New world and cultures beckon after pandemic

Much is being written about how the world will look after it has recovered from the coronavirus crisis. We have no idea about so many aspects of our social, economic and political futures, but one thing’s for sure: We won’t simply be going back to the way things were before the virus hit.

The sudden closing down of normal life has forced a dramatic transformation in how individuals, communities and nations conduct themselves. Inevitably, some have adapted much better than others. Not surprisingly, those who are suffering least are disproportionately the ones who were already ahead of the game, thanks to more visionary and agile leadership and more robust cultures. These are the ones who will emerge into the post-Corona era even better positioned.

Almost all of us have been forced to stay away from our normal workplaces and to work from home, relying exclusively on our laptops and phones to communicate. (I have been home-based for several years, so much less has changed for me.) We are using Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting and other tools through which to hold meetings, deliver presentations, share lessons and so forth; we have rushed to engage more with online shopping and cashless payments; and we have disciplined ourselves to remain adequately structured and productive despite being exposed to far less intimate supervision. Good that employers aren’t fitting CCTV in the homes of their staff!

Which brings me to my point: organisations where there was already a culture of trust – where people have been trustworthy and hence trusted – are the ones for whom remote working is less of an issue. For the natural micromanagers, the ones who feel they need to stand eagle-eyed over their people, this is a really frustrating time as they imagine – rightly or wrongly – that just about everyone will be neglecting their work and enjoying the distractions of life at home.

Some people will indeed disappoint with their performance, abusing the normalisation of flexitime, but there will also be pleasant surprises, with new stars emerging. Look out for such people. Recognise and celebrate them.

Even as many leaders and frontline staff are busier than ever with their crisis management, for others who are less busy now is the time to place more emphasis on the learning they may have been too stretched to undertake before. This is the time to adopt a coaching approach to leadership, encouraging and reassuring one’s people, stretching and empowering them.

It is also the time to flatten the organisational pyramid. I very much related to a recent presentation on “The Future of Work – Lessons from the Pandemic” by the China Europe International Business School, in which they foresee the emergence of more empowered teams, with the ability to be autonomous and agile, and where hierarchies give way “wire-archies.” It is a time when “companies must restructure around people,” they conclude, in a culture where boldness and innovation are encouraged and mistakes expected and allowed.

Another article that caught my eye was by my friend Jayanth Murthy of the Kaizen Institute. He cautions leaders against being ostriches, birds that bury their heads in the sand when frightened and “remember they are big, but can’t fly.” The focus of ostrich-like leaders in times of crisis is purely on cost cutting, by reducing headcount, R&D budgets, marketing spend and suchlike. This can deliver quick results, he acknowledges, but inhibits post-crisis rebound.

Murthy contrasts the ostrich with the albatross. This bird “flies high, but with minimal effort.” It focuses on cutting waste, raising productivity and maximising impact (so very Kaizen). Albatross companies, he writes, expand their ability to find and fix problems, develop their people, improve processes and seek new opportunities to find and fix waste, broken processes and leakages. They get closer to their partners, and build long-lasting relationships with their own team members, customers, within the trade and with suppliers.

So what is the level of trust in your organisation? How do you make a virtue out of the necessity of our present predicament by challenging those around you to be more responsible and reliable, more collaborative and supportive, and of higher integrity?

Be sufficiently optimistic. Be bold. While of course keeping a tight grip on controls and on performance management. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Roll out basic income for the poor in slums

The government, the private sector and others have been working hard to help the poor through offering food, medical supplies, sanitisers and other essential products.

But there is increasing acceptance of the need for a basic income, that is cash transfers, for the 10 million poor people in Kenya’s slums as being the best approach to help them.

There is an emerging consensus that the optimum way to defuse or prevent potential conflict is to pay direct cash transfers to all individuals. Basic income is more powerful than supplying goods, as it also promotes livelihoods and so reduces poverty.

