Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fate and Divinity - Islamic perspective

Out and out, fate is for those too weak to determine their own destiny. I have many reasons to believe that we create our fate every day, and every moment we live. Thus and so, each man is the architect of his own fate.

Fate comes down on those who do nothing but curse their fate. In point of fact, it utterly leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant. Implicitly and explicitly, such are the people who live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.

Just the same, those who have the power to push back the tides of consequential forces, can actually change their fate. And those who can’t are the people who ought to change their attitude. This implies that there is no fate but our decisions that make or unmake it.

Fate is just a fancy way of saying luck. Once a fortune teller told Hitler that he had no lines in his hand to show bright prospects and hence a bad fate ahead. He took a knife, incised a line on his palm and said, ‘That’s upto me how I draw my fate.” By the way, Hitler was a leader who was a victim of fate owing to wrong decision.

And never forget that winners refuse to believe in fate and losers use it as an excuse. To change your fate, you must first change yourself, as it is you who created your fate.

Some believe that one's fate may be ascertained by divination. That’s true in Islam and Allah is referred to as the Divinity. Among Muslims, there is a sphere in which human beings are perfectly free to choose between moral options. Here people have a freedom to choose good or bad options. A person has complete control in this sphere over his intentions. Even here, although he has the perfect freedom to choose, he is not free to carry out these intentions.

Man is thus partly free and partly subject to deterministic forces. He will nevertheless be held accountable for acts that he intended to do out of his free will. He can make his own fate. He has been shown both the paths, of virtue and vice, of truth and falsehood. He has been given complete freedom of choice between the two. He needs to exercise this freedom responsibly.

The belief that everything which happened, and will happen is according to the knowledge, will and command of Allah is called Taqdeer. Belief in Taqdeer is obligatory. Strong belief in Taqdeer will indicate that Allah’s wish is in this occurrence and it cannot be opposed. And Taqdeer happens to be the synonym of destiny and has nothing to do with fate.

Allah states in Surah Aal-e-Imran: “(After you have consulted) and when you have firmly decided, then have trust on Allah (and proceed to do what you have decided to do). Verily, Allah loves those who place reliance (on Him).”

In a hadith compiled by Tirimizi, Jabbir (Radi Allah anhu) narrates that Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “You can never be a Mu’min as long as you do not believe in Taqdeer in its good and its bad to such an extent that whatever is to happen will not be warded off and whatever is not to happen will not occur.

Nonetheless, in keeping with social precepts, Man is free to choose his actions but must bear the natural consequences of them. The laws governing the physical as well as the human social universe are unchanging and constant. Whosoever follows the Divine Law, even if to a very small extent, and does noble deeds will see pleasant results. As in Chapter 99, Verse 7-8 of the Holy Qur’an, Allah says “And whosoever goes against the law, even if to a very small extent, would get appropriate punishment.”

Through and through, the end of the matter is an abstract expression: destiny and not fate is the verdict of divinity. Asif J. Mir Organizational Transformation

Friday, January 30, 2009

Seeking new Pastures in Education

The state of education in Pakistan is depressing. Today we cannot compete even with third-rate countries in standard indicators of academic achievement. Weak curricula and discipline have guaranteed educational failure for tens of millions of our children. The nation should therefore look to itself and conclude that something must be done.

We are perhaps after increasing the number of educational institutions and ignoring the future of education, which is about the demise of the classroom-based teacher, and an information technology lead revolution in schools, colleges and universities.

For meeting our future economic needs, we must not lose sight of the fact that education is a process, not a commodity. It benefits the individual, and society as a whole, in all sorts of ways that are not necessarily quantifiable in terms of our national balance sheet.

Developed societies use teachers not as objects, but engines of education reform. Contrarily, our policymakers use them not as engines but tail cabins. Thus teachers are not involved in policy process for education. We need to see teachers as custodians of intellectual and cultural tradition, not servants of a government mission.

The report of the Pakistan Task Force on Improvement of Higher Education estimates that 18 million people are in the age between 17 to 23 years, eligible for tertiary education. Out of them, only 475,000 (or about 2.6%) are actually enrolled in higher education institutions. This proportion is among the lowest in the world: India (in 1990) had a tertiary enrolment ratio of 6.2%, while Iran (in 1994) had 12.7%. This is pathetic. It asks for direction and relevancy of higher education research.

Higher education in Turkey is worth talking about. The average annual growth rate of students in higher education in Turkey during the period 1980-85 was one of the highest in the world: 14.1% as compared to 7.8%in Canada, 5.0% in the UK, 1.4% in Italy, 0.2% in the US, -0.2% in Hungary, and -5.3% in Poland. The number of students enrolled in engineering is high: 18.33 %of the total enrollment as compared to 8.20 %in Italy, 7.90 %in Austria, and 3.29 %in France. In the area of higher education, can we seek some route from Turkey’s experience?

People need more education than ever before, and distance learning—connecting cable and classroom—offers a way to meet that need. Internet delivers course material to homes or offices. Discussions, assignments and exams are being done online. Some of these are courses offered by traditional universities, of which the University of Phoenix is the largest, some by accredited virtual universities with no on-campus instruction and some by unaccredited institutions. For many students, however, especially those with full-time jobs or those far from campuses, the savings in commuting and the flexibility to make their own schedules make the total cost less than that of alternatives.

The concept of virtual university is not a bad idea, which Pakistan must adopt at a large scale. It can distribute cheap Internet access and classroom content to modular learning kiosks in several thousand villages. Distributing several thousand simple, mass-produced kiosks might be less expensive than creating even one old-style university campus.

Pakistan has recently allocated resources greater than ever before. Nonetheless, it didn’t fully utilize even what paltry had been allocated earlier. Owing to intricate bureaucratic labyrinth drawing money is like pulling teeth. Consequently, the trend of spending in Pakistan is far less than the allocated money in all eight plans. There are around twenty-two steps to draw the allocated money. For survival in the new world, Pakistan has got to adopt new ways of governance.

South Korea offers an interesting paradigm in modern history. Most observers agree that it's spectacular progress in modernization and economic growth since the Korean War is largely attributed to the willingness of individuals to invest a large amount of resources in education.

Korea's liberation from Japan marked a turning point in the history of education. As the country underwent a transition from totalitarian rule to democracy, a primary concern was to provide everybody with equal educational opportunities. The period from 1945 to 1970 witnessed a dramatic expansion of education. In spite of the widespread destruction and economic suffering brought about by the Korean War (1950-1953), Korea succeeded in virtually eliminating illiteracy. Such a rapid expansion was naturally accompanied by problems, the most serious being deterioration in the quality of education. As the 1960s drew to a close, Korea's educators turned their attention to these problems and several projects were launched to improve the curricula and the methods of instruction

Although only primary school was compulsory in Korea, proportion of age-groups of children and young people enrolled in primary, secondary, and tertiary level schools were equivalent to those found in industrialized countries, including Japan. The percentage of students going on to optional middle school the same year was more than 99 percent. Approximately 34 percent, one of the world's highest rates of secondary-school graduates attended institutions of higher education in 1987, a rate similar to Japan's (about 30 percent) and exceeding Britain's (20 percent). The number of students in higher education had risen from 100,000 in 1960 to 1.3 million in 1987, and the proportion of college-age students in higher education institutions was second only to the United States.

