t h e EMirrorE1 NO 54 2013
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Generation zero. Creating a lean and green business system. Village of age. Sweet sound of global philanthropy. www.themirrorinspires.com
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A by-product of the world we live in
A “ The issues within the magazine vary because our lives are full of change and even though they may seem similar.
As a by product of the world we live in, The Mirror reflects on the issues in our world which concern us, improve the quality of our life and help to make it better. Glaringly, there are plenty of areas of concern –currently, Syria, riots in Brazil, fair pay for workers in Bangladesh and the handing over of control to Afghanistan authorities. The issues within the magazine vary because our lives are full of change and even though they may seem similar, The Mirror analyses them and brings to you the reader different examples of how they are dealt with. Man’s triumph over good and evil, a sense of fair play in trying times and suggested solutions for the level playing field. This issue is no different. We look at care for the aged and how it happens in a village in China; how companies are better off by looking after the needs of their employees; how countries – in this case Australia – can succeed in a high cost environment; how organisations can be more sustainable; and amongst other subjects, mindfulness and its key to unlocking a sustainable future.
The thing is, The Mirror doesn’t seek to be fashionable, to have a guru on every page. It’s not the way we want to look at what goes on in the world. If we can provide examples of sharing and caring through fair play in business, the environment, community and spiritual well-being so that people live well, then the magazine is assisting to meet that aim. So we bring you examples, reflections and observations and trust that they are beneficial to you and the community in that part of the world in which you live.
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Reflections and Observations
the Mirror’s Faces MANAGING EDITOR Doug Green RESEARCH WORDS PRODUCTION & DESIGN Karl Grant ADMINISTRATION & SUBSCRIPTIONS JEZ Media Ltd ADVERTISING ENQUIRIES 06 870 9029 firstname.lastname@example.org PUBLISHER WORDS P O Box 1109, Hastings, New Zealand email@example.com
The Mirror is published bi-monthly and offers the Reader reflections and observations on the issues of our times. The Mirror welcomes editorial contributions and encourages readers to share their reflections and views with us. The Mirror uses information provided in good faith. We give no guarantee of accuracy of the information. No liability is accepted for the result of any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this information. Those acting on the information and recommendations do so entirely at their own risk. SUBSCRIPTION: NZ $42 per year for 6 issues. Subscription payment to be made to: JEZ Media Ltd, P.O. Box 1109, Hastings 4156, New Zealand. firstname.lastname@example.org Payment can be made by EFTPOS. Or by posting a cheque to the above address. Single copies NZ $7.00
Community Planning, Sustainable Business and Waste Minimisation Strategies www.envision-nz.com
t h e EMirror SOCIETY
6 Communities advance when computers speak their language.
Citizens in remote rural areas in 11 Asian countries are leaping over language barriers and into theInternet age. They may now access government services online, and submit college applications without making an arduous trek to the city. And their children are learning the computer skills that promise greater economic opportunities in the future.
10 Cooking with traditional crops improves nutrition and boosts women’s incomes.
It’s no secret that traditional crops such as millets and pulses are highly nutritious. Now researchers, working with women in Ethiopia and India are making it easier for them to use these local crops when cooking healthy meals at home and creating new business ventures.
13 What if they had to pay for natural capital?
Few of world’s top industries would be profitable if they had to pay for natural capital. The environmental impact of doing business costs the global economy around $4.7 trillion a year, according to a new report.
30 The hidden dimension of corporate culture.
By encouraging employees to both seek and provide help, rewarding givers, and screening out takers, companies can reap significant and lasting benefits.
Thich Nhat Hanh calls us to make five deep commitments: cherish all life on Earth; practice generosity and social justice; responsibility in relationships; loving speech and deep listening; mindful consumption and eating.
t h e EMirrorE5 A BETTER SOCIETY
36 Village of age.
From the main road, it is hard to spot Qin Zhuang. The village is hidden behind factories that assemble production machinery for packaging materials, and chemical fertiliser plants. The air is heavily polluted.
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Communities advance when computers speak their language
Asia’s relatively low Internet use does not reflect a lack of public enthusiasm.
Citizens in remote rural areas in 11 Asian countries are leaping over language barriers and into the Internet age. They may now access government services online, and submit college applications without making an arduous trek to the city. And their children are learning the computer skills that promise greater economic opportunities in the future. This is just a sampling of the Internetera benefits available to millions more people across Asia thanks to the work of the PAN Localisation program. This IDRCsupported network of computer experts (known as PANL10n) has been working since 2003 to develop new technologies that allow computers to function in local languages. Asia’s relatively low Internet use does not reflect a lack of public enthusiasm, says project coordinator Sarmad Hussain, a professor at Pakistan’s University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore. Whenonline demonstrations have been set up in rural communities, the use of computers “is a very easy sell. People are excited that this technology can give them
access to many things they don’t have access to right now,” Hussain says.
Local scripts A major obstacle to Internet use — until now, at least — has been language. With 3,500 local languages in the Asia-Pacific region, and fewer than 10% of people able to communicate in English, Internet use is typically restricted to urban areas. Focusing on the way language hinders online access was a strategic approach that has allowed the PAN Localization initiative to “tackle the digital divide in Asia at its root,” says former IDRC program officer Maria Ng. The network has assembled a pool of highly skilled software engineers, linguists, and sociologists. They work together to overcome the formidable technical obstacles to making local scripts compatible with computers, and to promote their use. “Each language has its own problems and therefore requires a unique solution,” Hussain explains. “That’s the real challenge.”
Citizens connect The results can now be seen both in small communities and at the level of public policy. In rural Nepal, locally adapted software enables people to Skype with family members who have left to work elsewhere. In rural Cambodia, computer software applications that list market prices for agricultural goods or that bring news from nearby communities have proven popular. Government initiatives also promise to spread the benefits of computer technology. Bhutan, for example, has launched an e-government program allowing distant citizens to complete official forms online in the Dzongkha language.
Kids learning computers at work
Hussain adds that local-language computing capabilities have spurred a movement in Pakistan to introduce computer training at an early age, when students are taught in their own language. (At older ages, instruction is in English.) He sees a social benefit in this early introduction, given that greater comfort with computers improves economic prospects and encourages innovation. ❙
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Eco village in England made out of natural materials www.themirrorinspires.com
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Most of us would sign up to the premise that each generation should leave the one that follows with a world that is better than, or at least as good as, the one they have enjoyed. It’s difficult to argue that this is the case for those of us currently handing on, or soon to hand on. Climate change is not the only problem we are leaving, but its potential consequences are serious enough to impact on every aspect of our children and our children’s children’s lives. In a few decades, or perhaps just one, they may well ask each other with incredulity why we did so little to address the problem when the science was so clear. The next generation has every right to condemn us for the legacy we are leaving them. More fruitfully, instead of wasting time on condemnation, many of them are working to mitigate the impact. It would be great if we stood alongside them. Climate change is a global problem and there is no quick or easy fix. But it is by no means an impossible one and New Zealanders have a long history of tackling big challenges. People of our generation often say they are worried about climate change but don’t know what to do. Giving to Generation Zero is something we can do. Generation Zero is a youth-led organisation taking action on climate change. It’s so named because it represents the generation that must oversee the transformation to a zero carbon world. It’s led by young people but it speaks for all of us.
