Embracing change is a choice we can make

My favourite line from President-Elect Joe Biden’s November 7 acceptance speech following the American election is this one, on the refusal over the last few years of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another: “It’s not some mysterious force beyond our control,” he declared, “It’s a decision, a choice. So if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.”

I relate so well to this, as in my consulting work I share just such sentiments with some of the clients I support as they embark on change management initiatives designed to bring their people together by promoting higher trust and collaboration among them, between levels and between departments.

The conventional wisdom is that undergoing change is a long hard journey filled with disappointing setbacks, where few actually reach their desired destination. It’s like pushing a big rock up a steep hill, the strugglers sigh, knowing that if ever they lose their grip the rock will slide back and crush them… the most likely outcome.

I am among those who quote Prof John Kotter’s research, which showed that 70 percent of change initiatives fail. Not surprisingly, such statistics discourage organisations from even having a go. “Why waste our time and money, when things are as they are and cannot be changed?” they ask.

And yet. And yet. What about the 30 per cent of change initiatives that do succeed? What do they have in common? Kotter guided us with his renowned 8 Steps to Change, about which I wrote a column a few years ago, and through my experience with many organisations I too have learned much about common success factors.

Guess what? Everything is to do with leadership. And needless to say, starting with the top leadership: the board, the CEO, the senior management team. So the first question to ask is where are they? Are they part of the solution or part of the problem? And if the former, how strategic and ongoing, how authentic and influential, is the role they are prepared to play?

Will they merely have their HR person put some event together, show up at the opening and then let their people get on with it – with some unfortunate facilitator expected to wave a magic wand that will transform the expectations? Will there be robust follow up, with specific actions, impact indicators and so forth, to ensure the desired changes are taking place? Or does everyone just get back to work and keep on doing what they’ve always done, allowing the memory of the change management commitments to fade away?

Most importantly, how ambitious is the leadership for significant and sustainable change? How confident and bold are the leaders? How skilled in inspiring their teams to assume that change is indeed possible? Key to success is one of Kotter’s eight steps: ensuring there are enough “quick wins”, to stimulate a sense of hope and optimism, and to dilute the natural skepticism, maybe even cynicism.

For in too many cases it will not have been the first attempt at such change management. Previous initiatives had also promised much, and yet failed to deliver. Would this one also fall flat on its face?

I’m with Biden: it’s a decision. It’s a choice. If you don’t actively decide it will succeed this time then it will not. Not succeeding is the most likely outcome. But not the inevitable one. For sure the ones who most need to change may well be the ones least likely to, so again turning to Kotter it is vital to gather a “coalition of the willing”, of bold individuals who while preparing for the worst will hope for the best and show the way to other more timid and unconvinced folk.

Among role models, positive behaviour sometimes has to be one step ahead of natural feelings of doubt, hoping that subsequently such behaviour will in turn influence feelings for the better. These stronger characters are the ones to lead change, the ones to make all that pushing of stones up hills worthwhile, the ones who won’t worry about mysterious forces beyond their control preventing them from succeeding.

Professionalising family businesses

Four years ago I wrote a column on the intergenerational challenges facing family businesses, admiring the way those who overcame such challenges did so while noting how too often the founder was reluctant to empower subsequent generations.

I want to return to that topic today, thanks to the opportunity I have benefited from over the last few months to meet with a good number of owners of medium-sized family businesses. In some cases the founding father was still very much in control, as his sons (occasionally these days his daughters, too) have been getting to grips with leadership; in others, the elder had withdrawn somewhat, just coming to the office for short periods of time; and in older-established businesses third and fourth generation family members have now risen to prominent positions.

What patterns have I observed? First, irrespective of the age of the company or its leadership, the top person is inevitably ultra-operational, what one might call “transactional”. To the extent that in some of my meetings the phone kept ringing so the boss could progress some immediate transaction, make some micro-decision.

Here, they had just found it too hard to develop a trusted and empowered senior management team to whom to delegate, and the inevitable consequence was that little mindspace was available to allow them to indulge in higher level strategic thinking.

