Interview: What is Cultural Agility and why it is it an important skill for peer-to-peer trainers?

MIEUX+ will soon launch the fourth module of the Digital Toolkit for Experts focusing on the topic of Cultural Agility. In this interview with Megan Pilli, Capacity Development Specialist, MIEUX+ she describes the process of creating this module and the relevance of cultural agility for trainers working in international contexts.

The MIEUX+ Expert Toolkit is a digital resource available for anyone to view online. The toolkit is primarily aimed at trainers working in capacity development and provides interactive modules aimed at reinforcing several key skills.

What was the starting point for the Cultural Agility module?

When facilitating a series of consultations with a group of MIEUX+ experts to develop the initial modules of the Digital Toolkit, the topic of cultural communication came up repeatedly and I realised that we needed to develop a module focusing on culture. This is a topic that is dear to my heart; I earned an MSc in cultural anthropology a decade ago, and since then I have seen first-hand, in different contexts, how cultural awareness can make or break cooperation efforts. There are endless resources on cultural communication and cross-cultural management, but not nearly as many that deal with training across cultures. This is why we wanted to develop a short module tailored to our experts who are providing trainings in different countries.

What is cultural agility and why is it so important for capacity development?

The success of MIEUX+ rests on the ability of our experts, who are paired with their peers in countries around the world, to exchange expertise on various migration topics. This requires not only subject matter expertise and training skills, but also cultural agility. That is, the ability to understand multiple cultural contexts and work within them to improve the process and outcomes of training activities.

The benefit of the cultural agility approach is that it can be applied to thinking about culture generally – which includes not only people from different countries but also from different organisations or backgrounds. For example, we may find cultural differences when working with CSOs and high-level staff from ministries from the same country.

From this perspective, we are placing more of an emphasis on strengthening our cross-cultural skills by understanding our own cultural perspectives and what can be learned from them, and less on describing the cultural characteristics of particular nations or institutions. Culturally agile trainers can use this framework as a basis to inform themselves and adapt to multiple cultural contexts.

What was your approach when tackling this topic?

When conceiving the content for this module, we faced the obvious truth: MIEUX+ works across four continents with various stakeholders. When trying to shine a light on cultural differences, we wanted to go beyond that first association of cultural characteristics with specific countries to develop a module that could be general enough to be applicable to cultural groups of various kinds, the most common ones apart from nations being institutions and professions and target a technical level. At the same time, we needed to keep the module short and interactive, because we appreciate the fact that our experts are busy professionals with limited time.

It is important to note that we tend to associate the concept of cultural awareness as being aware of others’ cultures and not our own. When in fact, it is very powerful for anyone working in an international environment to be aware of their own cultural perspectives and how this influences their perceptions of others and ultimately, how they interact and cooperate with them.

How is the module structured?

MIEUX+ is all about the peer-to-peer exchange, so trainers cannot ignore the cultural aspects in communication with their peers in other countries.

It goes without saying that exploring all aspects of culture is beyond our reach with such a targeted module. So we focused on a set of basic cultural orientations and dimensions that surely have an impact on trainers working within an international peer-to-peer setting, including:

  • Task and relationship orientation: culture will impact whether someone will give priority to a task or on relationship building in order to complete an assignment. Particularly in the framework of international cooperation, trainers need to understand how these elements contribute to trust and relationship building.
  • Cross-cultural communication: experts will learn how to listen more closely and to understand whether counterparts may be communicating more directly or indirectly and how to manage different styles in the training environment.
  • Hierarchies across cultures and understanding ‘the power distance’: Hierarchy orientation may be organisational or institutional and this can have an impact on how meetings are organised, how decisions are made, how trainings are delivered, as well as on the interaction with trainers, particularly when giving and receiving feedback.
  • Giving and receiving feedback: How trainers’ and participants’ culture may influence their preferences for giving and receiving feedback is important to understand as a part of the training process.
  • Concepts of time and scheduling: Different orientations are important to understand when trainers are working with authorities and peers in different countries, particularly in the planning and preparation phase of the trainings.

The module includes practical examples provided by MIEUX+ experts.

How can experts benefit from this module? What can experts expect?

This module, like the rest of the toolkit, targets experts with all levels of experience working with international partners. To go through the full module would take no more than 30-40 minutes.

The module was designed to help experts become more aware of their cultural orientation as they engage in training activities. They will acquire a vocabulary to pinpoint specific cultural differences that may arise as they interact with partners and participants during training activities. They will learn to appreciate how cultural orientations and assumptions may affect the way they interact with people and ultimately, how they train.

As a trainer myself, I have experienced that often we focus exclusively on the logistics, deadlines, and delivery of the content of the trainings, when in reality, the beauty and the magic of the ‘peer-to-peer’ approach are due to the fact that we are exchanging directly with our peers around the world, and being able to appreciate different perspectives and preferences is key to building those relationships and capacities.


The Digital Toolkit is available on this website for any trainer or expert working on capacity development. It is available in English, French and Spanish. Modules can be accessed freely and without commitment to completing an entire section.

Do you have ideas for other topics that should be covered by the toolkit? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to let us know!