Generation Zero has 3,000 members throughout New Zealand and a proud record of initiatives and achievements. You can read about some of them in the attached document. Their current campaign, 100% Possible, aims to move New Zealand beyond fossil fuels. It’s positive, well researched and action-focused. You may have seen their photo wall and their advocacy for smart transport solutions. In July, their 100% Possible speaking tour will land in a centre near you.
Generation Zero has 3,000 members Their work is largely voluntary. Things throughout happen because Generation Zero’s New Zealand members give up many hours of their and a proud time. The group succeeds on a very modest budget with much of the money coming record of out of members’ pockets. But it’s difficult initiatives and to maintain momentum without proper resources. As one of Generation Zero’s achievements. leaders put it: We may not have a lot of time. We’re going to have to make up for that with intensity and energy. They’re leading the charge, but they can’t do it alone. ❙
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Cooking with traditional crops improve It’s no secret that traditional crops such as millets and pulses are highly nutritious. Now researchers, working with women in Ethiopia and India are making it easier for them to use these local crops when cooking healthy meals at home and creating new business ventures.
Poverty and malnutrition The opportunity: Nutritional are serious traditional crops food security Poverty and malnutrition are serious challenges food security challenges in both countries, in both particularly among women and children living in rural communities. Millets countries, India and pulses in Ethiopia were particularly in dietary staples before crops like corn, among rice, and wheat became more popular. women and Two projects, supported by the Canadian International Food Security Research children Fund (CIFSRF) are generating renewed living in rural interest in these highly nutritious crops. a result, they are adding protein, fibre, communities. As and vital micronutrients to rural diets — Millets in and creating a new source of income for women entrepreneurs. India and pulses in India: Less work and Ethiopia healthier meals were dietary A survey of 310 families in India’s Karnataka state determined that the staples majority of surveyed families were aware before of the nutrition and health benefits of eating millets. Yet, not everyone crops like consumed them on a regular basis, mainly corn, rice, because processing millets is difficult and and wheat buying them can be expensive. For some became more communities it’s cultural — millets tend to be eaten only on special occasions. popular.
“People may know millets are healthy, but too many are not eating them as part of their staple diet,” says lead researcher Nirmala Yenagi, a food scientist at India’s University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, who is collaborating with researchers at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in India and McGill University in Canada.
A labour-saving machine and education Education and low-tech solutions are helping to overcome these challenges. Women first needed a reliable supply of cleaned millets and flour. Researchers from www.themirrorinspires.com
Canada and India designed and delivered an easy-to-use and affordable grain mill that automates the process of separating the hull from the millet seed, and installed flour mills in three villages (Timmapur, Jekinkatti, and Manthrodi). Production lines were then established with women’s self-help groups for preparing millet snacks, drinks, and other products for sale and eating at home. Second, researchers used the data from the survey to develop nutrition education programs. When they tested the programs with 870 school children, 426 women and 67 men, they found that nutritional knowledge had increased between 3 and 14% among children and 7 and 8% among women. Most importantly, consumption had increased nearly 16%. Recipes that taste good also helped. Of the 15 recipes developed by local women and tested with women farm labourers and adolescent girls, the majority scored above 90% for acceptability, with four ranked between 80 and 90%. Next, 157 women from 14 villages learned how to incorporate these recipes into traditional family meals, and how to package, label, price, and market millet products. Initially, each woman produced just over 40 kilograms of papadums (a crisp Indian flatbread) and other value-added millet products in one month. By March 2012, per-person production increased to about 100 kilograms, generating a net monthly profit of about 1055 rupees (CA$19) for each woman. The project ensured the nutritional benefits of these new products extended to the women’s families as well. Each woman was required to set aside 100 grams of every ragi malt batch (which scored 100% on the acceptability scale with adolescent girls) and other millet products for home consumption. It worked: the amount of millet in the children’s diets increased 10%.
Coming soon to the school menu Given the health benefits and high acceptance of these new recipes, researchers are working with local stakeholders in the village of Timmapur to
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es nutrition and boosts women’s incomes include some products in school feeding programs. “We are proposing that locally grown millets be used, and that women’s self-help groups prepare and sell the food. We would like to see it become a staple in the school diet,” says Yenagi. To date, nutritional education programs have been developed and delivered to 870 schoolchildren in 15 villages. The goal is to scale up these successes in other regions of India and South Asia.
Promising pulses in Ethiopia A similar healthy-eating effort is underway in Ethiopia, where about 52% of the country’s rural population fails to meet minimum consumption requirements for calories. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and Hawassa University are studying how education can increase consumption of pulses, including chickpeas, broad beans, and lentils. They are focusing particularly on the consumption patterns of the most vulnerable: children under five, adolescent girls, and adult females. Studies found a lack of awareness among women of the nutritional value of pulses, and the need to incorporate this high-protein, high-iron crop in everyday meals.
porridge enriched with broad beans more, or as much, as porridge without them. A program is being developed to make this porridge available in more communities. “If we teach children the benefits of complementary feeding, they would have a better practice going forward,” says Henry. “It’s difficult to change adult behaviours, but children growing up will view pulses as a natural part of their diet.” Data collected on socio-economic status, gender responsibilities, and diet diversity provided the foundation for a university graduate course in community nutrition (taken by 30 health professionals so far). In “train the trainer” workshops, more than 50 male and female farmers, along with health extension workers and district agents, learned about pulse crop production, nutrition, food combinations, and commonly consumed dishes. Data collected from the various studies will be used over the coming year to develop nutritional educational packages for women in their communities. ❙
A big win for the research team was developing recipes and food preparation methods that maximized nutritional benefits — without sacrificing taste.
“The main staple of the Ethiopian diet is teff (a local cereal grain). People would rather eat that alone than add a little protein, like lentils. Part of our project is showing them the nutritional value of protein combinations. We are also trying to overcome the perception of pulse as ‘poor man’s food’,” says investigator Carol Henry, with the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Pharmacy and Nutrition.
Nutritious and tasty A big win for the research team was developing recipes and food preparation methods that maximized nutritional benefits — without sacrificing taste. In one experiment, food scientists tested four versions of porridge, one with no broad beans and three made with between 10 and 30% of the pulse. Preschool children and mothers in one South Ethiopian community said they liked
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Creating a lean and green business system
Toyota, in its Fifth Environmental Action Plan, announced that it will improve the average fuel efficiency of its vehicles by 25% in all regions by 2015 compared to that of 2005.
It is a key economic driver for many forward-looking firms. If you are a business manager and you are yet to develop a solid plan for going green or if you are in doubt whether going green pays off, have a look at companies like Toyota, WalMart, DuPont, Tesco, Unilever, Marks & Spencer and General Electric, all of whom have invested heavily in greening their products and processes over the past few years.
