Intercultural Leadership in Zuidas

Amsterdam is home to among the largest number of different nationalities of any city in the world. More than 180 nationalities live and work together in the Dutch capital. Cultural frictions and misunderstandings are a common challenge when working together in any multicultural setting. To ensure effective collaboration and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging, a high cultural quotient (CQ), or cultural intelligence, is a crucial leadership skill. Hello Zuidas co-hosted an Intercultural Leadership training session with Allan Kartodikromo and Alicia Utami designed to tackle these skills.


Alicia and Allan connected over their similar struggles surrounding conflicting cultural perspectives. Both are part of the ABN AMRO ERG*, Diversity Network and felt driven to create meaningful and lasting change for others through bridging cultural divides.

Allan: “I was born and raised in Surinam, but Amsterdam has been home for me for more than a decade. I work for ABN AMRO Bank on social impact and diversity and inclusion issues, which mean a lot to me. I am particularly passionate about exploring the creation of culture in both the social and corporate spheres, and how positive behavioural changes can impact individuals from marginalised backgrounds. As a coach, I am driven to create meaningful change and committed to empowering individuals from all walks of life.”

Alicia: “I was born and raised in Indonesia and moved to the Netherlands twenty-two

years ago. Culturally, I feel like I’m part of both and neither culture at the same time. I think readers from bi-cultural and immigrant backgrounds will be able to relate to this. I have worked in various parts of the banking industry for twelve years, but always areas involving collaboration with multicultural teams and a variety of countries. This has given me extensive experience of both the advantages and challenges of working with other cultures.”

* The ABN AMRO Diversity Network (DNA) is an Employee Resource Group (ERG) initiative focused on cultural diversity and on helping employees actively contribute to and boost cultural awareness within ABN AMRO.


Can you tell us more about intercultural leadership and what it is? How did you come up with the idea for this training? 

Alicia: “I started offering cultural awareness training in 2018, largely motivated by my own struggle to balance conflicting cultural perspectives. A few years ago I met Allan, who went through a similar struggle and shared my passion for this issue. Together, we redeveloped the training into its current form, with modules aimed at building cultural awareness in general, improving intercultural collaboration and developing culturally mindful leaders.”

Allan: “Having experienced my own challenges and struggles with moving to a different country, I can relate to people who may feel they are misunderstood and treated differently at times. Cultural values and norms are a common source of misunderstanding, and can cause friction and even discrimination. Our own experiences are proof of the potentially big impact in terms of both individual mental health and the cost of conflicts for companies. Our mission is to create a platform where people can discuss this. Through our Intercultural Leadership programme, we hope to bringpeople closer together by helping them understand what culture means and how it drives behaviour. And, above all, to promote open communication and reflection on things that are unfamiliar.”

You organised a successful event in December in partnership with Hello Zuidas. Can you tell us about that?

Allan: “Last December, we joined forces to do our first event together. We wanted to make our cultural awareness platform available to all companies in Zuidas. We got more than fifty participants from a range of organisations, including Miele X, Lufthansa, Crown Plaza and many more.” Alicia: “The event explored important dimensions of collaboration such as communication, giving feedback, scheduling and lots more from a cultural point of view. These things can cause conflict when there are diverging norms and values. During the session, we saw that despite coming from different professions, backgrounds and industries, many participants struggle with similar issues and unconscious biases. Having an open discussion created more understanding and helped people discover their common ground, which was great to see.”

Can we expect more training sessions?

Allan: ‘’Absolutely! We hope to collaborate more with Hello Zuidas in the future. I think we can be great partners for each other and help to bring different companies and people from various backgrounds together to talk more about cultural diversity.’’ Alicia adds: ‘’The more people we reach, the more open discussions we can have, the more insights and perspectives we can share and opportunities we can have to learn from each other. And wouldn’t that be great?”

If you like more information about our upcoming Intercultural leadership event?

Contact: Elisa Schouten, Project Manager Diversity & Inclusion Hello Zuidas

Photo: Alicia Utami (left) & Allan Kartodikromo (right)