Why did Jacinda Ardern wear a black headscarf?

March 29, 2019

15 March 2019: An insane terrorist attack in two mosques left 50 people dead and several others injured during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. As I write this post, cars are still parked outside the mosques where the dead had gone to pray. Who can console the families who lost their near and dear ones? We can only pray for them.

However, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand won everyone’s hearts the way she responded to the situation. In her actions, there are five lessons for leaders from around the world:

Communicate clearly: Jacinda’s communication was clear. She described the atrocity as a terrorist attack. It is important not to beat around the bush and call it what it was.

Show that you care: Jacinda demonstrated a genuine concern. She symbolized her country’s values of peace and inclusiveness. She hugged family members of victims the way a family member would hug. The following Friday, the national flag was seen at half-mast near the mosques; a two-minute silence was observed; and the Islamic call of prayer was broadcast on national TV and radio. There was no politics there, no photo opportunities. The pain on her face was there for all to see.

Take action: Jacinda wasted no time in taking action and banning military style semi-automatic weapons. She intends to put in place an overhaul of gun laws by the 11 April.

Stop the hatred: The world was shocked as the attack got live streamed on the Facebook and other platforms. Jacinda didn’t let it pass. She has decided to work with other countries on holding social media companies accountable for letting this happen. Several companies withdrew their advertisements from social media platforms.

Demonstrate solidarity: The best expression of solidarity is in actions. Jacinda wore a black headscarf. Women across New Zealand, including those in the police force, wore headscarves in a show of support for the Muslim community. “I wore hijab because I felt it was the right thing to do. It gave people a sense of security. I am pleased I did that because it is my job to make people feel safe and secure,” said Jacinda Ardern in one of her recent interviews. I hope leaders from around the world will learn a lesson or two, including those who have unnecessarily banned the use of heardscarf in their countries or in the process of doing so.

The attacker wanted to divide but Jacinda managed to keep the nation united. And this is the greatest achievement of her leadership in a moment of crisis. Thank you, Jacinda! You are an inspiration.

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What can we learn from Sun?

February 27, 2019

Nature is beautiful. It continues to inspire us. While it reminds us of the amazing power of the creator, it also gives us several messages if we ponder over it.

There is a lot to learn from Sun. The beautiful rising Sun rejuvenates us, brings us hope and signals us to get ready for the day. We forget the darkness of the previous night and get on with a new zeal.

All get benefited from the sun’s light, equally and evenly, whether they are rich or poor; whether they live in big houses or huts. This way Sun teaches us not to discriminate. Can we not learn a lesson? Are we accessible to everyone around us with whatever we are in a position to share?

There are lessons even in the way Sun sets. I would like to reflect a bit on them.

We can be useful till the end
Just like the sun’s light starts diminishing after reaching its peak, our strength also goes down as we age. But Sun share its diminishing light till the last moment. Can we not plan our life in a way that we are useful till the end? Thanks to medical advances, life expectancy has gone up considerably. People generally have a good 20-25 years after their retirement from active work. They have skills, expertise, experiences and time to make a contribution. All they need to do is to look around themselves and find where they can be useful.

We can have a comforting effect on people
Sun retains its beauty till the end. This beauty is not just in the appearance but in its effects as well. People are often more reflective at the sun rise and sunset. They think, pray and thank the Almighty for his blessings in their lives. Can we not have such a calming and comforting effect on people around us? Does our presence and company help people find solutions or only adds up to their problems? These are some of the questions we all need to reflect upon.

We can inspire hope
Sun tells us no matter how dark the night was, there will be brightness tomorrow. This way Sun teaches us to be hopeful always! Difficult times come and go. We all need to develop and promote ‘this will pass too’ attitude.


Persevere patiently through struggles

January 29, 2019

A man was frustrated with failures in life. Despite all the hard work, he did not achieve much. Frustrated, he left everything and exiled himself in the woods. There he met a saint, shared his plight and asked for advice. The saint pointed towards two plants – a fern and a bamboo – he had planted some years ago.