Can Pakistan learn from the South Korean experience that explains the important role of education in its evolution from one of the world's poorest countries 50 years ago eating dogs to fuel the stomach, into a major economic success today?

A serious look at the state of the world raises a question regarding the thought process of Pakistan’s decision makers. Years of traditional education are no guarantee of a mature intellect. Entrenched mentalities need to change or institutions will continue to play the same old games and repeat the same old tunes. Schools of the future have an opportunity and responsibility to change the tune. Asif J. Mir Organizational Transformation

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Disquieted Consumers

Pakistan is perhaps the exceptional country with absolute disregard for consumer rights and where all and sundry manipulate consumers including street vendors to monopolistic utility providers, doctors and even the government hospitals.

Unlike other developing countries where consumer rights are protected Pakistan is the lone country where they continue to go on unrecognized even in the Constitution.

The other day in a family occasion the chitchat transformed into a serious talk on the medical malpractices being followed equally by government and private hospitals as a heavenly overt act.

Mr. Mushtaq is a familiar name in our civil society for he runs an NGO, Insan Foundation. He went to Shaikh Zayed Hospital to donate blood to his bedridden friend. The compulsive test revealed Hepatitis positive. Naturally this disclosure sounded to him as it were a death knell. He spent many odd hours in preparing himself to die out. He consumed quiescent somber nights begging to Supreme Being for mercy. He even elucidated his wet-eyed missus how to manage family and business affairs after his probable crack of doom.

Some friend suggested to him to undergo alternative tests from other labs. Acting on these pious advices, he went to all other renowned labs. They declared negative. When he contacted Shaikh Zayed Hospital, the people concerned took it as a routine matter, as if nothing had happened. Mushtaq is now taking legal words of wisdom from his lawyers for further course of action. Although this was a spine-chilling story for me, I was made to understand that each patient visiting any hospital, government or private, has more bloodcurdling scenarios.

My friendly word in Mushtaq’s ear is not to follow any legal suit. He will thus undergo not nice experience either. For the Constitution of Pakistan does not protect the rights of the consumer, the case will be run under civil procedure and hence linger on infinitely.

Consumerism, and the mass culture that accompanies it, is a necessary evil of our society. All societies require some structuring principle to prevent unrestrained competition, malpractice and abuse of consumer rights. Pakistan seems unconcerned.

Consumption is the process by which goods and services are, at last, put to final use by people. Consumption is at the end of the line of economic activities that starts with an evaluation of available resources and proceeds through production of goods and services and distribution of goods and services (or the means to acquire them) among people and groups. At last, the goods and services come into use. The effect of this consumption, including depletion of resources and generation of waste as well as enhancement of human survival and flourishing, determines the resource base for the next round of economic activity.

The belief that consumer satisfaction is the ultimate economic goal and that the economy is fundamentally ruled by consumer desires is called consumer sovereignty.

There are, indeed, two quite different answers to the question of why consumers are important in economics. One is the traditional assumption, that final consumption is the ultimate purpose of all economic activity; production and distribution exist solely to increase the well being of consumers. In this view, consumers are the justification for economic activity and therefore for economic theory as well.

The other answer is that consumers keep the economy going by generating demand for goods and services. Without this demand, the supply side of the economy would expire: How long can producers keep producing if no one buys their goods? From this perspective, consumers as a source of demand are central to the mechanism that makes the economic system run.

Regarding the justification argument for consumer sovereignty, it should be remembered that although the end products of production derive their value solely from their contribution to the well-being of society and of individual consumers, the process of production is valuable for other reasons as well. People are more than just consumers. Consumption activities most directly address living standard (or lifestyle) goals, which have to do with satisfying basic needs and getting pleasure through the use of goods and services.

Regarding the view that consumer sovereignty is the fundamental mechanism that guides economies, we need to recall that consumers—as members of complex larger organizations including families, communities, corporations, and nations—are subject to many influences from social institutions. The idea of a “sovereign consumer” implies someone who independently makes decisions. But what if those decisions are—instead of being independent—heavily influenced by community norms and aggressive marketing by businesses? Who “rules” then? When we look at an economy from this perspective, we can see that consumer behavior is often cultivated as a means to the ends of producers, rather than the other way around. Asif J. Mir Organizational Transformation

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Demographic Trap

As we approach the future, new demographic criteria are needed. The world is dividing largely into countries where population growth is slow or nonexistent and where living conditions are improving and those where population growth is rapid and living conditions are deteriorating or in imminent danger of doing so. Pakistan is in second group in its sixth decade of rapid population growth. Not only has it failed to complete the demographic transition, but the deteriorating relationship between people and ecological support systems is lowering living standards.

Pakistan’s population now just around 160 million is projected to reach 330 million before it stops growing toward the middle of this century. It is more than double before stabilizing. This means combination of soil erosion and ill-conceived agricultural policies will lead to poverty increase. Population projections in Pakistan where life support systems are already trifling can only be described as projections of disaster.

The wide variations in projected population growth suggest that a demographically divided world is likely to become more deeply divided along economic lines as well. Unless this relationship between rapidly multiplying populations and their life-support systems can be stabilized, development policies, however imaginative, are likely to fail.

Throughout most of human history, the general increase in human numbers was accompanied by a slow expansion of the cropland area. As populations grew, land pressures built, the landless migrated to big cities. This is the cause of urbanization in Karachi, Lahore and other big cities. The cropland area might have grown but not nearly as fast as population. Thus the result is growing rural landlessness—lack of access to land either through ownership or tenancy. Though fueled by population growth, rural landlessness is exacerbated by the concentration of land ownership.

The growth in landlessness can be curbed or even reversed by initiating land reform. To check the growth in landlessness is to slow population growth through effective family planning. Land reform can reduce landlessness in the short run, but in the long run only population stabilization will work.

Numerous linkages exist between population growth and conflict, both within and among societies. Conflict arises when growing populations compete for a static or shrinking resource base. Inequitable distribution of resources—whether of income, land or water—complicates the relationship. Increased competition and conflict fray the social fabric that helps maintain social harmony.