All these micromanaging owner-director-managers were leading successful entities, ones that had survived many ups and downs, including splits from other family members. Their businesses were utterly dependent on their personal talent and experience, their energy and charisma, their motivation to show up to keep the revenues flowing in and to manage costs.

Some are fortunate in having members of subsequent generations who are both fit to contribute to sustaining the business into the future and willing to. But for others succession planning remains an unresolved question.

So busy are they with day-to day issues that it’s just too hard, indeed too inconvenient, to think about the consequences of something adverse happening to them: ill-health, for instance. Some had a notional board, often only including an elder or a spouse – most of whom would not be engaged in the business, while for others it was “me and my brother” or me and my son(s)”.

“Board meetings” might take place around the dining room table at home, or driving together to and from the office, and while a few were considering appointing independent directors none of those I met had done so.

The 2015 Companies Act specifies that four board meetings a year must be held by all registered companies, but most of our SME leaders just aren’t in the habit of complying with this requirement. Their focus, their discipline, is so much more on the day-to-day, and one of the consequences is that formal longer-term strategic plans or mechanisms for managing their implementation rarely exist.

Having said that though, these entrepreneurs are all bold innovators, courageous and optimistic risk-takers, forever on the lookout for new opportunities. They are to be admired, as they operate in this difficult environment.

OTHER VOICES

Some are hiring higher level professional managers, and bringing in consultants and advisers to help them rise. But my perception is that those who would most benefit from fresh and external inputs are the ones least likely to seek such interventions.

It is those who are most exposed to contemporary trends and hence are already ahead of the game who are open to listening to other voices. It is such people too who consider options such as public listing, joint ventures and external investors.

They are the ones with appropriate systems and controls, and robust risk and compliance management procedures.

In Kenya we are so fortunate to have such widespread entrepreneurial energy and talent. What we look forward to seeing is more of our SMEs professionalising in ways that can see them grow to larger scale, employ more people, focus on markets beyond the domestic, and be sustainable for future generations to inherit.

Toastmasters and the art of effective speech delivery

I was recently invited to be the guest speaker at a Toastmasters event, and perhaps not surprisingly it was on the subject of public speaking. For those not familiar with Toastmasters Clubs — of which there are 16,800 in 142 countries around the world, with around 250,000 members — they develop them as communicators and leaders, and in doing so build their confidence.

Their meetings flow through structured agendas, comprising both prepared and impromptu speeches, with evaluations and feedback along the way.

The Tabletopics Master launched the proceedings by throwing a series of questions for members to answer through making brief unprepared speeches. The first question was “With whom would you like to trade lives for a day?” and the chosen one performed brilliantly, telling us why he’d swap with Lewis Hamilton. (I would have gone for Roger Federer.)

Later, as I opened my presentation I stated that as it was for Bernard Shaw, my inspiration came from the blank piece of paper before me — plus the deadline of this evening. I looked back over my history of public speaking, from my first ever performance during my Barmitzvah confirmation — whose opening line, I recall, was “I was born on the slopes of Mt Carmel”.

It was on entering the computer industry as a graduate trainee with ICL in 1967 that I was taught how to make business presentations. Here I was introduced to producing slides for overhead projectors, where my father too was an expert and from whom I also learned much. My maiden assignment? To generate interest in our spreadsheet software, PROSPER — Profit Rating, Simulation and Evaluation of Risk.

In 1972 I joined ICL’s Senior Executive Programme, where I ran IT strategy workshops, and this is where I learned to be a facilitator rather than a lecturer, posing questions to the “participants” rather than awaiting questions from an “audience”.

I arrived in Kenya in 1977 to take on my first real leadership position, as general manager of ICL’s Kenya subsidiary, and this gave me many chances to speak in public. I joined Rotary soon after, and here too opportunities for public speaking abounded. Many more arose, in other leadership roles.

I next talked about my time with the joint leadership programme between the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications and the Harvard Kennedy School, where I ran sessions on “The Voice of Leadership” — communicating about strategy, sharing visions and values, stimulating innovation, and managing conflicts and crises.

For this I assembled a case study from contributions at a President’s Round Table with Kenya Private Sector Alliance at the State House, highlighting those who performed well and those who did not, and listing the common do’s and don’ts.