Cash is urgently needed to help the poor in the slums of Kenya. And the same is true for many countries across Africa and beyond, especially if the virus spreads significantly more than has been experienced to date.

The brave early attempt to distribute desperately needed food in Kibera slum resulted in some chaos. And while additional measures have since been put in place to ensure both security and better co-ordinated distribution, an alternative would be to benefit from the experience of UNHCR in Lebanon.

There, UNHCR found that when using its limited winterisation funds to pay cash transfers to vulnerable families, the basic income tended to increase mutual support between beneficiaries; reduce tensions; and improve relationships with the host community. There were also significant multiplier effects, with each $1 of cash assistance generating more than $2 for the Lebanese economy, most of which was spent locally.

Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials (like now, here and elsewhere, face masks).

Similarly, the World Food Programme (WFP), which compared food distribution with cash distribution in three countries, found that in Ecuador, Uganda and (pre-war) Yemen cash transfers led to improved nutrition and this at lower cost. That experience led WFP to put more emphasis on cash transfers, so that today over a quarter of WFP’s aid globally is cash-based.

What next for Kenya? It seems to us that there is a clear need for a basic income. A small amount of Sh1,000 monthly for each individual, including children over 5, has been suggested, to be distributed via M-Pesa to those who have a mobile phone and live in a poor area. For a period of three months, a monthly payment would still require Sh30 billion.

While clearly such an amount would not be easy to be made available given that the government has so many demands on its services, we know that the most vulnerable are our top priority.

Then what delivery mechanism to use? Technical experts at mobile phone companies think they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “Geo-Fencing”.

Hopkins is Professor of CSR and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Eldon is Chairman, The DEPOT and co-founder Institute for Responsible Leadership
Munro is former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman
Vater is a Nairobi-based social entrepreneur, investor, manager and serial entrepreneur

Let us focus on national values in Covid-19 times

At this time of national crisis I’ve been thinking about our national values – that long list buried deep in our Constitution. For the small proportion of Kenyans who may have forgotten one or two of them (pardon my sarcasm) here they are:

  • Patriotism, national unity, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people
  • Sharing and devolution of power
  • Human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised
  • Good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability sustainable development.

As I scanned the vast collection I asked myself whether what we’ve been going through has led us to live these values differently from before, and it didn’t take me long to reach a positive conclusion. At least for many of them, and in particular the bunch in the third bullet.

Certainly the government, and by no means just the government, has been concerned about protecting the marginalised, and adopting an inclusive approach to its policies – which it has been developing in partnership with the private sector and others. We have seen fine examples of respect for human rights and human dignity – with the notable exception of that terrible display of police brutality on the first evening of the 7pm curfew.

Keeping with government, we have applauded the way our elected leaders have put aside their political games to focus on the wellbeing of the citizenry. In a spirit of national unity, we are so relieved that the boisterous BBI rallies and all the money wasted on them is now being put to better use.

What a challenge it’s been for the media, who must now come up with headlines other than ones that just feature Ruto, Raila and Co. But they’ve done well, informing us and guiding us on the latest developments with the Coronavirus outbreak, enabling citizen participation.

Then, as far as national unity in the context of devolution is concerned, the national and county governments have been collaborating well together, with the frequent zero-sum games between them muted.

Kenyans have never been known for exhibiting great patriotism – except for when our athletes break the tape in New York or London or Berlin. But now we have one of our cabinet members on the global podium: Mutahi Kagwe, recognised in America’s Wall Street Journal as “Kenya’s unlikely coronavirus hero,” making us all proud of him.

Next my mind turned to the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund, whose board consists of a distinguished group of private sector leaders who have pledged transparency and accountability as they “support the government’s efforts in the supply of medical facilities and equipment and support for vulnerable communities with their immediate needs, including food.” Plus working with professional services firms PwC, Deloitte and EY who are providing pro-bono assurance services.

See? It’s too easy to pick out examples of different levels and sectors of society doing a great job behaving in ways consistent with our national values.

