Sunday, 2 December 2007

A thousand splendid suns

I just finished reading Khaled Hosseini's second book - A thousand splendid suns. I wonder why Hosseini does not spend some time and energy telling the world about the wonderful and rich history, tradition and culture his country.

As Hermann Hesse said: "And even the unhappiest life has its sunny moments and its little flowers of happiness between sand and stone", so does Afghanistan!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Tides of change: a project makes a difference in the livelihoods of artisanal fishers

Fighting rural poverty is a multifaceted challenge. It is not only about increasing the incomes of poor rural people, and providing them with access to safe water, health and education. It is also about transferring knowledge and know-how. And more importantly, it is about implementing policies that empower people and lead to reducing rural poverty. This is what the IFAD-funded Sofala Bank Artisanal Fisheries Project is doing in Mozambique.

Read full story

Small-scale farmers become entrepreneurs

Have you ever wondered where the cabbages, potatoes, tomatoes and green beans sitting on supermarket shelves come from? In Mozambique if you shop at Shoprite, Africa's largest food retailer, which has operations in 16 countries, you'll be buying vegetables produced locally by small-scale farmers.

Read full story

Saturday, 27 October 2007

How leaders create and use networks

According to Herminia Ibarra, successful leaders have a nose for opportunity and a knack for knowing whom to tap to get things done. These qualities depend on a set of strategic networking skills that nonleaders rarely possess.

She talks about importance of networking. She says, "typically, managers rise through the ranks by dint of a strong command of the technical elements of their jobs and a nose-to-the-grindstone focus on accomplishing their teams’ objectives. When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers do not immediately grasp that this will involve relational—not analytical—tasks. Nor do they easily understand that exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their new leadership roles."

Read full article as it appeared in the Janaury 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review

Typically, managers rise through the ranks by dint of a strong command of the technical elements of their jobs and a nose-to-the-grindstone focus on accomplishing their teams’ objectives. When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers do not immediately grasp that this will involve relational—not analytical—tasks. Nor do they easily understand that exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their new leadership roles.

Leadership has nothing to do with titles

J. Frank Brown, the Dean of INSEAD has just published a marvelous book called the The global business leader. In this book he says he has met a lot of CEOs in his two-and-a-half decades in business and many of them are little more than LINOs – Leaders In Name Only.

Brown believes there are seven hallmarks of a great leader. “I think the most important one is how you communicate and how you listen because if you’re going to be a successful leader you’ve got to be a really aggressive learner,” he said.

In his book, The Global Business Leader: Practical Advice for Success in a Transcultural Marketplace, Brown lists the hallmarks of leadership: openness, integrity, humility, a view of the present and the future, an optimistic outlook, the proper use of authority, and an understanding of personal and organisational objectives.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Finally people are understanding the philosophy behind the One Laptop per Child

A big thank you to David Pogue of New York Times who very eloquently has explained the philosophy behind the One Laptop per Child programme. Read his article at the following url:

He is absolutely right in saying that "clearly, the XO's mission has sailed over people's head [cynics] like a 747".

People should better educate themselves and instead of criticizing, let us CONTRIBUTE!

Follow the mantra "Get 1, Give 1"

Friday, 28 September 2007

Give One Laptop per Child a chance

Last week there was a frenzy of good and bad media on "one laptop per child"

Prof Negroponte had an innovative idea before everyone else came into the picture. His philosophy is a noble one “the future is shaped by children” so let’s help them get educated. This project is not about laptops. It is about enabling children in developing countries to have access to primary education - something that they do not necessarily have access to.

This is not a project about parachuting laptops, but about putting in place an education programme…. It is done in conjunction with ministries of education and not in a vacuum.

I think there are lots of people out there who do not know enough about this project and its potential. Perhaps OLPC may wish to carry out an awareness building campaign by providing more background information about the programme so that everyone can finally understand the programme's objectives and potential.

Let’s help OLPC make this come to fruition. If you can, donate a laptop.