I sensed that many of the weak ones had little idea that they were indeed so. Here I quoted Shaw again, saying “the single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place”, which led me to recommend good preparation — including rehearsing, with others critiquing and coaching; and seeking as many opportunities as possible to speak in public.

Malcolm Gladwell told us we must invest 10,000 hours before considering ourselves an expert in any field. It’s why I advise aspiring leaders to join organisations like Toastmasters and Rotary, and also professional and business organisations, so they can accelerate the accumulation of such hours.

My desire for the Toastmaster members was that they should look forward to their speaking engagements with excitement rather than anxiety. And yet with sufficient anxiety, to prevent complacency and hence under-preparing. I advocated incorporating storytelling — like I included at the beginning of my talk — and recommended communicating with a light touch, away from the heavy formality that’s all too common here in Kenya.

When delivering a speech, we must not only engage with our script, but also with our audience. Except that in today’s virtual events reading the audience is much harder, never mind if their videos are switched off. So at least we must maintain eye contact with the camera — something that is all too uncommon.

How do you know if you have performed well, made an impact? By seeking feedback. To be asked to return and speak again is a good sign of having left a positive impression, and also to be invited by others who have heard you elsewhere or heard about your speaking.

I concluded by supposing that while some of the listeners had joined Toastmasters so as to go “from good to great”, others would have been among those who would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy. Either way, I said, they should feel good that they were learning by doing, getting better at getting better.

How to lead people in embracing change

Even as many organisations continue asking for help with teambuilding, more recently change management has also gone mainstream. While the massive Covid disruption has brought change yet further front and centre, even before the pandemic spread around the world, the 21st century VUCA phenomenon of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity had confirmed constant change as the new normal.

Let us also acknowledge though that this century is certainly not when change first confronted humanity. It was back in 500 BC when the Greek philosopher Heraclitus pointed out that “change is the only constant” – and so it has been, both before and since. Those who assume that changes will be but temporary, or that they will happen without having to manage their consequences sensitively and positively, will surely come to regret behaving like the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand.

So in this article I’ll share something of what I have learned through my work in helping organisations of all kinds with their change management initiatives – including in these last months through some online engagements.

First, we must “start with the end in mind”. Why is change needed? To enable what vision to be actualised, what purpose to be fulfilled? What is it about the present strategy and way of doing things that will prevent the actualisation of the vision and purpose?

“The way we doing things here” is as good a definition of culture as any… and, as Peter Drucker pointed out, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. So what is that culture, what are those values, attitudes and behaviours which would overcome dysfunctionalities in the present culture? And given the gaps between the actual and the aspirational way of doing things, what will it take for people to migrate from the one to the other, in the context of the needed strategy?

I say migrate because change management – like teambuilding – is not something that can be achieved simply by going away to one of those nice lodges in Naivasha for a couple of days. Those who take the subject seriously accept that it involves a journey. Yes, the journey can be launched at such an event. Indeed it’s a good way to do so. And crucial to such a launch is spending time towards its end defining specific follow ups as to who must do what and by when.

To take the process from the necessary to the sufficient – which many stop short of doing – the participants must agree on how progress towards living that new needed way is to be assessed. What periodic feedback will be obtained regarding progress, for instance as in: none / a little / a lot / transformational? How will those involved celebrate what will have changed for the better while continuing to work on remaining challenges? And how will the expectation of ongoing continuous improvement feature?

To my surprise, I have come across clients who were planning to undergo a change management initiative separate from their teambuilding one. But discussing the need for teamwork as a critical change enabler with them, they agreed to merge the two into one. They readily accepted that to build a high performance team in this VUCA environment requires the agility to deal with change; and that where change must be handled, building trust between team members is more critical than ever. Yes, team qualities like agility and trust are essential for supporting change.

The most vital dependency for any change programme is positive, authentic leadership at board and senior management levels. Such leaders must visibly own the process and its purpose, and they must be role models for the target behaviour.

Then, given the fear and anxiety the term “change management” often provokes – however justified or otherwise – the question arises as to whether it’s good to call such initiatives by that name.

