08 June 2012

Stability Enhancement

No doubt the prominent partners responsible for stability of societies are Politics, Business, and Academics. At community level this translates in the incorporation of all stakeholders in the process of innovation, and thus change. The Macha case shows that such can be done successfully, with careful balanced results in tangible progress.

When now contemplating the national and regional levels, imbalances become obvious. Political structures are often vibrant, and consequences of dis-balance are well seen. Business is often explicitly encouraged, although, if I may say so, only recognized when it is structured in a 'Western manner'. However, where is the voice of the Academics?

Here in Port Elizabeth it is clear that South Africa boasts a developed academia. I am surrounded by people and documents with knowledge involving South Africa Country Studies on this, that, and the other. As I am not necessary studying (only) South Africa, when I toss those studies aside, a next pile of documents come into view. These are the cases in Europe and the USA... Oeps, that is not what I am looking for, I was hoping to get the ones from the African hinterlands. They appear not to exist. Normally then one sais “Let's call someone”. But which professor to call in Angola? Or which one in the Congo? Or which journal to dive into to get information on Zambia, or Zimbabwe, or Malawi?

For peaceful and wholesome progress the balance of the essential social partners is crucial. Already at the start of my stay in South Africa it is more then clear that such balance is missing for most of our northern neighbours and regions.

The academia of a country produces its future leaders. See Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, an acclaimed academic with a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Likewise, Africa needs nationals to research and develop thesis and solutions addressing local, national, and regional challenges. Such is the bread and butter of academic institutions. Thus, not only do academic institutions need to quadruple or more in size, to allow for the huge influx of young people in view of current population demographics, it also needs to show tangible results in research, utilizing and building out indigenous knowledge to assure local relevance, and contribute to the partnership for national and regional stabilities and holistically embedded national progress.

07 June 2012


The last five days I have been in Harare, Zimbabwe. It has been an invigorating experience. Of course, we are all aware of the difficulties the country has, is, and still might be(en) going through. I witnessed snapshots of developments as a regular guest – and sometimes resident - in 'Zim' since 2000. This visit I have been meeting with intoxicating self-reliant Africans, emanating presence and strength. It seems hardship and persecution bring forth a generation of staunch believers, with faith in their future, emerging and ready to progress.

Does the rapidly connecting and shrinking world play a role? Obviously IT does build bridges to even the most locked out places, as I have been experiencing technology doing in rural Zambia the past nine years. This week I have met a subset of urban people who know what is going on in the world, whom are keen to build their families, their country, and want to be a gift to the world. Undoubtedly, there is much suffering, maybe more here then there, as anywhere. And a few days only limits one's abilities to experience, and allows for witnessing of just some fragments of existence.

Yes, it can be inundating for an alien. I have been walking through Harare center for many hours on two separate days, and did not see a Caucasoid. I went in shops, met people, had a talk in the streets, and we all happily acknowledged each other presence while passing by, each person continuing on in their respective ways. Little sign of dependency, less begging in the center of Harare then in the center of Atlanta-GA, and no over-the-top servitude; It was like living water on my purged soul.

I met with leaders in academia, unashamedly calling for Afrocentric funding and research and development, eager to exchange ideas on innovations, ready to leap-frog and 'go-for-it'. I met people whom recognized opportunities, and accommodated personal challenges.

What a stark contrast with Harare International Airport this morning, virtually empty with a small amount of flights, a sign of isolation and stifled exchange. I saw crumbling physical infrastructure in places, new developments in others, and poignant challenges in service delivery like electricity and water. On the other hand, local trade was vibrant in the streets, and the most busy shops were those of the mobile operators, spilling over with customers onto the pavement. Asking my Zimbabwean friends what the people were doing there, their quip response was: 'getting their lines upgraded for the Internet'. Is this a new world, less travel, less infrastructure, but with much and growing Information and Communications Technology, bringing us together in new ways?

Observations, questions, thesis, superficiality, wariness? As most societies in the current world, also Zimbabwe seems to resemble a society build on the slope of an active volcano. What volcanoes are going to erupt in the world, where and when? Spilling what sort of lava? With new entrepreneurship adapting and overcoming set terms of resource limitations, a new sustainable progress, a new world order, African renaissance, or maybe just chaos? Actually, what wisdom can these so-called chaos theories, game theories, and emerging knowledge provide us in connecting the dots of this interconnected world of humans and things? Social innovation, is it being accelerated under pressure? 

I am looking forward to continue relating with Zimbabwe, ever more closely, and augment my experience in Southern Africa with experiencing how Zim's wonderful people will connect all the dots. I am preparing the grounds for that further, now as one of the students in the School for Information and Communication Technology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

05 June 2012

Right, I Left

It is quite entertaining - and admittedly sometimes frustrating - to hear a soft whisper and sometimes even a loud voice that evanescents “what happens when he leaves?”. As if my person holds a magic wand that makes things happen and flourish, while at the same time fatefully implying that when 'someone else' 'takes over' such magic wand will have been gone.

Those who raise the issue 'what happens when he leaves?' often appear blinded by opportunistic searchlights, that illuminate individuals instead of communities, focus on projects instead of people, and on threats instead of opportunities. Or, more worrisome, those that appear subdued by their outlook on reality encompassing virtually insurmountable mountains and unforgiving barriers, often pushing persons in various stages of inertness or, alternatively, rage.

From the outset, per definition, one should aim to be involved where vision flourishes, as without a vision people perish. A vision must instil hope, talk about humans, and inspire associates and stakeholders to excel. Equally, one should only commit in situations where leadership can mention names of those whom are growing, and are being mentored to 'take over'; Names of real people that are prone to excel their predecessors, who bear the promise of expanding capabilities, whom are able to sustain, augment, mature, and expand (parts of) the vision. Including names of those whom will not hesitate to outsource, change, discard, insource, or do whatever is needed to sustain progress and the organisational health.

My answer to these evanescent sounds? “Look carefully. Since April 2010 I have not been leading Macha Works, nor did make decisions, and neither was involved in any management meeting.” As with all people, my roles change constantly, and will keep on doing so, as dynamic transformation engenders such change, in this case empowering local talent endowed with growing authority.

Instead of focus on the here and now, since April 2010 I have been observing and facilitating realignment of contacts and relationships. Result of the local team's examinations arrived in the form of  external audit reviews. They have been favourable for two consecutive years. Overall budgets grew with 20% and local income surged with 400%. I am not amazed; The right leadership at the right time sustains progress and realigns priorities.

Those were the good times. Since early 2012 there were bad times, induced by circumstances that were outside of the local leader's realms of influence. Thus after time of remarkable growth, now there were times of pruning, testing through fire, with weaker parts being blown over by the storms of life. Also a period of seeing fruits of the right relationships, and testing of seatbelts whom are provided by real friends. During April and May I was requested to help, to fire-fight, to prevent loss of assets, destruction of achievements and personnel benefits, and assure adherence to the stipulations of the environment. I am glad I could still recognize the institution, knew where to look, what to invoke, and where to apply antidote. Just for a short while though and from a relative distance, not being engrossed, only doing the necessary job, while engendering components for the next mentoring phase.

I never stopped – and will never stop - to observe, to study, and to volunteer where I can. However, I did not return. I left Macha Works April 2010, and now, after quenching some major fires, obviously being affected by fall out, now pruning even my shade; I bodily left for academic peer-to-peer interaction on our findings on social innovations and systems, and to expand its thesis. Without a doubt, on the ground, the vision-carrying local talents are getting it right!

What is left is encouragement and cheering-on: “Aim right, and move on!”