For Pakistan, the global economic slowdown has come just as record numbers of young people are entering the job market. The specter of growing numbers of restless unemployed youngsters in the street does not convey an image of social tranquility. Unemployed youths roaming the streets of Pakistan where half the population under 18 years of age, with no prospect of job formation, hungry, and looking to irregular leaders to lead them in new and as yet unpredictable movements—there is little question that even more political explosions are on the immediate horizon.

In Pakistan the demographic trap is becoming the grim alternative to completing the demographic transition. The high fertility, low mortality stage cannot continue for long. By now Pakistan should have put together a combination of economic policies and family planning programs that reduce birth rates and sustain gains in living standards. If it failed further, continuing rapid population growth eventually overwhelm natural support systems, and environmental deterioration starts to reduce per capita food production and income.

Pakistan perhaps does not know when it is crossing the various biological thresholds that eventually lead to economic decline. One of the first economic indications that pressure on the land is becoming excessive is declining grain production per person. In earlier agricultural societies, population increases were simply matched by those in cultivated area. Grain output per person was stable. When population growth is rapid and there is no new land to plow, expanding the use of modern inputs fast enough to offset the effects of land degradation and to raise land productivity in tandem with population growth is not easy. It comes as no surprise that per capita grain production is declining.

When this happens it is a matter of time until the government translates into a decline in per capita income, and into the need for food imports. Rising food imports contribute to growing external debt. If external debt rises fast enough, it will eventually cross a debt-servicing threshold, beyond which Pakistan can no longer pay all the interest. At this point lenders insist that the unpaid interest be added to the principal, expanding the debt further.

The demographic trap is not easily recognized because it involves the interaction of population, environmental, and economic trends, which are monitored by various ministries and departments. And managers frequently fail to distinguish between triggering events and underlying instability in the population-environment relationship.

Lacking a ground in ecology and an understanding of carrying capacity, all too many economic planners and population policymakers have failed to distinguish between the need to slow population growth and the need to halt it. If societal demands are far below the sustainable yield of natural systems, then slowing population growth is sufficient. But when they have passed these thresholds, the failure to halt population growth leads to deterioration of support systems.

Other countries are moving into uncharted territory in the population-environment-resources relationship. Pakistan cannot remain much longer in the middle stage of the demographic transition. Either it must forge ahead with all the energies at its disposal, perhaps even on an emergency basis, to slow and halt population growth, or it will slide into the demographic trap. At present the government is faced with the monumental task of trying to reduce birth rates as living conditions deteriorate a challenge that may require some new approaches. If it failed, economic deterioration could eventually lead to social disintegration of the sort that undermined earlier civilizations when population demands became unsustainable. (click here to view professional professional profile of Asif J. Mir)Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Dehydrated Future is coming

Water resources are declining and different UN reports confirm that serious shortages are occurring soon. Thus we see a future when there will be no or less drinking water.

Access to water is a human right. Current declarations on human rights include basic water needs sufficiently. Basic water rights focus only on water for domestic use, and speak only of amounts of the order of 30-50 liters per person per day. Nonetheless, for many poor people, access to water for productive purposes is a crucial basic need as well. This is because water is a key factor of production in agriculture and for most other forms of economic activity that are vital to the livelihoods and opportunities of the poor.

Some question the wisdom of providing water of drinking quality at great expense, only to have a large share flushed down toilets, to carry waste, where after it is cleaned again for the few that can afford this costly practice. Opinions differ: some water experts advocate ecological sanitation, others dry toilets, some people argue that only bottled water should be of drinking quality and piped water quality should be limited to fit all other use made of it. All these alternative approaches deserve more attention.

Water infrastructure of Pakistan is turning into archaic. Reservoirs are silting up irrigation networks and turning disrepair. Groundwater levels are falling in important aquifers that have contributed substantially to food security in recent years by providing water-on-demand to millions of farmers that tapped them using tube-wells to grow their crops. This situation has impacted adversely causing a serious scarcity of water resources. This scarcity has hit the poor and vulnerable-first and hardest.

Pakistan’s per capita water availability in 1951 was 5,650 which has fallen to around 1,200 cubic meters 1,200 and with current population growth rate, it will be reduced to 1,000 cubic meters by the year 2012. So the hard reality that we as people faced today is that Pakistan in the past fifty years has turned into a water-scarce from a water-sufficient country and the situation continues to go downhill. This is the specimen of a mismanaged case.

Pakistan is the victim of repeated wrong planning of its land and water resources to produce food. All this is due to the pathetic and inert attitude of the technocrats, bureaucrats, politicians and the government as no national policy on water development was framed.

Large-scale development of river and groundwater resources is less acceptable today, for environmental reasons. It is also less cost effective than it was in the 1960-1990 period, when the large majority of the world's 45,000 large dams were built.

Water can be distributed through government institutions or the market. Privatization of water service provision, however, does not imply privatization of water resources. Water is a public good, which should be treated as an economic good where it is used for economic purposes. The public-private sector role nevertheless does not imply the role of multinational companies but the role and significance of the small-scale private sector.

In agriculture, private farmers have been largely responsible for the major investments in groundwater development. This groundwater use has contributed significantly to food production and the creation of wealth in rural areas. But government has failed to elaborate rules and mechanism ensuring that groundwater is used in a way that minimizes the risks of over-use and protects groundwater quality.

Increasing the efficiency in irrigated agriculture can result in large water savings. The UN Secretary General once rightly uttered: We need a Blue Revolution in agriculture that focuses on increasing productivity per unit of water. Indeed, at the farm level, the focus on water productivity in physical terms, crop output per unit of water, is a necessary and useful framework. Likewise, appropriate soil fertility and plant nutrition management can be a way to achieve more crops per unit of water. Water productivity at the basin level must be defined to include crop, livestock and fishery yields, wider ecosystem services and social impacts such as health, together with the systems of resource governance that ensure equitable distribution of these benefits.

For sustainable development, it is clear that better water management should be a means to reduce poverty. Strategies to address water-poverty relationships need to improve the different capabilities of the poor in their battle against poverty. These strategies also need to address the pervasive gender issues in water. Those affected by water problems are too often women, while those deciding on solutions tend to be men. Building gender-equitable capabilities of the poor to manage their water resources should also be at the heart of capacity building in the water sector.

The Provinces should formulate a water supply master plan and continuous planning process to estimate demand for drinking water and identify alternative ways of meeting that demand.

They should also establish and allocate resources to local governments for the preparation of provincial-mandated water supply plans. The Provinces should also enact legislation requiring local governments to formulate and administer comprehensive watershed protection programs in designated future water supply watersheds.

A system needs also to be evolved to promote the adoption of best management practices to minimize agricultural erosion in designated future water supply watersheds by funding and extending existing state cost-sharing programs to those watersheds and by targeting federal, state, and local technical assistance programs to them. A framework also has to be in place to increase technical assistance to local governments to help them prepare and administer watershed protection programs for designated future drinking water sources.

