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.”

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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.


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.