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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Doom and Gloom

In 1971, population biologist Paul Ehrlich estimated that if human numbers kept increasing at the high rates of the time, by around 2900 the planet would be teeming with sixty million billion people (that’s 60,000,000,000,000,000). But the rate of population rise actually peaked in the 1960s and demographers expect a leveling-off of human numbers this century.

No kidding. If the current growth rate continued, in 130 years Pakistan’s population will be equal to the population of world today.

The population of Pakistan in mid-2004 was 159.2 million, births per 1000 are 34 and deaths per 1000 are 10. Pakistan’s rate of natural increase in population growth is 2.4 percent, and projected population in the year 2025 and 2050 would be 228.8 and 295.0 million, respectively. The projected population change in 2004-2050 would be 85 percent.

In 1950 Pakistan had a population of about 40 million people. Since then it has grown many times. But the real population explosion in Pakistan will only come over the next few decades, because the country not only has a very young population, but also still an extremely high fertility - much higher. These large numbers of children and young adults will soon come into reproductive age and will produce a large number of offsprings.

The latest facts and figures state that future population prospects are shaped in large part by the age profile of its citizens. More than half of Pakistan's population is below the age of fifteen; nearly a third is below the age of nine. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world with an inverse sex ratio: official sources claim there are 111 men for every 100 women. The discrepancy is particularly obvious among people over fifty: men account for 7.1 percent of the country's total population and women for less than 5 percent. This figure reflects the secondary status of females in Pakistani society, especially their lack of access to quality medical care.

In population Pakistan ranks sixth in the world and its land area stands at thirty-second position among nations. Thus Pakistan has about 2 percent of the world's population living on less than 0.7 percent of the world's land. In the year 2050, Pakistan would continue to gracefully stand elevated among top 5 population giants. Pakistan cannot be pulled out of the poverty trap with 3 million additional births every year.

Pakistan is poised to more than double its size by 2050 even as supplies of water, forests, and food crops are already showing signs of strain and other species are being squeezed into smaller and smaller ranges.

A huge consumption gap exists between industrialized and developing countries and Pakistan. The world's richest countries, with 20 per cent of global population, account for 86 per cent of total private consumption, whereas the poorest 20 per cent of the world's people account for just 1.3 per cent.

A newborn in the USA or Europe will put greater pressure on the Earth’s carrying capacity than a whole family of newborns in Pakistan. Numbers and the Earth’s ability to provide are increasingly framed by the realities of gender relations. It is now generally agreed that while enabling larger numbers of women and men to use modern methods of family planning is essential, it is not sufficient. By expanding the choices and capacities of women, a central thread can be formed in the population story. Consumption—what we need and what we want—is, too.

Pakistan's people are not evenly distributed throughout the country. There is an average of 146 persons per square kilometer, but the density varies dramatically, ranging from scarcely populated arid areas, especially in Balochistan, to some of the highest urban densities in the world, such as Karachi and Lahore.

Municipal governments in Pakistan are least able to muster the human and financial resources to contend with these problems, especially when the poorest, non-taxable segment of the urban population continues to grow rapidly.

The risks of instability among youth may increase when skilled members of elite classes are marginalized by a lack of opportunity. It isn’t difficult to find contemporary parallels. The collapse of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was partly due to the mobilization of large numbers of discontented young men who were unable to put their technical education to use due to party restrictions on entering the elite.

The greatest challenge before government hence is the need to tackle the underlying factors contributing to discontent among young people, including poverty and the lack of economic opportunity. It can address part of the risk associated with youth unemployment by investing in job creation and training, boosting access to credit, and promoting entrepreneurship.

Eventually, however, the only way to achieve the necessary long-term changes in age structure will be through declines in fertility. Government can facilitate fertility decline by supporting policies and programs that provide access to reproductive health services and by promoting policies that increase girls’ educational attainment and boost women’s opportunities for employment outside the home.

The stewardship of the planet and the well-being of its people are a collective responsibility. Everywhere we face critical decisions. Some are about how to protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity. Others reflect trade-offs between available options, or the desire to broaden the range of choice. We need to think carefully but urgently about what the choices are, and to take every action that will broaden choices and extend the time in which to understand their implications. We need a decision today not just to bring down the birth rate but also to attain a balance between resources and population. For a secure future this goal must be pursued vigorously through sound population management. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Day After

Millions of voices, moaning in pain
raking the rubble, shouting in vain

On Oct 8, catastrophic event hit with no warning. In an instant, homes, communities and sense of well-being destroyed into rubble. With earthquake so many people dead, displaced from their home area and everything that was familiar to them has been frittered away. For those victims that stayed behind—witnessing death, homes destroyed and the grief of friends and family—the affects are overwhelming.

As the nation opened its doors and hearts to the victims, it is face to face with a flood of emotions. How we deal with the emotional flood may affect how well the victims recover from this natural disaster. There’s a need to go out into the effected areas to offer comfort to victims, who want and need to talk about their feelings and experiences. The job is not easy— offering emotional support to those who have lost family members, stock farm, homes and all their personal belongings. Through programs, evacuees need to be offered psychological first aid.

Provincial and local emergency management personnel generally conduct hazard analyses to determine which disasters are likely to occur in particular jurisdictions. But such activities take place where people are reagrded as human beings. Pakistan where apart from hollow verbosity, people are reagrded nothing more than sumpter horses, emergency management planning is alien.

While the quake has created demand that exceeded the normal capacity of the government, it has changed the number and structure of responding organizations which have resulted in the creation of new organizations, new tasks and engaged participants who are not ordinarily disaster responders. It has also compounded the difficulty of understanding who does what in disaster response due to the incapacity of the government.

The private sector has proved to be very efficient in providing relief to the quake-affected areas. Most TNCs are failing to respond to established corporate social responsibility programs. Only a few have contributed significant resources in terms of donations for affected areas. Both TNCs and smaller enterprises need to be closely involved in disaster relief as this is in their own long-term interest.

Regional economic integration should also be advanced through consolidation, expanding and deepening existing regional trading arrangements. The establishment of regional special economic zones for disaster-affected areas needs to be considered which would grant duty-free imports of capital equipment and raw materials for production within the zone.

In the wake of the tragedy many number of public-spirited institutions, voluntary organizations and citizens' groups have sprung into action to collect money and relief items. There is an obvious need for measures to guard against the misuse and abuse of the bestowal and to plug systemic loopholes and enforce stringent supervision.

Misuse of aid money by the relief organizations themselves or by employees within the structures of the organizations is quite common in Pakistan. An army general, in charge of an operation during Soviet aggression in Afghanistan died in an air crash, offers a classic example of misappropriation of aid money. His family turned billionaire overnight without any accountability. No one in Pakistan raised questions. The nation now hopes that this time plundering of the money meant for mustahqeens (earthquake victims) does not create more billionaires. We expect that there would be a mechanism to ensure that the amounts, which the government will spend in time and for the purpose for which they are intended.

To avoid misuse of funds, the government should have a minimum role. Private sector should be involved. A transparent criterion needs to be adopted. Representatives from Chambers of Commerce & Industry should watch over the observance of the criteria. Information on each and every allocation made from the fund(s) should be periodically laid before the legislature and intimated to the public through the media. The receipts, disbursements, the nature and extent of utilization should be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and his report should be scrutinized by the Public Accounts Committee and discussed in the legislatures. Contributions received in the context of earthquake should be put in a Fund specially constituted for that matter and administered as a distinct entity, instead of being mixed up with President’s general Relief Fund.

The operation has utterly failed in attending to the emergency measures of rescuing trapped survivors, treating the injured, and providing care and shelter for the needy. The government is focusing its attention on the long-term task of reconstruction and rehabilitation before even first reaching to the seriously injured. The prime minister has abruptly announced the $5 billion amount required for reconstruction. The criterion for his assessment at this stage is opaque. The rule: ‘first things first’ is being ignored.

Before planning there’s a need to first identify those who truly clamor for assistance and then provide them accordingly. A method for effective utilization of aggregate resources needs to be devised. Priority should be given to the employment of quake-area human resources in meeting the needs of reconstruction. Disaster victims also need to be encouraged to rely on their own efforts and strengths, and to join forces in rebuilding their home communities. Emphasis should be laid on assisting the psychological recovery of the survivors in disaster areas.

The media should play a role in providing adequate information to the public to inform them about recovery efforts, sources for relief assistance and how to cope during the recovery time.

The need has arisen to develop and enforce seismic safety codes for all new construction. An integrated approach should be used to design new facilities that consider all elements of the construction including structural and nonstructural elements, support systems, site improvements that contribute to seismic performance.