Friday, 17 August 2007

When bureaucrats become leaders

When was the last time you searched Google for "leadership" and "leadership and management"? Well, I did it the other day. I got 166 million results for leadership alone and 195 million for leadership and management. Although not all these millions of articles may be useful, undoubtedly some are.

Now how many leaders do you know ; or rather how many people do you know who claim to be or want to be leaders? Probably a lot! and how many are actually DECENT leaders, probably only a very few or none!

Sometimes bad leaders are harmless, but often they are harmful and they come in different flavours. I believe the worst type are bureaucrats who have made it to leadership position. These people are not only petty, but also lack any sign of creativity. They stifle innovation and new ideas and often are terribly insecure. As bureaucrats they want to please the boss, be it the CEO or the Board.

Any organization that has this kind of person in leadership position will suffer and risks not doing well, mainly because its good human assets will soon be disenchanted and leave or worse still take a back seat driver posture.

How can we circumvent these types of people from killing the creative and dynamic spirit of an organization? How can we prevent that these people enter organizations in the first place?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

My trip to Mauritius and Rodrigues island

Earlier this month I went to Mauritius for work. Mauritius is known for its beautiful beaches and tourist resorts. Many forget that although Mauritius is a middle income country, it still has large pockets of poverty and a percentage of its population lives below the poverty line. I visited Rodrigues island, 640 kilometres off the island of Mauritius, where I met some powerful ladies who with some assistance but mainly through their actions and will power are coming out of poverty.

Here are two stories: One on "Training helps octopus fisher build a better life" and another on how "how a poor islander became a local leader"

Send me your comments.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Reflections on women leadership and management course

Last week I attended an extraordinary training course for women leaders and managers. The course was absolutely a precious and priceless GIFT. In my life, I've never had so much time devoted to ME nor so manypeople paying attention to ME.

I was lucky enough to attend the course in a very particular moment in my work life. At the end of the course I felt energized and realized that I needed to get back to being the cheerful, boisterous, energetic and positive self that I've always been.

The course was a great learning experience as it made me realize that:
  • Role of a leader is not only to deal with complex issues but also with complex and complicated people
  • I should not allow the fear, insecurity and negativity of one person or a group of people undermine or sap my passion and commitment
  • Skills can be acquired but the challenge is to know oneself
  • Organizations can have excellent processes and bullet proof procedures, however it takes individuals and more specifically leaders to ensure allthe assets are put to good use
  • My issues are not necessarily greater nor more complex than others, that when my challenge is unpacked it may very well turn out to be rathermundane
  • I need to be more self-aware of my leadership skills

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Change management: common mistakes

Management literature is flooded with dos and donots on change management. Organizations spend considerable amount of money and effort to lead and manage change management programmes. At the same time they supposedly 'study' this literature or at least try to get inspired by it. Yet, most of the times they end up falling in all or some of the traps identified by the literature they've avidly read and studied.

