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.

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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.


How to feed the hungry with dignity

August 31, 2018

Any programme that feeds the hungry is welcome but few challenges always remain: respecting the dignity of hungry people; reducing the waiting time for people before they are served, avoiding wastage, and above all, making the effort sustainable.

In this context, Kozhikode, Kerala, a south Indian state, has developed a good model.

Fully funded by the people of Kozhikode, the initiative – OPERATION SULAIMANI – aims to ensure that no one in the city goes hungry.

People can collect a free meal coupon from any of the distribution centres and walk into any restaurant in the city, where a meal is served without asking any questions with full respect for the dignity of persons. The volunteer team has placed donation boxes across the city, into which anyone can donate. This money is used to reimburse the meal coupons that are collected at the restaurants.

At the initiative of the district collector, the Kerala State Hotel and Restaurants Association has engaged over 125 city restaurants to become a part of this innovative scheme being successfully implemented for over two years now.

Operation Sulaimani is doing so well because it is a voluntary effort with the participation of community, leadership of the district collector and the fact that the capabilities of existing systems are being utilized. No big kitchens are built, there is no food wastage; and funding comes from the community itself with no dependence on big donors. People are served food with full respect for their dignity in city restaurants, where everyone else goes to eat.

While some people may feel that this facility may be misused. Some non- deserving people may also take the free food coupons and eat at a restaurant. But should we be worried about it? It should not be seen as wastage. It is just a spin-off effect of a big initiative that aims to ensure no one should go hungry. I am sure that after eating a few times, people will start donating if they can. We must trust people. Everyone wants to be part of a good cause.


One bag for you, one for others

July 19, 2018

If you go shopping on Saturdays in June and November in Switzerland, chances are that you will be welcomed by a volunteer at the entrance of the supermarket who will offer you a small bag with a gentle request: As you shop for yourself, please buy something for charity, put it in this bag and give us. You can buy things for poor and leave the bag with the volunteer as you go out.

The effort is organized by a non-governmental organization called Samedi Du Partage (Saturday of sharing). Since 1993, the organization has been organizing collection of non-perishable food and hygiene products in different supermarkets, with the participation of volunteers.

I participated in one such drive on the 2 June 2018. Over 900 volunteers collected items at over 70 stores across the city. Tons of products were collected. Volunteers would now spend weeks in sorting them out before distributing them to the poor people through over 50 charitable organizations.

It was heartening to see the willingness of people to donate. They did not ask questions. They trust the work of ‘Samedi du partage’. They have been doing it for years. During the rush hour, as we could not offer the bag to each person entering the shop, some patiently waited for their turn and asked for the bag. A young student came in and handed me a few things. What he had bought for himself was just a water bottle. When I asked he simply said, “I came to buy water for myself. Saw you guys here and thought of joining this effort.” An old woman made three trips, and each time she donated something, saying she finds it difficult to hold much weight at a time.

I decided to write about ‘Samedi du partage’ as it presents a very good model. It makes it convenient for people to help the poor while doing their daily chores. It is also an excellent example of mobilizing volunteers and reaching the needy in partnership with a large number of charitable organizations. I wish such a model is replicated in different places as well.

I am sure most people will be willing to help if a reputable organization approaches them and makes it easier for them to support a good cause. Even if no volunteer approaches us when we go shopping or eating out, we may consider keeping aside a small amount with the intention of helping others.


Three qualities of a leader

June 29, 2018

Some soldiers were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success. Their leader was standing simply watching as his men struggled. A rider passed by and asked him why he was not helping. He said, “I am the corporal. I give orders.” The rider went up and helped the soldiers lift the wood. With his help, the task was accomplished.

The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief. He quietly mounted his horse, went to the corporal and said, “The next time your men need help, send for the commander-in-chief.”

The story brings us to three key characteristics of great leaders.

Leaders take actions: They don’t wait. They don’t just talk or order. The join their team whenever they feel the need. Imagine the morale of the team when its leader joins the team members and works with them to achieve something.

Leaders optimize resources: Leaders make the most of the resources – time, finances and human beings – that they have at their disposal. They keep an eye on all the three. Leaders are excellent managers in this sense. A leader has to be a good manager though the reverse is not necessarily true.