Challenging targets Unilever plans to double its revenue over the next10 years while halving the environmental impact of its products. GE aims to reduce the energy intensity of its operations by 50% by 2015. Tesco has announced that it will reduce emissions from stores and distribution centres by half by 2020 and that it will to become a zero-carbon business by 2050. WalMart’s Zero Waste initiative claims that more than 80% of waste generated in its U.S. operations has been diverted from landfill while the company’s goal is to generate zero waste in the first place. In 2010, WalMart announced that it will cut total carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons by 2015. Toyota, in its Fifth Environmental Action Plan, announced that it will improve the average fuel efficiency of its vehicles by 25% in all regions by 2015 compared to that of 2005. In production, Toyota has already reduced emissions per vehicle by 37% between 2001 and 2012. If that wasn’t enough then look at DuPont which committed itself to a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over a ten year period up to 2010. In 2007, DuPont saved $2.2 billion through energy efficiency. In the same year its total declared profits was not much more than $2 billion! And the list grows longer with many small and medium size companies following suit.
The secret to Unilever’s success However, there are still too many companies out there who push environmental improvements to lower priorities. They are oblivious to the reasons behind why the likes of Paul Polman, CEO www.themirrorinspires.com
of Unilever, have been so passionate about sustainability. Unilever, alongside the rest of the companies mentioned in the above, invest significant time and resources in ‘green continuous improvement’. None of them, however, have joined the Greenpeace! So why should they bother? The secret of Polman’s recipe is simple. It’s a simple yet powerful realisation that the environmental and economic footprints are aligned. When we prevent physical waste, increase energy efficiency or improve resource productivity (they all mean the same thing by the way!), we save money, improve profitability and enhance competitiveness. In fact, there are often, huge opportunities which we call “quick wins”, thanks to years of neglect. That’s the secret of those companies. There are other benefits too. First of all, investing in green continuous improvement (CI) unlocks great amounts of innovation and vigour across the organisation which in turn underpins future success. Secondly, with most industries there is a substantial and growing market for sustainable products. Lean means doing more with less. That’s why lean thinking supports green. Nonetheless, today economic and environmental CI are separate organisational silos and sometimes even come into conflict with each other. This is one of the biggest opportunities missed across most industries. Too many greening interventions are concerned with technical fixes and top-down implementation of end of pipe solutions which hardly leave a lasting cultural change. Lean and continuous improvement practitioners, on the other hand need to obtain essential knowledge about the key environmental measures and priorities. The power of lean and green is to bring the two together.
Reducing waste by 1,000 tonnes Here is an example. Working with one of the largest sandwich factories in the world a team of great men and women engaged in a programme to reduce physical waste. They used simple techniques such as value stream mapping and A3 problem solving (well know lean tools). The results were staggering. No one expected to see nearly 1,000 tonnes of waste prevented in just a few weeks, in
Like lean thinking, greening your business is not just a “nice to have” - it is now “must have.”
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What if they had to pay for natural capital?
Few of world’s top industries would be profitable if they had to pay for natural capital The environmental impact of doing business costs the global economy around $4.7 trillion a year, according to a new report. One of the main challenges companies face is how to understand the value of the natural capital they rely on so it can be tter managed. That figure takes into account a range of environmental impacts including: air pollution-related health costs; the effects of global warming; the loss of carbon storage systems such as forests; and the loss of our natural resources. Agriculture, coal power, steel-making and many other high-impact industries face an economic loss when accounting for this damage to natural capital, says the study by the TEEB for Business Coalition. Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business estimates claims that businesses and investors can mitigate risk and gain the competitive edge when they include natural capital impacts in their decision-making.
“Incorporating the use of natural capital into a business’ sustainability strategy is something that every company must do to understand their real sustainability issues in order to engrain them into day to day operations and overall planning,” said a very mature industry. The commercial benefits where even more staggering. Polman is constantly surprised - in a very pleasant way – when lean and green were put together. The forthcoming book, “Creating a Lean and Green Business System: Techniques for Increasing Profits and Sustainability”, is packed with case studies and examples of leading firms who use lean and green as simultaneous sources of inspiration in various sectors of industry—from automotive and retail to textile and brewing. Just to give you a little flavour of what the co-authors found in the process of researching for the book, there is an update about the benchmark study into the automotive sector. The benchmark was done 20 years after the original IMVP Programme benchmark which led
Jochen Zeitz, director of Kering and cochair of the B Team. “This is is no longer an option and now more than ever it is critical for reporting requirements to include natural capital accounting and government legislation to address corporate transparency and accountability,” he added. The report says that one of the main challenges companies face is how to understand the value of the natural capital they rely on so it can be better managed. For example, water usually is not priced according to how scarce it is. The report assesses more than 100 environmental impacts using the Trucost environmental model which condenses them into six environmental key performance indicators (eKPIs) to cover the major categories of natural capital consumption: water use, GHG emissions, waste, air pollution, water and land pollution, and land use.
One of the main challenges companies face is how to understand the value of the natural capital they rely on so it can be tter managed.
The eKPIs were then quantified by region across more than 500 business sectors. “This study makes the business case for companies and investors to take natural capital into account if they wish to save on resource use, access markets and financing, and mitigate major environmental and social risks,” added Usha Rao-Monari, director of the sustainable business advisory department at the International Finance Corporation. ❙ to coining the term ‘lean manufacturing’. Interestingly it was found that Toyota — the holy grail of economic efficiency for decades — tops the green charts too. This led to the discovery of more about Toyota’s notion of Monozukuri which means sustainable manufacturing and lies at the very heart of Toyota Production System (or lean thinking). For more information about the book and the power of the “lean and green concept” visit: www.leanandgreenbusiness. com Finally, you are personally invited to come and join in the book launch party (courtesy of Adnams PLC) on June 20th close to Tower Bridge in London. You may register your interest in attending the launch party from the same link in the above. ❙
The benchmark was done 20 years after the original IMVP Programme benchmark which led to coining the term ‘lean manufacturing’.
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Could Mindfulness hold the key
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” Mahatma Gandhi
The further we progress on our journey towards sustainable business, the more fundamental are the constraints and challenges that we encounter. We may improve compliance, and optimize our eco-efficiency initiatives, but then find we need to address our business models, our organizational and ownership formats, if we are to deliver more impact, more benefits. We may go further still, and explore the need for systemic change, to drive the right behaviours and performance, that will enable our strategies to flourish. But there is one constant, one common denominator in all these processes, organisations, and systems – people. And so, we reach the ultimate barrier – ourselves – where the only way forward is to go within, and change our internal world. Only then can we move forward to drive the changes that are truly necessary. Could it be, that for us to unlock transformational change in business, we must first undergo individual transformation? Could mindfulness help us overcome our deepest fears, as we wrestle with the deep and fundamental changes required, if we are to truly transform to a sustainable future?
An awakening? Mindfulness has its roots in the Buddhist approach to increasing awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings. As Thich Nhat Hanh describes in his excellent and very accessible book The World We Have, mindfulness is at the heart
of awakening, of enlightenment, and is achieved through the practice of breathing and meditation; to be here, in the present moment, so we can recognise what is happening around us, and make conscious choices, so we can act in sustainable ways. So, how does it work? On one level, mindfulness can sound deceptively simple; practitioners sit in a comfortable position, close their eyes, and note the physical sensations in their bodies and the flow of thoughts through their minds – they become aware, and in the moment – the aim is to observe these sensations, but in a non-judgemental way, without reacting to them. In time, this allows one to quieten the mind, which should lead to a calmer, clearer, and more focused state. Although for some, this might sound like a bit too hippy-dippy, according to Professor Mark Williams, the science is now catching up – demonstrating repeatable and spectacular results. Mindfulness can improve wellbeing, and reduce the risk of depression by half. Interestingly, the concept of mindfulness appears to be making inroads intothe business world, and is almost, dare I say, becoming fashionable. In a business context, according to Karl Weick at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, “mindful organisations are better able to manage the unexpected in a challenging, highly competitive environment”. This certainly sounds like a good idea, given the massively turbulent times we find ourselves in.