How can we nudge mindsets from negative emotions to more uplifting ones, as we encourage those involved to learn and to grow, expanding their competencies and their confidence, helping them become more empowered, recognised and motivated?

Such people will see change not as a threat but rather an opportunity, something to be looked forward to with joy and excitement… while accepting that life comes with its challenges and its ups and downs.

Now wonder Heraclitus concluded over two millennia ago that “since the very nature of life is change, to resist this natural flow is to resist the very essence of our existence”.

It’s wise to accept that you don’t have all the answers

As my readers are aware I am a great advocate for emotional intelligence, in which context I often talk about how we are sometimes challenged to separate how we feel from how we behave. This allows us to act in ways that keep our interactions and relationships positive, by finding the strength to overcome feelings such as anger and hurt, embarrassment and inhibition.

So this recent post on Adam Grant’s LinkedIn page caught my eye: “A core skill of emotional intelligence is treating your feelings as a rough draft. Like art, emotions are works in progress. It rarely serves you well to frame your first sketch. As you gain perspective, you can revise what you feel. Sometimes you even start over from scratch.”

Wise words for those of us who take pride in just “saying what we think”, in “being straightforward”.

So who is Adam Grant? He is an American psychologist and author, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who was made a tenured professor at the amazingly young age of 28.

I was first made aware of Prof Grant by my daughter, after he spoke to the parents and teachers at her children’s school in California where she is a board member, and after which she sent me a recording of his presentation on how to develop a next generation of creatives.

His first advice was to go easy on rules. Rather, share guidelines based on values, recognising those who abide by them and act as role models for them. Indeed the youngsters should be encouraged to challenge existing rules and guidelines, but of course in a respectful and constructive way.

Next he is against specialisation, in either the arts or the sciences – noting that some of the most prominent Nobel Prize winners in the sciences indulged in painting, piano playing, poetry writing and other artistic sidelines. Recognise those who, like the Nobel heroes, excel at creative problem solving in multiple fields.

Both teachers and parents should readily admit that they don’t have all the answers, and they should be encouraged to ask advice from the children, who in turn should feel free to speak up without fear of being unduly criticised. Neither the elders nor the young ones should be afraid to push back, on the understanding that we are all “work in progress”. At home as in school, it’s OK for children to be exposed to and to participate in disagreements, away from the notion that the parent/teacher is “always right”. Being exposed to civil discussion is good for the emotional development and wellbeing of the children.

Grant also asked the parents and teachers to pay attention to how they display their values through their behaviour, both with each other and with the children. And in commenting to their children about their behaviour they should talk about values, nurturing and reinforcing behaviour that is moral, generous and caring.

“Ask your children whom they helped today, how they acted as helpers,” I heard Grant propose. “And get them to reflect on what kind of persons they are; what they did that was creative in the last few days; what made them happy.”

Finally, he cautioned parents and teachers to neither be too soft – which would spoil the children; nor too hard, which would make them feel inadequate and ashamed. Yes, there should be high expectations, and where the children fall short that should not be ignored. But not at the expense of recognising their successes and strengths.

Much of this is incorporated in Grant’s best-selling 2016 book, Originals, which I couldn’t recommend more strongly. For in it he goes much further in explaining how the way we are treated when we are young determines how we develop when we become adults – what kind of activity we seek and enjoy, and how successful and fulfilled we become.

Above all he focuses on what it takes to be bold enough to challenge the status quo, to be a non-conformist creative and to speak up, to stick with your new ideas … and so to be one of the “originals” about whom he writes and whom he celebrates in his book.

Malcolm Gladwell, whose book Talking to Strangers I wrote about some months ago, is one of my favourite thinkers… and I am not surprised that Grant is one of his.

How to make your board exit as smooth as possible

OK, so you’ve served your two terms as a director, and now it’s time to give way to someone else. You’ve enjoyed being in all those board committee meetings with your fellow directors, and you have developed close relations with several of them. You also feel good about the value you have been adding to an organisation with which you have come to associate yourself closely.