In evaluating alternatives for conjunctive use, water managers should also view ground water as more than a supplement to surface supplies. In particular, managers should assess the value of ground water in optimizing storage capacity, enhancing transmission capabilities, and improving water quality of the system. Asif J. Mir Organizational Transformation

Monday, January 26, 2009

The McWorld raiding the Culture

Today’s global economy has a tendency to insulate consumers from the various negative impacts of their purchases by stretching the distance between different phases of a product’s lifecycle—from raw material extraction to processing, use, and disposal. Yet at the same time, social challenges accompanying economic globalization call for innovative forms of political mobilization across international borders. Shifting to more sustainable patterns of consumption and production worldwide will require pursuing new ground rules in order to forge a global economy based on protecting cultural values.

What we see is the onrush of the economic, technological, and ecological forces mesmerizing peoples everywhere with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—one McWorld tied together by communications, information, entertainment, commerce and especially the culture.

Today, the global spread of McWorld is rapidly bringing the consumer society of USA to the rest of the planet. The globalization of the consumer economy is closely linked with the general economic boom and growth in the movement of goods, services, and money across international borders, which accelerated during the 1990s.

McDonald’s operates 30,000 restaurants in 119 countries and serves 46 million customers each day. Its total revenue was $15.4 billion in 2002. On opening day in Kuwait City, the line for the McDonald’s drive-through was over 10 kilometers long. McDonald's has also spread expeditiously across Pakistan in almost 5 years with 18 restaurants in major cities. Strangely, there is no McDonald’s outlet in Peshawar and Quetta. McDonald’s costs the same in Pakistan as in the US, and given the per capita GDP disparity between the two countries, it is the cheapest food in one country, while being one of the most expensive in the other.

Pizza Hut also operates a chain of outlets in Pakistan and planning further to invest approximately 1 billion rupees in expansion. The money is being used to open 20 new outlets.

Coca-Cola sells more than 300 drink brands in over 200 countries. More than 70 percent of the corporation’s income originates outside of the United States, and its net revenues reached $19.6 billion in 2002.

Meanwhile, corporate strategies focused on boosting consumer demand in Pakistan have lead to increases in purchases of all manner of goods, from cars and televisions to paper and fast food. While it is ethically problematic to suggest that developing countries are not entitled to have the same options for material consumption that have long been taken for granted by western consumers, the global adoption of industrial country–style consumption patterns would place unbearable strains on local cultures.

The 1990s saw the emergence of many important international agreements and commitments embracing the need to transform unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. Agenda 21, the action plan that emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, called on international institutions and national governments to promote greater energy and resource efficiency, minimize waste generation, encourage environmentally sound purchasing, and shift toward pricing systems that incorporate hidden environmental costs.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development has provided a useful annual venue for governments and others to discuss consumption and production issues. The deliberations have produced little concrete action though. There is no voice raised for conservation of social values.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, governments agreed to develop a 10-year framework of programs to accelerate the shift toward sustainable consumption and production. These include offering a better range of products and services to consumers, providing more information about the health and safety of various products, and establishing programs of capacity building and technology transfer to help share these gains with developing countries. The World Summit also generated more than 230 partnership agreements among diverse stakeholders.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has sponsored a series of meetings and papers aimed at encouraging governments to implement innovative sustainable consumption and production policies.

In all these forums, apart from consumption and production, no emphasis is laid on the issue of social influence. Unfortunately, the limited gains made since 1992 in shifting toward more-sustainable patterns of consumption and production have been largely overwhelmed by the continued global growth of the consumer society. The controversial lifestyle issues continue to haunt.

The breakdown of WTO negotiations in CancĂșn in September 2003 provided reform-minded governments and activists with an opportunity to push for bringing future trade negotiations into better balance with sustainable development concerns. The way forward, nevertheless, is not yet clear.

Several new initiatives have emerged in the corporate and financial sectors, including the United Nations’ Global Compact, which calls on participating companies to integrate nine core values related to human rights, labor standards, and environmental protection into their operations, and the Equator Principles, which call on leading banks to manage environmental and social risks in their lending operations.

The international trade negotiations can provide opportunities to push for policy reforms needed to promote more-sustainable consumption and production. All the same, WTO rules and negotiations can also be used to protect cultures and social taboos of the host countries of MNCs.

Brands like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Pepsi and Coca-Cola are not just cultural aggression but also an expression of power; once America lost its power these will go. It is nonetheless impossible to filter culture. In the past we hated the British raj but gradually adopted its symbols. Today we hate America and don’t want to adopt what we think is its culture. Pakistan must save its own culture to counter the onslaught. There is a need for reform in our culture, but this should not be obfuscated through this hatred or that. The only answer to the American cultural onslaught is the protection of Pakistan’s own culture. www.asifjmir.com

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cutting out a Pro-Poor Budget

In developing countries each time the budget has come, it means the elimination of benefits for the poor and elevated benefits for the rich. The hopes of the governments for making their countries as the most vibrant economies are laudable but the development policies have no relevance to the man in street.

The majority of the people in poor countries yearns for a pro-poor budget. Promoting pro-poor growth requires a strategy that is deliberately biased in favor of the poor so that the poor benefit proportionally more than the rich.

In general a pro-poor budget is one that takes into account the needs of the poor. It is one that seeks to make a difference in the lives of the poor. It is one that would impact positively on the poor so as to enable them to actively participate in and benefit from the process of development. A pro-poor budget would enable the poor to have increased opportunities In order to be healthy, educated, productive and responsible people. Such a budget would have to have a deliberate bias so that the poor would benefit proportionately more from government expenditure than the rich.

The first step in achieving a pro-poor budget is the identification of who the poor are. The understanding and measurement of poverty has evolved over time. Today it is generally accepted that poverty is not only a money related deprivation, but a combination of several deprivations that result in lack of well being. Consequently budget provisions must respond, to this complex situation of poverty. This is no easy task. In formulating a pro-poor budget there is need to have up to date information of the levels, intensity and types of deprivations that make up poverty.

There are many reasons, both practical and strategic, to establish a conceptual linkage between gender and poverty for promoting gender-sensitive budgets. It would be a mistake to simply equate the two categories. Gender imbalances and inequalities should run across every social, economic and political classification. The exclusion and deprivation experienced by the poor is not the same, and tends to be even more acute for women than for men. Gender allows us to stop envisioning the poor as a homogeneous category of people, whose needs can be addressed in a uniform way.

Pro-poor growth should direct resources disproportionately to the sectors in which the poor work (e.g. agriculture), areas in which they live (underdeveloped regions), factors of production which they posses (such as unskilled labor), outputs, which they consume (such as food), translated into strategy of pro-poor growth - employment generation combined with price stability of goods and services which are essential items. Policies need to be designed to reflect concerns of poverty.