This disaster has demonstrated just one clean-cut feature of fraternal feeling that has made us realize how connected we are to the community. This social bond has enabled victims an opportunity to be supported but can lead to pain after social support is withdrawn. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Consumer Class

Our world is one of contrasts. While 1.7 billion people earn enough to be classified as members of the consumer class (users of items including televisions, telephones, and the Internet, along with the culture and ideals these products transmit), as many as 2.8 billion people including Pakistanis struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion lack reasonable access to safe drinking water. Yet providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and beverages.

Private consumption expenditures—the amount spent on goods and services at the household level—topped $20 trillion in 2000, up from $4.8 trillion in 1960. Some of this four-fold increase occurred because of population growth, but much of it was due to advancing prosperity in many parts of the globe. Production efficiencies of the 20th century have driven much of the consumption boom. Modern industrial workers now produce in a week what took their 18th century counterparts four years. In the semiconductor industry, production efficiencies helped drive the cost per megabit of computing power from roughly $20,000 in 1970 to about 2 cents in 2001. Global spending on advertising reached $446 billion in 2002, an almost nine-fold increase over 1950.

According to a survey on Consumer Spending and Population, by Region, in 2000 it is found that 5.2% of world population in United States and Canada has 31.5% share of world consumption expenditures. Out of 6.4% of world population in Western Europe has 28.7%, 32.9% in East Asia and Pacific has 21.4%, 8.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean has 8.5%, 7.9% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has 3.3%, 22.4% in South Asia has 2.0%, 0.4% in Australia and New Zealand has1.5%, 4.1% in Middle East and North Africa has1.4%, and 10.9% Sub-Saharan Africa has1.2% share of world consumption expenditure.

The health status of women and children in Pakistan is awful—eight babies are born every minute, one mother dies every 20 minutes and about 15 of them suffer from morbidity every 20 minutes, about 50 percent women are suffering from malnutrition and anemia. Less than 20 percent of them are receiving help during delivery and about 25 percent of children are being born under weight. The vision of reproductive health in Pakistan is less costly than the amount spent on smoking.

Smoking contributes to around 5 million deaths worldwide each year. In 1999, tobacco-related medical expenditures and productivity losses cost the United States more than $150 billion—almost 1.5 times the revenue of the five largest multinational tobacco companies that year.

Time pressures are often linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits—and to upgrade, store, or otherwise maintain possessions.

In 2002, 1.12 billion households—about three quarters of the world's people—owned at least one television set—Pakistan had 4 million TV sets with only 2,823,800 registered. Some 41 million passengers vehicles rolled of the world's assembly lines in 2002, five times as many as in 1950. The global passenger car fleet now exceeds 531 million, growing by about 11 million vehicles annually. Consumers across the globe now spend an estimated $35 billion a year on bottled water and consumes 33 million liters (35 million quarts) a year in Pakistan.

In 1999, some 2.8 billion people—two in every five humans on the planet—lived on less than $2 a day (Pakistan falls within this category with Per Capita Income as $492). In 2000, one in five people (2 in 5 people in Pakistan) in the developing world—did not have reasonable access to safe drinking water. 2.4 billion people worldwide—two out of every five (and in Pakistan, 3.5 in every 5)—live without basic sanitation. Providing adequate food, clean water, and basic education for the world's poorest could all be achieved for less than people spend annually on makeup, ice cream, and pet beverages.

When the annual expenditure on luxury items in the world are compared with funding needed to meet selected basic needs we see that Annual Expenditure on products like makeup, perfumes, ice cream and beverages.

Consumer goods and services are often sold on the premise that they make life easier and more fulfilling. But too often, beneath the surface of these claims, lay hidden costs. Automobiles are often advertised as bringing freedom to their owners, yet in reality, the average adult urbanite now spends 50 minutes a day behind the wheel. As consumers upgrade, store, or maintain possessions, they are also likely to experience time pressures linked to the need to work long hours to support consumption habits.

If a person is very poor, there is no doubt that greater income can improve his or her life. But once the basics are secured, well being does not necessarily correlate with wealth. Most governments make ongoing growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) a leading priority, under the assumption that wealth secured is well-being delivered. Yet undue emphasis on generating wealth, particularly by encouraging heavy consumption, may be yielding disappointing returns. Overall quality of life is suffering in some of the world's richest countries as people experience greater stress and time pressures and less satisfying social relationships, and as the natural environment shows more and more signs of distress.

By redefining prosperity to emphasize a higher quality of life—rather than the mere accumulation of goods—individuals, communities, and governments can focus on delivering what people most desire. Indeed, a new understanding of the good life can be built not around wealth, but around well being: having basic needs met, along with freedom, health, security, and satisfying social roles. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Change Agents

Scientist, by intention or not, is the most important catalytic change agent of our time. We all recognize that much of the present is the future that was created by scientific researchers of decades past. We can safely forecast that scientists will change our future.

No scientist alone can propose the whole science agenda for the 21st Century. It is however clear that many scientists can agree on some overarching goals that serve the future and that give us pause for reflection as they expand the frontiers of knowledge and uniquely see their own opportunity for discovery.

What scientists achieve is the understanding about the way nature really works. They use powerful methods of defining and solving problems. They use the method of multiple working hypotheses to ferret out the truth about how nature is and the way it operates. Scientists have the exhilarating opportunity and experience of being able to routinely walk each day where no footprints have ever existed before. They extend that paradigm to additional utility to not only enlarge our understanding and build our knowledge but to provide amenity in the form of new technology.

From Galileo to the cellular user in Gujranwala, scientists make social change occur abruptly, often inadvertently. As new knowledge is discovered, and foundational research impacts others around us, they create and alter the future and how everyone around us perceives it. Their research regularly leads to changes unimagined by our institutions struggling to adjust to them.

The highest priority of all science and social, economic and political institutions on this planet is to develop and establish a morally acceptable, politically stable and economically feasible decrease in the world human population of 1 billion persons during the 21st Century and to continue that decrease by another 1 billion during each of the succeeding 2 centuries. This is a daunting challenge, but one from which we cannot turn aside. All our institutions are driven by growth. Opposition to this population decrease will develop from the world capitalist systems whose only mantra is growth. The immense power wielded by that economic mantra and its leaders may draw the battle lines for the soul of the 21st Century.

Sustainable aquatic and land based agricultural production systems, sustainable energy production systems, sustainable industrial and post industrial production systems, sustainable habitation systems and others are areas of major needs for research that ultimately establishes a sustainable world.

The 21st Century will require our population to think for a living. Thinking skills have become the most important skills for the workplace. The employers and nations of the future will rise and fall in their competitive effectiveness based on their skill as learning organizations and the rate limiting factors for their future success will be the rate of learning of the populations engaged in productive work.

Our education systems must be understood as whole systems and changed even revolutionized to accept and optimize what we learn about learning in the first five years of life, our teaching adapted to the neurobiology of learning, our curriculum redesigned around creative problem solving as its core curriculum, ensuring lifelong learning becomes a societal norm, our cyber schools and virtual universities designed around how we learn and for no other primary convenience.

Healthier lives is the third overarching goal that seems to be a consensus among leaders of all the scientific disciplines as important for the 21st Century to make great strides. Since infectious diseases are once again worldwide scourge, we must provide worldwide treatment and preventive medicine successfully.

Ideas not yet thought of, will become multibillion-dollar enterprises in the 21st Century. This requires us to foster entrepreneurial education to ensure there is a sufficient population of business adventurers to make certain the public sees ongoing benefits flowing from it that they can understand, and new jobs are a benefit that is readily understood.

National and world security has been the most important drivers of the old social contract with science. We have still the need to defend the free from the rogues who have the power to take away freedom. As we see that military superiority is no longer the driver for the scientific future, scientists should reassess their need to be involved in its destructive exterminations.

Scientists can do so much more for the future of the world and its people and environment with all the challenges. Their role should be to support the very strong leadership and creative problem solving needed by the military and political institutions and durable new institutions that would lead to highly certain world stability. The rise of the concept of the nation-state requires it to defend its borders and culture. Evolving thinking into newer concepts that enhance cooperation more than pathologic competition may become worthwhile at some point in 21st Century.

Scientists can do everything to provide for a world of well-fed, healthier and fewer people, to provide that populations are economically secure and stable, to provide for our great-grandchildren an environment with as durable a future as our great-grandparents received when they were born, and to ensure the lifelong learning that provides all the self-actualization and inner peace we can want.

The role of scientists should be to lead the political system, not follow it, and do this via a long range vision that they develop, conceive and believe, so that it becomes compelling to the public and future resource allocators.

Scientists’ own future depends on effective development of appreciation for science by the political decision making institutions and science illiterate general population. They should not leave it to others to do what needs to be done. It is their future. It is their obligation. Their role has never been of watching the future happen. They are the change agents of future and they can make it happen. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

War Against Terrorism

Terrorism is beyond reason. While terror can have no reasoned justification, evil always seeks to be plausible. It seeks to clothe itself in the mantle of righteous indignation and presents itself as an evil parody of an apocalyptic 'divine' vengeance. It purports to act on behalf of some oppressed group, to seek redress for some injustice. It appropriates the language for heaven for the works of hell.

