Explore solutions more than funds

April 30, 2016

In my previous post — Have Sight, Lack Vision — I stressed that we need to alter the way we look at things and explore solutions. Availability of, or lack of, resources should not be the guiding force when we explore solutions to problems. Unfortunately, what happens is just the reverse. We often hear of politicians and statesmen talking about the huge sums of money required to address the problems that the world is facing in the domains of health, education, poverty, or climate change. What happens in such a scenario is that resource constraints limit our ability to explore low-cost and affordable solutions.

The poor state of school infrastructure—lack of chairs and desks, toilets, electricity etc —in developing countries is identified as a major factor in the achievement of educational goals for young boys and girls. One of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to : build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability, and gender-sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

In India, Aarambh – an NGO in Maharashtra used old cardboard boxes to create school bags that transform into desks. Aarambh identified a problem- Childen were sitting on floor and writing. This affected their posture and learning. And they found an affordable solution. They used old discarded cardboard to create school bags which unpack into small desks. This laudable work can be seen here.

I  wonder why don’t governments build on such innovative ideas, instead of running after the money and delaying action.

It is extremely important now that we have the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Will there be enough money to adequately fund all SDGs?— is the question daunting all. The mad race for securing resources has begun for different SDGs as if they are competing priorities. All goals are important and inextricably linked. What is important is to see their inter-connectedness. The need of the hour is to identify and scale up the solutions that have worked instead of delaying action till all the necessary resources are secured.



A class that empowers all ages…

August 31, 2013

Ever seen a class that brings together a 30-something mother and her 9-year-old son?…a class that includes children and adults of different ages and cultural, religious and economic backgrounds? …a class where students pen poems, learn about world events and discover themselves?

ABT class picture

Well, such a class is run twice a week in Bhendi Bazaar, Mumbai, India, on the premises of a local school, thanks to the voluntary efforts of an old couple — Mr. and Mrs. Haider. They have been running it for a number of years now, under the aegis of Aboo Mohammad Trust.

It is difficult to imagine what would be the purpose of such a heterogeneous class. While the primary objective is to help pupils improve their spoken English, it does much more than that. It enhances their general awareness, keeps students focused on their career goals and builds their confidence, self-worth and public speaking skills. The class is fortunate to have a soft-spoken, caring and inspiring teacher in Mrs. Khan. Over nearly two decades and a regular commute from quite a distance, Mrs Khan has been enthusiastically teaching each session with a blend of current affairs, vocabulary and warmth. I have been visiting this class for a few years now and I can see a marked improvement in the group. The once-shy students, grappling with a new language, now eagerly share their knowledge on the topic of the day and jot down new words and information. This year, too, I visited the students, along with my family, in August. Whenever we visit, Mrs. Khan asks us to speak to her students. We had a good interaction with the students. They asked intelligent questions, such as the difference between education systems in India and Switzerland. This revealed their curiosity to know the world. I also invited them to speak and share something about themselves. One by one, they spoke about their studies, hobbies, their family and career goals. We were also joined by Mr. Zubair Azmi, who is another great support in this effort. Mr Azmi is the Director of Urdu Markaz (Urdu Centre), a Bhendi Bazaar-based cultural centre dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of Urdu literature. He has graciously made available his organization’s space for the class. He is closely involved, knows the students and motivates them to hone their talent. Based on his encouragement, some students demonstrated their talent before us. We were impressed to hear a poem written by one of the students.  The title of her poem was “Beti” (‘Daughter’) in which she beautifully captured the sentiments of a girl child and the discrimination she faces. While all this interaction took place, Mr. Haider sat behind smiling. Behind the smile was certainly the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of his dedicated hard work.

