminantly is not a solution, also due to the complexity of allegiances/role of Iran/oil, so beware what you vote for. He questioned usage of the 2007 Resposibility to Protect militarily. The Mid East is bursting at the tension seams and intervention by the US/EU adds fuel to fire, as much as it would annoy Putin.
It may be that the opposition (Free Syrian Army vs Al Nusra??) and Syrian gov need to fight it out and the world must provide aid to refugees. But it is a disaster.
Factsheets on aid make it clear how much is spent already and how difficult it is to reach people (EU commission Syria factsheet). Za’atari camp is an example of the misery ( BUT, controversially, the Jordan villagers nearby sees aid arrive while they live in poverty (irinnews.Org).
Knowing who to donate to is difficult. Mercy Corps tries to help refugees specifically and focuses on the local impact, but there are others too (if you prefer a religious org for example). I donated to the Red Cross per advice from a friend in Lebanon as the RC is non-political but again, you may believe in smaller local aid organisations.
There so many more humanitarian issues, I know this. I care about the environment and welfare of animals too. So why?
Because there are 2 million refugees outside Syria, half of them children, and 4.5 million displaced within the country. That is approx 30% of the population or Paris plus Los Angeles. The resolution of this tragedy requires collective efforts at (inter)national, organisational and individual level by humans for humans.

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Art as an identity

I have been reviewing art and craft for the Artists Open Houses as part of the Brighton Festival and Fringe Festival. There are quite a few of us volunteer reviewers who were allocated certain trails. This was great because it meant we would encounter a variety of houses, without having self-selected the places, which would have been subject to our taste(s).

In one of the houses, ceramic butterflies and birds were displayed on a wall as part of an initiative for those with learning disabilities. The brief read that the artists are aiming for a ‘collective identity’ – the works are rustic, with lots of colour. When I say ‘rustic’, I mean rough around the edges. The question of is it art or craft and how are we to review this came to my mind.

The same occurred in a venue with many more items made by people with learning difficulties. The two venues couldn’t be more different, yet carried a similar message: See beauty in places where you may not expect it. I found that the pieces made by artists with cognitive challenges are a) incredibly varied and b) surprisingly beautiful.

The Montefiore Artists’ Collective are part of the Grace Eyre charity, who help people with learning disabilities. I was welcomed by Anne who sat by still life photography, who asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. It was cold outside, so I did (£1) at the indoor Angel Cake Café. The people involved with the charity also organise plays with their group Grace Enders. As I sipped tea, I checked the displays. There were two spectacular painted mosaics of Brighton and of a dragon by Maurice Wilson, prints on linen, framed abstract art (stencil print and colograph print) and papier mâché puppets.

The church was light and the exhibition colourful.  I was especially taken by the mosaic ceramic tiles, each sold separately. There were plant pots and other items with mosaic detail for sale too. I also spotted a story book “A caterpillar called girlfriend and other stories” with limericks, stories and poems. The team were very friendly and evidently committed.


So, did my surprise show I had made some assumptions? No, I didn’t have any before I came to this venue. But yes, once there, I could recognise works that were simply lovely and then there was art that was genuinely beautiful. I want to highlight this because the church was empty and when I went to the next house, two streets further, with, if you like, ‘proper’ art, it was full. That is unfortunate for any visitor to the Seven Dials trail who decided to skip house 9 and go to house 8, almost next door. The Sunday experience of the 3 venues was exactly so inspiring and memorable because they were so different. ‘Proper’ craft after proper craft the brain couldn’t cope with, but this made an impact to all the senses.

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Nineveh, directed by Ailin Conant and written by Julia Pascal, is a “physical show” inspired by the testimonies of international soldiers. The show is based on Ailin Conant’s work with ex-fighters, peace activists, veterans and child soldiers from Lebanon, Rwanda, Israel and Kashmir, as part of The Return Project. Conant is also the Artistic Director of Theatre Témoin. I went to see it on Thursday 18th of April, together with film director Joe de Kadt.