The big question will be whether what we are seeing now is sustained. The last value in the list features sustainability, along with development. For sure what we are going through presents a massive national challenge to the sustainability of everything from the Big Four to public debt to tax revenue generation, while so many both for-profit and not-for-profit private entities are at risk of total collapse in the not -too-distant future.

For now though let us celebrate all the ways in which our national values have come to life at this most difficult of times. They have brought the best out of us, and it is a good moment to reflect on what it will take to prevent us regressing to those more selfish, greedy ways that already seem like long ago.

It’s all about leadership of course. In the last few weeks many of our leaders have proved to us that they are more than capable of guiding us to better places. Yet when the Coronavirus will no longer be there to draw us together, and as the 2022 elections beckon ever closer, it is us citizens who will need to insist that our leaders hold on to the higher standards they have reached, making these the new normal. Kenyans, we have shown we can. But will we?

How poor governance causes projects to fail

I was recently involved in a discussion about an IT project that was facing challenges, where the IT expert from one of the Big Four consulting firms who was with us introduced me to a new term, “project governance.” I liked it, for it places emphasis on the leadership that guides the progress of the project, ensuring that the technical folk involved are able to guide it to a smooth launch, while overcoming the inevitable challenges and setbacks that come their way.

I smiled as I heard about the issues preventing this software system from going live, for it reminded me of all my turbulent years in the IT-vendoring business. I was filled with nostalgia as I contributed to the discussion, where those involved described what ails them and what they’re doing about it. I’ve not been active in that arena for many years, but what struck me was how familiar it all sounded.

Amazing in a way, as so much has changed in the IT world since I left it – never mind since I joined it in 1967. Yet what I saw was that, to translate from the French, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At least the governance aspects.

So what were the issues preventing the new generation system from going live? I am certainly not going to bore or confuse you with the technical ones, but here’s what emerged at the governance level. First, the overseas-based vendor was not sending appropriate technical experts to solve them, and when matters were escalated to their head office they sent another who had to study everything from scratch.

Meanwhile at the user end they kept coming up with changes that interfered with the smooth flow of the process. The longer this went on the more complicated finding solutions became, and so the consultant proposed a comprehensive review of the project by an independent external expert.

Now here’s another example of the need for robust project governance: the digitisation of the courts. It was back in the eighties when the IT company I was leading first introduced word processing into Kenya’s judiciary, an institution that was then – as it is now – very far behind the times in using technology. And that’s putting it mildly.

It was 10 years ago that they had a go at bringing in digital courts, where lawyers and their clients could interact with judges via video link. But the facilities quickly fell into disuse, just as the attempt to have stenographers transcribe court proceedings in real time faded out, leaving the judges to continue with the manual note taking they had been used to. The Court Management Information System introduced in Dr Willy Mutunga’s time as Chief Justice is also not in use.

So with the Coronavirus crisis forcing the closing down of the physical courts, what change management will the judiciary finally put itself through to ensure that it joins the rest of us in the 21st century? What energised project governance will it introduce to make a virtue out of the necessity of the day?

How will the appropriate financial and human resources be made available to ensure that this time what everyone knows should happen does so? In the past, going way back to my awkward 1980s project, the launch of the new IT system faded out when the enthusiastic and competent person leading the initiative left the judiciary, and I understand this has happened since.

This time we must not allow that to happen. There is so much technology expertise in this Silicon Savannah of ours. Let us bring in whomever we need and provide the necessary resources so that better late than never we see this vital arm of government take advantage of what technology can offer to transform its effectiveness and its integrity.

This time we must ensure that the right kind of project governance takes these projects to the point where they become the new normal, leading us to ask why it didn’t happen much sooner. And a final thought. I’m a great fan of the Rapid Results Approach: go for 90-day quick-win objectives, and empower the team to break through all the bureaucracy. Get going, members of the judiciary, and this time make it stick.