Leaders Inspire: This is the most important quality of leaders. They inspire people/teams with their vision, commitment and actions. Leaders trust their team members/followers. Their communication is inspirational too. They don’t just discuss ‘what’ is to be done, they discuss ‘why’ it is to be done and what ‘impact’ it would bring in. People give out their best when they know that their individual effort is linked to a bigger goal.

Ken Blanchard sums it well, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”


Three ways to developing patience

May 30, 2018

A young Japanese man wanted to learn martial art. He went to the best teacher of the time. Meeting the teacher he asked, “how long must I study in order to become the best in martial arts?” The teacher said a minimum of ten years. The young man thought it was too long. So he asked the teacher, “What if I studied twice as hard as everyone else? How long would it take then?” the teacher said, “twenty years.” Running out of patience, he asked again, “What if I worked day and night with all my effort, how long would it take then?” “Thirty years,” was the teacher’s response.

The young man got confused and asked, “ How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the teacher responded, “The answer is simple. With one eye focused on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

I shared the above well-known story to expand on the profound response of the teacher that actually tells us why we don’t patiently pursue our dreams. We want to achieve results quickly and that dilutes the focus on efforts.

Patience is the ability to accept delays, obstacles or challenges without getting annoyed or disappointed and persevering with the effort to achieve the goals.

How can we develop patience?

Identify the situations which make you impatient
It could be anything like prayers not being answered, efforts not yielding the desired results, delays in flights, being stuck in a traffic jam, delay in food being served in a restaurant etc. Identify the situations in which you normally lose your patience.

Recall how you behaved in some of these situations
Reflect on your impatient behaviour in different situations. And, then think of the outcome of that behaviour. You might regret your instant reaction out of anger, frustration etc. This realization would prepare you to respond differently next time such a situation arises.

Anticipate delays and challenges
Things don’t always go as planned. There are unforeseen situations or some other facts that can cause delays and irritate you. It will be good to think ahead and plan for at least those factors that you can think of. For example, while learning a new skill, tell yourself repeatedly that everything is difficult before it is easy. For avoiding traffic jams, see if you can factor in some extra time in your schedule.

Patience is key to success. It is an attitude that we all must develop. Problems of life are like the red light on a traffic signal. If we wait, light becomes green. Let’s learn to wait.


Your social media usage defines you

April 29, 2018

Do you know that more people own a mobile device than a toothbrush? Do you know that grandparents are the fastest growing users on twitter?

Social media has over 3 billion active users now. 61% smartphone users look at their phones within five minutes of waking up and 74% check about 15 minutes before going to sleep.

84% people use social media to support a cause or issue they strongly feel about. Imagine the amount of goodness that can be done or promoted through social media, if we select the right cause.

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There are many positive examples: someone finding a kidney donor through Facebook, funds being generated to support a social cause, people raising their voice against sufferings in Syria, Palestine or Yemen, human rights violations; sharing of inspirational stories of people fighting a disease or helping others.

However, what is worrying is that social media is also being used for promoting hatred and divisions. While it feels good to find an old friend on Facebook, it saddens me to see old friends fighting on grounds of politics or religion.

How can we use the power of social media for promoting goodness? Here are some tips:

Define your purpose: Remember, your social media usage defines you, your personality and your character. Your post, comment or even a like means you believe in it. The purpose needs to be clear in mind in order to decide on content that we post, like or share.

Say “no” to hatred: Stay away from reacting to posts/comments that spread negativity and hatred. Don’t follow the groups or people who do so. If such posts reach you through your networks, don’t comment or get involved in discussions.

Treat opinions and posts with respect: You may get hundreds of messages, many of which you may not agree with or even dislike. Don’t respond harshly. Be respectful to people and don’t make personal comments. No response is better than a bitter response! It will break the cycle of negativity.

Think before you post or share something: Remember your purpose. Ask yourself, what impact my post, or comment is going to make? If it is going to do well, go ahead, else abstain.

Social media has given all of us a voice which our earlier generations did not have. We have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world by sharing good ideas, inspirational stories, speaking for the voiceless, creating peace, harmony and love. Let’s use it for this purpose.