Monday, November 18, 2013

Job Descriptions

It seems that there is an unwritten, invisible and ignored element in every job description.  This is the same injunction that is used in all forms of spiritual development.

It is: "Check for wakefullness!"

Engagement with other people and engagement with the task at hand is enhanced and made more enjoyable if I am awake (or perhaps one should say 'awakening') to what's going on.  Sometimes that wakefulness prompts me to do something that I'm forgetting.  Sometimes it prompts me to be patient with others who are waking up .  Sometimes it prompts me to find a gentle and helpful way to get others to wake up.

If you see me looking a bit confused or see me stressed or in some kind of discouraged state, please smile at me and encourage me in some gentle and friendly way. Please? :-)

Would you give me permission to do the same with you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Modelling Successful Behaviour

Here is a skype exchange with a friend:

[4/17/2011 10:17:00 AM] Mike: One of the aspects of the Project Strategy that I hope you will all get into is the actual activity from the service delivery folks in ministry of education and min health. That is the real test of the service delivery of course and also the test of how interested ministry management are in the REAL performance of their staff and whether their performance indicators (service delivery standards) really DO lead to/ point to MDG achievement. Somehow in all the bureaucratic busyness of those institutions, the real needs of the poor/ poorer/ poorest need to be addressed. "Making it real" needs constant reinvention!! You and the project are a golden opportunity for the rediscovery of the purpose of those jobs (and of course our own). We make the path by walking it. I envy you your opportunity!

[4/18/2011 9:00:00 AM] My friend: Agreed but just [see] ... how the basic ingredients to facilitate these grass roots activities has, by necessity, created our own bureaucracy of PMFs, with targets and indicators, databases and ... [all] at the higher levels of 'facilitation' of the process and not [the] 'implementation' of the process. A grass roots project is another animal all together that is dependent on these NGOs/CSOs to see it through. Our Project is not unaware of this next (implementation) step to achieving MDGs but the model we use has assumptions that after we facilitate something it gets implemented. If our Project starts to dig down to the implementation level within the basic machine, we will slow the facilitation role that we have to a crawl. It would be nice to do everything. See if you can get us another 100 million and more time! However, Our Project should take Knowledge Management (KM) snapshots at this level and disseminate honestly what we find. It could be that some 'killer assumption' prevents us from achieving our ultimate goal. We have to record this clearly to advance our true objective. What do you think?

[9:06:59 AM] Mike: I know what you are saying. I agree as well that the higher level requires a huge amount of maintenance and work. That's what you and I do. An approach I have found useful to this work is to try for a "modeling of behaviour" approach. This says that the systems that I help create and work on (and the PMFs, indicators, MGDs, etc.) have to be "scalable down" (reflect the working level reality) as well as "scalable up" (please the boss and bosses' boss). The ultimate test at each level has to be "relevance to the end user". The issue then becomes one of balancing the high level need with the low end need. My own liberal and popular sensibilities drive me to consider the "low" end, in the sense that the high level service delivery structures only exist to serve the low end. This is the "client driven" approach that is a well-known label.

So what is the modelling? Part 1 - By our own careful and consistent consideration of the need and constraint of the end user and aware of the pitfalls of the bureaucracy (because we live there), we ensure the balance of attention and favour processes that accomplish the effective delivery of services. Part 2 - We facilitate that delivery through the processes at each level that our management touches and (IMPORTANTLY) encouraging the next level to carry it on down/ up the line.

Do not be concerned or disheartened that it is too big a job. But observe and see how it works because the best people you ever worked for actually seemed to do that. Do not bewail the fact that one can forget insights gained along the way, but seek out people at each level mentioned who want to talk about these issues in this way. It makes the job so much fun to do and so rewarding. !! :)

[9:09:44 AM] Mike: Thanks my friend for reminding me again about all this!! You made my day!!

[20-4-11]My friend: Your comments have me revisiting the works of Moses Cody and his inspired Institute in Antigonish as well as 'put the last first and the first last' by Robert Chambers and others ... but then I reread your comments and settle on the phrase 'focus the balance of attention' and I realize that it doesn't have to mean that we fight the cause Janice Joplin style directly, but rather keep the faith and focus what every day work we do by pointing it in that direction, We must be cognizant of the presence or lack of that presence in our, our team's and our counterparts approach to our activities.

[9:05:25 AM] Mike: Very nicely put. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Changing directions

This by email from a friend in Vancouver: "I understand and endorse your belief that the only path into the future with a universally beneficial outcome is the spiritual one and i pray that you continue walking the one you are on. I am not optimistic that enough people will follow your example to make a measurable difference. I do think that such a path will bring something positive into the lives you touch along the way and am hopeful that all goodness does influence the future that awaits us all whether or not it is of our choosing. While the goodness of the few is necessary it is not sufficient to bring about the necessary change in direction that world is presently dedicated to."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Development Sangha - exchange with A (see original post below)

My friend “A” writes 6-7-10: My own view is that whatever the sound motivations of individuals, they will never compensate for the structural problems of official aid, notably:

a) The absence of evidence that development requires aid
b) The rewarding-failure incentives that aid creates
c) The unique non-accountability of aid-spend in donor countries
d) The over-riding commit-and-disburse incentives of the donor, matched by
e) The over-riding get-the-cash incentives of the recipient
f) The cover-up incentives shared by both donor and recipient over impact.

In short, there's a reason the aid industry is so poor - and it’s not to do with individual motivations....! (But then you'd expect me to say that kind of thing....)!

Can't disagree my friend. But gosh! your email is so .............. encouraging!! ;-) Your "structural barrier" analysis is so essential it seems to me.

Now for me, as someone who has had this career, I need to find ongoing relevance and meaning in order to combat the fatigue that comes with being confronted by causes and results of the challenges you enumerate. (Isn't the damn thing a vicious or viscous circle?)

It would be a cop out perhaps for me to say that any of the 6 a) through f) issues are not part of my doing. Is "I am not responsible for that" something of a lie? I think it is really. If the problem is real (And I can see the truth of what you say), then I have to believe that because it has arisen due to human ignorance, that it can also be dispelled by some human wisdom. Yes - I accept that this is simply an article of faith.

So I jump into the middle of it!! Is it possible then on the one hand to include the 6 in the environment of "the truth of the way it is" and to then say: "OK. How can I work with that? What are the deeper values this work I do points to?" This is very strategic/ up-stream since it deals with over riding realities that encompass all the challenges and all the possible responses.

Highly contextual in some ways perhaps. But, being highly contextual, this approach (searching for a higher moral truth within which one can operate) is also practical. It demands that the individual tackle any of the a-f structural issues, trying to break them down into more manageable components. I salute the experience that allows you to articulate these 6 so succinctly! (of course there are a dozen PhDs in every one!) I believe there will be a way to investigate these 6 and make a contribution to shifting them aside / lessening their impact on the need for international expressions of generosity and sharing. ( I have issue a) in mind at this point.)

I am after happiness in my life and I have to find ways to make myself happy in my chosen field or find a field that is more commensurate with my inherited and acquired capabilities.

If I can aggregate the 6 challenges up into a personal contextual issue and find (with the support / council of wiser people than myself) the right thing to do, then I can move. If not I risk becoming moribund, depressed and self defeating.

Tie me done before I blow away! We need to get to the pub together!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Development Sangha

Last night with a friend I was revisiting and renewing a personal approach to development work that has brought me a lot of joy and, I think, contributes to handling the burn out that lurks around threatening to destroy our peace of mind. Try this:

When I reflect on the sources of funds that pay for the activities I am directing/ planning and that pay my salary, I visualize an honest hard working couple with 2-3 kids (maybe in southern Italy, in northern England, in Newfoundland or Ipnavik River, Alaska) and struggling to provide a happy and healthy environment for their children. They are ordinary people who pay taxes and make charitable contributions because they believe in some part of their hearts, that it is the right thing to do - to share a bit of what they have to assist others who face even bigger challenges in finding education, health care, fairly remunerated employment, freedom to practice their own religion, and the many basic human needs.

With whatever lies between them and the project group i work with - perhaps bureaucratic efficiencies/lack of efficiencies, conflicted policies/ clear ones, encrusted hierarchical practices/ transparent delivery systems - it comes down to me, little old me, to do the best with this. I am the focus of their trust and Love. I am a key facilitator of a team that has found its way to this place and point of time where those donations can make a difference. I am not hyperbolizing at all when i say this work has holy content and holy potential for us. We are the guardians of the best motivations at the core of the heart of the people who make the money and make the contribution. We are the priests and priestesses of a system of sharing that is motivated by that noble desire for direct heart to heart content.

That man / that woman bending over to kiss their sleeping child (maybe in southern Italy, in northern England, in Newfoundland or Ipnavik River, Alaska) is kissing us, kissing the child and family we seek to serve.

In the buddhist tradition one of the three refuges is the community of people who are on the path of practice. This is "the sangha" - a Pali word. The other two are "the awakened/ awakening one" (the buddha) and "the truth of the way it is" (the dhamma).

All those who awaken and are awakening to "the truth of the way it is" in what we call "development assistance", are part of this sangha or community. We work to become more clearly and consistently aware. We become more clearly and consistently aware, to be a better vehicle for communicating Love.

Let us help each other with thoughts, words and deeds of kindness and encouragement to awaken to our role in the Development Sangha.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ashesi U - educating tomorrow's African leaders

Patrick Awuah is working with others in Ghana to transform the education of future leaders:

The mission of Ashesi University College ( is to educate a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa; to cultivate within our students the critical thinking skills, the concern for others and the courage it will take to transform a continent..

What wonderful news!

How we handle applicants

"We will respond only if you are shortlisted" has become (almost?) the industry standard for handling applicants.  I understand why.
And I suspect I am close to expressing a universal feeling that I am never happy about it.
The reason is this.  Applying for anything requires one to put a really "best effort" into the application.  To do less than that is a tacit private admission that "I am not serious about this opportunity".  For many sincere professionals, this process of really investing oneself in that application produces a form of commitment (shall we call it "the commitment seed"?), even before the potential employer can say yes or no. Frankly, as one who has tried to offer the best of myself in my career, I see creating this seed as an important individual risk to take - always!!.   And as an experienced manager of people, I also know that this seed although invisible, is important evidence of the ability to grow commitment, making the motivated applicant a great potential asset to the Team.  I water it whenever I can.
You can see where this is going already.  :-)
As an acknowledgement of the effort taken to apply and to go beyond the industry standard method of treating applicants and the seed of commitment, I respectfully recommend to all firms and managers that they generate individual responses once they have run their selection processes.  With modern software, this can be done with a minimal set up cost and requires only a trigger to the system by a very junior staff person to send the several letters required.  Almost every marketing company generates a letter with my name in it, offering to sell me something.  International development consulting firms have that model available.
Nurture the seed.  Nurture the Team.  Nurture the effort.