Friday 10 November 2006

Wise words from on high

It is always very important for any writer to name their sources. I think that it’s unforgivable for anyone writing in a newspaper to pass off ideas as their own when they actually came from someone else. So this week I’m going to be completely up front and name my primary source for this week.

The President.

Yes, our one. Nobody else’s. His Excellency Mr F. G. Mogae (followed by too many letters to list here).

As you will have read in all the newspapers this week when he gave his State of the Nation address he covered a huge range of topics. Obviously this included things like HIV/AIDS and crime, the things that worry us all on a day-to-day level, but he also covered things that I think are critical for our long-term future.

Less than two minutes into his address, he said something that grabbed my attention. He said “Let us be driven by the quest for world class service”.

Awesome. I think that it says a lot when it’s not just the MDs of banks and insurance companies that say service is important, but the Head of State thinks so too. Clearly he understands, and he’s a hugely experienced economist of course which helps, that service is an essential element of a successful economy. It’s not just commodity prices and stock exchange indices that matter, it’s the way things are actually done that makes a difference.

But there are risks. As anyone who has visited our website will know, the Consumer Watchdog team were interviewed by the BBC a few months ago as part of their “Psychology of Consumerism” series. It’s not just us that worry about the impact of “consumerism” on an economy like ours. The BBC and our President talk about it as well. While we advocate consumer rights and great service there IS a risk with “consumerism”. The risk is to do with expectations.

We can’t all drive flash cars. We can’t all live in mansions. I know it’s not fair but that’s just life, OK? As H.E. said, fixed assets like a house and a child’s education are what matters most. As he warned us, “a lot of us are borrowing simply to fund luxurious vehicles and extravagant lifestyles”.

He also spent time discussing the way forward for citizen empowerment. I think it’s important that he and others have realised that what we’ve done so far hasn’t actually worked that well. Yes we have all seen the advertisements from CEDA proudly showing off success stories. I’m the first to give credit to our friends and relatives who have succeeded in business but we all know how many failures there have been, the number of people with hopes shattered and flashy cars repossessed. Just read the regular “In the matter between” entries in the papers where CEDA is the plaintiff. It’s not working nearly as well as it should do. If we really want to encourage citizen entrepreneurs to succeed we need something new.

I think that the recent report from the Botswana Economic Advisory Council and the President’s address have got it right. We need to demonstrate local excellence before we can expect success. It’s no good succeeding on the basis of handouts from Government. We will only be respected by the international community when we succeed because we are the best. Imagine a country where every shop, every bank, every government department is like Primi Piatti. OK, perhaps slightly lunatic but thrilling to be in.

As he said I think that the way forward involves one of those over-used marketing words: partnership. As an economy that is still developing it’s not entirely reasonable to expect us all to function at the highest level, with the highest productivity and effectiveness without external assistance to begin with. Forgive me for telling a personal story. Several years ago I worked in the Philippines on a couple of major projects that were entirely new to the country. A year later I got a very charming email from the customers telling me that (and I’m putting it simply) they were grateful for my assistance but I didn’t need to come back on business. Next time I should come back as a tourist they said. They had downloaded my brain and were now entirely self-sufficient. I think we need to be much more like the Philippinos. Partner with foreign companies, absorb skills, pay them well and recognise that a trade has occurred. Skills, experience and profit in return for profit. Both sides do well as a result. Most importantly if we show enough initiative and hard work we then become skilled and experienced ourselves.

Please forgive me for one last point. He suggested that change should start at the top. We should expect to be led by example by our politicians. We should expect productivity from them. I think his point is exceptionally good. Think about it. Do politicians work harder because of performance management systems, performance based reward systems, the balanced scorecard or process re-engineering? No, of course they don’t. Politicians work at their very best when they are approaching an election. When they are faced with being fired by the electorate!

This week’s stars!

  • Candy at Ola Milky Lane at Game City in Gaborone for being celebrated by a range of people, too numerous to mention!
  • Urgent from Total Filling Station at Game City in Gaborone for always being friendly and jolly!

No comments: