The Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency: Creating Greater Global Perspectives

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 21–22, 2014

University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico


The Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency provides a conceptualized framework where students: 1) gain hands-on learning experiences in cross-cultural situations; 2) interact with diverse groups which are outside their own perspectives; 3) gain extended overseas work and learning experience in their discipline and/or with global issues; 4) have experiences with global experts in their discipline and leaders who provide a global viewpoint on international issues (such as global human trafficking); 5) gain in-depth knowledge with an international perspective of their academic discipline and of global issues; 6) communicate and work with global virtual or face-to-face teams in their disciplines on global issues; and 7) implement a global field action project that integrates and demonstrates their learning in all of the other six areas.

To apply this conceptual scheme, faculty need to broaden their reach and change their pedagogy, teaching style, curriculum, course design, and use of instructional technology. They need to embrace a global view not only of their discipline, but also of global issues and how these issues impact their discipline and global society as a whole. The authors have based the model on best practices researched from colleges and universities around the globe as well as on empirical evidence from their own teaching/global experiences. Recommendations on practical methodologies to implement the seven pillars are provided.


The world needs leaders with a global perspective, an understanding of cross-cultural situations, and an appreciation of diverse peoples. It needs leaders who are able to communicate effectively with global teams, and who have sustainable international practices. Educators are seeking pedagogical methods to enhance their students’ learning and embrace a wider world of global experiences. To this end, the authors propose the Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency, which offers a conceptualized, holistic, integrated framework for higher education institutions to use as the basis for unifying classroom and campus-based learning with off-campus global experiential learning. In this framework, students gain not only a discipline-based global understanding, but also a perspective of global issues facing all of the world’s members.

The Seven Pillars Model requires universities to view global competencies not as piecemeal objectives realized through two-week country visits or supplementary readings on international religions. Instead, it recognizes that these skills are as necessary and integral to university-level learning as those related to writing, and that their cultivation depends on a complete, integrated learning experience.

While many campuses require all majors to have an international component, such as a course in international business, or in comparative literature as part of their general education requirements, very few universities treat the concept of global competencies holistically. A study abroad office may provide logistical travel arrangements for student trips, but the concept of “creating a global perspective” is not fully integrated into campus learning or international experiential learning. The Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency supports the creation of effective global leadership.

Pillar 1: Cross-Cultural Learning

Students gain cross-cultural awareness by communicating with and sharing experiences with people from different cultural perspectives. According to the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric, this process involves “the experience of an interaction with an individual or groups of people whose culture is different from your own” (Deardorff 2006, 241). To develop cross-cultural awareness by interacting with cultures unfamiliar to them, students might participate in a Native American powwow, or attend a Greek festival.

Pillar 2: Diverse Perspectives

Pillar 2 emphasizes respect for others’ differences and the ability to work with people of different backgrounds. To this end, students must seek out experiences with people who vary from themselves in gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, ability/disability, social status and other factors. Students who are privileged might work at a soup kitchen or food bank; male students might work with a female-oriented organization event, such as UN Women; Hispanic students might attend the Black Jazz Festival. The idea is to take students out of their comfort zone and gauge their reactions to unfamiliar situations.

Pillar 3: Overseas Experiences

Study abroad programs (semester-long or short 1- and 2-week sessions) are the linchpins of the overseas experience. In meeting the requirements of Pillar 3, students may also work in an overseas internship with a current employer, or in a new position set up within the study abroad/student exchange programs of the university. Additionally, when students are abroad, they may conduct on-site interviews with global leaders as part of their global field experience. During their study abroad or work experience, students are expected to keep a record of their observations, their interactions with local people, and their understanding of the environment, norms and practices of the country they visited.

Pillar 4: Experiencing Global Leaders/Experts

By attending events such as Speaker Series, Business Experts, Symposia, Conferences, Breakfast Talks, Rotary Luncheons, International Chambers of Commerce and International Summits, students will hear the viewpoints of leaders who have experience in the global marketplace and learn about international issues important to future leaders. Gaining access to such global leaders and experts helps students to see the practical side of global competency and fulfills Pillar 4.

Pillar 5: In-depth Knowledge of International Discipline and Global Issues

It is imperative that students acquire in-depth knowledge of international and global issues in their academic discipline. To this end, the global competency exam provides an objective assessment of global business for all business majors. In disciplines other than business, the final exam of a course focusing on international issues in that discipline (e.g. “Sustainability in the Global Environment”) will serve as the tool to assess the in-depth global knowledge of students.

