Monday, April 20, 2015

Of Reading and Documentation in Development Sector

In every field of endeavor, the one who reaches the pinnacle will be found to have built upon the knowledge and experience of someone who preceded him. People in development sector feel obliged to submit report to donor organization with complete focus on grants.There are suggestions from the expensive government project reports that end up just gathering dust on a shelf in India. Thousands, of reports on policy, poverty and development issues are released each year world wide. A lot of recommendations, solutions and findings are keep on piling in a PDF version. The citation of paper doesn't imply that it has been read. Even the reader looked only at downloads and citations to gauge the use of these report. The key question that comes in mind: Who will ever read them?

Even world bank is pondering over this question (Which World Bank reports are widely read ?) Recent findings suggest my fears:

The researchers contribute to their discipline's knowledge with the deep optimism of shaping decision making ability of the practitioners. However, practitioners very rarely read articles published in peer-reviewed journals. One of the ironies of development sector has been that researchers have envied practitioners and practitioners have undermined the academia. Practitioners label reports as long, boring, incomprehensible jargon and full of technical language.

Knowledge sharing takes place in many different settings—through seminars, presentations, & blogs. The slow pace and complexity of poverty, gender and development meant that the blog is more for enthusiasts and casual readers. In the eyes of detractors, such trend leads to the the art of reading the superficial books and blogs. But we must look for a long term vision and expanding the base of readers. The popular and easy will boost people's reading list, among many of whom are working with limited knowledge even with high literacy levels. These readers can gradually move towards domain oriented journals. Journals are essentials but have limited ability for the academia to engage people with all types of opinion ranging from stupid to innovative. There is an urgent need to promote new ways to increase impact and spread of the knowledge.

Why don't we see more books/films/blogs like this coming out of development? They do exist; we just have to seek them out and make them available for more than handful of readers. Practical knowledge is interdisciplinary, not confined to narrow pockets of domain. There is an open-access movement in access of journals that will allow practitioners from reading and understanding them. Through books, op-ed and blogs, there can be reach to a wider set of practitioners, journalists, citizens, students, entrepreneurs, civil society experts and other development actors. Even the most talented thinkers have to reach masses for shaping future's public debates or influencing policies. A good idea need to see the light of day. Only the eloquence and wisdom of the author's passion in writing can lead to the compelling reach of such idea for mass audience.

Still and all, most books published in the private market have few readers, most music fails to reach an audience, and most movies fail. Any popular medium of spreading knowledge like blog is no exception of this rule. However, marvelous an idea may be – cannot, on their own change very much the widespread believes. Working in isolation strongly holds back progressive causes and the effectiveness of enlightened minds and seasoned practitioners.

I have written a blog on list of books and list of movies aimed to spread basic ideas to all rather than tiny size of the intended audience. One can look for Understanding Economic Development Reading List by Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, Arvind Subramanian. Suggested Blogs for those who are still interested :

Organizations : World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Oxfam, CGAP , IFMR.
Academician : Illa Patnaik, Swaminomics, Ajay Shah. Tyler Cowen.
Practitioners :  Arvind Kumar, PMRDF.
Magazines : Down to Earth, India Together .

Friday, April 10, 2015

Naive Advices to Rural Manager

Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning. --- Mahatma Gandhi

I am driven by personal ambition and not selfless heroism. I look for perpetual returns with a field work backing up degree in rural management. Few Rural Managers work towards the development of the rural folks. One doesn't has to be born and brought up in villages and small towns. Empathy and an open mind will do the job really well.

Trial at the field level is much engagement and full of frustration for any rural manager while it's occurring, and and many can vouch for this. When the task is accomplished, the afterglow does provide a lot of satisfaction. Self Motivation is the key to perform in whatever condition one is placed into. As an rural manager, I learned that the most important thing is to listen and to be willing to re-invent himself. There are 11 pointers taken from the job :

1- Can you listen? No one has managed people by silencing dissent. So, Listen with patience all their complaints, stories and sorrow. That is the most important thing one can do for the people. In this field, one can't solve most of the problems of the people. But listening to the grievances, difficulties with empathy is one compassionate act that can be done by an individual. This part of job is non-glamorous but it is essential.