You became an ambassador and a champion for the brand, and you were a mentor and coach to several of the staff. If you were the chairman then your sense of ownership was the deeper, your relationship with the CEO the stronger. And now what had come to be an integral part of your life is coming to an end. It will leave a big gap. You will miss the collegial spirit, the sharing and the learning, the celebration of triumphs and breakthroughs… and even the mutual condoling following setbacks and crises.

Having been through numerous such transitions over the years I thought it would be helpful to write about how retiring directors can find ways of dealing with their loss of board positions, and equally how those they will be leaving behind can make their exit much smoother and more graceful than many turn out to be.

As I have thought about the stages one goes through, it occurred to me that they are actually akin to the grieving process. The first instinct is denial, to so wish your time will not be coming to an end that you actually avoid the reality of its imminence. But just as with the loss of a loved one, denial must inevitably give way to acceptance… and so the period of mourning over loss ensues. Eventually, with the further passage of time, the person reaches closure, heals and is able to look back at their years of service on that board with a sense of detached retrospection.

So first, what advice can I give the retiree? Always accept that your appointment was never meant to be for life, that no one is indispensable, and that as one door closes others may open. Keep giving your utmost till the last day of your term, and hand over on the due day with no regrets. Your inner motivation and sense of commitment may have dimmed somewhat, but let this is in no way affect how you perform your duties. Be proud of your legacy, and have others speak well of you.

INNER EMOTIONS

Then, how should the remainers support those who are “rotating out”? Understand that your departing colleagues may indeed be grieving, however stoic they may appear. We are all human, and so our stiff upper lip may hide uncomfortable inner emotions.

Therefore show generous appreciation for where and how they have made a difference, and in addition to expressing this informally it is good to lay on a ceremony, however brief, to acknowledge their contributions with a speech or two and a notional gift through which they can continue remembering their time among you with pleasure.

What I have seen is that in too many situations – not least in the public sector – when your time is up, that’s it. You are immediately disconnected, no one is bothered to tap into your skills or your institutional memory any longer, and it’s as if you never existed.

Some organisations have devised ways of holding on to past leaders so they can continue benefiting from their wisdom, whether as consultants and advisers, or maybe as Fellows. In such “life after death” positions these elders must in no way compete with the directors of the day but be available to complement their roles.

I have found this to be particularly helpful where directors are volunteers, and the best example I can think of is Kenya private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) with its Advisory Council (of which I am a member) and its Foundation.

In conclusion therefore, I invite board directors to appreciate that their outgoing colleagues are normal men and women with normal human emotions, in need of empathy and appreciation as they reach the end of their terms in office. Say farewell nicely, and have them continue to speak well of your organisation.

Building your brand for boardroom role

Just before all public events were cancelled earlier this year I was invited by the Women on Boards Network to run a session on building one’s brand as a board member. It was, as I expected it would be, a lively evening with over 50 bright, engaged women in the room.

How fortunate we are in Kenya to have many women who are already competent directors, plus many more board-ready members of that gender. And how fortunate we are to have an organisation dedicated to developing women to become high-contribution board members and to link them up with organisations seeking such people.

My theme for the evening was about making a contribution, about adding value as a board member. And of course just about everything I shared would have been just the same had I been with a group of men.

The process must start by understanding oneself and appreciating what it is that one is offering. Yet too few of us have indulged in the kind of self-exploration that this requires, and here I quoted Benjamin Franklin, who found that “there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and knowing oneself”.

But it is very doable, and I advised the good ladies to start by listing their achievements and the strengths that explain them, without bragging and without undue humility. That establishes (or rather should establish) a base for self-esteem and hence confidence and boldness.

Then, as they look back over how their lives have evolved, to identify their areas of competence, ones that are needed in the board room. Are they a financial guru, a legal eagle? A strategy wonk, a digital wizard? Is their field marketing, or talent management? Are they change champions? Which sectors do they know inside out? Is their hot spot compliance or sustainability? Have they been through challenging mergers or acquisitions? How will they add value in the post-Covid world?

