• Cultural Intelligence in Sport

    19m 33s

    Tavale Ilalio is the Creative Director of Mahana Culture. He works to support people and organisations to harness the power of Culture and Diversity in their professional lives. Tavale brings a passion for what truly harnessing and celebrating diversity in the sport and community looks like, and the endless possibilities it can bring if done well and with cultural dignity.

Graphical summary and transcript



Am I white? I grew up in a upper middle class family in New Zealand. I played gin rummy with my grandparents, ate jam and scones and cream, for my morning tea. My whole family only got together once a year for Christmas and there was always a silver coin in the pudding. My cultural tale does not start there. Am I brown? I was born in London based Johnson Tropical Medical Center America Samao. I’m from the village of Leoni, I’m from the Tavali and the Tawala families and I was brown for the first 5 years of my life until my mom moved us to New Zealand to be white.

Am I Maori? I grew up amongst the indigenous people of New Zealand. I learned how to haka. As part of my mother’s master plan to get us back to brown again she enrolled us in a bilingual high school where I learned everything in Maldi and English. I learned to be an orator, I lead the performing arts group, I became a white Maori, I learned how to haka, and then I realized that haka wasn’t mine.

Am I Samoan? After my hugaby in high school, I went for three journey to Southern California to be with my dad and my inga. My dad is one of 17. I had family everywhere. Fences were pulled down. We could roam from house to house to house, eat there, pray there, dance there, eat there again. Family was everywhere. It as there, the base of my cultural tale began.

Am I comedian? I remember being 4 years old and saying something to myself, I was by myself, saying something to myself that just cracked me up. And I made an absolute vow to myself, 4 year old me self that always cracked me up. So my mantra is why did Tavali cross the road? To be funny to himself to the person on the other side.

Am I a musician? I’ve sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free. His song is the sparrow and I know He watches over me.

Am I an athlete? I have had a lot of seasons in my life. A soccer season, a rugby league season, a basketball season, a rugby league season and unfortunately this year a manifestation of all those things and a hip replacement season. Don’t recommend that, wait a little while, a little later in life, but it is what it is, so those have been my seasons, sport has been such an underpin of everything that I am. A massive part of my cultural tale and I know all of yours.

Am I Australian? I acknowledge the people of the Kuni nation. I acknowledge that this was always a place of learning. I acknowledge that before any boats arrive, with 75 cultures on those boats, that we live in the worlds oldest multi-cultural country. With different languages and values and songs and stories and storylines and song lines that have been here longer than any other country in the world.

I am married to an Australian. We have had little Melbounites who call us mom and dad and it is our responsibility to help construct and get their own cultural tales.

Am I from an individualist culture? I honor everything of that independence, equality, the right to do it myself. I’m from a collectivist culture where the focus is on us. There’s a clear hierarchy. I am part of a moving organism that does not work by myself.

My cultural tale is full of music, and food, and travel, and song, and family, and dance, and comedy, and sports, and hip replacements, coffees and alleyway in Melbourne and overlays that informs everything that I do and everything that I am and overlays the informs my perspective on everyone else’s. I know now that I am not white. I am not brown. I am not Samoan, Maldi, a comedian, a musician, an athlete, a collectivist, in individualistic. I know now that my cultural tale combines to make me Alex Paps from Playschool, Frank from Home and Away, Vinnie from the Hinasen kids, can you see it? There’s a cartoon version up there. Diversity is the one true thing we have in common and we should celebrate it every day.

So we are here to talk about sports and the diversity and inclusion in sport, and what those labels mean and how we’re going to bend them to our core business, as has been talked about already. Sports had a good ride. It’s had a good ride, especially in Australia, specifically I’m talking about Australia today. Diversity has always been there, but we’ve got by on our kind of core business, our core models, this is how sports has been pretty much male dominated for the last X amount of years.

Training Tuesday, Thursday, play on the weekends. We’ve had a good ride. We’ve had a good ride. We are ready for diversity, was it always here? It seems like often we’ve been a little bit reactive to it now, oh my goodness, look what’s happened? We’re all of a sudden diversity is all around us. And we’ve had some fantastic examples of tips of the arrow that have been happening through the years. Exploring that diversity that we’ve talked about.