Pillar 6: Cross-Cultural Communication Skills

Cross-cultural communication skills span verbal and non-verbal as well as written and oral communications. In business particularly, it is well documented that many companies fail due to business blunders related to “lack of cross-cultural communication skills.” Around one-half of the global executives surveyed by Adler et al. (2012, 4) admitted that “ineffective communication or inadequate collaboration had obstructed major international transactions, inevitably resulting in financial loss.” Students gain these cross-cultural communication skills by working in teams with a variety of students from across cultural boundaries. These interactions can occur in class or virtually.

Pillar 7: Capstone Global Field Action Project

Lastly, Pillar 7 is fulfilled by an integrative experience that challenges each student to apply what they have learned under the previous Pillars, and to plan a field project to better the world. This capstone experience can be a volunteer project or a work project that utilizes their cross-cultural competencies, and that results in the formulation of an action-oriented plan.

Integration of Practice and Theory

The Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency is an innovative framework that holistically addresses the business community’s needs for more globally aware leaders and gives students the value-added skills of a global mindset. The program focuses on understanding diversity, appreciating cultural differences, and broadening study abroad and exchange experiences, all of which build strong mutual understanding and respect throughout the community. By utilizing the new Global Competency Model, professors will more effectively engage students with community partners who have a global perspective, and who value international knowledge and cross-cultural experience.

Through the Seven Pillars Model of Global Competency, faculty are poised to create a distinctive educational experience that stimulates intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and innovation. It will broaden students’ global perspective by shaping curricula, field experiences and social interactions. Under Pillars 1 and 6, which cover Cross-Cultural Learning and Communication Skills, faculty will engender a spirit of openness, understanding, collaboration, and mutual respect through student projects requiring cross-cultural teamwork. In the activities to complete Pillar 2: Diverse Perspectives, students will be empowered to form their own view of diversity within a global context, and to study international cultures within the context of their educational studies.

Pillars 4 and 5 integrate global issues with the student’s major field of study through coursework, additions to course curricula, knowledge-based assessments and extra-curricular issue-based activities. In fulfilling Pillar 3: Overseas Experiences, faculty will develop and implement innovative study abroad opportunities and exchange programs that help students to reflect on and analyze their in-field experiential learning. Through these types of programs, global learning is fostered that engages students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the greater community. A best practice for Pillar 3 is to develop strategic partnerships with local as well as global institutions and corporations to provide learning opportunities for students, faculty and staff. These partnerships can once again be availed upon when completing Pillar 7, which requires students to develop global action projects that depend upon their greater global leadership skills to make an impact in the world. To these ends, faculty are challenged to develop a variety of roles, such as on-going learner, program manager, fundraiser and non-traditional teacher (Garsombke et al. 2010).

The Theory and Practical Business Needs

The business community continues to call for increased business skills relevant to the global marketplace. In her article about developing the global leader, Julia Hanna, editor of the Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin, outlines key skill areas for the 21st-century leader. These skill areas include the “ability to develop networks,” “global and local perspective,” “self-awareness and self-assurance,” “intellectual understanding of the global business context,” and “diversity of leadership . . . leveraging teams working around the world” (2012).

In the “Critical Skills for Workforce 2020” survey, one of the top-ten skills emphasized by businesses was “cross-cultural competency,” which is defined as the ability to operate in different cultural settings (2011). There are a growing number of survey and assessment tools that help evaluate global readiness and cross-cultural competencies (Gabrenya et al. 2013). One of these tools is “The Global Mindset Inventory” (GMI), which assesses a “global leader’s ability to better influence individuals, groups, and organizations unlike themselves” (“Are You Ready” 2011). The survey measures one’s global mindset in three areas: intellectual, psychological, and social. Intellectual capital is defined as “your global business savvy, your cosmopolitan outlook, and your cognitive complexity”; psychological capital includes “self-assurance” and “self-confidence”; social capital means a leader’s ability to work well with others from around the world, as well as negotiate and collaborate cross-culturally.

Other assessments are self-reported and based on behaviors. They evaluate certain cross-cultural competencies, such as the 3C Cross-Cultural Competence Self-Assessment Survey, offered by the Department of Defense (DEOMI 2013). The competencies assessed by the 3C instrument are “emotional regulation,” “impulsiveness,” “suspending judgment,” “social flexibility,” “optimism,” “stress resilience,” “willingness to engage,” and “inclusiveness.” They are ranked against a normed database of participants and a score is given for “cultural effectiveness.”