More questions, now more to do with values, attitudes and behaviour. Are they trustworthy and reliable? Emotionally intelligent? Skilled communicators? Thought leaders? Disruptive innovators? Mediators and consensus-builders? Networkers? What is their risk appetite? Are they short-term problem solvers, long-term sustainability builders? And before all that, will they make the necessary time?

I also introduced the Women on Boards group to personality assessments they would benefit from undertaking, helping them to reveal more about their preferences. What role in a board team would they naturally gravitate towards?

In the language of Meredith Belbin, what “team type” are they? A “People person”, who revels in coordinating; being a team worker; or a resource person? An “Action person”, who is a task-focused pushy character; an implementer; or a perfectionist-completer? Or a “Thought person”, who is a creative; a specialist; or someone whose natural home is monitoring and evaluation? Then, are they more of an extrovert or an introvert? Guarded or open? So many questions to help a person position and further build their brand.

I also helped the group I was with to examine their suitability for being the chairperson of a board. Are they the type who can bring people together around common visions and values; run lively and useful meetings to which participants look forward; build relationships with colleagues, management and other stakeholders… and so earn the respect of all concerned?

Good governance requires boards to list the personalities, skills and exposure mix that’s needed for them to fulfill their role holistically as a team. So those seeking directors’ positions must be aware of the gaps that any board wishes to fill and match these with what they are offering.
That’s what Women on Boards Kenya helps with, and so if you are a woman who believes you are ready to sit around one of those board room tables I encourage you to reach out to them.

The last slide from my presentation to the ladies came from a disturbing study which revealed that there are more men named John running big companies in America than all women. More named David too. But at least there are more women than men named Robert or James.
Good luck, ladies, the women on boards cup isn’t yet full, but here in Kenya it is filling reasonably well.

NCIC deals with much more than hate speech

Ah yes, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) – they’re the hate speech guys aren’t they? The ones who hear our politicians stir up their supporters against those of their opponents, and then slap their wrists.

Yes they are in business to hammer hate speech, and it’s definitely what the media love reporting on – the more senior the politician the more prominent the coverage, particularly if such honourables end up in court. But this is but a small proportion of NCIC’s mandate, and the reality is that much more quietly, behind the scenes, they are deeply engaged in bringing conflicted communities together.

How do I know this, despite the almost complete absence of media coverage and hence of public perception regarding this life-beyond-hate-speech?

First, because I supported NCIC with their strategy development in 2011, when I was exposed to their activities up close. Then, more recently I read Alice Nderitu’s book, Kenya, Bridging Ethnic Divides: A Commissioner’s Experience on Cohesion and Integration (which I reviewed in a column of mine on this page exactly two years ago); and now I am a member of NCIC’s Social Cohesion Committee, set up to promote national cohesion at this challenging time of Covid-19.

To learn about the early years of NCIC, I urge you to read the book by Alice Nderitu, who was one of its founder commissioners. In this article though, let me share something about the conflict resolution and peace-building initiatives they are engaged in right now, which I have been hearing about from current commissioners and staff.

First I’ll highlight their approach in Narok, where longstanding societal problems going back to the evictions from the Mau Forest and the feuds between the Kipsigis and the Maasai have led to the violence we have again been witnessing in recent weeks. Here NCIC officers have made their constructive presence felt in a reassuringly impactful way.

Even in this time of Covid they have been travelling to the affected areas, where they held several weeks of consultations with the affected communities and their leaders, listening to the voices of those on the ground so as to understand the issues, and hence building trust and confidence in themselves.

They collaborated with other agencies, benefitting from their expertise and their networks; held public barazas; organised work projects bringing youth together; and through all this started developing a culture of peace rather than of conflict. As a result of their mediation expertise progress has been made, and without needing to resort to judicial intervention. Seeing their contribution has encouraged both government and development partners to reinforce their support for NCIC.

In their mediation efforts in Marsabit they involved professionals, religious leaders, women, elders and students in promoting peaceful ways of resolving the conflicts over boundaries, grazing land, water and related issues, again adopting a multi-agency approach. And similar approaches are under way to resolve the conflicts on the Kakamega-Nandi border.

The NCIC peace soldiers have learned that while conflict is active it is not a good time for them to intervene. During such periods they must leave it to the security forces to calm things down, and it is only then that they can start engaging those involved in dialogue.