Into the mainstream There are certainly some big corporate names that appear to think so, including AOL, Apple, General Mills, Huffington Post, Google, Nike, and Procter & Gamble. Even Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder and former CEO, was a Zen Buddhist; and he spoke openly about how his time meditating in India shaped his worldview, and ultimately, Apple’s product design.
Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as being at the heart of awakening, of enlightenment, and is achieved through the practice of breathing and meditation
In her recent interview with Google’s Rich Fernandez, Dr Bronwen Rees explores the link between the leadership agenda and wellbeing, mindfulness, and wisdom at Google. For Fernandez, what started out as a personal pursuit developed into something
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y to unlock a sustainable future? much greater. Mindfulness grew to represent a cultural shift within, and across organisations. Fernandez started running a few sessions on mindfulness, expecting around 20 to 30 people to show, but 200 turned up. Clearly, he had tapped into something on a deeper level; perhaps a latent need to find a better way? The team at Google then developed a robust set of mindfulness and wisdom practices and courses, including Mindfulness Based on Emotional Intelligence – a sevenweek course, meeting once each week, and which includes a full day at a meditation retreat. Another course focused on Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. And some courses were designed by, and with specific business units in mind, such as The Software Engineering of the Mind. The mind boggles at the prospect of that one. Google has also established Wellness Centres, where people can go for yoga, massage, or meditation. These sessions are now very popular, with long waiting lists. They also run a video-conferencing meditation group, they call “meditation hangouts”. The approach has become increasingly popular, and over 4,000 of Google’s 35,000 employees have now taken some form of mindfulness, wisdom, or wellbeing programme. But this is not just about wellbeing for its own sake. Google is a high performance culture; expectations are high and this requires a robust performance management system. For Google, mindfulness was all about achieving peak performance and optimising productivity through more mindful practices. Business schools are also starting to embrace the practice, including the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management in California. In a series of four seven-week executive education classes, and a separate course for MBA students, Jeremy Hunter teaches what he calls self-management, “managing your insides so you can deal with your outsides better”. Classes start with a brief meditation, and cover topics like managing emotional
reactions, and dealing with change. Harvard Business School has also take the leap, where courses are run to help business people better understand their emotions, which involves opening up, to share with others their toughest personal There’s something in it – but is it possible to quantify tangible benefits?
Big numbers According to business professors Michael Porter, Elizabeth Teisberg, and Scott Wallace, investing in wellbeing just makes good financial sense. Their studies show that US employers pay 200-300% more for the indirect costs of health care – in the form of absenteeism, sick days, and lower productivity – than they do on actual health care payments. Their recommendation is for companies to “mount an aggressive approach to wellness, prevention, screening and active management of chronic conditions.” And then there is the relationship between happiness and productivity. The iOpener Institute carried out a study of a company with 1,000 employees; they found that increasing happiness in the workplace reduces the cost of employee turnover by 46%, the cost of sick leave by 19%, and increases performance and productivity by 12%.
“People at Google aspire to do worldchanging things. So wisdom and mindfulness provide some strategies and tools that equip us to be able to sustain that level of performance.”
Rich Fernandez, Senior People Development Lead, Google
On the face of it, these are very significant benefits – for businesses as well as individuals – and way beyond the diminishing returns we perhaps now experience from our often over-worked and mechanistic business efficiency initiatives. And going further, a key strategic benefit for business also lies in the ability of staff to make better decisions. David Gelles, in a very thorough and interesting piece for the FT, quotes William George, a board member with Goldman Sachs: “The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.”
Better decisions? This point is intriguing, particularly from the perspective of developing more sustainable business strategies. Better decisions; but better decisions for what,
t h e E M i r ro r Can the more sharper, more a exactly? effective employee deliver more mindful
business decisions, for the greater benefit of people and planet, or will it merely increase their capacity to become even more effective capitalists and plunder the planet? To address this point, we have to go deeper. Mindfulness is not just about meditation and relaxation – to develop sharper, more focused and energised employees – it also challenges some of our belief systems, including some of our most fundamental assumptions about what we do in business, and how we do it.
Let’s get back to Thich Nhat Hanh, and the important notion of conscious choices; through his mindfulness trainings, he calls us to make five deep commitments.
Let’s get back to Thich Nhat Hanh, and the important notion of conscious choices; through his mindfulness trainings, he calls us to make five deep commitments: • Cherish all life on Earth – cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect our people ad planet; • Practice generosity and social justice – become aware of the suffering cause by exploitation, social injustice and oppression, and commit to cultivate wellbeing of people, animals, plants and minerals; • Responsibility in relationships – cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society; • Loving speech and deep listening – to bring joy and happiness and relieve others of their suffering; and • Mindful consumption and eating – which involves recognising exactly what we need to consume (in all senses of the word), and what not to consume, in order to keep our bodies, minds and the Earth healthy. If we were all to adopt these teachings in full, there is no doubt in my mind that the effect would be completely transformative. But this will have huge implications for all our businesses, and the ways in which we run our economies.
The consumption challenge In particular, the notion of mindful consumption, presents a major challenge to our whole economic model and way of life, we have cultured in the West overt the last fifty years or more. But as George Monbiot reminds us – we have to do this, anyway – we have to stop hiding behind our eco-efficiency initiatives and deal with the fundamental problem of consumption – it lies at the heart of our key www.themirrorinspires.com
sustainability challenges; of climate change, resource scarcity, and a looming energy crisis. Can we shift towards a low/zero growth model and make the transition away from a damaging and wasteful economy? This is a major topic in its own right, and one that we will aim to explore in more detail in a future article. But, let’s explore a little further, here, how mindfulness might help. As Professor Joes Magnusson, author of Mindful Economics, puts it “Mindfulness is calm openness, and at the same time piercing the layers of delusion that have been accumulating, collectively in our minds and institutions.” The implication being that it helps us see past the delusions of a consumer-based and materialistic society, to find a more meaningful, less material approach. But this, we know, is somewhat at odds with the prevailing corporate business paradigm and our endless pursuit of growth. And while many may privately admit that the goal of endless growthis not sustainable, or even possible; we somehow find it too hard, to move to a different model. Growth pre-occupies our businesses, and our beleaguered governments. And as Jo Confino points out, the fear of radical change and failure holds us back. Of course, we also know that the current system starts to unravel and ultimately collapse,if we don’t achieve continuous growth – a major inherent design flaw that we will have to address, one day. But another reason that makes it feel like a challenge that is just too hard to resolve. We have become addicted to growth. But there is some great pioneering economic ‘design work’ by the likes of Peter Victor, Tim Jackson and David Korten, that can help us find a vision and a plan for a better approach. Although, there is less empirical evidence of businesses that have successfully made the transition to a low/no growth economy – optimising, rather than maximising growth. And while there are an increasing number of businesses getting engaged in the circular economy approach, aiming to maximise the range of resources in use, many of these businesses are still broadly operating within a growth paradigm – still striving towards year-on-year growth in sales. We may need to come at the challenge form both ends optimising resource use, certainly, but also optimising growth, and the size of our businesses.