But it’s here. Diversity is here and it’s uncomfortable and it’s a hard place to be, and it’s being able to say, I don’t know that. I don’t understand that and I want to listen to you, I want to hear from you and I want to share what I know. And it’s hard. But we are going to have to step into that space. We look around and again, I talked about that wave of multiculturalism, the first wave that came from overseas, 75 poachers on that boat. Found that out a few weeks ago. But there’s more waves. There’s more waves, we look around our society and we are diverse in ethnicity, in cultural, in gender and sexuality, and ability and whether we are from the country or the city, diversity is here. And we’ve got to catch up.

There’s some stats around multinationals who go, there are 70% of multinationals who have tried to get into the Asian market. 70% have failed because they have not done their cultural homework. They are not culturally competent. They haven’t explored what their brand is going to mean in that country. If I say is this isn’t going to offend them. Is this the right person to be speaking right here? How does a collectivist culture work? Do I need to build a relationship with them before I go into talking about business? 70%.

And I’m sure there’s amazing stories you’re going to hear later on about some success in diversity inclusion that the sports industry has had. But I’d also say that there’s a lot of times that we’ve just gone in. We’ve taken our good ride, our core products that we’ve been riding off for a long, long time and we’ve said, let’s just plant that there. Let’s get those people to play that.

And we need to do better. We need to innovate and we can. Diversity is opportunity. So much opportunity, so many waves of new chances to explore how our sport as we’ve heard from today is such an underpinning of the world cultural. It’s a fantastic product to be active, to be in a community, to be connected. To be moving.

And we’ve had a good run. And it’s time to get uncomfortable.

I wanted to go over a couple of models today. Just to start tweaking some of the thoughts and some that I am sure are already there. So we connected, we’re good friends with a wonderful Aboriginal academic called Mark Acopulson, I’m sure some of you might have seen him. Look up his Ted Talk, he talks about this so much more beautifully than I will today. And he’s done a lot of work in the AFL and indigenous leadership space, and a lot of fascinating work around the country including working in communities around Ella Springs which apparently in two generations time are going to be 50% Aboriginal in Ella Springs. So they have to prepare for that, they are preparing for that.

So he’s been witness to communities, individuals, countries, cultures, trying to come together and work together in a very privileged spaces he’ll talk about.

So in that time, in that journey, he’s developed a model, an intercultural framework model that we would like to base our stuff off of. It’s simple, it’s indigenous so it’s Aboriginal lens that can work really well it the mainstream. That’s innovation, that’s cultural competence. That could actually work in our core business. So purposefully no words, cause he really likes the idea that this could be used in so many different ways, in so many different languages that works with your organization, or your roles put into it.

So if you look at this model, we like to think there are two cultural tales that are meeting. They come together to meet. The purple spaces are the deep cultural stories. Whether that’s a deep cultural story tale of sport, or you personally as an individual, or your organization, or what you represent, but we understand those two side understand their deep stories, which can be so many different things.

The next part woven into the blue part, are where those cultures are celebrating those. They have their rituals, they have their language, they have their songs, and they practice the manifestation of those deep stories.

Move to the red place and this is where cultural awareness that we were talking about often sits. It’s time to start sharing that. We want to share some of our culture through indigenous realms, through song, through festivals, through teaching. That’s based, and that’s often where we stop. And often where we send people straight to without understanding why they are there, what their core purpose is or being is, or as an organization. The next two parts are where diversity and inclusion can really get innovative.

The yellow spot that Mark has got there, is when those two cultures, those two tales come together and start working together. Still keeping the core this is who I am, this is how I roll. But working alongside each other. Quite pragmatic, but they still have this little bit of this, little bit of that, and combine it as one.

Now if you really want to, Mark says, if you really want to get innovative. If you really want to be confident and strong in who you are, how you practice, what you want to share and you’re ready to rock, then the innovative part is the green dot. And that’s where you can start to strip away and feel confident, to strip away parts of you and parts of them, and meet together and start creating something new. Embedding cultural into policy. Embedding a framework into a mainstream business model. Being brave enough to have an Aboriginal presenter throughout the whole show, because he’s the best presenter out there, and who will bring a whole different lens and flavor to the market.

And that is the meeting of those two cultures and if often what we get when we get to that riverbed, we like to call that a riverbed when we meet, often when we get as professionals especially in industries such as a sports industry, is where many people have done that journey. They know their deep stories, they’ve practiced them, they speak their language, they sing them and they’re ready to share, but we often haven’t had the chance to do that ourselves.

And that is what it is, there’s no shame in that, there’s no guilt in that, but that often means that the chance for the innovation, the chance for a true collaboration and inclusion by harnessing that diversity is lost. Or I can’t get there yet. Mark Acopolson, look him up, again he explains it so much better than I did. But it’s really nice framework to think about how we’re going to get to that space. The steps we’re going to take to get to where we don’t just say, you need to be more inclusive, what does that even mean?