In order to address poverty effectively the budget will need to have more direct rather than indirect means of taxation. This would help reduce prevailing high-income inequalities and help spread the benefits of economic growth.

Pro-poor growth means that the poor benefit disproportionately from economic growth. This is to say the proportional income growth (i.e. their income growth rate) of the poor must exceed the average income growth rate. The per-capita income growth rate of the poor must exceed growth rate.

Three obvious policy messages emerge. First, policies to promote growth should help the poor although they could do so more if they made growth pro-poor rather than neutral as it currently is. Second, reducing initial inequality, particularly asset inequality, should receive highest priority, due to its triple effect on poverty. Third, reducing gender inequality should equally be of highest concern to policy makers that want to achieve pro-poor growth.

It is clear that pro-poor growth that directly reduces poverty must be in sectors where the poor are and use the factors of production they possess. The vast majority of the poor is in rural areas, a majority depends directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood, and the factor of production the poor possess and use most is labor, sometimes land, and even more rarely human capital. Thus pro-poor growth must be focused on rural areas, improve incomes and productivity in agriculture, and must make intensive use of labor. These things are nearly tautological, but often forgotten and are clearly not reflected in public policies or in the allocation of public funds by national governments or donors.

Heavy investment in the human capital of the poor will yield two benefits on poverty reduction. It will increase economic growth and it will make growth more pro-poor. The record of East Asia is a good illustration where high human capital accumulation promoted growth and poverty reduction.

Beyond a concern for increasing average incomes and reducing poverty, there is a greater appreciation for a need to enhance the security for the population if one is to ensure sustainable pro-poor growth. The security of the poor is threatened by physical threats. Thus, the poor are forced to avoid risks that may carry high rewards, can get trapped in cycles of poverty and insecurity, and are regularly pummeled by shocks that militate against sustainable reductions in poverty.

Our budget-makers need to remember that real enemy is poverty and deprivation, that their key weapon is their skill and professionalism and that their modus operandi is their humility. They are the custodians of a value system that defines our objective as demonstrating every single day that we are a caring democracy.

Attaining a pro-poor budget is a big challenge. It requires a bottom-up approach; that ensures that poverty eradication is a central issue and not a donor driven requirement. The principles of equity and accountability with particular attention to efficiency and effectiveness have to be continually respected at each stage of the budget process. www.asifjmir.com

Friday, January 23, 2009

Women in Leadership Roles and Nay-sayers

This is an era for women in Pakistan to create history. It started with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to not just become the first women head of government of Pakistan but also the first woman prime minister of Muslim World. Treading on the heels of Benazir Bhutto, six more Muslim head of states were produced comprising Mame Madior Boye of Senegal, Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Kaqusha Jashari of Kosovo, Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia and Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed of Bangladesh.

Then we heard about Dr Shamshad Akhter becoming the first woman governor of State Bank of Pakistan. Yet another history was written when Pakistan’s premier business association, The Overseas Chamber of Commerce & Industry, appointed its first ever women CEO Unjela Siddiqi, followed by the appointment of Jehan Ara, the first paid CEO of Pakistan Software Houses Association. Last but not the least, Mrs. Nasrin Haq has become the first woman to head Karachi Port Trust as Chairperson. The story about installing women in high-powered decision making positions thus goes on and on. It appears as if Pakistan has become conscious of the power of women and hence bringing the female talent to the fore to head various institutions of significance.

Although the recent history of most Muslim countries points to a poor track record in engaging women as productive contributors to their economic and social prosperity, some recent trends point to a positive shift. Some leading women executives serve as role models and inspiration including Guler Sabanci, Chairman, Sabanci Holding (Turkey), Nahed Taher, Founder and Chief Executive, Maha Al-Ghunaim, Founder, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Global Investment House (Kuwait), Lubna Olayan, Chief Executive, Olayan Financing (Saudi Arabia.), Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Economy and Planning, and Chief Executive Officer of Tejari (an online B2B marketplace).

Pakistan is widely recognized that although female participation in the paid labor force is increasing, it is still at a low level. According to Federal Bureau of Statistics, Pakistan’s labor force survey, only 0.3% employers are female.

Notwithstanding the huge women population in Pakistan with a flagrantly paltry female workforce, we are indeed changing—from the notion that women got married, had children and stayed home. Still we have a long way to go to ensure the best talent makes it into leadership positions. Women in leadership roles continue to be an important topic for top professionals and women themselves. Not just a matter of fairness - it makes good business sense to retain and promote the best talent, irrespective of gender.

Through and through in a male dominated society like Pakistan, for women acquiring leadership roles, is like a hard nut to crack. Such women, who acquire top slots in organizations, have to confront a perfervid repugnance from male peers. Despite Mrs. Nasrin Haq represents an acronym of extraordinary academic credentials and well practiced knowledge in road, rail and sea transportation, a campaign of vilification and contempt has been launched against her.

Verily, Nasrin Haq must be confident in her leadership abilities, not letting nay-sayers stand in her way. She can take the lead from Fran Keeth, the CEO of Shell Chemical, who faced incredible resistance from executive officers at her company, but she just kept doing the best job she could, and doing it with a smile. It took her some doing to get herself accepted and earn her spurs. She eventually became accepted.

Women leadership can also learn from Carleton Fiorina who was chairperson of HP—world’s second-largest computer maker. With close to $50 billion in annual revenue, it's one of the 20 largest companies in the world. Carleton Fiorina was crowned the most powerful woman in American business by Fortune magazine. She also played a critical role in the spin-off of Lucent Technologies Inc. in 1996. Taking over at HP in 1999, she was thought by all to be the one who would rescue the faltering computer giant—and she gracefully did it.

Nasrin Haq needs to break down the glass ceiling right through using leadership skills that have taken her to the very top of the KPT. Indeed women such as Nasrin Haq have beaten the odds by delivering above average results, their industry knowledge and superior leadership abilities.

The critics of Nasrin Haq should get to know that full participation of women in decision-making processes has been recognized as a human right in international human rights conventions and global policy frameworks and as critical for the achievement of gender equality.

The outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action, considered the inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels as one of the critical areas of concern for the empowerment of women. It also noted that women's equal participation in decision-making is not only a precondition for justice or democracy but is also a necessary condition for ensuring that women's interests and rights are taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of gender perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.

In the 2005 World Summit, Member States reaffirmed that the full and effective implementation of the goals and objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was an essential contribution to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. To put this commitment into practice will require that women have equal opportunities to participate fully in all decision-making processes.

The dilemmas faced by women in terms of assuming leadership roles, climbing the corporate ladder and contributing to decision-making processes in the organization are, anchored in the socio-cultural context as well as in the maps and definitions they carry from the past.