If history is a precursor to the future, we will suffer more terrorist attacks in the months and years ahead. The apparent goal of the terrorists is to achieve larger effect in the future. The terrorist target: unwarned, unprotected persons and facilities. When the fanatic sees himself as an actor in a staged performance, death becomes an act of make believe and a theatrical gesture.

9/11 appears to be a major turning point into the future—the end of the brief post-Cold War era, and the beginning of a new Age of Terrorism, perhaps a World War III, albeit a different kind of war than that which we have known. The horrible attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and whatever follows as a result, will change many lives, many organizations, many industries, and many nations. It has changed everything, for everyone.

There are three goals to terrorism. Goal one: to demonstrate that government cannot protect you. Put differently, it is to make people fearful, if not most fearful, of those things which they found in the past to be both safe and ordinary: going to work, going out for recreation, shopping. Goal two: to take terrorist actions, which evoke an extreme response, and the more extreme of that response, the better. Goal three: to use the extreme response as a mechanism for recruitment.

There must be a target, ideally one with tremendous symbolic significance to underscore goal one above. In the case of international terrorism, something highly symbolic like the Twin Towers is important because it will be a national symbol and it will be well understood globally. A small action in an isolated community or in a community that does not receive national press and has no eye-catching appeal to an international audience has little attraction for terrorists. An urban, rather than rural, setting for the terrorist act is likely to be more attractive in meeting the goal.

Because of progress in materials engineering and miniaturization of electronics, explosives and the like, weapons are becoming cheaper, lighter, more rugged, more accurate, easier to use, and more powerful. Meanwhile new communication technologies — from satellite phones to the Internet — allow terrorists and criminal syndicates to marshal their resources and coordinate their actions around the planet. As these trends continue, it's easier for smaller and smaller numbers of people to hurt larger and larger numbers. Despite all the utopian hype, the new gadgets entering our lives are distinctly double-edged swords: We've unleashed technological forces that we don't remotely understand and almost certainly can't control.

Terrorism is unconventional warfare. There are no fronts, no armies, and no battlefields. The solutions therefore should not come from militaries, which are largely designed for fighting other armed forces. The solutions should come from new approaches that address the whole person, not just the political and economic components. This is about individual people, their values and aspirations – and cultures, some of which have not changed much over centuries. Different people and groups require different approaches – one size will not fit all. The new solutions seem complex, sophisticated and necessarily not look like the past. But if we are going to safely make it through this extraordinary, historical transition, we must not do the old things – we must invent new ones.

Why can’t we learn from South Africa, which invoked their truth and reconciliation project so the previously warring factions could get on with living together in harmony through forgiveness and honoring their shared humanity?

The war against terrorism can only be truly won when we also declare war on the roots, which cause such acts of barbarity: injustice, freedom, and discrimination. Terrorism does not arise in a vacuum but has it roots in historical, political, social and cultural dysfunctions so deep, so cruel, so systemic that they create and sustain discontent until it spills over into a desperation that sees no recourse other than wanton destruction against those perceived as responsible for the plight of the terrorists. Unless there is an equally dedicated attack on the causes of terrorism, there will never be victory in the war against terrorism.

Addressing the causes of terrorism is the most difficult issue. At one end it starts with the need for us to be confident in our definition of terrorism — one persons terrorist is another person's freedom fighter; at the other end, it needs to attempt to address all the injustices that exist around the world that lead people to undertake hateful and destructive acts and this includes the even more problematic need to address perceptions of these injustices as well. The atrocities being committed on Kashmiris or Palistinians are causing suicidal bombings. The perpetrators are heroes for their nation but terrorists to the oppressors. At its core the atrocities are proliferating terrorism.

We are faced with dilemmas that, together, form a distinct and clear danger to individual liberty and to most systems of government. This alone should be motivation enough to act to stop terrorists in their tracks whenever and wherever we can. We must somehow focus on and achieve an acceptable system of protection, prevention, preclusion and reaction to the scourge of terrorism…without losing the ideals and precepts by which we navigate the difficult pathway into our future. This cannot be done by committee or by independent activity by many agencies and organizations acting parochially. Instead, some form of centralized and evenly applied approach must be devised and undertaken by appropriate leaders. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cutting out a Sustainable Economy

The choice of who allocates resources is crucial. We see spectacular examples of government mismanagement. The market should be left free to allocate resources. Markets alone can assemble and convey essential information about security and value. Prices and profits will work to maximize production and minimize resource use.

Market mechanisms are sufficient to protect forests, for instance. Growing scarcity will drive up the price of wood, reduce consumption, as well as prompt landowners to plant more trees in anticipation of higher prices.

Traditional economics asks how to produce what for whom. Sustainable economics examines these same questions, but includes future generations in the ‘for whom.’ It asks how irreplaceable resources—water, air, soil, and fish and wildlife—can be adequately conserved. It also recognizes that economic mechanisms that do not efficiently and equitably satisfy human needs are not likely to be sustainable.

Sustainable economics analyze issues complicated by politics, ideology, and nationalism. It tries to ascertain what works to make resource use more efficient. How do people behave in relation to their, natural resources? How does a country’s economic system alter its prospects for survival? Measuring national performance in food security, energy efficiency, environmental pollution and equity can form the beginnings of an answer.

The issue is not socialism versus capitalism; it is the efficacy with which economic systems achieve their intended ends. Ideally nations could be graded for degree of market orientation and assessed for changes in resource use. But no one has invented a grading system for economic philosophy or environmental sustainability. It is instructive, nonetheless, to categorize nations as centrally planned or not and to assess their resource-use efficiency. A centrally planned economy is one that through price controls, state ownership, or allocation of capital effectively, managers more than half of a nation’s industrial and agricultural production.

From the end of World War 11 until a few years ago, centralized state planning has served as a model for almost half the world. Newly independent developing countries faced with the choice between centralized control and market orientation usually chose the former. That their foreign ruler had been capitalists turned them against market systems, while the tradition of colonialism eased the transition to tight central control. In the postwar era, many military states and even most market-orientated nations also expanded the role of government in the day-to-day management of their economies.

The world today is at a turning point in economic management. The abrupt Chinese shift to market mechanisms is the most dramatic example, not only because of the vast number of people affected, but because of the reform’s spectacular early successes. Many African nations, plagued with agricultural decline, have begun to extend market incentives for agriculture. Latin Americans, burdened with debt, have moved to sell off state-owned companies. Meanwhile the Soviet Union, its confidence in uninterrupted growth shaken, is debating the need for economic reform. Ironically, although Western governments have also begun to sell off state-owned concerns, they increasingly subsidize private agriculture, restrict trade, and permit concentration of economic power in industrial conglomerates.

The efficiency with which nations produce food and consume energy provides a useful indicator of their progress toward sustainability. Countries of all political stripes seek to avoid excessive dependence on food imports. Air and water pollution and land degradation are closely associated with agricultural production and energy-use efficiency. Thus, if market pricing and competition provide greater efficiency, both economists and environmentalists have a stake in the changing role of the market in the world’s economies.

Some environmentalists reject both markets and bureaucratic planning as incapable of dealing with the crisis of sustainability. Putting a sober twist on an old joke: ‘In capitalism, man exploits man; in socialism, it’s the other way around,’ they say both exploit nature. But important differences exist between systems, as shown by comparing their efficiency in agricultural production.

Agricultural production can critically affect the consumption and disruption of resources—water, wood, and air. Soil erosion and deforestation can result from low agricultural productivity if new, marginal lands are pressed into production to make up for lost potential. Overuse of chemicals can cause water pollution. Efficiency is consequently an essential ingredient of agricultural sustainability. Economists define efficiency, roughly, as maximizing output while minimizing input. When farmers produce a given value of grain with a least-cost combination of land, labor, fertilizer, and machinery, production is efficient. When grain production increases faster than consumption of the inputs, productivity and the outlook for sustained production improve. When productivity declines, a society is headed for trouble. Inflation, the need for costly imports, even famine can result.

Land and labor productivity, two partial but important measures of performance, reveal several advantages of market orientation. Crop production per hectare is generally higher in market-orientated countries. Of course, factors others than the economic system affect these ratings, such as rainfall levels, inherent soil fertility, and farm price policies that may either encourage or discourage farm efficiency. Japan’s population pressure, for example, has pushed it to increase land productivity, but this explains only about a third of the more efficient record it has than the Soviet Union. The remainder is attributable to policies that, among other things, keep prices high, encourage larger numbers of people to farm, and keep farm size low. Similar policies have placed market oriented Hungary even higher in land productivity.

Ranking nations by agricultural labor productivity shows a dramatic advantage for market economies. European countries enjoy labor productivity rates often double of countries like Poland, Cuba and Lithuania.