But we’ve known the steps and cultural intelligence is a tool that I’m here just to plant as a fantastic tool to navigate us through that journey.

This is our framework. Our culture’s framework. Quite similar, again, kind of got a journey but we’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few months understanding that there isn’t an end place of cultural expiration and diversity, it’s an ongoing journey. But our framework talks through a lot of Mark’s does as well. We awaken, again we explore our own stuff. What is my lens? You’ve seen those YouTube videos of color blind, people are color blind and they put on those glasses and they can just see whole new colors, new way of seeing their world that was always black and white or whatever colors they were seeing before.

Awakening our own stories, because we can’t be culturally competent unless you have an understanding of what your own lens is and how that’s going to impact on your interaction with others. Exploring, starting to understand, okay, I see it this way. I wonder how that group or that culture or that community see this, and starting to explore what it looks like for them. Having a bit of navigation through other lenses.

Immersing. No doubt this is happening with all of you in a lot of spaces, but really getting in there, starting to get our hands dirty and getting into that riverbed space and learning about how different groups do it and actually immersing ourselves within those practices, within those opportunities. And embed. We often see this is cultural awareness and this is where we send people straight to embed without often having a chance to understand why that’s going to be important why I got to that cultural intercession, what is my lens going to be and you can think of millions and millions of millions of dollars spent on cultural awareness, which is often a bit like a museum approach. We go and we look at these beautiful artifacts, and we hear or read about what they mean and what they are and then we leave. It doesn’t really change our behavior and how is cultural awareness that we go and sit is going to impact our communities and our clubs and the sports and the people that we’re responsible before? What’s going to be the change for them by us participating in cultural awareness issue, that we’re not really.

So those again, that journey to prepare our people to prepare yourselves to prepare your organizations, that when it’s time to learn about that really exciting culturally specific stuff.


So, just a quick snippet of my cultural wins, we’ve talked about, we’ve heard about the beautiful Aboriginal, indigenous specific cultural components today, that’s often what cultural awareness is considered in this country, so important. But there’s such a kaleidoscope of other cultures that we’re integrating with and the Aboriginal indigenous would absolutely be our base. But these cultures and we all sit on these cultural orientations, these cultural value orientations, and we sit on either end or in the middle, I talked about cultural tale. My flow between my dads family and my moms has done my head. It’s been nuts sometimes to go from one to the other.

My mother’s family is individualistic culture which is mainstream Australia. My father’s family is a collectivist culture. There’s very real differences and there is no right or wrong. And we sit on that continuum and individualistic culture has a way of saying things and doing things independence, equality, the right to do it myself, whereas in a collectivist culture, that’s a lot more about being part of an organism that views, do your part. Which is why sport is such an amazing being cause it can flow between those. It’s about collectivism, it’s about doing it together, in team sports especially, in clubs and organizations, but’s wrapped up in an individualistic society in Australia.

Relationship and task, so collectivist cultures, you always go to relationship first. You might have to have three or four meetings and meetings after the meetings and meetings before the meetings before you can start talking about the task. But do we build that into our processes? Because our control alt delete lens is individualistic when we go straight to task. There is nothing wrong with that, but we need to understand, who is the group that we are going to be working with? What is going to be important to them on their continuum?

And lastly is hierarchical, equality hierarchy. Some really interesting spaces to explore, that are going to work with Melman Thorman (?) NRL, and they’ve—if you think about from a cultural context and I say this with a line to Aboriginal AFL players and athletes as well, actually, even though there’s a massive representation of Pacific Island athletes in the NRL and rugby union world cause their bodies are made for it, they’re up for it, that cultural framework works really well. It’s collectivist, they are part of a village. They have a clear hierarchy with their coaches, and that works. And so exploring that concept could potentially be one of the most amazing expirations that an elite sports team could do.

So cultural intelligence, is a tool to navigate through the diversity and inclusion. There’s lots of parts of it, there’s lots of moving parts of it but diversity is here. It’s here to stay, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s going to provide such an opportunity as we move forward, and it’s time to stop being reactive to that, to start planning, to start looking at how we can embed as we’ve heard today, cultural intelligence and diversity inclusion into our core business. Diversity is the one true thing we have in common. We should celebrate it. Get uncomfortable in it. And leverage off it, every day.

Thank you.