Here is a check list constituting of 10 principles of change management

  • Address the “human side” systematically: How many times you've omitted addressing the human side of change - which ultimately is the most important thing. After all people have to implement change.... if they are on board, change will happen faster and seamlessly, if not, it is bumping ride
  • Start at the top: We're pretty good with this one. We need support, so we better get it... that is why usually we do start at the top... the challenge is whether the top remains fully engaged throughout the entire change management process.
  • Involve every layer: This is common pitfall. Typically we start forming working groups, "recruiting" creme de la creme to do the job and we forget about everyone else
  • Make the formal case: I see this as creating a sense of urgency and link it very much to start at the top, or rather the raison d'etre of change management. In other words, WHY are we changing, WHAT are we changing and HOW will be changing
  • Create ownership: This is very noble. What usually happens is that this ownership is created within the change management elite. What this principle really means, is to create ownership amongst everyone. Everyone needs to believe in the change programme so that they can become change agents. Be aware of CHANGE SURVIVORS. These are individuals who pay lip service to change and continue business as usual.... They are lurkers and raise their ugly heads when you least expect. WATCH OUT!
  • Communicate the message: This is linked to involving every layer.... communication is hardly ever a priority. You hear people saying 'we do not have anything to communicate' which is always an understatement.... Those who are not involved in the daily work of change management need to know what is happening. Therefore, there is always something to communicate.
  • Assess the cultural landscape: Before embarking on changement management exercise, you need to assess the readiness of your constituents. This means you need to assess whether you'll find a fertile or hostile ground to implement changes.
  • Address culture explicitly: You need to address the cultural landscape assessment heads on. There is no point in beating around the bush. This is also part and parcel of creating the sense of urgency. If you've groups of people who may resist change, tackle the issue immediately. Do not let it linger, it will not go away. You'll end up jeopardizing the entire programme if you do not deal with this kind of stuff immediately.
  • Prepare for the unexpected: Always have a contigency plan. Prioritize your change agenda. Know what changes are MUST and what are optional and nice to have.
  • Speak to the individual: Establish open channels of communication with people. Make sure you are always available. Take the first step and talk to those who are most affected by change. LISTEN to people and to their ideas. Everyone has sometime valuable to offer.

Post your comments and experience on change management. I'd be interested to hear both successful and less successful examples of change management initiatives

Friday, 6 April 2007

Geeky gadgets get a shot of high-fashion bling

On 22 March, the International Herald Tribune (IHT) published an article entitled: Geeky gadgets get a shot of high-fashion bling

The article argued that there is a gap in the market for lifestyle electronics and unveiled an alliance between Philips, the consumer electronics giant, and Swarovski to entice women to use technology products such as cellphones, Ipods, flash disks and MP3 players.

I wonder whether these people actually did a thorough market research…. As a woman, I would never buy a cellphone full of Swarvoski crystal studs. A phone – be it a cordless or a cellphone – should serve its prime purpose: communicate with family, friends and colleagues… whether it has diamonds, emeralds, Swarvoski crystals, whether it has an embedded video camera or serves as an IPod is absolutely irrelevant.

The market research gurus seemed to have overlook or failed to understand WOMEN's PRAGMATIC NATURE.

These flashy objects may have a market within the neo-bourgeois and the nouveau riche segment of world population, but certainly not within the pragmatic women world! Maybe it is because as women we subscribe to HH Dalai Lama's thinking:

"much of our unhappiness, our suffering is caused by discrepancies between our perceptions and what is real"

Monday, 26 March 2007

ICTs, knowledge and rural livelihoods

As I was preparing a meeting on ICTs, knowledge and rural livelihoods, I searched my memory lane to find a non-work related example of how ICTs can help knowledge dissemination and improve rural livelihoods.

In the 60s there was land reform in my country. As a result of land reform, the land was handed over to the farmers. However, the farmers and the village head maintained a cordial relationship with their ex 'landlord'. They would often call upon him, ask for his expert views and came to town to consult on important social and political issues. Most of them were illiterate and had little or no access to education, credit and health. But they all owned a radio and that was how they kept in touch with the outside world.

One of my vivid childhood memories is when the lead farmer, Moktar – who was also acting as the village head – and some others paid my dad a visit. I remember Moktar and others arrived with a share of the harvest. They had come down to the city (an 8 hour trip – through a mix itinerary of paved and unpaved roads) to confer about some additional reforms that they had heard about on the radio but had not quite understood its implications and what it really meant for them.

Daddy spent considerable amount of time explaining to them – in local dialect – what the reform meant and how they could benefit from it and at the same time what they had to watch out for. He suggested that they:

  • share this information with everyone in the village
  • form a village council to discuss these issues further and make decisions
  • ask the local authorities for additional information if needed
  • demand that the information be disseminated in a way that it can be easily understood by farmers

They stayed overnight and when they left the following day, they were full of optimism and felt empowered. The parting words of the Moktar were: "Sir, I hope one day my children will be able to think and reason like you"

2 years ago when I was back home, I went to my father's birth place. It was highly emotional trip for many reasons. One of reasons was because I met Moktar's children. They found out that we were in town and came over to pay their respects.