“I planted the seeds of the two plants at the same time and took very good care of both. While the fern grew quickly there was no sign of growth in the bamboo for years. But, I did not give up and continued to water and nurture it. By the fifth year, a tiny sprout emerged and within six months, the tree grew a hundred feet tall.” Now, the saint asked the man, “Did the bamboo tree lie dormant for four years only to grow exponentially in the fifth?”

As the man remained quiet thinking about the answer, the saint informed him that the little tree was growing underground, developing a root system strong enough to support its potential for outward growth.
The saint then asked, “Did you know that all the time you had been struggling, you were growing strong roots.” The man learned the value of perseverance and resolved to continue working on his goals.

In my first post of 2019, I chose to share this well-known story to draw three lessons:

– Like plants, human beings are different each having its unique strength. It is not right to make comparisons. A child may be slow in the beginning to shine in studies or sports. This does not mean he lacks potential. He is just different. Parents and teachers need to be patient and keep nurturing the child till he shows up his full potential.

– Growth and results are not always visible. Do not give up. Develop the attitude of seeing failures as foundations or building blocks of success.

– The bamboo tree is flexible. It bends with the wind and does not break. The lesson is simple: if we learn to be flexible, we will not break. We will bounce back from the most difficult times.

Wishing you all a successful 2019!


Empowering ideas

December 14, 2018

“Empower” was the theme of an independent TED event at the UN, Geneva on the 6 December 2018. Eleven powerful speakers spoke to some 700 people in a span of three hours, sharing their personal stories of struggle, resilience and success.

It was good to see copies of the “Charter of the United Nations” on all tables, a powerful reminder as to why the UN is the most appropriate venue for Ted talks on human rights and empowerment. A great way to begin. Congratulations organizers!

Ted talks are about ideas that are worth spreading. The ideas that stayed with me are the following:

Solutions to persistent problems very often lie outside: “We created a sanitary pad with a purpose and reached over 100,000 women in Tanzania. Now girls don’t have to skip schools when they have their periods, shared Jennifer Shigoli from Tanzania recounting the experience of her enterprise, which she described as “manufacturing for social good.” It addressed the core problem due to which girls were skipping schools; gave them a low-cost sanitary pad, led to the growth of a social enterprise; and created employment for rural women.

Raise your voice against oppression: There are human rights violations, discrimination, conflicts all around us. According to UN refugee agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. We can’t be silent spectators. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, made an emotional appeal asking all to stand up and raise their voice against injustice, hatred, and oppression. “I am not a hero but I can’t be silent,” said Kate reminding that we all could do something. Agreeing fully to the idea, my little addition is that the voice against oppression and injustice should be equally loud no matter where it happens and who the perpetrator is. It saddens me to see unending sufferings in Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan and Syria, and makes me wonder if we are doing enough?

Education of refugees is as important as water, food and security: “My desire to become a diplomat shattered due to war in my country Syria, I lost everything I had,” said Maya Ghazal, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee. Children of refugees are struggling to get education, which should be seen as important as other humanitarian needs. Only 1% refugees go to university. “It is important to secure university seats for refugees,” stressed Maya who is aspiring to be a pilot now.

Young researchers Elise Luhr Dietrichson and Fatima Sator had a profound message for all who want to make the world a better place, “First people don’t take you seriously. But if you persist, things start happening.”


Seeing “value” in our work

November 30, 2018

I was recently asked to deliver a session on “Communication and attitudes at work” for interns working in my office. In order to assess their needs better, I sent them a short questionnaire before the session.
Answers to my first question — where do you see yourself five years from now — were as follows:
1. Not sure!
2. Not in a precarious work situation;
3. In a position that I appreciate and feel challenged to do more
4. See value in what I do.

The responses provided a good beginning for the session.
Not being sure of your goal cannot be an option. Every road will take you somewhere if you don’t know where to go. In fact, being in a precarious work situation is often a result of not having a clear goal in mind.

The third and fourth points are critical. People need to appreciate what they do, feel challenged to do more; and see value in what they do.

How can we see “value” in our work?

See the bigger goal: At times our work looks trivial, mundane, or meaningless. But actually it is never so. Step back and think. There is always a larger purpose. When we keep the larger picture in mind, we value our work, no matter how small it may appear.