2- Please demonstrable integrity; Half baked promises will erode the trust and words really spread like the plague. That is why never promise what one can't deliver. Even a person managing the ground force of sales team will agree on this.

3- A man's intelligence can be tested by his ability to explain complex problems in simple terms. Rural Manager must be able to establish communication with target audience by giving examples from their real life and surroundings; I did learn few metaphors such as describing seed capital as a seed of plant and investment as nurturing tree. Simple example makes sense and attracts attention rather than pouring of bookish knowledge.

4- Go Vernacular, Become “Unprofessional” in interaction with people. Most of us can become functionally able of speaking/listening a new language but rarely are those who are intellectually and emotionally excel in new language. It is better to live with the community for a brief period of time. And, one should never presume to lecture people about the choices they make. They make that choice with a lot of thought.

5- Have a Positive Attitude and communicate daily with your mentor and seniors. It is not necessary to like the people, but you must learn to enjoy the interaction itself. It is necessary to behave calmly and reply on the merit of comment not be overshadowed prestige of the person.  Hence, oft-heard "that's the way I do work" is simply not good to survive in this field. There is need of agile mind and quick action in every task performed.

6-  Few times, we have a tendency to dismiss or marginalize people we don’t understand. To live and work in rural areas requires special qualities: open dialogue, an interest in culture, a sense of curiosity and an immense energy. Baggage of degree from premier institute holds no good here. Basic knowledge of festivals, songs, taboos i.e. local culture will be a great asset and often can be used to break the ice between strangers (mostly women) at the field. It is needless to emphasize upon to be gender & caste sensitive.

7- I always assume that knowledge will always help in seeing the broader prospective. One must always know in detail the relationships among agro-climatic conditions, natural resources, production systems, markets and livelihoods of rural people. Theoretically valid ideas taught in close classrooms might not be implemented exactly as planned and that practices that worked well in one region might not be replicated to other domains. Even one is well versed with a degree, expanding into areas where they have no competence, do harm, not good. Don't confuse ignorance with originality

8- Leadership happens when people grow and develop under you. Give credit where it is deserved; a public acknowledgement wins more faith rather than monetary compensation. Any leadership with underdeveloped teams lack strong internal sounding individuals for ideas and concerns. In order to succeed, one must be given a chance to fail. That can one do for helping the subordinates.

9- Respect is something, a rural manager has to have. Preach what you practice. Example is little controversial but never drink in public and then lecture about ban on alcohol. Wrong person however close need not to be defended, sympathized with and passed over in silence. It will lead to conflicts whose resolution depends only on your respect as neutral. Unless one is just without becoming aggressive and dominant to every body, one will never gain respect.

10- Don't watch the trees too closely, you will miss seeing the forest; One must not work in haste in drawing conclusion on seeing few individuals, lookout for the ecosystem which nourishes/exploits them. Simply, it means so involved with the details of a situation that he loses sight of the larger issue. The reverse may also happen true where one can't see the trees for the forest. It is also possible to be too broad (macro) when looking at a situation. Never act like top managers who make impossible demands from subordinates. It will only suggest a complete unfamiliarity with the complexities of a project.

11- The best of rural manager is to knew when to be theoretical and when not to be. Education is not just about reading. It also involves observing and wearing down the nonsense through rational responses. The success depend on the capacity for hard work and an enormous interest in meeting people and absorbing whatever they conveyed. It takes a village… to make a rural manager.

The challenge as a rural manager is to develop high level skills through education and on-the-job experience that cannot be outsourced. Am I cut to be a working in rural areas ? If not, I must develop few qualities that can help others. I think that's any rural manager's responsibility really, to make world a better place and to leave the rural India an easier place to work for; to set foundations and guide with advice to upcoming managers and entrepreneurs. Somehow the belief that your work is helping improve someone's life by an iota makes it all worthwhile.But at the end of the day I think job is very simple: to work with the best of our ability, so that to inspire younger generation to excel given standards. Legacy, Career are of utmost important but life is about loving what you do and doing what you love, while gaining fresh pleasure, wisdom and maturity.


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Statutory Warning

This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !
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