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9 November 2018

How "multilocalism" changes our perception of the world around us

The world has truly become flat. In a study by "Randstad US" 82% of American workers say the ability to work from anywhere at any time allows them to maintain a healthy work/life balance and 35% of millennials prefer to work outside of the traditional office environment. This is a significant shift in the way people lived and worked only 20 years ago when working from a beach in the Dominican Republic while sipping a Pina Colada was inconceivable.

Startups, such as Nomad List, built a business by helping global workers find places to live and work. The site analyzes various criteria such as safety, quality of life, proximity to major global cities, and healthcare as well as provides you with an estimated monthly cost of living.

There are obviously many positives of working from abroad including low cost of life and greater exposure to new cultures. According to Brenda Milis, Principal of Creative Services and Visual Trends for Adobe Stock, multilocalism is the trend of feeling at home while abroad. Brenda adds that with travel and technology making the world so much more accessible, more and more people are becoming aware of and influenced by a plethora of cultures, reflecting these cultures in their style, identity, interests and work. Increasingly, people are "belonging" to more than one place and that change is impacting how we experience the world and perceive our own place in it. Rather than identifying where we are "from" more of us identify with places we know, love, have lived, traveled and worked. Rather than asking "Where are you from?" it is becoming more relevant to ask, "Where do you feel a sense of belonging?".

To further learn about this concept I interviewed two trend-setters: Taiye Selasi, an up and coming award-winning English writer and TED speaker and; Tobi Shinobi, a famous Chicago-based UK-born photographer. They represent the new dynamic of the "multilocal world" - I asked them about culture and entrepreneurship.

Define Culture

Taiye: 'Culture' has always seemed to me a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If those parts are easy enough to identify -- music, language, art, couture, custom, manner, and then some -- the whole for me is magically difficult to pin down.

Difference Between 'Multicultural' and 'Multilocal'

Toby: For me multilocalism represents a number of things, but I would describe it as the constant search for authenticity and relevance in each place that I travel to. It's also me embracing that I am a child of the world and a product of my many environments. I have found that many of my most open-minded friends have lived in more than one city and I very much appreciate the well-rounded view and approach to life that they have. Seeing the world through other people's eyes is one thing, but seeing a new place through the eyes of those who know it best is priceless. I guess the trade-off here is the new perspective gained by locals who may see familiar things they took for granted in a new light. The local knowledge is a form of currency that I trade with locals when I travel, allowing me to become multilocal. For some it would seem at first glance that these two concepts are one and the same, or at the very least closely linked. In simple terms, the two could be distinguished by the fact that a place or location could host a number of different cultures and thus be multicultural, whereas a person or people who are mobile, can be multilocal. A person could be both multilocal and multicultural, but it would seem that a place or location could not.

Greatest Challenges of Foreign Born Entrepreneurs

Toby: I think the most challenging aspect foreign born entrepreneurs face in the U.S. is the work culture and ethic. As a Brit, there can be a tendency to not brag about one's accomplishments or to be 'polite' and wait one's turn during business meetings, but this is a courtesy that's often not reciprocated. I have seen practices that some would consider callous or 'cutthroat' be considered standard business practice. There's also the challenge of the pre-conceived notions that some, not all locals have when it comes to foreigners. The idea that all Brits drink tea or that it always rains in London is often the first point of reference people have when they meet me, and to say anything less seems to either bamboozle or end conversations early. All too often when I confess that I don't drink tea my authenticity as a Brit is called into question. Being a British Black Male, sometimes I've found that people don't know what box to put me in. At times it can be an isolating experience, but I also see this as being a by-product of being multilocal. Having said all of that, as a result, this has been a great opportunity to grow as an entrepreneur and a person. I would encourage everyone to live in another city, if feasible, to gain new perspective.

Practical Advice to Entrepreneurs Working Abroad

Taiye: The history of labor is the history of travel. To work more, to innovate -- has always meant to me to move. My Ghanaian father spent his professional life in Saudi Arabia. My Nigerian-Scottish mother has built the most successful pediatric practice in Ghana. My whole life has been shaped by the journeys of innovators on the move. Some of the most successful companies of the 21st century were founded by multilocals: immigrants or their children, inspired equally by what they brought and what they found. According to CNBC, "more than half of the top American tech companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants." Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook were all founded by first or second-generation immigrants. My advice, then, is to take a peek at the history -- Bezos, Brian, Severin -- and to be emboldened. History repeats itself.

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