Thursday, May 7, 2015

Global financial experts must play music or understand French/Spanish

Former Dutch minister and jazz musician Hans Dijkstal
I put the previous post in Spanish translation on my blog "Tutto
è possibile" and received interesting comments.

One commentator, a professional translator from Spanish to English (he read my post in English and wrote to me in Spanish as that is the language of "Tutto è possbile") said:

"A friend of mine, a doctor specialised in food disasters, worked for 14 years with Doctors without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres/Artsen zonder Grenzen). She said that in addition to English and one other European language, they required knowledge of one language from the Third World. She knew Swahili.

What I found at the time a silly requirement I understand today: knowledge of a language of the countries where she was going to work, even if it was only one of dozens, was a window into another perspective to see the world."

Another commentator, a pianist, said:

"I speak a universal language: music, directed, it seems, at the spirit, the soul. It's not sufficient for traveling around the world and, at age 57, I think I should learn English. I understand Catalan, but do not speak it, until now."

These two comments are a perfect starting point for what I'd like to explain. 

In my view, global finance experts are better equipped and more thoughtful experts if they understand French or Spanish as this gives them the possibility to open their mind to other perspectives. It may also contribute to enhancing their empathy, and looking at the world in a more modest, more curious, less arrogant manner.

Before I founded the Forum on Debt and Development, FONDAD, I worked with the Transnational Institute. The main language there was English, but a few of us spoke Spanish and French too. I remember how happy I was when I could speak Spanish or French with my colleagues as this was giving me and, I think, them a different view on things. It also stimulated me and them to talk about different topics. Finally, the speaking of Spanish or French opened our mind and spirit to other sentiments.

To finish this post, I will give you one other example of why the capacity of understanding French or Spanish is a useful (but not sufficient) condition for becoming a good expert in global finance. 

In the early 1980s I set up an informal discussion group consisting of global finance experts working with the commercial banks (Rabobank, ABN Amro, ING), the central bank, the major ministries dealing with the topic (Finance and Foreign Affairs - Development Cooperation), the parliament, and some media. 

In this discussion group I heard Treasury officials saying what I had heard before: policy makers south from Paris are not serious people, voicing rhetorical and radical ideas rather than the well-thought, balanced, down-to-earth, clear ideas of the northern Europeans (whose ideas, by the way, are not at all that well thought, balanced and clear -- but that's a topic for a next post). 

What I have noticed since I got involved with global finance as a journalist, researcher, conference organiser, international networker and global citizen, is that there is a difference between global finance experts who only speak English and those who speak at least one other "rhetorical" language.

Why do I include in the title of this post the playing of music as an alternative requirement for a global financial expert? Because I think the playing of an instrument may give the financial expert who only speaks English the sensitivity to better understand the world. The real world goes beyond global finance and needs inspiration from music. Isn't language also, in part, a form of music?

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