Despite their comparable qualifications, however, female managers are not entering the highest leadership positions at the same rate as their male counterparts. At the start of the 1990s, only five of the Fortune 500 industrial and service companies had female CEOs, and of the highest paid officers and directors of the 1,300 largest industrial and service companies, women made up less than 0.5%. The numbers have improved, but another survey found only 11% of Fortune 500 board members were women. These statistics raise the question of why women have encountered limited access to senior leadership roles. Perceptions, rather than reality, may be the answer.

Just as successful managers are defined in masculine terms, perceived leader effectiveness is also associated with male characteristics. Masculinity in male and female leaders is perceived by all subordinates as effective, whereas female leaders displaying feminine characteristics are not seen as effective. Especially in cases where they occupy highly male-dominated leadership roles, women are vulnerable to “prejudiced evaluations and lowered effectiveness.” In leadership positions that are rarely held by women, and that perhaps as a result become strongly associated with male characteristics, women may need to display masculine characteristics to be seen as effective. In fact, current advice to women adopts this strategy. Women need to be assertive. Men in the business world often misjudge women's behavior style ... as an in ability to lead.

We recognize that women leaders in the public sector face the same challenges as their counterparts in the private sector in terms of breaking through the class ceiling. The limited career opportunities is an issue, the constraint of traditional gender roles is another.

In keeping with the quote of Dr. Shamshad Akhter, “Even in traditional societies, the widening of women’s horizons and the promotion of their confidence and social awareness can facilitate women’s involvement in community affairs and even in the leadership of their communities.” She also said, “Don’t just promote women for the sake of promoting women. Promote competent professionals. By design you will promote women who have contributed substantially to the good work.” Dr. Shamshad Akhter has always moved up through merit and being a female did not really help her to get to the giddy heights of glory, for she probably deserved them by virtue of her commitment and hard work.

The challenges to increasing female participation in mainstream economic activity, and the creation of leadership within women entrepreneurs, are manifold. These challenges range from social taboos; conservative lobbies; lack of access to education, information, and finance to discriminatory behaviors by male counterparts, severely inhibiting the ability of women to develop leadership skills and to participate in the policymaking process. Yet another complexity is the non-existent gender focused institutions such as women chambers, which generally act as facilitators in networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities.

The corporate sector of Pakistan stands to benefit from these trends in increasing and improving their productivity as well as applying diversity in their capabilities. In more conservative societies, entrepreneurs stand to gain by engaging women in a culturally sensitive way and leveraging technologies such as the internet to enhance their participation in the economy and society at large.

The Government also needs to recognize the key role women can play in communities and society at large. We want to see more women in key decision-making positions. This is crucial if we are to ensure we have policies that deliver for women. (www.asifjmir.com)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Making a Dead Set at Corruption

Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on society. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes quality of life, and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human society to flourish. As defined by Transparency International: “Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” According to Kofi Annan, “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately—by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”

The good news is that future of corruption is not so bright it will not entirely finish though.

No country is entirely free of corruption. Efforts to fight corruption encourage transparency and accountability, thanks to an increased understanding of corruption's social and economic costs. There is the need for expanding the econometric framework, as well as to more general future research directions and policy implications in the field of governance.

Corruption is principally a governance issue, a failure of institutions and a lack of capacity to manage society by means of a framework of social, judicial, political and economic checks and balances. Good governance and globalization (at both the country as well as at the city level) do matter for performance in terms of access and quality of delivery of infrastructure services.

Corruption is deeply embedded in the political culture and poverty of Pakistan. Regulatory bodies are particularly vulnerable to corruption as they have the power to make key decisions on profit-making activities. Corrupt regulatory bodies can thus dangerously impede economic development.

Discretion creates more opportunities for corruption than where regulatory requirements are laid out through clear, precise and formal rules. Debate about corruption tends to focus almost exclusively on the receivers of corruption, rather than the purveyors. Corruption is alive and well and living in myriads of places. Bribery is simply the way business is done in Pakistan.

Within Pakistan's political dynamics, corruption figures as a very critical element. Prevalence of corruption in various political regimes has been the main cause of their downfall. The incumbents have placed accountability and the anti-corruption drive very high on its agenda in form of NAB its operational approach is rather controversial.

Corruption increases the number of capital projects undertaken and tends to enlarge their size and complexity. The result is that, paradoxically, some public investment can end up reducing a country’s growth because, even though the share of public investment in gross domestic product (the total of all goods and services produced in a country in a given year) may have risen, the average productivity of that investment is dropped.

For a private enterprise, getting a contract to execute a project, especially a large one, can be very profitable. Therefore, managers of these enterprises may be willing to offer commission to politicians who help them win the contract. Conversely, in many cases the act of bribery may not start with the enterprise but with the officials who control the decisions. It is apparently impossible to win a government contract in Pakistan without first paying a bribe. Interestingly, the laws of certain major industrial countries regard commissions paid by domestic enterprises to foreign politicians as not only legal but also tax deductible.

In some of these phases, a strategically placed high-level official or elected leader can manipulate the process to select a particular project. He can also tailor the specifications of the design to favor a given enterprise by, for example, providing inside information to that enterprise at the time of issuance of tender.

The enterprise that pays the commission rarely suffers from the payment of the bribe, since it is fairly simple to recover that cost. First, if corrupt officials of winning the bidding competition assure it, the enterprise can include the cost of the commission in its bid. Second, it can reach an understanding with the influential official that the initial low bid can be adjusted upward along the way, presumably to reflect modifications to the basic design. Third, it can reduce its spending on the project by the amount of the bribe by skimping on the quality of the work performed and the materials used. Fourth, if the contract is stipulated in a cost-plus fashion, the enterprise can recover the cost of the commission by overpricing.

The first step towards tackling corruption is preventing it. In attempting to prevent the laundering of proceeds of corruption mechanisms need to set up to review suspicious transactions, and analyze financial information.

Transparency and accountability in matters of public finance must also be promoted, and specific requirements established for the prevention of corruption, in particularly critical areas of the public sector, such as public procurement.

Citizens have the right to expect a high standard of conduct from their public servants. They also have to participate in preventing public corruption. For these reasons there is a need to actively encourage and promote the involvement of non-governmental and community based organizations, as well as, other elements of civil society, and to raise public awareness of corruption and what can be done about it.

There is a requirement for the prevention of corruption in the judiciary. Decision-making should be entrusted to committees rather than individuals. Although this adds to the cost of regulation, it may eventually save money by facilitating mutual monitoring and accountability.