Patagonia, the Californian outdoor clothing company, is perhaps one of the best known examples of a company, that really seems to be engaging with a mindful approach to consumption – by taking the seemingly counterintuitive approach to encouraging its customers to buy less! And really pushing the re-use, repair and recycling business model – in pursuit of the company’s mission of building the best product, causing no unnecessary harm, and using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, also sees that there is a “proper size” for the company, and as he says in his inspirational talk – The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – “There are no three star French restaurants with fifty tables – it’s impossible.” Patagonia, based on its values and principles, simply cannot become a large company. As Schumacher urged us forty years ago, small really can be beautiful. And what influenced the approach at Patagonia? Whether formalised or not, Chouinard points to his life-long study of Buddhist philosophies as being a major influence underpinning his work; a mindful approach to consumption.
Out of the crisis? There is no doubt that the introduction of mindfulness can have major benefits for businesses and employees; through the reduction of stress, and generating the potential for greater wellbeing, creativity, performance, personal growth, and
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behavioural change. And, not surprisingly, at this time of stress and challenge, the approach is growing in popularity.
But also, mindfulness presents a way out of our seemingly intractable situations –really challenging the more fundamental and difficult aspects of our sustainability challenges, such as our consumption model of economy. Perhaps we can seek, find, and move to a better way? Quite importantly, mindfulness helps us to overcome our fears of change and failure. And so, it also presents the key to unlocking the doors to develop and deploy truly sustainable business strategies. Some businesses may not wish to engage with the deeper aspects of mindfulness – beyond the breathing, relaxation, and yoga – to explore with the five teachings, including mindful consumption and eating. Who knows what might happen if we open that ‘can of worms’, and expose the full range of radical shifts that might be possible? But perhaps this doesn’t matter? It seems highly likely that by the introduction of mindfulness programmes, by their very presence, will set people on a path of personal discovery, that may then lead to more radical shifts, whether intended, or not. Will mindfulness take off in business? Will the full implications be allowed to take effect? It remains to be seen where this will all end up, but I for one, will be watching and participating with keen interest. ❙
Some businesses may not wish to engage with the deeper aspects of mindfulness – beyond the breathing, relaxation, and yoga – to explore with the five teachings, including mindful consumption and eating. Who knows what might happen if we open that ‘can of worms’, and expose the full range of radical shifts that might be possible?
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Sweet sound of gl
The question is: what exactly do we mean by solidarity, aid, charity and humanitarian emergency?
The proliferation of so-called humanitarian initiatives has led to some confusion, and the phenomenon, whose scope has grown with the financial crisis, needs analysing. The question is: what exactly do we mean by solidarity, aid, charity and humanitarian emergency? Is a vast moral formatting process developing across the world, behind the unending emotional blackmail concerning our indifference to the misfortunes of others?
seen as an obstacle to wellbeing, which, in a social republic, was something to be shared around. However, humanitarian action pays little attention to the social condition of victims, and is more concerned with the life-threatening dangers lying in wait for them: the risk of death, from famine in particular, triggers immediate alerts, justified or not.
To begin with, there is the private, rather than public, aspect of these actions and accompanying discourse. The solidarity market being formed before our eyes is part of a general withdrawal of states — except for authoritarian ones, which are by definition the targets of humanitarian enterprise.
In France, the media presence of the Restaurants du Cœur, a free food charity, is so much greater than that of government food aid policies that one might be forgiven for believing these have disappeared altogether, especially with the emphasis now placed on individual generosity. This privatisation of welfare as a necessary complement to public action would not raise questions if public opinion did not perceive it as an alternative — or even an unspoken substitute — to the state.
In the 20th century, welfare states implemented policies to improve the wellbeing of their citizens. Poverty was
This phenomenon needs to be interpreted within a global ideological framework. The socialising role of the state
Since solidarity is presented as a matter of ethics, any criticism is suspect. Yet the content of the “duty to care” merits examination.
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lobal philanthropy has been marginalised as much by the implosion of Soviet communism as by the neoliberal Thatcherite/Reaganite assaults on it. The key objective of politicians is now risk management, which is increasingly being entrusted to individuals. This holds true for the sick, being cared for at home and subjected to the duty of health, as much as for the generous donors moved by the misery around them. The state, which took care of such matters in the past, now appears overwhelmed and contracts the work out to specialised associations and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). My purpose is not to lament the time when the state seemed able to assume its tasks, but to express concern over its surreptitious eclipse. The function of caring for others has now been transferred to people’s individual conscience, and to women in particular: having come to symbolise care and benevolence, they have been turned into sublimated moral caricatures, obscuring the inequalities they themselves are subjected to.
Insidious propaganda There is an analogy here to militia used as a substitute for police in dangerous neighbourhoods. If governments are reduced to risk management as a political principle, it is easy to see why private organisations have found a place, and explains the constant appeal to moral conscience and responsibility.
Monetary Fund, the European Commission and The World Bank, the institutions holding the power relinquished by the state. “Global governance” is now exercised by technocratic organisations, run by technocrats. Because globalisation is seen primarily as globalised capitalism generating unemployment and exclusion, it has become politically necessary to moralise the violence of a deregulated market economy.
Here, humanitarian ideology provides an unlimited resource since “human rights” can be adapted endlessly to benefit more and more categories and groups of individuals — though they rarely guarantee any real rights to people that would truly transform their day-to-day lives. Now that people have rights but no jobs or resources, because the markets don’t want them, all are equal before moral values. In the 21st-century postpolitical world, people must take comfort in belonging to a vast ethical community in search of truth and honesty — in whose name alarming movements are emerging in Greece, Italy, France and central Europe, and moral reforms are being proposed by Islamist movements, in Pakistan for instance. Unsurprisingly, they are more likely to be indignant than to revolt. For want of access to the same resources across the globe, the goal of globalisation must be to produce a global civil society sharing the same values.
Considered amoral in the past, it is considered immoral today, contemptuous of values including justice, which it once guaranteed. Beside real scandals, decades of insidious propaganda resulting from the cold war have led to the downfall of state dignity.
This virtual civil society based on democratic transparency, solidarity, care for others, charity and emergency humanitarian aid — in short moral good — will enable people to accept and even endure the daily outrages, extortion and savage market competition. It will soon be seen as morally right (as an act of solidarity) for workers to accept pay cuts. Their sense of responsibility and care for their company — rarely reciprocated — will be appealed to, and they will be blackmailed into solidarity with the company, rather than with their own social class.
A kind of multilateral authority has emerged, represented by the International
Does sharing those ordeals make people show greater solidarity with each other?
The state as institutional figure and symbol is losing the capacity to be a moral guarantor, for it is now just one actor among many; its pre-eminence has declined under accusations of bureaucracy, corruption and clientelism.
Now that people have rights but no jobs or resources, because the markets don’t want them, all are equal before moral values. In the 21stcentury post-political world, people must take comfort in belonging to a vast ethical community in search of truth and honesty.
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That is what global solidarity is supposed to be. It confirms and emphasises the unavoidable constraints of universal interdependence, just as it does those of good governance.