Labor productivity naturally tends to be higher when farmers earn high incomes, which in turn indicates higher levels of development, a central goal of economic policy. Strictly regulated prices reduce profitability for farmers, and deprive them of capital to invest in machinery and fertilizers to raise productivity.

Land productivity says little about the ‘total factor’ productivity of an agricultural system, which also takes into account inputs of labor, fertilizer, and machinery or animals. Efficiency can be distorted and productivity diminished by poorly crafted policies. For example, high price subsidies and protective trade barriers account for part of the relatively high land productivity in Japan. Consumers bear the cost of these distortions, paying almost three times the import price of food commodities.

Total factor productivity is relatively easy to determine in a perfectly competitive economy. Ideally, price signals instruct farmers on how much to spend on production, and they maximize their earnings by choosing the least-cost combination of labor, land, machinery, and fertilizer. According to microeconomic theory, they produce at the level at which the cost of their last, or marginal, unit of production—their most expensive ton of grain—just equals the price they receive. They maximize profits in this case, making efficiency and productivity almost synonymous. In non-market economies, on the other hand, prices of resources usually do not reflect their scarcity, and so resources must be allocated by plan, a fact that directly affects productivity.

In Europe resource efficiency in agricultural sector is frequently undermined by heavy farm production subsidies, both with trade barriers and direct budgetary expenditures. The United States is by no means unique among market-oriented countries in failing to adjust agricultural policies properly.

Common Market countries’ agricultural policies drive prices one fourth above world market levels on most products. Such subsidies hurt not only domestic consumers but also exporters of developing countries who could produce more efficiently and sell cheaper. The policies have the aim of preserving and sustaining the farm sector and its way of life. Cut the goal could be equally well served without the damage caused by price distortions if governments substituted direct income transfers for agricultural price supports.

Western nations, nonetheless, have long satisfied basic and fiber needs, and government policies have played a major role in this success. When policies such as minimum price supports are introduced in order to ensure food security and stabilize markets—this is, when supports are set below international market levels—they can be useful. When supports exceed world market levels, however, they interfere with trade, stimulate environmentally disruptive over production, waste taxpayers’ and consumers’ money. These distortions, like their more pervasive counterparts in planned economies, have political motivations that may well be worthy. But their impact on environmental and economic sustainability cannot be ignored. Ultimately, they become counterproductive.Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Preparing Students for 21st Century

How can we best prepare students to succeed in the 21st century? This is a question that should be of paramount importance to Pakistan’s educators, employers, parents and the public. Alas, this is nobody’s priority.

The accelerating technological change, rapidly accommodating knowledge, increasing global competition and rising force capabilities around the world, make 21st century skills essential. There is a forceful need for a calling on schools to change dramatically.

Today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn. Schools are not even struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in students’ lives outside of school. Neglecting the fact that students will spend their adult lives in a multitasking, multifaceted, technology-driven, diverse, vibrant world, they are not equipping them to do so. They are seldom committing to ensuring that all students have equal access to this new technological world, regardless of their economic background.

We know more today than ever about how students learn. Our researchers and educators are not making the grades on mapping the remarkable territory of the human mind. They lack scientific insights that can inform educators about the cognitive processes of learning, effective teaching strategies for engaging students in learning and motivating students to achieve. We must incorporate understanding into classroom teaching and learning on a broad scale for preparing our future.

Educators in other countries have focused on improving student achievement—the perennial top priority of their public concern. They have established rigorous academic standards, assessments and accountability measures—a concerted effort that has involved educators, employers and community members. Schools in the West are responding with strategies to improve teaching and learning. They are now closing a gap between knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century. They are thus encouraging development of curriculum and assessments that reflect 21st century realities.

Literacy in the 21st century means more than basic reading, writing and computing skills. It means knowing how to use knowledge and skills in the context of modern life.

The nation needs a compelling vision for education capable of inspiring leaders, teachers, parents and students alike. Clearly we must work together to help schools fully address the educational needs of the 21st century.

A broad-based public-private partnership needs to be forged contributing to improving education in several distinct ways. It should synthesize research, insights and best practices about 21st century knowledge and skills into a powerful vision and sharing this information broadly. It should also define a framework and create a common language for understanding and promoting 21st century skills. The education leaders should be provided with tools, examples and a strategy for action, not rhetoric. It should also build consensus in the public and private sectors about the nature and need for 21st century skills.

We need to increase emphasis on the additional knowledge and skills students need for the 21st century. This is an opportune time to align standards, assessments and accountability measures with 21st century skills.

We can build momentum with following flight of stairs: 1) Embrace a powerful vision of public education that includes 21st century skills. 2) Align leadership, management and resources with educational goals. 3) Use this tool to assess where schools are now. 4) Develop priorities for 21st century skills. 5) Make sure students have equitable access to a 21st century education. 6) Begin developing assessments to measure student progress in 21st century skills. 7) Collaborate with outside partners. 8) Plan collectively and strategically for the future.

There are also some key elements for fostering 21st century learning. Emphasize must be laid on core subjects. Knowledge and skills for the 21st century must be built on core subjects that are mathematics, science, languages, civics, government, economics, arts, history and geography. The focus on core subjects must expand beyond basic competency to the understanding of core academic content at much higher levels.

As much as students need knowledge in core subjects, they also need to know how to keep learning continually throughout their lives. Learning skills comprise three broad categories of skills: information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and self-directional skills. The challenge should be to incorporate learning skills into classrooms deliberately, strategically and broadly.

21st century tools must be used for developing learning skills. In a digital world, students need to learn to use the tools that are essential to everyday life and workplace productivity. Skilled 21st century citizens should be proficient in information and communication technologies literacy.

Teaching and learning must be in a 21st century context. Students need to learn academic content through real world examples, applications and experiences both inside and outside of school. In the networked environment of the 21st century, student learning also can expand beyond the four classroom walls. Schools must reach out to their communities, employers, community-members and of course parents to reduce the boundaries that divide schools from the real world.

21st century content should be taught and learnt. There are three significant, emerging content areas that are critical to success in communities and workplaces: global awareness; financial, economic and business literacy, and civic literacy. Much of this content is not captured in existing curricula or taught consistently with any depth in schools today. An effective way to incorporate this content is to infuse knowledge and skills from these areas into the curriculum.

The use of 21st century assessments that measure 21st century skills must be practiced. Schools need high-quality standardized tests that measure students’ performance of the elements of a 21st century education.

Economic, technological, informational, demographic and political forces transform the way people work and live. These changes together with the rate of change will continue to accelerate. For survival and to thrive in 21st century, our schools must adapt changing conditions. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Slave Drivers and Street Vendors

While driving through Empress Road a petrifying scene attracted my attention that compelled me to pull up and watch over. It was really shocking. In a ding-dong fight the City officials were veritably frittering away the victuals and seizing the pushcarts of the luckless vendors. Under the supervision of a petty official behaving like a dummy god of the City government, the economic and physical assault of the vendors, destroyed their dignity and conviction only for being unlicensed.

The view reminded me of such instances as hackneyed during apartheid or colonial regimes. It clinched an argument that the same Pakistan that is earnestly engaged in war against terrorism, at street level follows Machiavelli.

City officials regularly quell vendors to mental and physical pressures. At times this has led to riotous situations, loss of property, and monetary damage. A major problem is that master plans prepared for our cities do not collocate space to vendors. The planners blindly imitate the western concept of marketing, ignoring our traditions and the needs of the unemployed youth, particularly in the wake of rising crime and terrorism. No wonder, weekly markets struggle to survive; natural markets are ignored. The policy statements of the local, provincial and federal development authorities talk of making provision for trading and commercial activities, which unfortunately is interpreted as doing so for rich traders and big businesses.

We have taken no notice of the ignorance of City workers, their misuse of authority and inadequacy. Consequently, their treachery, lust, covetousness, and every kind of inhumanity and cruelty, continue unabated.

Street vendors are those millions who come to cities as economic refugees hoping to provide basic necessities for their families. They provide a wide array of commodities to the urban populace at reasonable prices. They can be divided into two major categories—(a) mobile vendors who own pushcarts or simply move around with their goods in hand and (b) stallholders who set up khokhas in public places on a more or less regular basis.

The variety seen in the goods and, yes, the services provided by these innovative professionals is staggering. It is difficult not to associate these people with the culture and traditions of the city.

The type of goods they sell makes an interesting study – from daily needs like vegetable, fruits, fish, meat and snacks to occasional needs like ready-to-eat food, toys, and used garments. It would be hard to find an urbanite that doesn’t purchase something from these vendors. The middle and lower class consumer specifically prefers to purchase from them, though even well heeled citizens purchase many commodities given reasonable prices.

Vending has been a profession since time immemorial, with street vendors an integral part of our urban history and culture. Shopping and marketing, in a traditional sense, has primarily been informal. Social interaction is integral to our markets in contrast to the mechanized and sterile concept of shopping favored by modern market and super market structures.