The set up is intimate: The audience is close to the stage, made up of ropes, chains and spiky metal objects that reminded me of the empty shells of rockets a friend in Lebanon has displayed by his fire place for bitter comedic effect, as a reminder of the civil war. Men march in and the beginning of this show is, indeed, physical, like a ballet, which feels a little too theatrical at times. They also banter and I recognise and enjoy the typical Israeli/Arab style of humour. Like the audience, they are trying to puzzle together where they are and why they’re here.

The banter relieves the tension of the harrowing stories, which are not told by storytellers, because soldiers aren’t good at telling coherent stories in the artistic or academic sense. We are being provided with an accurate portrayal of how experiences are remembered and shared. It reminded me of the research by Martin Euwema, who interviewed Dutch soldiers in Iraq: No, they don’t think about their cultural values. Yes, the do care about the brand of peanut butter available in the camp. Less mundane, but similarly surprising to the audience are the concerns of the men in Nineveh: their family, having ambitions to make it big one day, drive a certain car perhaps. It begs the questions: Can anyone love when there’s a war? Are they supposed to dream about seemingly frivolous things? If they, as individuals, commit cruel acts against another person, who is responsible? How do they themselves decide on their fate? Nineveh may make you fold your arms and frown when you listen to and witness inner turmoil.

The audience has the responsibility to allow the stories to sink in. It cannot be judged with a mind that wants a more coherent narrative or happy ending, because that is just not the reality of soldiers’ experiences. Nineveh is a physical and verbal relay of cruel acts that humans inflict upon fellow humans, relieved with dark comedy – A must-see.

Nineveh is on at Riverside Studios, London until May 11
May 3 Post Show talk Playwright Julia Pascal and Director Ailin Conant about ‘The Return’ Project, a year’s creative work in Kashmir, Israel, Lebanon and Rwanda that preceded the play
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Connecting the dots part II

The lecture with the panel of entrepreneurs from ParcelGenie, MotorMate/MOT2U and Iconiq was recorded and can now be viewed via the links below. The session took an hour so there are 4 videos of 15 mins each approximately.

The first two videos feature me lecturing the final lecture: The Future. The aim is to recap what the core message is of this module Cross Cultural Management: To think critically and to evaluate what processes, concepts and ideas are universal, and which are culture specific. The panel then moves on to discuss their businesses and issues related to employability, which is of course an important topic for students.

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Connecting the dots – Part I

Last Monday was Cross Cultural Management’s final lecture, The Future. It reviews the two scenarios our future generation of decision makers face when it comes to globalisation: Will we have enough innovative thinkers and technological development to remedy the issues that threaten our existence or Is one planet really not enough to sustain our current lifestyles and any technological ‘band aid’ solutions are not part of the solution, thus part of the problem?

The 1 hour session considered these questions for the first half hour, which was followed by a ‘Meet the Experts’ panel made up of 3 entrepreneurs: Nick Pye from MOT2U/Motor Mate, Gary Barnshaw from Iconiq drinks and Rich Tolcher from ParcelGenie.

The students kicked if of by asking how to stay motivated when you run your own business. The panel answered that setting small goals is key and not to expect being profitable immediately, as a breaking even result then may demotivate. Interestingly, while two of the panel members talked about passion for the project, one indicated that the financial rewards were a main factor for setting up the business in the first place. Students asked more questions about what advice to take as an entrepreneur and the panel answered that some of it is guts but that it also means doing your research and not allowing for anyone to tell you something you don’t know. Linked to this is that if people ask you a critical question to which you know the answer then their well intended but misguided advice can probably be ignored.