I must add that the activities of Aboo Mohammed Trust are not run with any donor’s support. Despite health and age not being on his side, Mr. Haider continues to serve the community. Seeing his sincerity and dedication, he is joined by several community volunteers, including doctors and teachers. Health camps are organized for the poor, nursing classes are organized for young women, in addition to the regular language classes. He makes an attempt to inform people about government services and helps them access the services. He does whatever he can to serve people in his area with the help of his wife and several community volunteers. I wish him health and a long life. His ideas and projects are doing a yeoman’s service for the community. I asked Mrs. Khan how she joined this effort. She said, “I came to know about Haider saheb’s work from a newspaper and phoned him to inquire how I could help. It has been over 17 years that I have been teaching here… it has changed my life….these are the golden years of my life.” Mrs. Khan is very humble to say this when in fact she has touched so many lives.  What a great example of dedicated community work! This voluntary effort may not be slotted under the category of `good practice` in the journals of the development sector, nor be presented at conferences, but this effort is certainly a great practice. May God bless all those who are a part of it.

Learning while shopping

August 29, 2011

One of the reasons I like shopping is that it gives me an opportunity to observe people’s attitudes, of sales personnel as well as customers. And yes, it makes the family happy, particularly my daughter. Recently, we were on a short trip to Spain with a group of friends. Although shopping was not on the agenda but like most of the times, we ended up finding time to do a quick round. We landed up at a shop that sold women’s bags and shoes. The lady at the shop patiently showed a number of bags. This any sales person would do but what impressed me more was the way she did a thorough quality check before packing the bag and accepting the payment. She ensured that all zips were working fine and the piece was perfect.

On our way back, I asked my daughter if she noticed the lady’s attitude. She could have simply packed the piece because we had selected it ourselves. But she cared, for us and for the credibility of her shop. I wish all of us develop this attitude of serving our clients with an eye on quality of products and services that we offer.

In the same trip, our group had a meal at a restaurant. To our surprise we received a much inflated bill. We settled on a figure but not only after having an argument which was absolutely unnecessary. I admired the way our friend handled the restaurant guy, keeping his cool and going through the order a number of times with him. He managed to reach a consensus some where mid-way between what we thought we had ordered and what was put on the bill. Naturally, we left the place in a bad mood with a decision not to visit it again. We wondered if the restaurant person really got confused because our group had ordered different things at different times or he simply wanted to cheat. I would prefer to assume that he got confused. When you feel you got a rough deal, try to give the benefit of doubt to the other person. It will make you feel lighter. It is much better than carrying the burden that you dealt with a dishonest person.

Professional attitudes must go beyond workplaces

March 28, 2011

A pilot was driving home after finishing his duty. As he passed by a market, he bumped into another car, driven by manager of a famous restaurant in the market. It was not a bad accident at all. No one was hurt. It simply left a small dent on the manager’s car, which could have been easily fixed. However, it triggered manager’s anger beyond control. After a few minutes of heated arguments, he thrashed the pilot. The pilot, in an attempt to protect himself tried to escape and moved his car. However, the manager wouldn’t leave him. In this process, the most unfortunate and tragic thing happened. Manager’s leg got entangled in the front wheel and he was run over by the pilot’s car. He died on the spot.

This is one of the many road rage incidents, which kill thousands annually.  However, what is noteworthy in this case is that both the people involved were in a profession, which requires them to be patient and keep their cool. A pilot is trained on what to do during a turbulent weather. Hotel/restaurant managers are supposed to know how to handle difficult guests. Keeping patience and being polite are demands of every profession but are stressed much more in the hospitality sector.

My friend from India who shared this incident with me wondered as to why their professional training did not help them in this instance. A very pertinent question indeed!

There seems to be a disconnect between our professional and personal attitudes. We need to ensure that we apply our work workplace learnings into our life as well. Attitudes that work at work, work in social and personal life as well.  There is also a point for consideration for workplace trainers. Usually, professional trainings provide approaches and solutions to deal only with workplace situations. A pilot is often trained to remain cool while flying and dealing with his crew or passengers on board. Similarly, a hotel manager is trained on being polite with his guests. They are not trained on developing an attitude of politeness in life. Hence, they are different when the leave their workplaces.

I would draw the attention of HR managers, professional training institutions and trainers on this issue. We all need to think out of the box and present examples and case studies, connecting work and life, particularly when it comes to issues related to attitudes and skills. If we don’t do this we may end up only assisting a manager keeping a fake smile on his face while he is at work. But he risks losing his life over a small dent on the car outside his place of work.