Street vendors exhibit remarkable entrepreneurial skills. Purchasing of commodities is no easy task with constant market fluctuations. Merchandise has to be in sync with both consumer tastes and paying capacity. As most vendors deal in perishables, the goods have to be sold at the right time.

The municipal corporation laws, based on 19th century British rule, are outdated and detrimental to the peaceful conduct of business by vendors. Instead of regulating vendors, city governments treat them as a nuisance; their policies and actions are aimed more at removing and harassing them rather than at regulation. The rich traders have encroached sidewalks, footpaths and even roads, which the same authorities ignore. Why? The law only seems for the poor who are unable to grease the palms of the incompetent functionaries.

Every government in Pakistan comes with tall claims for poverty alleviation but unemployment continues to exist. Street or sidewalk vending provides self-employment and small business ownership opportunities to the downtrodden. Entrepreneurship is an exciting opportunity for the poor to realize their full potential while becoming financially self-supporting. Our planners remain oblivious to the role of vendors who are victimized, harassed, marginalized and deprived.

The city has today become an engine of growth, the main job provider. Just the same, they remain ill prepared to address the problems of poverty. Planning and governance continues to be the preserve of the politician-mafia-bureaucrat nexus. Poorly tailored policies if at all exist are badly implemented. Instead of creating an enabling environment, government policies are wrecking the livelihoods of these people, depressing their incomes and thwarting their entrepreneurial potential.

There is unabated official and social hostility towards the informal sector of street vending, even though the formal sector has ceased to grow, having reached saturation point. As the cost of creating jobs in this sector is very low, it needs to be integrated into the context of the overall macro-economy. However, we must first remove the obstacles in its functioning.

There is no institutionalization of a process to enable vendors to sell their commodities peacefully. A holistic approach targeting all the stakeholders demands changes in anti-vendor laws, a pro-vendor policy, creation of institutions to enable participation of vendors in urban governance, changing the mindset of the planners, the police and the society at large, and building the capacity of the vendors.

Pakistan’s social system must cater to the needs of its members to enable them to survive; it must have effective means of allocating and distributing resources. The government should thus formulate a policy by (a) giving vendors legal status and issuing licenses at nominal yearly fee, (b) setting up of mobile teams for spot licensing (c) promoting and developing the natural market system, (d) making street vendors a special component of the plans for urban development by treating them as an integral part of the urban distribution system, (e) setting up appropriate, participative, non-formal mechanisms with representation from street vendors, NGOs, local authorities, the police and others. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

21st Century Schools

Although a lens to view the future is clouded, and must be filtered through the past and present, the ability to stand back and think about the impact of technologies on student learning will under-gird research in technology for the education of children, youth, and adults in the 21st century. We must view the coming changes, and they will be massive, from the perspective that technology provides access to learning but does not control it; that technologies are not the content of education rather, they provide a cornucopia of tools for learning.

The technologies we know now will change and merge, at an increasingly rapid pace. In 1965 Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, predicted the exponential growth of technology. Moore's law postulates that the processing power and speed of any electronic calculating device will double every 18 months. At the same time, the price for that technology will decline approximately 35% a year relative to the power. If this continues to be true, researchers will have an abundance of exciting new tools to use as they study the curriculum and children of the future. Those tools will not only be more powerful than we have now, they will cost less, making them affordable for research, for schools, and for business.

Educational research will undergo massive paradigm shifts we can only imagine. Because we live in a revolutionary time of astonishing advances in technologies, a world of constant and unrelenting change, new paradigms appear before the implications of their predecessors are digested. We know that schools must make changes to accommodate the technology revolution. West is already making changes in curriculum, teaching, and learning.

Living in a world of constant change is not easy, and predicting the nature of the coming changes brought about by the accelerating pace of technology advances, the accompanying information explosion, and the future's research agenda in education is a little like going backpacking in a primitive wilderness area. We must explore technology applications with children and youth and attempt to keep abreast of the rapid advances and potential uses in education and anticipate increasingly interesting possibilities.

The critical gear we carry on the research trail into the future is our mindset, one of exploration, of investigation, of accepting new ways of doing new things.

The literature on change describes levels of initiation and acceptance of innovations. Educators are divided into at least four groups, quite similar to what one experiences on the trail: the forerunners, the trailblazers, who innovate; those who come along and build on what others do; the middle ground who try what the first two groups find out; and those who lag behind. As we negotiate the wilderness trails ahead, accepting and adjusting to paradigm shifts in teaching and learning will become the survival tools for schools of the future.

The focus of the future's research agenda must remain on children and youth, the learners and the teachers, and how to find strategies to harness the power of the technologies in this endeavor. Education must come to grips with the technology revolution quickly, design and use new learning experiences, and teach more process skills than ever before. A mindset that encompasses creativity and subsequent innovation will be required if we are to explore and harness the potential offered by technologies. Futurists and educational reformers argue that new schools are needed for a new age, that the social power of technology will force us to redefine education, a task that will require a different mindset than educators have today.

There are those who espouse standards-based testing, founded on the knowledge of the past, and there are those whose position is firm in the process-based curriculum for the future. This differential is the critical point in the redefinition of education. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, children and youth must develop process skills in problem solving and critical thinking, communication, technical reading and writing, applied technical reasoning, information literacy, using technology as a tool, new personal skills, new mindset skills, and new curricula.

Crucial questions revolve around new strategies related to making changes, to applying what we already know about change, and to bringing research findings to practice quickly. How will we instill a mindset in educators so they will incorporate the potential of present and new technologies into the curriculum quickly? What are the most effective ways of bringing about changes that reflect the new curriculum?

Technology is not another turf, another subject, and another class. It represents a pervasive set of changing tools for learning and teaching. Given the power and potential of new technologies, if we continue to do the "same old thing," and use the "same old" paradigms, then the outcomes, no matter their age, will be less than favorable, much less than possible, and much less than we dream.

Technology is a tidal wave flooding the whole world, not a passing fad. It will not disappear in the next few years.

Computers and their accompanying applications, as well as other technologies, are the basics for children. Schools are not just "getting children ready" for technology use at some later date. In the West children can and are using technology now and they are connecting. It is preparing children for the future.

Old ideas die hard; however, we must not forget the lessons history teaches, or we--and each generation following us--will be relegated to repeating the work and mistakes of the distant or recent past. Educators must move away from entrenched positions. We must not only do things differently, we must do new things and do them quickly, or schools are likely to succumb to businesses that see education as a profitable enterprise. One of the most critical needs at present is that of finding new ways to connect learners and teachers with the results, implications, and procedures of educational research. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Religions and Sustainability

Spiritual traditions—from large, centralized religions to local tribal spiritual authorities—in the future will devote energy to what some see as the defining challenge of our age: the need to build just and environmentally healthy societies. The major faiths will issue declarations, advocating for new national policies, and designing educational activities in support of a sustainable world—sometimes in partnership with secular environmental organizations, sometimes on their own. Responding to the global crisis, smaller traditions will revive ancient rituals and practices in the service of sustainability. A powerful new political alignment will thus emerge that greatly strengthens the effort to build a sustainable world.

A source of power for religions is the sheer number of followers they claim. It seems that some 80–90 percent of people on the planet belong to one of the world’s 10,000 or so religions, with 150 or so of these faith traditions having at least a million followers each. Adherents of the three largest—Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism—account for about two thirds of the global population today. Another 20 percent of the world subscribes to the remaining religions, and about 15 percent of people are nonreligious.

Influence stemming from having a large number of followers is further enhanced by the geographic concentration of many religions, which increases their ability to make mass appeals and to coordinate action. In 120 countries, for example, Christians form the majority of the population. Muslims are the majority in 45 countries, and Buddhists are in 9. When most people in a society have similar worldviews, leaders can make mass appeals using a single, values-laden language.

Religion is an orientation to the cosmos and to our role in it. It offers people a sense of ultimate meaning and the possibility for personal transformation and celebration of life. To this end it uses a range of resources, including worldviews, symbols, rituals, ethical norms, traditions, and (sometimes) institutional structures. Religion also offers a means of experiencing a sustaining creative force, whether as a creator deity, an awe-inspiring presence in nature, or simply the source of all life. Many of these characteristics give religion substantial influence over the environment.

At the same time, the environmental community has often alienated potential allies with what is perceived as scientific aloofness, even self-righteousness. Its “left-brain” approach to its work is partly to blame for its inability to connect with greater numbers of people, to inspire profound commitment on a large scale. Given the central place of culture in national development—and the central place of religion in most cultures—a sustainable world cannot effectively be built without full engagement of the human spirit.

Religious institutions and leaders can bring at least five strong assets to the effort to build a sustainable world: the capacity to shape cosmologies (worldviews), moral authority, a large base of adherents, significant material resources, and community-building capacity.