Unlike Moktar, his sons were educated. Both of them were successful 'rural' entrepreneurs and members of the village and city council. While visiting their cellphones kept ringing and each conversation – although in dialect – was of them providing guidance and assistance to someone else. Moktar's dream had come true.

While a lot had changed, there were certain things that had remained the same:

  • local context: my Dad had to explain the proposed reform in local dialect
    Moktar's son did the same
  • Use of ICTs: Moktar found out about the proposed reform via radio, which ultimately led to improving his livelihood, his sons disseminated knowledge via cellphone and their livelihoods also depended on the cellphone
  • Role of the guide and mentor : Daddy was considered by his constituents as guide and mentor, Moktar's sons were guides and mentors for their constituents with the difference that they were now considered as peers

What had changed?

  • Knowledge brokering was readily available (24x7). No need to travel fir an entire day, it is a phone call away
  • People are more informed about issues and their rights, they proactively participate in decision making

What had changed was the availability of new ICTs which are:

  • Interactive
  • Permanently available
  • Have global reach
  • Are becoming accessible because of falling costs
  • Offer multi-media functionalities

Initially I was sceptical about how ICTs could address the needs of poor rural people. Only recently I've become convinced of the prominent and crucial role that ICTs can and SHOULD play to improve the livelihoods of poor rural people.

This said; I believe the issue we need to tackle as development workers is POVERTY ERADICATION and not to BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE, whilst bearing in mind Amartya Sen's mantra: "the availability and use of ICT is no longer optional". Ultimately what determines the successful use of ICT in development is not technology but the context, that is, cultural, political, economic, social and institutional processes determine which opportunities are accepted and how and to what extent they are utilized.

I hope through my personal tale I've managed to illustrate that:

  • ICTs are a tool for empowerment and for them to make the right dent they need to be owned by the people who will be using them
  • ICTs are tools for achieving social goals
  • ICTs provide access to knowledge which can lead to reducing costs of production, transaction and enhance communication
  • ICTs have the potential to empower and enhance opportunity and provide security
  • ICTs have been and are a vital part of economic, social and political fabric of all societies
  • ICTs have been and are crucial for reducing poverty especially when farmers and rural stakeholders participate in decision making processes, are kept informed, so that they can make informed decisions to improve their livelihoods

ICTs – old and new – need to be considered as enablers, because:

  • thanks to them, people and societies transmit and gather information [Moktar came to know about the additional reforms]
  • they facilitate delivery of services [Moktar's son delivered a service using their mobile phones]
  • they provide a space and opportunity to discuss issues and involve people and ultimately give voice to people

An important lesson is the fact that ICTs can only help improve rural livelihoods if they are:

  • Affordable
  • Scalable
  • Self-sustaining
  • Sensible
  • Participatory
  • Appropriate

I hope my personal tale also highlighted the central role of the farmer. As development workers, we need to acknowledge that farmers:

  • act both as extension client and extension provider
  • are and should be groomed to become learning and knowledge facilitators

This means what we need to do is to LINK social, economic and political empowerment to efforts to bridge the rural digital divide

This means we need to adopt a people-centred ICT4D approach, that is:

  • focus on people, not technology
  • listen to grass-root needs by understanding the local reality and context
    engage in a participatory communication process using old and new means of communication

Pay special attention to:

  • Ownership and appropriation – participation at inception level and ownership of the entire process. This entails strengthening the local capacity to understand the importance of knowledge and networking in social development
  • Development of local content – localizing. Provide relevant information and allow farmers to develop their own demand-driven content
  • Language and cultural pertinence – language is a vehicle that communities use to communicate but also the essence of their identity
  • Convergence and networking – make world smaller and communities bigger
    Appropriate technology – assess the real needs and provide the farmers with what they really need
  • Increase bargaining and purchasing power of rural poor by providing transparent, localized and relevant information
  • Ensure participation of rural communities in policy processes

In my 22 years of career, I have seen the importance of distinguishing between information and knowledge. This is because:

  • Information does not necessarily generate change
  • Knowledge on the other hand and the act of participating, sharing of knowledge in horizontal way, having respect for diversity and culture are key to bringing about social change
  • Having access to knowledge allows individuals and communities to expand their choice and provides them opportunities to explore new and innovative income generating activities

A joint SDC-Swaminathan Research Foundation study, published in 2005, provides a framework to assess the impact of ICT projects.