Welcoming the Undercover Agent of Change

January 16, 2010

This is my first post of the New Year. I’d like to start by thanking all those who found time to read my blog in 2009 and all those who wrote insightful comments.

I wish the year 2010 opens the doors of success for all.

In the Opening Doors workshops, I often show participants a picture of a door that is slightly open and ask a question: Why is the door slightly open?

Interesting responses emerge indicating how success is perceived by people. I particularly enjoy interacting with youngsters. Their naïve responses come straight from the heart.

At one such workshop, a young girl replied, “The door to success is not closed on anyone”. At another workshop, a boy said, “We can get in if we try hard.”

That the door to success is not closed on anyone tells us to have faith – the prerequisite for success. We all CAN succeed in life. It’s all a matter of defining our goals. The boy’s response turns the spotlight on the role our efforts play in attaining goals. There is no substitute for hard work. We have to persevere to achieve our goals, overcoming hurdles on the way.

“Opportunities come and go. It is for us to tap them,” is the third recipe for success given by another young friend that I would like to elucidate. Success is all about making use of opportunities that come our way.

But if it is that simple, why do some of us miss that proverbial knock at the door? Well, Its’ because opportunities often come dressed as something else and we fail to see through the disguise. Let me explain: How often have we been asked to volunteer for an assignment beyond the framework of our regular activities – in our school/college days or in our workplaces. It may be a taking part in an extracurricular activity like theatre, sport, organizing an event, delivering a speech, making a presentation or taking on the additional work of an absent colleague or a vacant post? Some would respond to the assignments grudgingly, looking on them as a burden. Others may accept the new roles positively, and end up gaining new knowledge and even tapping their hidden talent. It is such people who have availed of the disguised opportunity (the knock that actually never discriminates between doors) which opened up a new world to them.

let’s conclude that the door to success is neither fully open nor closed. We need to develop the ability to identify the opening, and get in.

Have a great 2010 and pay heed to that knock at the door.

Enhancing Efficiency at Work

November 28, 2009

I had taken a taxi to go to an important meeting. I didn’t know the way myself but had the address with me. The driver drove very well but he wasn’t sure of the way.  I suggested that let’s ask someone. However, he said he knows the area and will ask once we reach closer.  He had assumed that he was going in the right direction but he was not. Once he asked after driving for some time, we were told that we had come in opposite direction. We were far away from the venue. When we finally reached, I was late by about 40 minutes. We got lost because the driver assumed that he knew the way whereas actually he didn’t. Due to his over confidence, he didn’t seek help earlier which would have been useful. The end result was a disaster. Both of us were stressed and annoyed. He, for not doing his job well, and I, for reaching late.

No one would rate him as an efficient driver for the job of a driver is not only to drive well but to know the route and reach destination in time.

Let’s now ask ourselves. Are we efficient at our own work?

Efficiency means accomplishing things the right way. All of us can get better in something or the other that we do. We can do it more efficiently.

Here is a simple test of efficiency: If you can accomplish a task    in one attempt to the accepted norms of quality, you are efficient. But if you have to redo it a few times before it is treated as complete/satisfactory, you have some effort to make to get more efficient.  Here are some suggested steps:   

–  Make a list of key tasks assigned to you or expected of you.

–  Rank yourself for each of the task on an efficiency bar of 1-10. Might be good to take feedback from your colleagues or supervisor.

–  List the tasks in which you get less 5 or less marks. Now write reasons for this low score. It may be either knowledge related or skill related.

– Set a goal for yourself to acquire that knowledge or skill in next three months. Start with one issue at a time. Seek help from someone who can help you and mentor you.

–  Monitor your progress and take feedback after three months.

You will notice that if you have made a conscious and consistent effort, you will have acquired the confidence and ability to do that task well. You are getting efficient.  The confidence of getting better in one task will motivate you to take up other tasks and get better at those as well. But it all depends upon the willingness to be more efficient. Stronger the will, greater will be the effort and better will be the result. That is why I suggest – Make efficiency an attitude.