And most produce strong community ties by generating social resources such as trust and cooperation, which can be a powerful boost to community development. Many political movements would welcome any of these five assets. To be endowed with most or all of them, as many religions are, is to hold considerable political power.

In the three western monotheistic traditions—Islam, Christianity and Judaism—morality has traditionally been human-focused. Thus the natural world can be seen as a set of resources for human use.

Yet scholars in each of these traditions find substantial grounds for building a strong environmental ethics. The Islamic concept teaches that the natural world is not owned by humans but is given to them in trust—a trust that implies certain responsibilities to preserve the balance of creation. The Christian focus on sacrament and incarnation are seen as lenses through which the entire natural world can be viewed as sacred. The Judaic concept of a covenant or legal agreement between God and humanity, for example, can be extended to all of creation. And the
Hinduism and Buddhism contain teachings concerning the natural world those are arguably in conflict. The illusory nature of the material world and the desirability of escaping suffering by turning to a timeless world of spirit, in the case of Hinduism, or by seeking release in nirvana, in the case of some meditative schools of Buddhism. This otherworldly orientation minimizes the importance of environmental degradation. On the other hand, both religions place great emphasis on correct conduct and on fulfillment of duty, which often includes obligations to environmental preservation.

Thus Hindus regard rivers as sacred, and in the concept of lila, the creative play of the gods, Hindu theology engages the world as a creative manifestation of the divine. Meanwhile, Buddhist environmentalists often stress the importance of trees in the life of the Buddha, and “socially engaged” Buddhism active in environmental protection, especially of forests.

The East Asian traditions of Confucianism and Taoism seamlessly link the divine, human, and natural worlds. The divine is not seen as transcendent; instead, Earth’s fecundity is seen as continuously unfolding through nature’s movements across the seasons and through human workings in the cycles of agriculture.

This organic worldview is centered round the concept of ch’i, the dynamic, material force that infuses the natural and human worlds, unifying matter and spirit. Confucianists and Taoists seek to live in harmony with nature and with other human beings, while paying attention to the movements of the Tao, the Way. Despite the affinity of these traditions with an environmental ethic, however, deforestation, pollution, and other forms of environmental degradation have become widespread in contemporary East Asia due to many factors, including rapid industrialization and the decline of traditional values in the last 50 years.

Our civilization’s challenge is to reintegrate our societal heart and head, to reestablish spirituality as a partner in dialogue with science. While acknowledging its shortcomings, the religious community can rightly claim enormous capacity for self-reform. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Education System: Reengineering

Education should be the high priority of the government. It should be recognized as one of the fundamental rights of a citizen and universal access to every citizen. Pakistan’s sustained economic growth can only be achieved with higher emphasis on timely investment in education. This can pay rewarding dividends for future economic growth and well being of the society as a whole.

Physical condition of many schools in the province is a fundamental problem that should have been undertaken before stepping on to other areas. A factor hindering high attendance is the poor infrastructure. Out of some 60,000 public-sector primary schools - with about 4.5 million students - some 8 percent have no buildings, while thousands more are without drinking water, electricity and toilets. The government must allocate resources for the provision of basic infrastructure and facilities in educational institutions.

The junior teacher that forms the lifeline of the nation, as in making the generation, draws lesser in money than that of an unskilled worker. There are 350,000 teachers in Punjab. Since there is nothing done for their welfare, the slogans like ‘Educated Punjab’ appears a mere hoax.

PTC/ JVT teachers are in grade 7 in provincial government and in grade 9 in federal setup and they draw Rs 2000 and Rs 2600 respectively. The United Nations has defined poverty line as 2 Dollars a day and in Punjab Province alone 350,000 teachers and of them 175,000 is living below poverty line.

The Punjab Ombudsman Report 2004 says, “There were 63,000 schools functioning in the Punjab where nine million students were studying. The second highest number of complaints (1193) was filed against the Education Department. It is strange that while Punjab chief minister is spending million of taxpayer money on personal projection and publicity on the electronic & print media, he has not paid any attention to the Education Department. Every thoughtful Pakistani is upset with Pakistan's system and quality of education. It is tragic and quite ironic that Pakistan ranks among the lowest in the world in term of literacy. Most developed and even developing countries spend six or ten percent of their GDP on education but Pakistan only spends 2. 3 % of its GDP.”

The present education system has failed to disclose before the new generation the founding reasons of Pakistan. The most alarming aspect besides ideological confusion and moral degradation is the falling standard of education. Class distinction in education has been created. Because of this, Pakistani nation is most discreetly broken down into an upper English medium and a lower Urdu medium class. Ironically each school has its own curriculum. The education system needs to be reengineered by every inch. Pakistan studies and the national character should be the fundamental elements.

Creating sectarian cohesion and teaching regional and social parity, a uniform syllabus, system of examination and medium of instructions should be enforced in all educational institutions.

Private institutions, at all levels have failed to maintain a regular quality supremacy over public schools. Private schools have now become an industry. According to the first census of private education institutions there are 22,855 private institutions in Punjab. It can be inferred that private schools have not been able to play a significant role in improving the education system. Since it is a transformed industry, the educational infrastructure provided by private schools is small and have poor facilities and untrained teachers. Some 64% are registered, and 3.4% recognized. The rest are unregistered. Nevertheless many parents prefer the inadequacies of the private sector to the government school, provided that there is one in the vicinity.

Exploitation by private educational institutions in the name of education should be regulated. These institutions should be made to boost standardized education on the one hand and on the other, to embrace all classes of society on basis of merit.

Punjab needs concrete planning but the tools to educate need immediate attention or it will stay as an advertisement gimmick.Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transfortmation


Future economic growth depends on the efficient marshaling of energy, raw materials, and scarce financial capital. If developing countries make the transition to a recycling society most quickly and smoothly it will have the healthiest environment and strongest economy.

An inventory of discards would reveal metal wastes more valuable than the richest ones, paper wastes representing thousands of hectares of forests, and plastics wastes incorporating highly refined petrochemicals. That these products rich in raw materials and concentrated energy are frequently considered worthless is indicative of a distorted economic system. We are literally throwing away our future.

Recycling offers the opportunity to trim waste disposal needs, and thereby reduces disposal costs, while simultaneously combating global environmental problems. Recycling metals, paper, glass, plastics, and organic wastes would lessen the demand for energy and materials.

Managing solid waste is a global problem: Refuse is produced throughout the world. But it is also a local problem in that there is no such thing as global waste stream. The cumulative waste management decisions made by local and national governments affect global energy balances, the rate at which the atmosphere warms, and the amount of pollution emitted into the environment. They also affect international trade flows and the accumulation of debt. Individuals are not powerless in the face of these problems that sometimes seem too abstract or remote for constructive action. The degree to which people and nations act together to conserve raw materials and energy resources can slow the rate at which the global ecosystem is altered.

In the growing cities the volume of discarded materials is surpassing the available managerial and physical capacities to dispose of them. Municipalities must watch their piling garbage piles and mounting problems. Adequate waste management infrastructure does not exist. No effort is being made to reduce waste volumes and recover recyclable materials.

Recycling programs that require not only a new way of thinking about waste but greater involvement by a host of small, dispersed participants face even greater institutional barriers. Despite these obstacles, our cities should integrate recycling into our waste management plans. These cities will thus save money by avoiding disposal costs and by selling secondary materials.

Getting consumers to participate and establishing markets for recovered materials are the keys to successful recycling programs. Several approaches have effectively increased recovery rates and sales opportunities. Consumers can segregate their recyclables for pickup, permit others to retrieve the valuable components, or pay for a central processing plant to separate them. They may also return selected items to the place of purchase or take them to a collection or redemption center.

The demand for recovered products can be enhanced by meeting the resource needs of regional industries, exploring new uses for secondary materials, and offering economic incentives to waste processors and companies that use recycled materials as product inputs. Procurement policies that either favor or explicitly do not discriminate against goods made with post-consumer wastes also boost demand. Market stimulation simultaneously requires guaranteed supplies of high quality secondary materials. Competition from virgin resources and industry standards for the finished product set the operating parameters. If recycled materials are not as reliable, they will not be used.

Programs geared to the recycling of specific products often include a monetary incentive, usually in the form of a deposit. When consumers purchase carbonated beverages or milk jugs, for example, they may be charged separately for the container. If it is returned clean and intact, the consumer receives a refund. Once popular, voluntary deposit programs will go and most schemes shall be spurred by legislation.

Retailers can also purchase reverse vending machines to accept returned containers and disburse deposit refunds. After inserting their containers (as rapidly as one per second), customers are issued either cash or a redeemable voucher, sometimes accompanied by promotional coupons. Most of the machines are designed to accept aluminum, but reverse vending machines that accept glass are already on the (Western) market.