New attitudes, better financial systems, prosecution of the guilty, better management of diamonds and real accountability to the people … this is the agenda for change. In taking it forward, the leading role must obviously be taken by the people and Government. But tackling corruption effectively requires a real focus, coordinated action and shared responsibility. Everyone’s energies must be thrown behind this anti-corruption strategy. It is the key to a better future for the people of Pakistan. (www.asifjmir.com)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"We the people . . . . ."

From the lost Constitution of 1973 to its current structure, all incumbents have been cutting holes with amendments to fortify their power. No effort has ever been made to consolidate the power of people. Never has there been any attempt to include the parts that protect consumer rights. Thus and so, the Constitution of Pakistan does not guard the consumer rights of the citizens of Pakistan. Implicitly, first come the rights of the citizens, and then comes the Constitution. If a constitution contains adequate procedures to protect rights, it can be legitimate even if it was not consented to by everyone; and one that lacks adequate procedures to protect human rights is unfair even if it was consented to by a majority.

Future is on our head with the concept of globalization that is changing the focus of governance. Instead of territory, human rights are now getting significance. And consumer rights happen to be the component of larger human rights program.

Consumer means people. By barely defining consumers as customers, we bar millions of citizens who due to lacking resources can’t buy. So consumers are citizens. Moreover, everybody has to consume to survive—consumption is a natural process for human survival. Thus, everyone is a consumer by default.

Consumers are the largest economic group in any country’s economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. But they are also the only important group that is not effectively organized, whose views are not heard. Therefore, the Government, the highest spokesman for all people, has a special obligation to the consumer’s needs.

The consumer rights have a universal significance as they symbolize the aspirations of the poor and disadvantaged. On this basis, the United Nations, in April 1985, adopted its Guidelines for Consumer Protection. They include: 1) the protection of consumers from hazards to their health and safety; 2) the promotion and protection of the economic interests of consumers; 3) access of consumers to adequate information to enable them to make informed choices according to individual wishes and needs; 4) consumer education on the environmental, social and economic impacts of consumer choice; 5) availability of effective consumer redress; and 6) freedom to form consumer and other relevant groups and the opportunity to present their views in decision-making processes affecting them.

No legislator, no political scientist, no intellectual, and no so-called constitutional expert ever provided a new, realistic and philosophically rigorous theory of constitutional legitimacy that justifies both translating the Constitution according to the needs of people and, where that need is vague or open-ended, construing it so as to better protect the rights of the people. Consequently, even the general principles defined by the UN could not be realized.

The consumer protection issues are seldom included in the agendas of utility service providers, most of which are in public sector. Consequently, the rights of poor Pakistanis are being trampled even by public sector organizations like WAPDA, Sui Gas, and PTCL, to mention a few. Little attention is given to consumer protection policies, and consumer friendly market structures, incentive regulation, tariff regimes, deregulation and competition.

Consumer issues can be chronicled even before partition under the colonial rule that established monopoly regimes, when consumers had no voice at all. Same structure was adopted after independence and it continues on and on disregarding the advent of competition, which has given rise to greater concern about consumer welfare. Hence the consumers in Pakistan today feel that they remain to be excluded from the decision-making process. They believe that they are still far off from the regulatory process that provides them no opportunity to influence or even overturn critical decisions. And so consumer perceptions and opinions about the marketplace scenario are depressing.

In Pakistan lack of choice among alternative service providers due to a single or dominant operator is making consumers vulnerable. They have no right, whatsoever, for intervention where dominant operators are protected by the government, where there is no quality of service performance requirements and where dominant operators are authorized to set tariffs without rationale and beyond reach of the majority.

An informed consumer is an empowered consumer. Regulators should make every effort to empower consumers. Specific educational mass-media campaigns are needed to educate consumers about their rights. School textbooks are another useful but neglected channel to educate consumers about their rights. Education is a powerful, albeit, long-term action to shape people’s attitudes about enforcing their rights as consumers.

Activities that regulators should consider in setting up the consumer agenda include: establishing customer services, creating mass awareness of consumer rights, enforcing those rights, creating nationwide offices to address consumer issues and offering dispute resolution systems.

India is getting a global reputation for the rapid development of its consumer movement. Today that is perhaps the only country in the world, which has exclusive courts for consumer redressal of grievances that too within 90 to 150 days. One of the greatest achievements of the Indian consumer movement is the enactment of the dynamic consumer law in 1986: COPRA. Coming 39 years after Independence, it has acknowledged the rampant consumer abuses, including those of the government owned public utilities like telephones, transport, power etc.

Pakistan does not have a cohesive national consumer policy. Neither it has a national consumer protection law. The Federal List in the Constitution does not include the issue of consumer protection. Perceptibly, the provinces also don’t have consumer protection laws. The federal capital promulgated a consumer protection law in 1995 but was never implemented. Since the State has not provided any protection mechanism that consumers could use to protect them, hence they feel very helpless. Controversial amendments or litigious issues aside, our legislators ought to think about people and at least give a national consumer protection law. (Click Asif J. Mir to view his professional profile)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dealing with Conflict

With the turn of economic wheel conflict has entered into our daily life as an indispensable impedimenta. Whether in domestic, professional or political living and breathing world we are dominated by lacking conflict management skills and hence dragging on with antipathy, bitter feelings and state of war. For creating a fraternal, congenial and harmonious environment we ought to master skills essential for dealing with conflict.

Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs. It can also originate from past rivalries and personality differences.

The first step in managing conflict is to analyze the nature and type of conflict. To do this, you'll find it helpful to ask questions.

Collaboration results from a high concern for your group's own interests, matched with a high concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is win/win. This strategy is generally used when concerns for others are important. This approach helps build commitment and reduce bad feelings. Some partners may take advantage of the others' trust and openness. Generally regarded as the best approach for managing conflict, the objective of collaboration is to reach consensus.

Compromise strategy results from a high concern for your group's own interests along with a moderate concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is win some/lose some. This strategy is generally used to achieve temporary solutions, to avoid destructive power struggles or when time pressures exist.

Competition strategy results from a high concern for your group's own interests with less concern for others. The outcome is win/lose. This strategy includes most attempts at bargaining. It is generally used when basic rights are at stake or to set a precedent. It can cause the conflict to escalate and losers may try to retaliate.

Accommodation results from a low concern for your group's own interests combined with a high concern for the interests of other partners. The outcome is lose/win. This strategy is generally used when the issue is more important to others than to you. It is a goodwill gesture. It is also appropriate when you recognize that you are wrong. The drawbacks are that your own ideas and concerns don't get attention. You may also lose credibility and future influence.

Avoidance results from a low concern for your group's own interests coupled with a low concern for the interests of others. The outcome is lose/lose. This strategy is generally used when the issue is trivial or other issues are more pressing. It is also used when confrontation has a high potential for damage or more information is needed.