They have found that they need to be flexible in how and with whom to intervene, and another principle of theirs is never to over-promise but to keep their word. Ultimately, their mission is to develop cultures of conflict resolution and peace, generating a constructive win-win atmosphere among the locals. This requires great expertise and experience, which fortunately is available within the commission.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to assess how to involve – and not involve! – the local politicians, for too often they are the very ones who stir up the conflicts to their short term political advantage. It is why the development of grassroots community leadership is so vital, enabling it to become a voice of positive influence.

Realistically, many of the politicians will keep on doing what they’ve always done. And given how their activities whip up emotions that deliberately generate conflict and violence, this becomes natural material for the media to feed on.

Equally, as I wrote at the beginning, for NCIC’s conflict resolution and peace-building to be effective it must be conducted in a low profile way. So please, let us not conclude that just because we aren’t reading about this day-to-day they are only spending their time chasing after hate-speech mongers.

Basic income, free face masks needed in the slums urgently

As the government continues to work out an adequate and fair response to the huge rise in virus infections and accelerating death rate, out of the box thinking is required. Complete area lockdowns hurt socio-economic development, while clearly helping to reduce Covid-19 infections.

Yet reduced development devastates incomes, especially of the poor who even find it difficult to pay for face-masks. It also leads to deaths from hunger and disease, and raises the risk of crime and violence.

Consequently there must be a carefully targeted response to lockdown, coupled with increased personal responsibility. Banning large get-togethers unless all wear face masks covering both mouth and nose is a must. There is no doubt that wearing face masks properly is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Right now only 30 percent (according to our daily tally in our neighbourhood in Nairobi) wear face masks correctly and these are mainly women. At the coast the figure is far lower, at less than five percent.

Thus it is clear that personal responsibility is lacking to wear face masks, even by those who can afford them. A major campaign is required to alert the public in general and poor people especially. Methods of alert so far via television, radio and the press have unfortunately failed — even in sophisticated countries with higher readership and coverage. A new approach must include more social media and increased controls.

The campaign should feature the link between jobs, prosperity, and even lockdown, for each area where face-mask wearing is low or non-existent. Further, facemasks must be made free in the slums, and users coached on the need to wash them daily with soap and water.

Even in the best case scenario income levels will continue to be down, as external factors such as tourist flows suffer because of the pandemic.

But there is a modest solution. Economic activities, especially with incoming tourists, will increase if it is known how serious the government takes the personal responsibility of all Kenyans — as the President has so clearly been showing. Tourists should be encouraged to adopt mask-wearing as part of their own personal responsibility.

The bargain is therefore you do something for me dear tourist, face-masking and social distancing, and we’ll do something for you through ensuring the personal responsibility of our citizens. The latter includes what we are seeing now, the selective opening of hotels, bars and restaurants, with closure immediately invoked should they ignore their responsibilities.

We know of a case where a restaurant and bar owner on the beach pays for his staff out of his own pocket, ensures adequate table and social distancing, sanitises all touchable surfaces continuously, and only keeps negative-tested staff. The risk of infection is very low or non-existent, as the winds blow around his establishment. But he has closed. His staff are on minimal wages, and tourists have cancelled their stays.

The brave attempts to distribute desperately needed food are misguided. Cash is the key and then the poor can buy what they need. They will buy food and thereby stimulate local markets but they will not necessarily buy face masks, so these must be given free on condition of penalties if they don’t.

We noted before that cash transfers to vulnerable families increased mutual support between beneficiaries; reduced tensions; and improved relationships within the community. Even better news is that each Sh1,000 of cash assistance can generate more than double that, most of which will be spent locally. Then, with cash, people were able to buy what they most needed, whether food, rent or other essentials.

A huge difficulty is that corruption has led to most cash distribution schemes failing. There are too many steps to take, with slow and bureaucratic government mechanisms. As we suggested before, a basic income can be sent only to areas where poor people live, distributed via M-Pesa to those with mobile phones. Of course some will have more than one phone and others none — estimated at a mere three percent in the slums. But the sharing culture there would reduce the hardship of the few without.