Another student asked about employability and what it takes for someone like an business owner to hire someone like them. Gary advised for a good personal statement to show passion for the job. He told the students he likes to meet future employees in a social setting, since is product is about food and lifestyle. Nick added that evidence is key, to show you can do what you say you can by providing details of your experience. There was some discussion about how most applications are now electronic so it’s difficult to set yourself apart by using different coloured paper for CVs, etc. The entire panel agreed, however, that a generic letter and CV isn’t a good idea – key is to show your interest in the company by tailoring the communication.

The session was enjoyed by the panel and the students and certainly something we’ll repeat in future. Higher Education and industry should connect more often because the curriculum comes alive with practical anecdotes (and it’s great to hear teaching confirmed by stories of critical incidents and practical advice).

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Playing the game

If you’re ever stuck for a bit of entertainment among a group of friends or family, give this (courtesy of my friend Dave) a go: Get each player a book, preferably a novel.


Write down all the names of the players on a piece of paper and give each player a few sheets too. Each player takes it in turn to be the game master. This person takes their book and reads out the title (author) and the synopsis on the back. He/she then chooses whether others must guess the correct first or last sentence of the book. All players think of the synopsis (take note of names if any were mentioned) and create their own first (or last) sentence (Don’t worry if some have read the book, it’s unlikely they’ll remember the accurate sentence). Write that created sentence down. Hand in the piece of paper to the game master, who also wrote the original first/last sentence on a piece of paper. The game master subsequently numbers and then reads out ALL sentences submitted plus the original.

Next is the guessing game: Each person votes on which sentence is the correct one (as it’s unfair to go first, we decided to all hold up the number of fingers representing our choice after the count of 3). If your submission was selected: 2 points. 1 point if you select the right one. The game master keeps score. 

Why do I write about this? It so happens I have been the observer of several very high profile/lucrative negotiations that involved the subtle (and downright brusk) game playing of people who do not have to consider office politics, political correctness or professional conduct, i.e., it involves government officials, traders, funders.

It is remarkably like friendships: annoyances, personal digs, much lobbying and some storming off-cooling down-back for a hug/shake episodes. It was astonishing to witness that none of the parties, at very critical moments, felt there was a need to do some background research in terms of cultural differences and/or effective evidence based management practices. I’ll write about the negotiations in more detail soon enough, once I am allowed to do so by the parties involved. For now, I wanted to share that cliffhanger moments proved to benefit from some cultural insights regarding the backgrounds of the players involved, which allowed for a certain understanding of why and how they reacted in a certain way that seemed so alien to the other.

It is mindboggling that in this interdependent, global time, decision makers at governmental level, who deal with others who can generate millions to finance infrastructure or other projects that will affect so many people, do not consider cultural factors to be relevant let alone important. And we all know that in these situations, there is no game master who can flit to the last page of the book to check how it ends.

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Practice what’s preached

Since my last post, which was on the riots, I decided to actually get involved. After watching an interview on the BBC, I emailed the CEO of London Youth who put me in touch with one of his excellent team members to discuss ways of collaborating.

 London Youth

London Youth is a “network of 400 youth organisations across the capital who are supported by the London Youth team of over 100 dedicated individuals in London and at our two centres. [They] support and challenge young people, whatever their background and whoever they are, to reach their full potential” (

Nick Wilkie, the CEO, emailed “Currently we are developing our new Youth Action” and “Youth Leadership” programme … [and] the majority of the research models … are based on a deficient model that young people have issues that need to be fixed. We are much more interested in how we can positively measure their capabilities and encourage them to develop and grow these further. … Your knowledge of psychology and leadership strategy could really help us to embed scientific rigour in the programme”.

So, I met up with Natasha and we discussed the kind of measures that London Youth has been reviewing (like SDQs) vs. what they like to be using (more positive measures that capture leadership, self awareness, pro-activity and relationship building). I was very impressed with their approach: It is based on evidence, takes into account the importance of individual experiences and makes sense. Instead of a ‘the system is against us’ tone, their seven principles display values such as agency, humility and intelligence. Moreover, I like their organised approach – to organise Youth Work in such a way that it is evident how much society benefits from it.