The report identifies the following as key lessons learnt in using ICTs for poverty reduction:

  • Participatory ICT approach – involving people at all stages – from needs assessment to monitoring
  • Advocacy at all levels by bringing together development and technology experts
  • Leadership and institutional ownership
  • Foster south-south exchange
  • Pro-poor effects are more likely to occur if ICTs are embedded in a larger, demand-driven development effort
  • Adopt a community-based approach to ICT, as ICTs expand social networks and create legitimate spaces to socialize and work
  • Deploy appropriate technology
  • Content should receive as much attention as access
  • Mainstreaming ICTs into productive sectors leads to becoming competitive

ICTs can only act as enablers to improve rural livelihoods if:

  • there is converge the interest of the developed world with those of the developing countries, converge interest of government, private sector, telecom incumbent and the rural poor people’s needs in order to create synergies and partnerships
  • ICTs are incluced in PRS processes
  • the disconnect between on-the-ground efforts to address local information needs and policy processes is bridges
  • there is a good understanding of local context
  • policies and processes are grounded in real life experience and meet the real user needs
  • transparent information is disseminated to empower people to make better decisions
  • we promote convergence of old and new technology, by creating a three-tier systems: public, commercial and community

I'll like to finish off by reiterating the fact that as development workers the issue we need to tackle is POVERTY ERADICATION and not BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

We need to make sure that ICTs do not overshadow the basic needs of the rural poor to improve the livelihoods. We need to work collectively towards bridging the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” while respecting the cultural diversity provide connectivity, but also foster alternative means of communication, provide relevant content to everyone including the marginalized people and those living in remote areas.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Bridging the digital divide

10 years ago everyone talked about the challenge of bridging the digital divide. Today there is less and less concern about bridging the divide.

The panacea and the magic potion was the cellphone. Today the Massai carry a cellphone next to their spears, the indigenous people of latin america have one. All these people use mobile phones in an innovative manner, anything from getting market prices tousing it as banking facility to send money.

They may not have ready access to the internet but they are no longer cut off.... So have we bridged the digital divide?

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Davos - World Economic Forum: Voices of Iran

For those who may have missed this wonderful discussion which took place at Davos during the 2007 World Economic Forum: Voices of Iran

Beyond the headlines and stereotypes, Iran must be understood through a deeper appreciation of its rich heritage and complex internal dynamics. Join a conversation with Iranians from a broad spectrum of society as they discuss their aspirations, their country and how they view the world at large.

Tune it and listen to the rich discussion. A wonderful eye opener


The language of development has changed so many times in the last 5 decades. Today the new buzz words are results framework, managing for development and indicators.

History has demonstrated that these things come in cycles and have a life span of approximately a decade, so would be correct to assume in 10 years time, today's language will be replaced with some new thing? Will the common wisdom of 'history repeats itself' be true yet again? Will we realize that yet again we have learnt very little from history?

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Creative thinking

Last week I attended a creative thinking course. It was absolutely wonderful. It was amazing to realize how our brain reacts to certain things and how by just consciously controlling our animal and human instincts we can be constructive rather than destructive.
One the main message I took away was: defer judgment, analyze the problem, diverge and then converge.
It may all seem straight forward and easy, and it is.... but as human beings we find it hard to apply. So now consciously I am trying to all these things. Hope I succeed and more importantly, hope I can transmit my learning to my colleagues and friends