Everyone is supposed to feel solidarity with everyone else because a humanity without frontiers has made humanity a ‘common good’. Human rights are universal in theory, but not in practice. International solidarity, now an abstract global norm, is spreading verbally.
Unlike fraternity, which addressed fellow creatures locally (for instance, members of a social class in the 19th and 20th centuries in the perspective of proletarian internationalism), today’s solidarity refers to anonymous aggregates with stereotyped identities. It is omnipresent and covers all categories: women, children, homosexuals, the disabled and minorities (now “visible”). We are all liable to receive the order to donate (time or money), or to become beneficiaries. Everyone is supposed to feel solidarity with everyone else because a humanity without frontiers has made humanity a ‘common good’. Human rights are universal in theory, but not in practice. International solidarity, now an abstract global norm, is spreading verbally in a political universe devastated by conflict, where the powers that be engage in moral blackmail. International solidarity is a nebulous concept, invoked selectively. When used by a head of state about to invade another country, it becomes aggressive political rhetoric, leading to armed conflicts (Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria) with many civilian victims, who may be saved from dictatorships, but not from death. After these humanitarian wars come humanitarian emergencies. When invoked by an NGO (or international solidarity organisation), it is benevolent and peace-loving. As with the accordion, the music it produces depends on who is playing. The accordion just wheezes if badly played; all too often, international solidarity is an empty, artificial aspiration. If it is to work, one needs to know who it is addressing and what is being discussed. Aid differs from solidarity because it is always dissymmetrical. It can be humiliating, even if that is not its intention. Development aid has been much criticised as a neo-colonial instrument of domination which, in the late 20th century, led more often to dependence and debt than to the intended emancipation.
All the major religions consider charity www.themirrorinspires.com
as a means of acquiring merit for the hereafter. Aid is the proactive political form of charity, an individual Christian virtue. Since the poor are closer to God (the first shall be last and the last shall be first, etc), ensuring their dignity has become essential. The charity they receive is of moral benefit to the donor. The poor offer thanks in proportion to their humiliation, for charity places them in — or pushes them further into — a position of inferiority. The humanitarian sector, which emerged in the 1980s, is a part of international moral action. In 25 years numerous NGOs have been founded and become morality enterprises, developing in the failure of development, now complete. Taking action in a humanitarian emergency is all the more pressing for being moral, as advertising messages endlessly tell us. Humanitarian merchandise, and a clear conscience, are now freely available on the market. The causes may be perishable, but the counters (on which they are sold) remain; one day they will find their place in the shopping malls, among the hairdressers and tanning centres. Urgency is a lever that enhances the effectiveness of humanitarian messages. It allows people to act fast without thinking too much about what they are doing, or the consequences of their actions. The fact that solidarity is just a pretext, a piece of window-dressing, is easily overlooked. The terms used evoke an ideological context — which is moral, political, even economic — in which solidarity is the buzzword and stated objective. But taking care of others does not necessarily have anything to do with “solidarity”. ❙
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What does a sustainable
– Sarah Daly explains.
The reason is that, like it or not, the resource issues we face in the coming decades will not be solved with tidy little incremental improvements.
The most frequent introductory question I am asked as a strategic sustainability consultant is: what on earth is that? My simple response is that I help make organisations more sustainable which is usually met with a fractionally less blank expression than before I replied. The problem we have, in my neck of the sustainability woods, is that most people have been led to think that the only measures of sustainability are energy/ carbon and waste; with water perhaps sliding in from the wings making a more recent appearance. Yes of course it is true that understanding these impacts and reducing them is the backbone of a more sustainable business. However, trying to achieve this sequentially looking at each impact in turn, as appears to be the norm, is likely to yield fragmented and unsatisfactory outcomes in our brave new world. The reason is that, like it or not, the resource issues we face in the coming decades will not be solved with tidy little incremental improvements. So whilst it is great to see businesses engaging with the issues, they won’t thank people like me for presenting the tasks through rosetinted glasses. It’s tough out there and the companies that will survive and thrive are those who look at the whole business; looking at all the issues simultaneously and holistically and then developing a clear plan to resolve them in an integrated way.
To some this might seem overwhelming – so isn’t it better to look at one thing at a time and move on to the next issue? Logic might suggest yes; but here’s the rub. Let’s assume your business takes the singular approach. Let’s start with energy. We all know there are some great ‘quick wins’ to be had in areas like lighting, boilers and refrigeration. Let’s assume the estate/facilities management team put together a compelling business case for energy/ carbon reduction and get Board approval to implement the changes. The Board is happy they can report some positive environmental activity and the Financial Director is pleased as the operational cost savings will make a welcome bonus to flagging profits after a relatively short pay-back period. Buoyed by their success, towards the end of the investment period, the estates team make further suggestions for more improvements. However, the payback periods are much longer and therefore look less attractive to the Financial Director, who can see a hard sell in the Board Room. So the next phase of improvements is put on hold and the environmental programme stalls. Meanwhile, the biggest competitor has taken a different approach. The enlightened CEO, immersed in the growing evidence-base for doing ‘better business’, has decided to take a whole-business approach and brought in said ‘strategic sustainability consultant’ who can help them structure the programme across the entire business including all stakeholders to achieve: total staff engagement, estates/facilities, products/services, logistics and supply-chains. Every single area of the business is investigated with a very upbeat, can-do and positively-challenging approach. This consultant does not pretend to be an expert in the technical detail of each area; far from it as the organisations’ people and some extremely clever associates will be much better placed to develop the detail – but what they can do is help bring the CEO’s vision to life by structured and systemic adaptation within an exciting, vibrant, aspirational but wholly achievable plan.
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e organisation look like? With the full involvement of the company and supply-chain, all inspired by the CEO’s vision and the evidence that it will secure and future-proof their business, they set about defining what ‘best in class’ looks like – indeed in many areas they go beyond ‘best’ to consider disruption and unassailable competitive advantage looking at every single facet of their products, operations and business model. They identify the ‘quick wins’ ensuring that the savings are ‘recycled’ into ongoing projects which are all designed to create operational cost reduction whilst the product and marketing teams adapt the market-facing messages and set the tone for the ‘new era’. This is not done with complacency or trumpets – but with some humility and collective recognition; showing how the culmination of big ideas and little gems creates a culture of innovation and belonging deep into the organisation and its supply chain. The company notes that the staff is more energetic and committed than ever. Absenteeism falls and staff retention increases. They have more applications to work for the business as they are seen as progressive and ‘caring’; locally and internationally their profile hits new heights and they start to win awards. Suppliers trust them and are prepared to do better deals as they feel supported and share in the new success. Customers start to use them as the ‘exemplar’ and this consolidates the relationship so more contracts follow. Each wave of improvements is accompanied by further cost reduction, increased market share and enhanced reputation making them not only a ‘better business’ in terms of impacts – but substantially reducing the competitive and market risks which faced them before the new era. The product portfolio has been radically streamlined so that declining products have been dropped in favour of investment in new products which can be manufactured with less environmental impact whilst retaining only the positive attributes of their predecessors. The products use considerably less resources and are packaged in fully recycled and
recyclable materials with considerable weight reduction which has immense savings for distribution. The estate has been rationalised with lean processes in less space and with vast improvements to the retained areas which are now low carbon and healthier, more productive spaces. The resulting overhead savings in more productive personnel alone ensure the investments are cost neutral across the estate; indeed some excess space is being sold off or sub-let to generate more investment capital to support R&D and some additional revenue to ameliorate yet more operational investments which are also funded by an ESCo-approach to energy management. The overall saving in carbon will mean massive potential savings over their baseline position in Mandatory Carbon Reporting and also safeguard their position with key customers who are all prioritising resource-efficiency in their supply-chains in order to meet their corporate goals. This is getting close to what I would call a sustainable business. It’s an ever-moving goal in many respects but replace the word ‘viable’ for sustainable and you see it is not just about the attitude to physical resources that makes the difference. The leanest company in the world could go out of business because of poor positioning. Some might say this is a big business model; that they have the resources to set about the audacious reinvention that small businesses can only dream of. This is totally untrue however. Small businesses are only limited by their imagination as they are usually flat and lean enough to adapt very swiftly to changing opportunities. Larger businesses are often behemoths with layers of cynical management who can be more suspicious of change and less willing to adapt. So each has its challenges – but each also has the opportunity – if there is the vision to see a different future; a future which accelerates doing all the right things for the right reasons and reaping the rewards.