Accept challenges: Challenges at work help us grow. They may be different: tight deadlines, unsupportive colleagues, a rude boss, multi-tasking, not achieving the desired results etc.
The success lies in handling them, not giving up. Remember the old saying – a calm sea never makes a good sailor!
And, when the going gets tough, take a break. Take a walk. Enjoy the nature. You will come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and raring to go again.

Do what you like: In one of my earlier posts — find relevance in your work — I had shared the story of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. Knight was failing as a salesman, not because he was not good at selling, he was not selling the product he was interested in. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled. So, we should look for the work that we like to do.
Pursuing a goal that we believe in gets the best out of us.


Experience the problem you need to solve

October 30, 2018

The Chairman, TATA Steel, Jamshedpur, India was holding a weekly meeting with his staff. One worker complained about the poor quality and maintenance of toilets for workers. In contrast, the toilets meant for the executives were of top quality having the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

The Chairman found this was unacceptable. Workers should have access to clean toilets. He asked his top executive how much time they would take to set it right. The executive asked for a month’s time.

The Chairman said “I would rather do it in a day. Send me a carpenter.” The next day, when the carpenter came, he simply ordered the sign boards to be swapped. The sign board on the workers’ toilet displayed “Executives” and the Executives’ toilet displayed “Workers”. The Chairman then instructed this sign to be changed every fortnight. The quality of both the toilets came at par within three days.

This incident was shared as an example of leadership by a friend, which indeed it is. But it also shows people need to have a feel of the problem they need to solve. Workers’ toilets would not have improved so quickly if the executives would not have had to use them.

One-third of the global populations still does not have access to a clean and hygienic toilet. Close to 900 million people across the globe continue to practice open defecation. The sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to achieve access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Achieving this goal requires a change of mind set to approach solutions. Leaders and managers need to get out of their comfort zones and experience what people around them go through. Then only they will find quicker solutions.

My father was a police officer. I remember he would often go unannounced and eat in the canteen meant for police constables. He ate where all constables used to sit and eat rather than being served in the officer’s dining room. This ensured that the food caterers consistently gave attention to the quality of the food, cleanliness of the canteen, its washrooms and crockery. And, this was also good for the morale of the hard-working police constables.


Should he sleep like this? We need to wake up!

September 29, 2018

Shyam (name changed) is a migrant worker in Mumbai, India.
He works as a daily wage earner, lifting goods from shops and dropping them to nearby places carrying the load on his head in his wicker basket. When he gets tired, or in between the load lifting and dropping trips, he takes a nap in his wicker basket but only till his phone rings and he gets the next call. Maximum weight he can carry is no criterion. He takes as much as he can handle. With the load, he walks up to 5-6 kilometres and sometimes also climbs the stairs in buildings that have no elevator.

I met him in my recent trip to Mumbai and he was kind enough to speak to me about his life. He earns around Rs 1000 (approximately USD 14) a day. At the young age of 28 years, he has started having pain in his neck. He misses his family and the comfort of home. Why did he migrate then? In his home town in Bihar ( another Indian state), he was not able to earn even Rs. 100 a day. He would then be counted among the 800 million who live in extreme poverty globally earning less than 1.9 dollars a day.

Poverty and lack of opportunities at home make people like Shyam migrate to other places. They may earn a bit more but face several challenges and hardships. This proves that increasing income is not enough. Working conditions, occupational safety and health, education and other social services are critical to ensure that people have a good quality of life.

Shyam was in my mind as I conducted the session “leaving no one behind” in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in an international training progrmame this week in Turin, Italy.

We discussed why certain groups – women and girls, migrants, youth, persons with disability, persons living with HIV, indigenous and tribal persons – are being left behind. They are often amongst the extreme poor; they face discrimination on several grounds; and as a result they also have low access to education, health and decent jobs.

The sustainable development agenda envisages that the development goals should be met for all nations/people and for all segments of society. Each country is supposed to identify the groups that are being left behind. I hope people like Shyam will be taken note of as countries implement their plans and make an attempt to reach out to those who are the furthest behind.