Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Inspires Me: Leadership Against All Odds

Jacqueline Novogratz

CEO at Acumen Fund

What Inspires Me: Leadership Against All Odds


I may have to write several posts to answer this question. What inspires me? I think of beauty, generosity, a star-filled night to remind me of how connected we are in a vast universe – all of it inspires me. But let me start with the leadership qualities of people I am lucky to have met.
I am inspired by individuals who constantly renew, retaining a childlike curiosity that enables them to seek knowledge and understanding, who commit to something bigger than themselves and who give more to the world than they take. I think of John Gardner, my mentor, who would remind me constantly to “Focus on Being Interested, not Interesting”, and who created organizations, wrote books and mentored young people into his nineties, until the day he died. His legacy lives in countless young leaders across the world and this way, his spirit will be forever alive.
I am inspired by leaders who dare to dream and have the grit, resilience and determination to see those dreams through, regardless of the many times they fall down along the way. Dr. Venkataswamy, another teacher, founded the amazing Aravind Eye Hospital when he was 58 years old, a successful eye surgeon despite being crippled from rheumatoid arthritis, a former physician in the Indian Army. His mission was audacious: to eradicate unnecessary blindness. His start was humble: a tiny “hospital” with just eleven beds. Nearly 40 years later, Aravind has treated more than 32 million people performing more than 4 million surgeries. Called Dr. V by most, he would say, “Intelligence and capability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.” You cannot help but feel the spirituality expressed by the best of the human heart and mind in the halls of this most extraordinary dream, made real simple by starting and then doing.
I am inspired by individuals who see a problem and focus on solving it, not yielding to facile excuses and roadblocks. My friend Alex Sunguti (top photo) works with Acumen and lives in one of Nairobi’s slums. He recently saw his neighbor lose her baby during childbirth because the family could not afford the $24 needed for a taxi to take her to the hospital. Though his own means are limited, Alex brought together local taxi drivers to negotiate a lower “emergency rate” and is working on raising a sort of insurance fund from community residents and friends. As our world becomes more interconnected, I dream of more Kickstarter-like mechanisms to enable larger circles from which to crowdfund and then track these small but critical local efforts that remind me that trust is the most precious currency we have.
I am inspired by the toughness, courage and hard-edged hope of people who persevere against the odds for they remind me of all that is possible. While traveling last week, I met a Rwandan-Congolese woman in Pretoria who lost both parents and three of her siblings to the genocide in Rwanda and war in Congo and somehow made her way to South Africa. She is now building a life as a professional and dreams of creating an orphanage back in Congo. As I was passing through immigration at JFK, I walked behind a Haitian-American walking steadily and proudly on two prosthetic legs, a large backpack strapped across his muscular back. Simply by walking through the world, he inspired me to try to fly.
The kind of leadership we need in a world becoming more interconnected by the day is a leadership with the qualities I see in the people I meet through my work across the world, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, gender or creed. So many times I am reminded that there are times in every life when just getting out of bed can require an act of courage. And yet, I see people who have so little give everything they can to make the world just a little better. And sometimes, a lot better.
Photos: top, Alex Sunguti; bottom: Jacqueline Novogratz and Dr V. Acumen Fund.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Entrepreneurial Leadership for 21st Century

Entrepreneurial Leadership for 21st Century


21st century represents the information age and offers different challenges from the 20th century which represented the industrial age. The transition to the information age from the industrial age heralds specific challenges in the area of education and learning: 

Mass Production Assembly Lines are Out

Need for assembly lines for the mass production of standardized supervisors, managers, engineers or technologists (also calledschools) will diminish. Information age requires people who are nimble enough and who can quickly learn new technologies and new ways of doing things. There will never be time enough go in to expensive training institutes and universities. People will have to learn quickly on their own. Therefore, self learning is a very important part of their skill set.