They presented a report called ‘Hunch’ at the House of Lords on the 10th of November. I was given a sneak peek and read it with interest: Any question that it raised, it answered it on a subsequent page. It provides evidence for claims made and gives some insightful stats (15% of a young person’s waking time is spent in formal education… what do they do with the rest of it? (Watch the Inbetweeners to get a flavour of the more benign end of teen activity…) and, sadly, England & Wales is No. 2 of having the highest number of young people in custody).

Lord Victor Adebowale, in full support of what London Youth does, stated “you are not paid to be negative”, which is a refreshing take on what approach is necessary to make a change and one amazing example of positive impact can be listened to here, in an interview with Francis: 

The tweet hash tag is  and the full report can be downloaded from here. I was honoured to be invited and in the meantime, I’ll carry on with my work with Natasha – we think that Bandura’s ‘Self Efficacy’ could work. I also just emailed the government’s Big Society to emphasise the need of triangulation: good parenting, great youth work and solid formal education via 

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The riots: The Psychology and its management

Much of the discussion focuses on the legitimacy of the riots. But the situation is more complex than that. Why assume that if there is discontent among a community, a lash out will be ‘intelligently’ executed?
Yes, looting and mugging and burning is awful (support brave clean up) but it is so easy for me as a 38 year-old to sit here in my house on a 30K+ salary condemning it. As a lecturer of final year, mainly minority and foreign, students at a London University, I see their frustration and concern for the future with only few of them having a job lined up. And these are the educated youth!

We see people run into shops, grabbing televisions and setting cars on fire. It has become apparent that this is not a conventional protest. So is it a matter of judging all of them as thugs, call in the army and punish the thieves?

To mobilse such large groups of people means that a) they lack role models (where are the parents?) B) they lost hope (do not fear the consequence) and youth centres risk shut down due to cuts c) their social identity is defined by materialistic status symbols, which is a learned measure of self esteem (ie, they get ‘respec’ through bling not a good degree, a good job, a good skill, being an engaged citizen).

For sure, looters and aggressors need to be held responsible, but there are more questions to ask. It is very difficult because my initial reaction to the images too is that they deserve punishment (and we have created a society where police stands by for fear of ending up in court on a human rights charge), yet I know that it is more complex and I can’t ignore the difficult analysis of this societal crisis.

Much research on riots and collective action has taken place. Any social psychologist will tell you that racism is very much alive (Social dominance theory) and that collective action can spiral out of control through social identification, which becomes more prominent than the other identities (so people will think as themselves a protester, protect their ‘own’ and not self-criticise). Group polaristion radicalises this. They can tell you that people become depressed because they need a sense of belonging and not feel ostracised from society but that anger is fuelled by threat (one of us got shot while the rest of you were on your holiday).
Research also shows that riot-type behaviour globally peaks in summer – we need to look at past riots to understand the shaping of the rioters’ social identity while mobilised. Thugs can only get away with their theft if protected by their community, who give them a place to hide and who don’t tell. If this support is removed the thugs become vulnerable and the violence can be managed. But management doesn’t mean rubber bullets. The challenge of  good leadership is the ability to manage a conflict, not avoid it or dominate and suppress it.    Instead of tough talk, in the long-term our communities benefit from evidence based management.
Where are the social and political psychologists (Reicher, Drury, Klandermans, Huddy, Feldman, Kinnval and Sidanius)? – their 3rd voices of reason-behind-human-behaviour need to be heard. Where are management and leadership scholars (Brett, Herman, Van Dick, Euwema)? – non-partisan sources of guidance for policy makers and government are much needed now.  

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Tweeting academics

Academics don’t tweet. At least not the ones a member of ISPP, IACM and IACCP. Which is strange, if you consider that these organisations are al ‘International’ (the first I) and a society and associations (S and A) for Political Psychology, Conflict Management and Cross Cultural Psychology. Thus, not the neuro end of the social/life sciences exactly.