Recycling programs are most effective when integrated within a city’s overall solid waste management plan. If added as an afterthought, and implemented outside of the waste collection system, recycling schemes typically have lower recovery rates.

To encourage the use of recycled products, government can require its purchasing agents to buy competitively priced goods that contain a certain percentage of post-consumer stock. Reports, laws, and different forms printed on recycled paper, government vehicles lubricated with refined oil, and public roads paved in part by recovered rubber all represent huge markets.

Use of recycled paper by government agencies is important not only because of the volume of government purchases (creating a large market demand), but also because government procurement arrangements will be used by province, local and private organizations as a model to establish programs of their own to buy recycled paper. Additionally, as the market grows for recycled paper, the unit cost will go down, reducing costs for all organizations.

If government is going to encourage recycling, it must also take some responsibility for enlarging secondary materials market. Government regulations and fiscal incentives may compel manufacturers to produce recyclable products and packaging.

Law should require all levels of government and government contractors to purchase “items composed of the highest percentage of recovered materials practicable, consistent with maintaining a satisfactory level of competition.”

Government can also generate markets by encouraging manufacturers to use more discards in their production processes and altering nonessential quality standards. Tax incentives to encourage the purchase of recycling equipment are an approach that will gain favor.

Less waste means less demand for expensive garbage-hauling equipment and waste transfer stations, as well as the loss of habitat for disease-spreading insects and rodents. Greater use of recyclable materials cuts the needs for imported resources, cuts the need for imported resources, reduces energy consumption, and curtails water and air pollution. Societies that recycle can more efficiently and less expensively allocate scarce energy and materials among growing populations. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Friday, March 13, 2009

Publicity hungry politicians

The prsident, prime minster, cabinet ministers, legislators and politicians visit victims of crimes only to take the prize of cheap publicity. These unpopular leaders are in the running for photo sessions and disaster tourism. Pictures, indubitably, speak a thousand words, but when the picture is of something awful, it can speak a thousand curses. Unconscious from the cynicism and self-respect imbalance, which they are causing thus, it is a nasty bit of work that visibly demonstrates subjacency of humanist ethics and obstruction in relief work and medical care.

This is, of course, empty leadership, and it marks a sad decline. Such leaders fail to apt to become household names because they failed to accomplish something great, something galvanizing. Now, these leaders know that they can achieve this perch by pumping us full of vitriol about how all the problems we face as the result of their unskillful leadership. Their publicity smokescreen attempts people to paying attention. They do not talk about the complex problems that confront us today. Instead they distill these complex issues into sound bites that get their swollen faces on TV.

These talentless celebrities get a recognition boost from fronting situations. It's the way of the world today. They think, and irrationally so, that there is no such thing as a catastrophe so dire that it can't be turned into an opportunity for self-promotion.

Publicity-hungry opportunists bank on the acts of inhumanity or calamity to boost their own image. People have a pretty feeble grasp of commercial reality and the mechanics of marketing. If they were good Muslims and true leaders, they would have gone about doing good anonymously, trusting that God would know what they were up to and would reward them in His own good time and in due course.

The pseudo-leader is a parasite. He nourishes himself on others suffering. He exists by satisfying the mob’s voracious appetite for excuses and easy solutions. If there is no easy solution for the complex problems in our country, the pseudo-leader creates one. In a calm baritone he talks about reparations. Such leadership guides only how to lead for its own interests are not leaders of the people. Such leaders need to be led.

So much have several organizations grown publicity hungry that they do not hesitate to send a press note to newspaper offices for even routine activities. They fail to mention that by so doing, they only fulfill their social responsibilities by doing some social work. Would it not be better if such organizations did a few things without a desire for the media publicity?

The selfish leaders attempt to lead others for their own gain and detriment of others. They believe that life is a point driven, zero-sum game, with winners and losers. They encourage others to be losers in the game of life so that they can collect all the spoils for themselves. Selfish leaders are the opposite of true leaders, who are driven by integrity.

In Islam, when we give alms, we ought not sound any trumpet. The hypocrites do this so that they may be praised forgetting that when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Contemporary leaders in Pakistan today, both at the national and local levels, lack characteristics associated with great leaders. Our society grievously suffers from a leadership crisis. This is having a disastrous effect on the society. It just keeps us stuck on a dead-end street of self-righteous indignation.

Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions, who inspired a reverence for life; Quaid-e-Azam, who lead a nation to freedom; Allama Iqbal, who demanded blood, sweat and tears from his people; and Abdul Sattar Edhi and Imran Khan, who rallied their people to great and humane causes.

Where are their successors? Why have we not had any true leaders in the government in generations? Why are there no potential presidents, prime ministers and ministers who inspire or even excite us? Where, for God's sake, have all the leaders gone?

It is absolutely necessary that elected though, the self-centered leaders be removed from any leadership positions as soon as possible. No member is performing in the best interest of the people for lacking necessary leadership qualities.

If today’s leaders failed to become good leaders, their impact is getting disastrous. Just as polluted water is as bad, or worse, than no water, so selfish leadership is as bad, or worse, than no leadership The great need of the day is for intelligent leadership. We need to explore how we can discover if and where we are called to lead as well as how we can begin developing our leadership ability.

It is imperative to replace gossips, rhetoric and speculations with substantive discussions and innovative ideas to build a pluralistic democratic society. Such discussions need to be led by political scientists, economists, sociologists and scholars who are willing to build consensus based on a scientific framework. To arrive at this stage, we need to first nurture a new generation of great leaders at the community level.

Recognizing the fundamental need for regime change in Pakistan, it is imperative to identify the next generation of great leaders at a young age, nurture their talents and provide them with open access to educational and career opportunities. To this end, the current generation of leaders needs to embrace change and retire with grace. This particularly applies to the leadership level of political incumbents and the opposition. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Planning for Future Disasters

Sooner or later, civilization is going to be disrupted by more natural events. Manipulating our natural and constructed environments is a prerequisite for surviving these disasters. Once we strip doomsday fears from the emerging spate of disaster-threat discoveries, a deep environmental challenge emerges: Nature's cycle includes periodic disruptions that could toss humanity backwards.

Besides planet-killing asteroids and calamities, other natural events may be serious threats in the future. They comprise floods, huge volcanoes, seismic disorders, equatorial drift, and repeated meteor cascade. They are sustained that might prompt loss of infrastructure, disorder of agriculture, or pollution caused by industrial debris.

Using the power of upcoming technologies we can overcome doomsday. Space telescopes, DNA analysis, sedimentary analysis, and application of engineering to archaeology are improving our ability to understand past and future planetary threats. Scientists have started interpreting old evidence in a new light.

To outlast future we need to transform our ecology. Even though we are not capable of unfolding, exposing, or protecting ruthless natural phenomena, it is crystal clear that ecologists need to take them unswervingly.

Ecologists oppose the use of biotech application for hindering the environmental equilibrium, causing danger to humanity, and playing God with natural systems. The opposing view is that organic farming is inherently inefficient and risky, and it forces the destruction of forests to put more land into production. If we consider the two positions from the standpoint of surviving mass natural changes, however, both sides take on a fundamentally different look.

To have a sustainable society we need a culture with enough staying power to endure and with the capacity to preserve its collective memory. The Egyptians did it for 3,000 years; no one else has come close. We are at the beginning rather than the end of that road.

Sustainable development is a controversial term with contradictory definitions. It is often interpreted to mean advancing economically without destroying the ecology we depend on. Enormous amounts are being spent for ensuring sustainable development, but somehow the importance of mega-disaster survival has been overlooked in our culture.

It is not likely that sustainable urban development could survive inundation by a once-in-5,000 years flood. Earthquakes, which produce tsunami and volcano fire in the US, and some countries of the Far East of Southeast Asia might tear down our technological foundation. A heliacal inclement weather would flatten many space stations in orbit. Moreover, if the Gulf Stream moves south, the agriculture in Europe can’t sustain.

Earthquake-resistant designs, flood canals, and wind resistance are part of modern cities now, but these innovations cannot handle the kind of super-threats referred to here. Food production and delivery systems need to be able to withstand enormous climatic stresses and recover in a few years. Genetic manipulation combined with microcomputers could help preserve our food supply in times of crisis.

The spiritual aspect of our futures is complex, yet basic to our ability to take the next steps. Science fiction and theological writers give us glimpses into that state of affairs, but have not yet paved the way between now and those futures.

Our understanding of pre-history requires far more investment. We need to find out more about natural events that occurred just prior to the beginning of modern history, 5,000-en-25,000 years ago. Theories about this period suggest that planetary disruptions may cause cyclical rather than linear evolution of civilizations. If true, this throws conventional understanding of history on its ear. Some physical clues exist, but we need to separate science from pseudo-science in this arena.

To carry each of these first steps forward will require institutions to take on the imminent danger of disastrous threats—by recognizing their existence, and by allocating much more resources to singling out their nature and where they will probably strike.