  • Information age economy will have most people working from their homes through internet on a per project basis for different companies. They would be paid not because they have a CV containing a list of large number of degrees or diplomas, but they would be paid on the basis of their portfolio of past projects and their ability to complete the projects on time and within resource constraints. Even in Pakistan, there are already several organizations that allow their employees to work from their homes. This trend is going to explode exponentially. Very soon all services would be outsourced to off-site people or organizations (See Business Process Outsourcing). 
  • Work in the industrial age was typically in jobs whose major attraction was that they were career oriented, they started in a large company after graduation and typically lasted till the retirement. However, in the information age, jobs are typically not going to last a life time spanning the entire career in a single company. Job security is out. There would be frequent job and company switches. People would have to be enterprising enough to find out opportunities whereever they exist after every few years or even months. 
  • Work in the information age is often short term, contractual, assignment oriented and project based. People are required to be experts in handling projects of all sizes. They need to have crucial interpersonal skills and intra-personal skills necessary for completing the projects on time.
  • Organization in the information age are not mega organizations employing tens of thousands of full-time people. Organizations are smaller, entrepreneurial and virtual. They often shift their focus from one domain to another. Such entrepreneurial organizations require people who are enterprising and who can look at the big picture and have the ability to solve real life problems and can quickly shift from one domain to another. Real life problems never map to any subject text book boundary nor do they come in a one-size-fits-all curriculum! 
  • Regimented Schools are Out

    Analysis of the emerging realities indicates that the need for regimented schools that prepare with a fixed syllabus,  broken down in to neat subject boundaries, where every thing that a student has to learn is laid out in advance is going to diminish.

    Information age requires students to be enterprising, self motivated, intellectually independent, committed to the completion of work for as long as it takes.

  • An information age company often has to recast its business into new areas quickly (see Intel's CEO and founder Andy Grove's book "Only the Paranoid Survive"). Rapid changes in technology and means of communications would not let most companies to settle down in one particular area. Companies would require people who like to work on their own developing crucial new skills and new understandings to enable them to take advantage of the shifting scenarios. 
  • More work would revolve around entrepreneurial initiatives rather than settled jobs. This means that instead of waiting for someone to tell a person what to do, people would have to be enterprising enough to seek out new opportunities, explore new worlds, and to scan for new ways of doing things. What is required is the intellectual independence to think on one's own. 
  • Strive for intrinsic motivation, self learning, and self-direction are the essential functions of long term visions and ability to take risks and not be discouraged by failures and adversity are the hallmarks of an entrepreneur who is forever on the lookout for new worlds. 
  • To make sense of the rapid changes driving our life, we need long term visions than can provide us with anchor. To make world a safe place from exploitation, deterioration, climate change and global monopolistic control requires social and environmental leadership/entrepreneurship.
                    Apni dunya aap paida kar agar zindoan may hay
                    Sirr-e-Adam hay zameer-e-kun fakan hay zindagi!

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Why Job Security?

Why Job Security?

Why we Search for Job Security. Why Not Risk Taking?

Why are we so afraid of taking risks?
Why our primary focus is on jobs that provide security?
Why people go after a pensionable, secure, career job?
Why people think that becoming a government "servant" is their ultimate goal?
Why "sarkar ki naukri" has so much premium?

An analysis of these questions takes us to the time of the early 19th century and after the 1857 war of independence when the British Raj eliminated the land entitlements of the aristocracy. The landed aristocracy of subcontinent especially the Muslims found themselves literally penniless as they lost their entitlements, and their regular earnings from their land holdings disappeared. They found themselves with no marketable skills or knowledge. Their Persian language skills became worthless overnight as the official business started getting transacted in English (recall the famous saying "Farsi seekho, tael baicho").

Culturally the aristocracy of that time, especially Muslims, had looked down upon craftsmen as "kum-mi" (menial), and avoided the trades and crafts that require working with hands. They used the terms related to crafts pejoratively and disparagingly: Jolahay (artisan), taeli (seller of oil), kumhar (potter), qasai (meat seller), baniya (shop keeper), mazaray (field hand), .....