At the conferences in Istanbul, which all overlapped – it was indeed a festival of psychologists in that city (side note, I wonder if the restaurants/hotels noticed?) – some of the conferences had 9 parallel sessions. In fact, gossip was that EAP had more than that. So how does one choose? Surely a tweet from a colleague telling you a certain symposium is not to be missed would be helpful. Or, an announcement that scheduled speaker number 2 couldn’t make it at session 3 in room A203, therefore all talks moved up in time, allows you to make better informed choices?

Then there is the social stuff. Where are people in town? Which social drinks meeting are they attending and when are they off go see Topikapi?

But more than anything, hash tagged tweets allow you to discuss what’s been said and what you thought, beyond the polite chit chat at the socials and beyond your usual in-group of colleagues you’ve known for years.

I encourage any conference organiser to announce the hash tag for the conference and that tweeting is a convenient way to move intellectual traffic and share evaluations.

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WLTM: What we seek behind the label when searching for the perfect match

In a recent conversation with a geologist friend, Mark, who has travelled the world and lives by the motto ‘The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all!’, we explored the issue of advertising for an employee or flatmate and the characteristics that describe the ideal match. Below is our conversation (abbreviated). It raises some interesting questions about the values that we attach to certain social identities – e.g., being female, Christian, Dutch etc. Why do we pay attention to these (and use them to select people to be part of our in-group) when it is the values/traits that underlie these labels that mean something to us?

Mark (in Abu Dhabi): Lots of signs here with things like ‘flat mate wanted, Filipino female only’ etc. They’re for flats, work, domestic work living in etc etc. The criteria are generally female, filipino, indian, muslim etc only. Now obviously would cause uproar among the chattering classes (Wikipedia: a politically active, socially concerned and highly educated section of the “metropolitan middle class” especially those with political, media, and academic connections) in blighty (Britain) with wholesome discussions about the vileness of discrimination whilst sipping tea and and eating scones, biscuits or cucumber sandwiches (preferably with no crusts if you don’t mind). Just wondering what your thoughts were!!

Nathalie: I think political correctess is overrated! Don’t get me wrong it did the job to make people aware of their biases but now it’s time to control alt delete the thinking about cultural and gender differences. They exist. They can benefit a dynamic of a group. That said, such ads indicate certain intrinsic qualities and traits associated with being female, Muslim, fillipino etc. So the ads should list those instead of the social identity…

Mark: Cool response. I agree appart from the last part in that if these adverts are like this, there is always a chance that these things have occurred as a result of experience and maybe the realisation that it is the cultural background rather than the intrisic qualities that counts. Hmmmmmm maybe something for study for the next Freakonomics book!!

Nathalie: Of course, but we need to be careful how we interpret the information that we learn on a daily basis. So, let’s just agree that culture is the shared system of meanings of a group. That means all groups have a culture- national, sport, religious etc. Once we are a member of that group we learn about the do’s and dont’s. We also have personalities (extrovert/introvert etc). So, as humans we’re a bit of a mix. Now, i met you over 10 years ago. You were in a certain state of mind but you’re also from a certain culture. I could’ve drawn several conclusions about what you represented and what I (dis)liked. Could I have allocated some traits to your Englishness or perhaps your mixed background with a touch of Italian? – sure. If I then met new people, with similar backgrounds, could If expect them to behave in the same way. Yes, that’s called stereotyping. Which isn’t necessarily bad (stereotyping is just a mental short cut in this ever increasingly complex information overloaded world). But it becomes problematic if I add value (pos or neg) to those stereotypes (English = good). Let’s say, you moved away and I wanted a similar friend so I advertised in the lonely hearts ad section for an educated Englishman with a hint of Italian, then expecting to meet someone with your traits and characteristics. I would’ve been better off asking for an intelligent, high octane, friendly, etc. kind of guy. Makes sense?

Mark: Perfect sense! And agree completely!


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