“Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”
– Thor Heyerdahl
Our world is bigger and yet smaller than ever before. Our stories travel faster and connect people regardless of where they are. And we meet at a common place, our virtual meeting place, like the market square of the past. As borders continue to fade, our profession becomes increasingly exciting.
We can seek and assess restrictions or choose to avoid them. We can also push and even cross boundaries. I have been seeking the limits my whole life and have always been triggered to push boundaries, virtually and for real. My vision of the world changed significantly when in 1994, I moved to the UK to work for Motorola as a corporate communications manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa regions. I was no longer ‘Dutch’ or ‘international Dutch’, I became ‘borderless’. Borderless became my mantra.
I remember very well how that mantra was in danger when I was working for a Norwegian company. I was responsible for international communications and worked on the communications strategy together with colleagues from Algeria, Brazil, Venezuela and Azerbaijan. I led this work with a borderless mind-set – not a Norwegian approach. This worked very well with my foreign colleagues, but my Norwegian colleagues wanted to see Norwegian norms and values reflected in our work. Why that would be the best for the company was actually unclear, and what it meant for our foreign colleagues was also vague.
Now working at Greenpeace International, my borderless mantra is totally applicable. After all, environmental problems do not stop at a national border. Since I have started working for Greenpeace, I realise every day how many steps the international community needs to take to warrant every human on this planet a meaningful life. It is in this light that I wonder about the role of the international communications professional. Do we sell fairy tales? Do we see humans as consumers or as fellow citizens?
The effectiveness of international communication depends on the authenticity of our “art of story telling’. How do people relate to our stories? Do they share them with each other, across borders and through time? For the true art of story telling we can actually learn a lot from oral traditions and mythology.
As communication professionals, we create and share stories in the virtual borderless world. This world where people are connected and in which unauthentic air bubbles are popped. We are at a tipping point at which borderless and authentic communication will win. Who will take the lead?
This article was featured in the latest book from Communicatie NU by Betteke Van Ruler. Communicatie NU talks about the trends in the profession, the difficult issues that communication professionals encounter and their solutions. More than 100 people, students, office managers, communication managers and scientists, have contributed to the book.
It is currently only available in Dutch but there are plans to create a European version.