The good news is that the tools are emerging and we have the possibilities in our hands. We are nevertheless unwilling to see the time limit that we confront. Even though watching bright-hued live transmission of a planet striking the Jupiter only some years ago, a lot of even now turn down the probability that if it could happen to them at all.

It's healthy to be skeptical of doomsday fears. Yet the discovery of big natural risks may alter our perception of Armageddon. Adapting to those risks may be our greatest challenge.

It seems pointless for a human society to struggle 5,000 years only to have its accomplishments destroyed by a stray meteor storm, ice age, or inundation. For humanity to be truly sustainable we must protect ourselves from natural catastrophes that exterminated the dinosaurs and other species in the past. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Living Longer

Human aging is being controlled and researchers have proven that human cells can be created and in this century people will begin to live 100, 200 or even 300 years. Mice are already living 50% longer with the help of genetic inventions. Thanks to the human genome project, scientists are closer to identifying ways to decelerate human aging. Contrarily, with incompetent, insufficient, and laughable healthcare system in place, Pakistan seems to continue grappling with policy lapses. Due to factors related to high fertility rates, high illiteracy, high mortality, and above all uncreative methods of policy planning, Pakistan stands as a stranger to such a milieu. Its policymakers don’t even sense the world passing through a profound transformation. They lack their understanding for making decisions to understand forthcoming breakthroughs and strategically plan for new environs.

The rapid pace of technology and medicine are quickly posing the prospect of banishing aging and disease, and yes even most causes of death. Some of the most extreme but very possible aspects of technologies such as molecular manufacturing and nanomedicine promise continual cellular maintenance that will alleviate aging altogether and make it impossible for disease or toxins to injure one's body or take one's life. Present anti-aging treatments do not slow aging and do not extend life span more than quitting smoking, exercising, eating vegetables, or heeding ordinary medical advice does. While all over the world we have seen improvements in health and life spans, Pakistan has large gaps and much effort needs to be spent in narrowing that gap.

Although vainly wrestling with high female mortality at younger ages and during the reproductive years, Pakistan claims a life span of 65. This predominantly seems farce when almost one-half of women receive no antenatal care during their pregnancy and 72 percent receive no postnatal care at all.

The advancements in longevity can be generally attributed to improvements in sanitation, the discovery of antibiotics, and medical care. Despite tall claims, Pakistan’s record on these areas is hopeless. Now, as scientists make headway against chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease to extend anti-aging even further, such diseases in Pakistan are greater than ever and basic healthcare service is inaccessible to a vast majority.

There are theories on aging. The programmed theories hold that aging follows a biological timetable, perhaps a continuation of the one that regulates childhood growth and development. The damage or error theories emphasize environmental assaults to our systems that gradually cause things to go wrong.

Lengthening life expectancies in the industrialized nations are bringing about substantial changes including large increases in the number of elderly and in their proportion in the population. Such changes have occurred, for example, in the type of economic activity, housing, social services, and population make-up of the communities. With growth in the health care system and changes in the service mix provided, the elderly continue to consume more health care per capita and need different services.

Health care institutions, including hospitals, which are widely expected to experience increasing demand as the elderly population grows; organizations will provide home-based medical care and other types of assistance, allowing the individual to remain in their own residence; and a variety of assisted living facilities, ranging from adult day care to residential care to nursing homes.

Of greater concern, the already awful health care industry of Pakistan finds itself ill prepared to handle significant increases in the number of the very elderly. Today, there are almost 9.7 million senior citizens. When it has no policy in place for this population today, it has no concern for tomorrow. Neither public nor private sectors are equipped financially to deal with the problems caused by aging population. When a society starts aging, its economic vitality becomes inferior to that of young societies and sluggish economic growth reduces its opportunities to become well heeled. Thus, in Pakistan an aging population will become a heavy public burden, forcing its people to bring down the cost by establishing large institutions so that, by virtue of economies of scale, they could manage to provide the elderly with the most basic care and medical needs.

The health sector of Pakistan offers an inadequate remedy for the serious problems of an outdated and basically unsound system and hence needs an offensive. People must be offered a vision of a revitalized health care system that provides incentives for increased quality and technological innovation, while at the same time, reducing costs. Pakistanis need a system that gives them control over healthcare decisions, while encouraging them to set aside the resources they need to purchase this care.

The policy makers of Pakistan should keep themselves abreast of technological advances and management strategies by constantly scanning the literature and media, interviewing authorities, and drawing on other sources to identify emerging trends. These trends then need to be analyzed to select those that are most significant.

It needs to begin to prepare now for what will be a very different future. The key questions it needs to think about include: What is it that we should be asking? What is it that its policymakers need but do not get in their human development courses? People should be asking about connections -- connections between existing mindsets and human development. These connections simply are not made in most textbooks available for use in human development courses. In fact, effective change requires more than knowledge of human development. Effective change also requires the ability to devise strategies that take advantage of that knowledge … strategies for connecting research and practice. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Poverty and Development

It is widely recognized that development is about much more than growth of GDP. Equally, everyone appreciates that democracy is more than simply a matter of universal suffrage and the holding of regular multiparty elections, essential though these are. So we need to understand exactly what is meant by development and democracy today, in the twenty-first century.

There is a need to recognize the links between democracy and good governance on the one hand, and poverty, development and conflict on the other.

A strong, effective, accountable state is the first pillar of democracy and development. International institutions alone cannot and should not take responsibility for eradicating poverty, authoritarianism and conflict.

The foundations of a democratic state are worth recalling: a freely and fairly elected parliament that is broadly representative of the people; an executive (government) that is answerable to parliament; an independent judiciary; a police force that responds to the law for its operations and the government for its administration; and armed forces that are answerable to government and parliament.

The financial affairs of any democratic government should be monitored by parliament through a public accounts committee, and by an auditor-general answerable to parliament.

Civil society is the third pillar of pro-poor development and democratization. Building the capacity of citizens’ organizations and a free and well-informed media are critical for promoting citizen participation, holding government to account and empowering poor communities. Poor people and poor communities, for example, are in the best position to understand and articulate their own needs, and their voices should be heard directly within government. But they are not and here political rights and opportunities can be bolstered through community action.

The media plays an important role both in giving voice to citizens and in holding government and the private sector to account on their behalf.

Where international economic organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO set down conditionality or constraints on policy, it must be in the pursuit of pro-poor development, and must work in ways that do not erode democratic institutions and human rights at the national and sub-national levels.

There is a need for responsibility, partnership and concrete actions – from the government, private sector, civil society and international community. Without responsibility on all these levels, development and democracy will remain rhetoric rather than become reality.

The principal aim of development no longer focuses on maximizing marketable production of goods. The emphasis now is on expanding opportunities and strengthening human capacities to lead long, healthy, creative and fulfilling lives. Development is about enabling people to have the ‘capabilities’ to do and be the things that they have reason to value. Poverty is the deprivation of basic capabilities and development as the process of ensuring that the most basic capabilities are achieved by all.

Basic capabilities include: being adequately nourished, avoiding preventable morbidity and premature mortality, being effectively sheltered, having a basic education, being able to ensure security of the person, having equitable access to justice, being able to appear in public without shame, being able to earn a livelihood and being able to take part in the life of a community.

Developing countries have a weak administrative capacity. Public officials are poorly trained or lack experience in public expenditure management. State institutions, such as ministries and judiciaries lack sufficient resources or are plagued by entrenched systems of corruption. Inadequate numbers of women at decision-making levels in the civil service and judiciary means that women’s interests are not represented in policy formulation and implementation.

Ill-health is also a cause of poverty. A single experience of sickness in a family can divert energy and resources, leaving the household in deep poverty. Diseases such as malaria, and tuberculosis are not only personal tragedies; a high prevalence of such diseases is associated with significant reductions in economic growth.

Many anti-poverty plans are no more than vaguely formulated strategies. Developing countries need a genuine action plans - with explicit targets, adequate budgets and effective organizations. They do not have explicit poverty plans but incorporates poverty into national planning. And many of these then appear to forget the topic.

The governments have difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction - unable to distinguish between activities that are related to poverty and those that are not. They confuse social spending with poverty-related spending. But much government spending could be considered pro-poor if it disproportionately benefits the poor. Under these conditions it is probably best to set up a special poverty reduction fund - to give a better financial accounting and to allow government departments and ministries to apply to the fund for financing for their poverty-focused programs.

The scope of development policy has become broader, making ‘pro-poor development’ a vital additional analytical category that orients attention towards those people most in need. Recognizing that ‘development’ is still used loosely in the policy world to refer to development strategies, rather than particularly for poor people, it is important to distinguish and promote ‘pro-poor development’. Development policies aimed at the general population may have a more limited positive impact on particularly disadvantaged groups. Pro-poor development concerns those policies that are specifically designed to enhance the quality of the lives of the poor. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation