As you point out, the smart question is why any local company would hire in an international team of consultants, when the question is blindingly obvious. It costs far more, is logistically more complex.
Your assumption is that we’re there to decode the local culture, which is true, but this is only part of the story. We’re also there to be able to bridge those learnings to a domain (mobile, internet), technologies, and corporate culture and capabilities, for it to guide design, strategy, brand, community engagement.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the highest accolade of our work can be that the results are “blindingly obvious” (I prefer the term “common sense”). This is because prior to their publication, the “obvious” weren’t considered, weren’t considered systematically, and/or were present with limited sense of prioritisation.
When our research has become “common sense” it means the client has bought into our reasoning, and in doing so has often, has adapted their world view. It allows us to get on with the next. (Having full buy-in also creates a new set of challenges, which is to stay curious and open to challenging those assumptions).
For all of your, or my prior knowledge, I suspect neither of us would pretend to understand the inner processes of a Saudi female millennial in navigating the internet. And if we did pretend to do so, what does that say about us?
Finally, in many of our projects working in countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar we build in time to pass on skills onto local members, so that on future projects they can take on more of the work themselves.