The overall saving in carbon will mean massive potential savings over their baseline position in Mandatory Carbon Reporting and also safeguard their position with key customers who are all prioritising resourceefficiency in their supplychains in order to meet their corporate goals.
So if someone asks in ear-shot what on earth a strategic sustainability consultant does; I hope you know the answer! ❙ www.themirrorinspires.com
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What it takes to succeed in a hi
Author: Göran Roos, Professor of Strategic Design, Swinburne University of Technology May 2012
Over the last three to five years Australia has gone from being a low/medium cost environment to a high-cost environment. Australia is today around 20% to 50% more expensive than the US, depending on which source you use. Only the Nordic and Germanic countries have had a higher cost environment for longer. Success in a low-cost environment is very much focussed on efficiency and cost reduction normally arrived at through benchmarking and implementation of
Success in a low-cost environment is very much focussed on efficiency and cost reduction normally arrived at through benchmarking and implementation of solutions.
Australia’s low productivity improvement is also confirmed at the company level through the survey conducted by Telstra (2010) which found that, among more than 300 organisations, each with over 200 employees:
solutions and ways of working that already exist in other places. This involves imitation and implementation of traditional solutions like lean, six sigma, TQM, etc. This focus on imitation rather than innovation can be illustrated by the fact that only 12% of Australian firms are innovators compared to two to three times that number in the Nordic and Germanic region. In both high and low cost regions productivity becomes key and also in this domain is Australia lagging as can be seen from Table 1 below:
improvements whilst pursuing a focus on improvements not of primary importance in a high cost operating environment.
• only 42% measure their productivity, have specific productivity targets and know what they are, while 25 per cent don’t measure their productivity at all; • only 22% believe that they can accurately measure productivity benefits when considering investment decisions; and • only 34% of companies assign individual responsibilities for productivity improvements. The present problem for large sectors of Australian industry can be summarised as insufficient focus on productivity
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igh cost operating environment
The Solution in a High-Cost Operating Environment
In a low-cost operating environment the primary basis for competitive success is low cost and the key basis for competitive advantage is efficiency and access to inputs for which there exist a comparative advantage.
The concept of Integrated Innovation is made up of five dimensions that all need to be present and deployed effectively (Roos, 2012): • Enablers of Innovation
In a high-cost environment the primary basis for competitive success is value for money arrived at through competitive advantages grounded in constant innovation approached in an integrated way.
• Innovation Management System
• Innovation Strategy • Value Creating Innovations • Value Appropriating Innovations These five dimensions are outlined in the figure below.
In a low-cost operating environment the primary basis for competitive success is low cost and the key basis for competitive advantage is efficiency.
If we look at these dimensions and see where the strength of a typical Australian manufacturing firm is, compared to what is required in a high-cost environment, the result can be summarised in the table below and on the following page.
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This can be illustrated by using Design Innovation Ladder which is a four step strategic tool for understanding the extent to which businesses integrate design into their innovation processes.
Figure 2 is also supported by the Design Competitiveness Ranking as shown in Table 2 Below:
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In addition, a high cost operating environment requires high management capability whereas a low cost operating environment is not equally demanding.
In addition, a high cost operating environment requires high management capability whereas a low cost operating environment is not equally demanding. This can be seen by the study by Green et al. 2009 where US and Sweden were typically top performing countries, illustrated in red in the figure below, whereas Australia was a tier-two performing country, illustrated in blue in Figure 3 on page 28.
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References Green, R., Agarwal, R., van Reenen, J., Bloom, N., Mathews, J., Boedker, C., Sampson, D., Gollan, P., Toner, P., Tan, H., Randhawa, K. and Brown, P., 2009, Management Matters in Australia – just how productive are we? Findings from the Australian Management Practices and Productivity global benchmarking project, Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) Roos, G., 2012, Manufacturing for the Future, Adelaide Thinker in Residence 2011, Policy Report, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Adelaide, Australia Telstra, 2010, The Telstra Productivity Indicator 2010, Melbourne, February Immonen, H., Järvinen, J. and Nieminen, E., 2010, Global Design Watch 2010 - Design Policy and Promotion Programmes in Selected Countries and Regions, DESIGNIUM - Centre for Innovation in Design , School of Art and Design , Aalto University, Helsinki
This study confirmed the finding that “improving management practice is... associated with large increases in productivity and output”.
Conclusion Australian firms must dramatically improve their ability to use an integrated approach to innovation, which will require an increased management capability, in order to secure their success in this new high cost environment. It will require the development of many new skills and aims at transforming the firm into the type of firm that succeeds in high cost environments as illustrated in Figure 4 below. ❙
ICS Ltd., 2010, Victorian Design Roadmap Project, Report Prepared for the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development of Victoria Larsen, P. B., Ahlqvist, T. and Friðriksson, K., 2009, Applying Technology Convergence for Innovation in Nordic regions, Nordic Innovation Centre, Oslo, Norway.
Figure 4: Characteristics of successful SME’s in high cost environments (Roos, 2012)
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The hidden dimension
B “ Rather, the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other.
By encouraging employees to both seek and provide help, rewarding givers, and screening out takers, companies can reap significant and lasting benefits. After the tragic events of 9/11, a team of Harvard psychologists quietly “invaded” the US intelligence system. The team, led by Richard Hackman, wanted to determine what makes intelligence units effective. By surveying, interviewing, and observing hundreds of analysts across 64 different intelligence groups, the researchers ranked those units from best to worst. Then they identified what they thought was a comprehensive list of factors that drive a unit’s effectiveness—only to discover, after parsing the data, that the most important factor wasn’t on their list. The critical factor wasn’t having stable team membership and the right number of people. It wasn’t having a vision that is clear, challenging, and meaningful. Nor was it well-defined roles and responsibilities; appropriate rewards, recognition, and resources; or strong leadership.