Several enemies often combine to create contention. The first enemy is the natural need to want to explain the side first. After all, we reason, if they understood our perspective, they would come to the same conclusions we did. The second enemy is ineffectiveness as listeners. Listening is much more than being quiet so we can have our turn. The third enemy is fear. Fear that we will not get our way. Fear of losing something we cherish. Fear we will be made to look foolish. The fourth enemy is the assumption that one of us has to lose if the other is going to win. Differences can only be solved competitively.

Two principles have contributed so much to the productive handling of disagreements that it is difficult to read about the subject in scholarly works without their mention. The first principle: Seek first to understand, then to be understood, was introduced by Steven Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If we encourage others to explain their side first, they will be more apt to listen to ours.

Roger Fisher and William Ury introduced the second communication principle in their seminal work, Getting to Yes. Simply stated, it is that people in disagreement focus on their positions when instead they should be focusing on their needs. By focusing on positions we tend to underscore our disagreements. When we concentrate on needs, we find we have more in common than what we had assumed. Ury and Fisher then went on to say that when we focus on needs we can attempt to satisfy the sum of both our needs and their needs.

The parties to Kashmir conflict can also explore a problem-solving approach inspired by an ancient Tibetan Buddhist teaching known as the four karmas. These four karmas follow a developmental sequence that begins with pacifying or calming the situation, enriching positive aspects by bringing in multiple perspectives, magnetizing larger perspectives or additional resources, and finally, if necessary, destroying old patterns and behaviors that no longer serve.

Traditionally the four karmas is a personal practice that allows one to become attuned to the natural energies in a situation, and to transform confusion and aggression into creativity, compassion, and intelligent action.

How can we solve our tough problems without resorting to force? How can we overcome the apartheid syndrome in our homes, workplaces, communities, countries, and even globally? How can we heal our world's gaping wounds? To answer these questions is simple, but it is not easy. We have to bring together the people who are co-creating the current reality to co-create new realities. We have to shift from downloading and debating to reflective and generative dialogue. We have to choose an open way over a closed way.

It is good to talk about the past. A discussion of past behaviors is essential to analyze patterns of conflict and help conflicting parties to find constructive ways of handling future disagreements. Without understanding the past, it is hard to prepare for the future. At some point, however, the focus of discussion turns to that of future behaviors, rather than past injuries. The sooner the participants can focus on the future, the greater the chances of successful resolution. (www.asifjmir.com)

Friday, January 2, 2009

21st Century Companies

growth, Organizational leaders agree that versatility and the ability to envision possibilities set a plan of action in the midst of chaos are qualities, which produce success. Organizations need more than members who adapt to changes. More importantly, they need members who can produce changes within the organization. Organizations of 21st century need leaders.

Successful companies have figured out the secret to success in the 21st century - that of process excellence. Future success seems will come to those companies that figure out functional management innovations in the 20th century augmented with process excellence, which places more emphasis on end-customer satisfaction than optimal utilization of company resources.

The 20th century saw organizations embrace functional management concepts that divide the company into functional silos such as product design and management, order management, manufacturing, finance, sales/marketing, warehousing/logistics and customer service/support. This approach saw the growth of many large companies. Functional management concepts help streamline an otherwise chaotic set of activities into logical groups and helped large organizations function effectively. They helped organizations make the transition from an agricultural age to an industrial age.

Since the last decades of the 20th century, computer technology and communications have become cheaper and more powerful by orders of magnitude, in the rendering many of these 20th century functional management approaches obsolete. The 21st century demands a transition from an industrial age to an information age, and a process-excellence approach is the alternative that will augment a functional management approach for optimal organizational performance.

Organizations have started talking about order to cash cycles, viewing the end-to-end demand chain and supply chain from customers’ point of view rather than functional silos such as finance, sales and marketing and manufacturing.

This process excellence view has evolved from companies’ realization that it is an unfair burden on the end customer to have to deal with the companies’ functional silos when doing so adds no additional value to the products or services they buy from the organization. Functional silos are for internal efficiencies of a company. A number of trends dictate that only process excellence combined with functional management will work in the future.

The 21st century has starting out with computers and communications enabling order of magnitude and faster, cheaper execution of business processes, often spanning multiple organizations and even multiple continents. Dell, UPS and FedEx have computer systems that any organization can seamlessly integrate with and provide visibility of processes to end-customers. Here, the emphasis seems to have shifted considerably to one of process excellence rather than functional excellence. In fact, UPS formerly picked up Toshiba laptops that customers want to send back to the company for Warranty repairs. Now UPS finds it can deliver a more efficient and effective process by also doing the repairs in their delivery center.

If I am an end customer of a company that sells me goods or services, I am more impressed by efficient and effective processes that benefit me, rather than how well the functional silos if they perform internally. Process excellence is one of whether the end customer’s expectations are met faster, cheaper and more effectively. Many organizations have started asking the question regarding any activity within a company: why should the customer care? This brings up a process orientation to most activities even if different functional silos within a company perform parts of processes. If an activity does not directly add value to the end customer, process excellence demands that you try to eliminate it or at least make it faster.

Many organizations are starting to make available single points of contact for customers, especially their valued ones. These single points of contact or account managers navigate the internal processes with the functional silos of the company on behalf of the customer within the organization and get things done. After all, why should the customer care about billing and provisioning departments of a telecommunications company? They have placed an order for a new landline and it is the telecom company's responsibility to take the order and deliver the landline. Process excellence is the key here.

Those that have slower process cycles do not stand a chance of competing very effectively in the longer run with nimbler online alternatives. A very heavy process orientation and excellence is the only way the older ways of doing business can right themselves and prepare for the 21st century.

With digitization and automated workflow, people within the company or an outsourcing vendor can perform the same business process without concern about physical location! Digitization and automated workflow have enabled process excellence to be realized at levels not possible before.

Companies such as UPS and FedEx already make it possible for any company's computers integrate with their internal systems effortlessly, eliminating unnecessary and inefficient manual steps between companies. For example, once an order is picked and packed at a company warehouse, the company computers can talk to UPS or FedEx computers and create a delivery order and a tracking number. UPS or FedEx employees will not have to key in all these details again.

General Electric and Motorola have popularized Six Sigma approaches to quality management. Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma impose a process discipline when applied. These are increasingly being applied outside of manufacturing, where they originated, and being applied to all kinds of business processes like product service and support, healthcare and so on.

The last century contributed functional management as a way to do things more efficiently and effectively within organizations. However advances in technology and innovative new companies have brought process-oriented approaches to doing things that make it easy for an end customer to do business with them. A process orientation and process excellence that augments functional management seems to be the secret to success in the 21st century. Organizations that leverage the latest technological advances and trends in a relentless quest to make business processes more efficient and effective will be the only ones that survive. (www.asifjmir.com)