As insisted before, our technical contacts at mobile phone companies are confident they can identify most poor people in the vicinity of a transmission mast through a technique known as “geo-fencing”. Yes, some people who don’t need the cash would be included. But if distributed after curfew it would exclude passers-by.

Worse, some who desperately need the cash might also be excluded. However, geo-fencing ensures that it is the people in need who do obtain the cash, while corruption can just about be eliminated.

Meanwhile the quest for perfection breeds paralysis. It is better to start now, since cash is desperately needed by the vulnerable. We therefore once more urge the government to urgently consider distributing a basic income for the poor in the slums of Kenya… coupled with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility.

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 a former UN Senior Policy Adviser on Sustainable Development and MYSA Founder Chairman

Hurdles that hinder growth of insurance scene

Over 40 percent of Kenyans have a bank account, and when one includes the use of mobile money over 80 percent enjoy access to formal financial services. Yet the penetration of insurance in Kenya stands at under 3 percent – and it is not rising. Understandably, many commentators therefore see huge potential for developing this arm of the financial sector, typically quoting South Africa’s penetration rate of 17 percent as a comparison and lamenting the unimaginative use of technology by Kenyan companies.

So why is our penetration so low, and what might be done to increase it? For sure many feel that insurance is “just for the well-off”, “a Nairobi thing”. Others feel the odds of needing to claim on a policy are too low to justify paying the premiums required – defying the whole basis of insurance, which is to collect from the many so as to be able to compensate the few who have legitimate claims to lodge.

I am a relative newcomer to the insurance industry, and for the sake of transparency let me state that a year and a half ago I became the chairman of Occidental Insurance Ltd, having been invited to serve on their board a while before. Through my earlier background in the IT industry I was aware that insurance companies typically lagged other sectors – not least banking – in their use of technology.

Indeed back in the mid-seventies, in my last position in London before coming to Kenya, I was the manager of British computer multinational ICL’s business in the insurance sector. Then and since, my perception was that too many leaders in this sector were less innovative than their counterparts elsewhere, not least in applying the latest that technology could offer.

However the more I have become familiar with the challenges faced by insurance companies here the more I have learned to sympathise with players in this market. Admittedly the case can be made that there are far too many of us, leading to an unhealthy fragmentation of the market. But a further significant factor is that as of December 2018, 92 percent of insurance business was passing through agents (of whom there were 10,000, accounting for 53 percent of business) and brokers (of whom there were 200, accounting for 39 percent).

So only 8 percent of business was handled directly by the insurance companies (down from 12 percent in 2017), with the balance dealt with by intermediaries. Much of what does or does not happen in the industry therefore depends on them, and yet insufficient attention is paid to their practices.

Now despite being highly regulated by the Insurance Regulatory Authority it is generally acknowledged that there is also much indiscipline in the sector, with serious premium undercutting and fraud leading to compromised growth and profitability.

How therefore can insurance companies find the resources needed to invest in research and development, including for acquiring new technology that will better serve both the market and their shareholders? One answer is collaboration, as has already happened with the introduction of data sharing platforms that have led to reduced fraud in the motor and marine classes of insurance.

But more is needed. Two major initiatives in the works are the introduction of the Risk Based Capital rules, designed to ensure capital adequacy and more robust risk management; and the rather more controversial “cash and carry” principle requiring premiums to be paid upfront or at the point at which the cover is issued, in order to ensure that the insurer is able to settle claims appropriately. Alongside these, companies are grappling to implement the consequences of the various stringent International Financial Reporting Standards.

Will these be sufficient to bring about a more sustainable insurance industry? Discussions among industry players are active in our Association of Kenya Insurers, and equally between us and the regulator. More trusting collaboration is needed, and less unhealthy competition.

At the end of June 2020 the capital adequacy measures were due to kick in, and let’s hope that the requirements are adhered to, with appropriate oversight being provided by the regulator. And let’s encourage the regulator to keep going after those who shamelessly undercut their premium rates to gain undue competitive advantage… while jeopardising their ability to pay claims and to be sustainable entities.