Bennett (2008, 95) defines international knowledge and competence as “a set of cognitive, affective and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.” Based on this definition, numerous faculty across the U.S. from the AACU developed the “International Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric” (2014), which is used to assess global competency in the three areas of skills (empathy, verbal and nonverbal communications), knowledge (cultural self-awareness and knowledge of cultural worldview framework), and attitudes (curiosity and openness). This value rubric draws heavily on the Pyramid Model of Intercultural Competence as outlined by Deardorff (2006, 245).


Research shows that it is best to use different assessment tools that evaluate experiences, behaviors, attitudes, understanding and knowledge; using different tools provides greater validity and generalizability of the competencies than relying on only one assessment tool (Gabrenya et al. 2011, 2013). To that end, this global competency certificate model assesses behaviors, attitudes, experiences and knowledge through portfolio assessment, journal review of overseas experiences, a cross-cultural competence survey, an objective global competency knowledge-based exam, and a capstone global field action project. Faculty are challenged to increase their own global competencies and skills by adapting their pedagogy, enhancing their overseas working and study abroad experience, becoming experts in international knowledge, learning about other cultures and languages, and engaging students in experiential activities and action-oriented projects with globally diverse people.

Faculty Resource Network Conference Participants’ Responses

Participants in the session in Puerto Rico numbered 30. When asked what types of global competency programming were being used in their organizations, 7 participants (23%) said they had semester-long study abroad programs, 7 (23%) used internships overseas, 5 (17%) had short (1- to 2-week) study abroad programs, 4 (13%) had faculty exchange programs, 4 (13%) used activities with international chambers of commerce, and 2 (1%) had comprehensive global competency certificate programs.

Faculty in attendance recommended the following: 1) be sure to emphasize that cultural and ethnic differences occur within and among countries; 2) be aware that the degree of commitment from top administrators can make or break the success of a campus’s culture of global competency; 3) utilize all university departments and offices, such as the small business development center, student center, international office, and performing arts center; and 4) provide faculty development opportunities for full- and part-time faculty and staff, including teaching exchanges, overseas trips to conferences, study abroad experiences and cultural, language, and diversity training.


Adler, N., R. Gartside, A. Gilmutdinov, N. Gurjar, L. Kang, F. Liviero, C. Solomon, P. Taparelli, and D. Bolchover. 2012. “Competing Across Borders: How Cultural and Communication Barriers Affect Business.” The Economist Intelligence Unit Limited

“Are you ready to go global?” 2011. Journal of Training and Development, September.

Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). 2014. “Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric.” As found on the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan, website.

Bennett, J. M. 2008. “Transformative Training: Designing Programs for Culture Learning.” In Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence: Understanding and Utilizing Cultural Diversity to Build Successful Organizations, edited by M. A. Moodian, 95-110. Thousand Oaks, Sage.

“Critical Skills for Workforce 2020.” 2011. T & D Magazine, September 19. As found on the J9 Blog.

Deardorff, D.K. 2006. “The Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization.” Journal of Studies in International Education 10(3): 241-266.

DEOMI (Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute). 2013. “3C Cross-Cultural Competence Self-Assessment Survey.”

Gabrenya, W. K., Jr., R.G. Moukarzel, M. Pomerance, H. Griffith, and J. Deaton. 2011. A Validation Study of the Defense Language Office Framework for Cross-Cultural Competence. Technical report, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

Gabrenya, W. K., Jr., R.G. Moukarzel, M. Pomerance, H. Griffith, and J. Deaton. 2013. Assessing Cross-Cultural Competence: How Good are the Available Instruments? Technical report, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

Garsombke, T.W., D.J. Prince, R. Fulton, G. Hanks, and H. Ralph. 2009. “May You Live in Interesting Times: That Which Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger-Faculty Roles and Responsibilities in the New Abyss.” Network Journal, November 20-21.

Hanna, Julia. 2012. “Developing the Global Leader.” Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin, October 25.

Nyirenda, S. M. and E.T. Acquah. 2012. “Assessing Student Global Competency Using Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Process (SLOAP).” Proceedings of Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)’s Commission on International Initiatives (CII), Summer Meeting, Mystic, CT, July 9-11.

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