Meet the Advisory Board #1: Q&A on DEIB in Publishing with Sanjyot P. Dunung

Like many mission-driven organizations, Lived Places Publishing has a board of advisors – a group of people who can lend the benefit of their experience, wisdom, and unique expertise to help the Lived Places team. The board of advisors is invaluable in helping Lived Places find its place in the crowded publishing landscape and in holding the Lived Places team accountable for working in a way that is consistent with the company’s vision, mission, and ethics.

In the first of a blog mini-series, we introduce Sanjyot Dunung, one of the amazing experts on Lived Places Publishing’s Board of Advisors.

1) Please introduce yourself and your role on the LPP board of advisors.
I’m Sanjyot Dunung and I’m a serial entrepreneur. My firm, Atma Global, creates learning solutions focusing on country, cultural, business, and global topics for the corporate, education, and travel markets.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing David [Lived Places Publishing Co-Founder and Publisher] for a number of years, beginning when he was at Pearson and my firm was a vendor providing supplemental learning resources to integrate into business textbooks.

2) At the latest Advisory Board meeting, there was a lot of discussion about decolonization of curricula and of publishing. In particular, the global higher education and library markets are demanding clear metrics on DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging), to hold publishers accountable for representing global voices. There were two main driving motivations in this discussion, with a clear point of tension:

  • the need for a publishing company like LPP to not only make sure they are building a truly global and diverse author base and stable of content, but to communicate this to their audience (i.e. to be held accountable to the need for representing a diverse, global and representative set of author voices); and
  • the need to ensure the publisher does not impose identity labels on people, or force people to “box” themselves in reductive identity labels, for the purposes of measuring diversity, as this would be counterproductive.

Can you tell us a little about this tension?
I don’t know that I would call it tension, so much as a need to get more clarity on the convergence of content creation and diversity. I think we can all agree that adding diversity is a key goal. What’s important, though, is first ensuring the integrity of the content methodology and integrating diversity as one key element.

Diversity comes in many forms, and these days, there is a tendency to focus more on physical attributes such as race, disability, and gender at the expense of diversity of thought, which can be equally valuable and relevant as the more visible traits. For our firm, diversity of thought usually comes through diversity of cultures. Let’s take a moment to understand exactly what we mean by culture.

In essence, culture is a shared set of attitudes, beliefs, values, mindsets, and practices of a group of people. Culture includes the behaviour pattern and norms of that group – the rules, assumptions, perceptions, and logic and reasoning that are specific to that group. Culture is really the collective programming of our minds from birth. It’s this collective programming that distinguishes one group of people from another. Cultural awareness, then, most commonly refers to having an understanding of another culture’s values and perspective. It’s important that we recognize that no one culture is better or worse than another – it’s about different perspectives.

Of course, this is much easier said than done! One problem, in my experience, is that there’s currently a “groupthink” mentality flowing through academia which can at times be focused more on adherence to the newly prioritized perspective rather than tolerance for the wider variety of global perspectives. There’s sometimes a rush to deliver cosmetic diversity rather than digging deeper to ensure diversity of perspective. It’s key to understand that people who may have different physical attributes, yet still share the same values and beliefs, may not provide the diversity of thought and perspective that can be valuable when developing educational content.

I think it’s absolutely critical that librarians, as curators of learning content, be extremely mindful of this nuance and not fall into the pattern of groupthink – we don’t want to disregard the perspectives that have come before in our haste to accept new perspectives, as this would just be replacing the problem instead of solving it.

For example, you noted that we spoke about decolonization of curriculum. While wholeheartedly agreeing that this is an important goal, I would question this word, decolonization – is that from a geographic perspective, or a cultural one? Not all colonization was driven by European countries only. China and Japan, for example, were both colonizers from a purely nationalistic perspective and thereby, dictated and still dictate education curricula and publishing. My point here is to simply say that truly global content needs to have multiple perspectives; not simply one or the other.

Of course, there is another very dangerous problem that can happen when we focus only on one type of diversity and ignore diversity of thought or cultural diversity in favour of simply racial or gender diversity. Namely, there is an increasing tendency to assume that identity buckets based on physical attributes provide the necessary diversity, and that no additional factors need to be considered. I worry that this could be very limiting in a number of ways. First, many of us technically fit multiple labels and it’s the convergence of these experiences that add value to our perspective – not one single label or the other. Which then suggests that the real focus should be on the diversity of thought that often results from diversity of experiences and perspectives, including the invisible life experiences (for example, experiencing economic disadvantage or mental illness) that can also influence our values and perspectives – all resulting in unique identity combinations.

3) You have a huge amount of experience and expertise in intercultural publishing, among other things. How do you tackle this balance in your own work?
Atma’s content methodology can be found here:

In short, we use a thorough and inclusive method, made up of a collective hive effort involving teams of subject-matter experts, and several quality-control measures.

It’s important to understand that cross-cultural learning is different than a multicultural or diversity mission, where the latter’s focus is on changing attitudes and behaviours to create a common understanding and set of behavioural practices. Rather, cross-cultural learning, rooted more in anthropology, is focused on understanding other cultures with the intent of respecting and living with cultural differences, not necessarily changing attitudes and behaviour. The core principle of cross-cultural learning is that no single set of values or practices is better than another.

4) How should LPP position itself in this debate?
LPP should take advantage of its global perch [although both founders are from North America, the LPP team are currently spread across the US, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with authors so far from Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Antipodes] and not advocate simply a North American perspective. By integrating these global multi-cultural perspectives, librarians can ensure that they are more likely to provide resources reflecting diversity of thought and perspective – not just physical or cosmetic diversity. Currently, in academia at large, there is often a rush to adopt new untested ideas that have not yet been globally peer-reviewed and tested through time. Librarians are well placed to curate resources that are academically tested and sound and global in outlook – which is better placed to prepare students to engage in an increasingly integrated global world. LPP has the opportunity to be a thought leader in aiding librarians with providing truly globally diverse learning content.

Sanjyot P. Dunung is a serial entrepreneur, author and founder of Atma Global, an award-winning developer of innovative learning solutions, focusing on countries, cultures,A sketch-style head-and-shoulders portrait of Sanjyot P. Dunung business, and global topics for the education, corporate, and travel sectors. Her firm launched a digital subscription service, Atma Insights, a “Netflix-style solution for global learning”, offering proprietary videos and winning awards from the Stevie’s – a Gold, Silver, and Bronze – and IELA.

A globally recognized thought leader, Sanjyot has written sixteen international business books and textbooks; has appeared on a range of global media; and speaks at conferences addressing international business, global cultures, and entrepreneurship. She works to promote equality of opportunity by working closely with global not-for-profits, serving on global boards, and mentoring entrepreneurs around the world. Her first novel, Maddie & Sayara, explores the diverging paths of young girls around the world.