Hence, they effectively shut themselves out of the businesses related to these crafts. The aristocrats or the elites therefore had no option but to go for English studies at the new schools/colleges so that they can eventually become government "servants". Those who did not take the modern schooling to government route and also shut themselves out from the crafts and trades went hungry and their plight has been captured by several renowned poets as exemplified in the poetry, letters or life of Ghalib, Insha, etc [included still in our syllabi] and depicted by authors for e.g. in the heart breaking story of Mirza Sikandar Bakht and included in the matric Urdu syllabus of 1977 of Sargodha Board [would someone tell me the author name?].

In short, we saw during the late 19th century start of a mad rush towards the secure job of the British India Government Servant, and continuing even after partition. I have seen myself  official government correspondence being transacted till late 1970s and even in to 1980s, where the government officials would sign the official notes and letters as "Your Most Obedient Servant"!


The safety and security of a government job (or a career job) robs you of your independence, destroys your "khudi", makes your prime duty to obey the commands and dictats of the superior. You become like a caged parrot. He has the security of a cage. He does not need to be afraid and continously be on the lookout for a prowling cat or a diving eagle. He has food security. He would daily get his rations in the mornings and evenings. He has a gilded cage. He is only expected to sing and please the master when the master so wishes. The master may reward him by taking him out of his cage for a few moments of supervised liberty but only after ensuring that the wings have been properly clipped. He has everything except liberty to do what he wants to.

The slave mentality and the psyche so developed in the Muslims of the subcontinent was the major target of Iqbal. His metaphors of Hawk/Shaheen (who preys himself and goes after a live prey), and denigration of vulture/kargus (who feeds on someone else's prey or dead meat") attacked this mentality.

   Woh fareeb khurda shaheen jo pala ho kargasoan may
   Usay kya khabar keh kya hay, rah o rasm e shahbaazi

Iqbal wanted us to be shaheen who lives on the skies, and does not settle down in plush homes, and Shaheen is not afraid of fluctuation of fortunes (jhapatna palatna, palat kar jhapatna) were all intended in liberating us from our love for security, safety and official residences. However, the love for security, safety and official residences still reigns supreme in cities like Islamabad and in particular communities.

But, then there are communities like the ferocious tribals and Afghans who could not be tamed by British. They led their lives independently, and still do. Who are enterprising, willing to work any where, go to any wilderness and start from nothing with a chai-khana (tea stall) under a tree, travel all their lives on roads (driving trucks), moving from one place to another. There are desolate parts of Pakistan where you would wonder who would ever have the courage to settle and do this kind of tough work of breaking rocks and mountains, and you will find that tribals are there doing work which no one is willing to do because it is risky and hard. British manipulative machinery tried its best to kill the spirit of these tribals by spreading jokes such as those referring to "akhroat" and "pathans", but could not. There are also settled business communities like memons and chiniotis who are enterprising and create their own business and space using trading system for their liberation. They are the real risk takers.  They have also been made target of jokes. Unfortunately many unsuspecting from amongst us relate these jokes without understanding how they were designed to malign our psyche and mentality.

You will see a common strand among all such enterprising communities. They make their children start in a small shop or even a street stall at a very early age. They know that the real learning is not in books but in real life with real people. Yes, reading, writing and arithmetic are important and must be learned and this a person can do in a few months or in a few years starting at any age. However, refinement of language and arithmetic skills takes place in the real life. Business learning at an early age through small enterprises can lead to great things. See for example "Made in America" the autobiography of Sam Walton of Walmart who at the time of his dying around 1993 was the richest man of the world.

If today after 65+ years is not the time to get out of this slave mentality, then when would it be. Unless we begin to take our destiny in our own hands, stop denigrating work and craft, things would not change. The change is visible and is coming. We see now people looking favorably at crafts. For e.g I see in Pakistan upscale businesses with names such as "Darzi" and "Kaarigar", and boutiques, fashion designers (even Islamic fashion designers), Meat One,  Gourmet, Nirala sweets etc. We are rediscovering the importance of sunnat of the Prophet by reverting towards business and trade.

Current state of affairs in Pakistan is now making us realize how difficult it is to assume responsibility and take ownership of our own destiny. But, this is the cost of real freedom.
                                                 Apni duniya aap paida kar agar zindoan may hay


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