Rather, the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other. In the highest-performing teams, analysts invested extensive time and energy in coaching, teaching, and consulting with their colleagues. These contributions helped analysts question their own assumptions, fill gaps in their knowledge, gain access to novel perspectives, and recognise patterns in seemingly disconnected threads of information. In the lowest-rated units, analysts exchanged little help and struggled to make sense of tangled webs of data. Just knowing the amount of helpgiving that occurred allowed the Harvard researchers to predict the effectiveness rank of nearly every unit accurately. The importance of helping-behaviour for organizational effectiveness stretches far beyond intelligence work. Evidence from studies led by Indiana University’s Philip Podsakoff demonstrates that the frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; profits, costs, and customer service in banks; creativity in consulting and engineering firms; productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants. Across these diverse contexts, organisations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others. Podsakoff’s research suggests that this helping-behaviour facilitates organizational effectiveness by: • enabling employees to solve problems and get work done faster • enhancing team cohesion and coordination • ensuring that expertise is transferred from experienced to new employees • reducing variability in performance when some members are overloaded or distracted • establishing an environment in which customers and suppliers feel that their needs are the organisation’s top priority. Yet far too few companies enjoy these benefits. One major barrier is
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n of corporate culture company culture—the norms and values in organisations often don’t support helping. After a decade of studying work performance, I’ve identified different types of reciprocity norms that characterize the interactions between people in organisations. At the extremes, I call them “giver cultures” and “taker cultures.”
Give, take, or match In giver cultures, employees operate as the high-performing intelligence units do: helping others, sharing knowledge, offering mentoring, and making connections without expecting anything in return. Meanwhile, in taker cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others while contributing less in return. Employees help only when they expect the personal benefits to exceed the costs, as opposed to when the organisational benefits outweigh the personal costs. Most organisations fall somewhere in the middle. These are “matcher cultures,” where the norm is for employees to help those who help them, maintaining an equal balance of give and take. Although matcher cultures benefit from collaboration more than taker cultures do, they are inefficient vehicles for exchange, as employees trade favours in closed loops. Should you need ideas or information from someone in a different division or region, you could be out of luck unless you have an existing relationship. Instead, you would probably seek out people you trust, regardless of their expertise. By contrast, in giver cultures, where colleagues aim to add value without keeping score, you would probably reach out more broadly and count on help from the most qualified person. In light of the benefits of more open systems of helping, why don’t more organisations develop giver cultures? All too often, leaders create structures that get in the way. According to Cornell economist Robert Frank, many organizations are essentially winnertake-all markets, dominated by zero-sum competitions for rewards and promotions. When leaders implement forced-ranking systems to reward individual performance, they stack the deck against giver cultures.
Pitting employees against one another for resources makes it unwise for them to provide help unless they expect to receive at least as much—or more—in return. Employees who give discover the costs quickly: their productivity suffers as takers exploit them by monopolising their time or even stealing their ideas. Over time, employees anticipate taking-behaviour and protect themselves by operating like takers or by becoming matchers, who expect and seek reciprocity whenever they give help. Fortunately, it is possible to disrupt these cycles. My research suggests that committed leaders can turn things around through three practices: facilitating helpseeking, recognising and rewarding givers, and screening out takers.
Help-seeking: Erase the shadow of doubt Giver cultures depend on employees making requests; otherwise, it’s difficult to figure out who needs help and what to give. In fact, studies reviewed by psychologists Stella Anderson and Larry Williams show that direct requests for help between colleagues drive 75 to 90 percent of all the help exchanged within organisations. Yet many people are naturally reluctant to seek help. They may think it’s pointless, particularly in taker cultures. They also may fear burdening their colleagues, lack knowledge about who is willing and able to help, or be concerned about appearing vulnerable, incompetent, and dependent.
Reciprocity rings It’s possible to overcome these barriers. For example, University of Michigan professor Wayne Baker and his wife, Cheryl Baker, at Humax Networks developed an exercise called the “reciprocity ring.”2 The exercise generally gathers employees in groups of between ten and two dozen members. Each employee makes a request, and group members use their knowledge, resources, and connections to grant it. The Bakers typically run the exercise in two 60-to 90-minute rounds—the first for personal requests, so that people begin to open up, and the second for professional requests.
Should you need ideas or information from someone in a different division or region, you could be out of luck unless you have an existing relationship. Instead, you would probably seek out people you trust, regardless of their expertise.
t h e E M i r ro r everyone is asking for help, people a Since rarely feel uncomfortable.
Beyond any financial benefits, the act of organising people to seek and provide help in this way can shift cultures in the giver direction. Employees have an opportunity to see what their colleagues need, which often sparks ideas in the ensuing weeks and months for new ways to help them.
The monetary value of the help offered can be significant. One pharmaceutical executive attending a reciprocity ring involving executives from a mix of industry players saved $50,000 on the spot when a fellow participant who had slack capacity in a lab offered to synthesize an alkaloid free of charge. And that’s no outlier: the Bakers find that executive reciprocity-ring participants in large corporate settings report an average benefit exceeding $50,000—all for spending a few hours seeking and giving help. This is true even when the participants are from a single company. For example, 30 reciprocity-ring participants from a professional-services firm estimated that they had received $261,400 worth of value and saved 1,244 hours. The ring encourages people to ask for help that their colleagues weren’t aware they needed and efficiently sources each request to the people most able to fulfill it. Beyond any financial benefits, the act of organising people to seek and provide help in this way can shift cultures in the giver direction. Employees have an opportunity to see what their colleagues need, which often sparks ideas in the ensuing weeks and months for new ways to help them. Even employees who personally operate as takers (regardless of the company’s culture) tend to get involved: in one study of more than 100 reciprocity-ring participants, Wayne Baker and I found that people with strong giver values made an average of four offers of help, but those who reported caring more about personal achievements and power than about helping others still averaged three offers. During the exercise, it becomes clear that giving is more efficient than matching, as employees recognise how they gain access to a wider network of support when everyone is willing to help others without expecting anything in return rather than trading favours in pairs.
Boundaries and roles Despite the power of help-seeking in shaping a giver culture, encouraging it also carries a danger. Employees can become so consumed with responding to each other’s requests that they lack the time and energy to complete their own responsibilities. Over time, employees face www.themirrorinspires.com
two choices: allow their work to suffer or shift from giving to taking or matching. To avoid this trade-off, leaders need to set boundaries, as one Fortune 500 technology company did when its engineers found themselves constantly interrupted with requests for help. Harvard professor Leslie Perlow worked with them to create windows for quiet time (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays until noon), when interruptions were not allowed. After the implementation of quiet time, the majority of the engineers reported above-average productivity, and later their division was able to launch a product on schedule for the second time in history. By placing clear time boundaries around helping, leaders can better leverage the benefits of giver cultures while minimizing the costs. Alternatively, some organisations designate formal “helping” roles to coordinate more efficient help-seeking and -giving behaviour. In a study at a hospital, David Hofmann, Zhike Lei, and I examined the importance of adding a nurse-preceptor role—a person responsible for helping new employees and consulting on problems. Employees felt more comfortable seeking help and perceived that they had greater access to expertise when the preceptor role existed. Outside of healthcare settings, companies often develop this function by training liaisons for new employees and leadership coaches for executives and high-potential managers. Designating helping roles can provide employees with a clear sense of direction on where to turn for help without creating undue burdens across a unit.
Rewards: To the givers go the spoils In a perfect world, leaders could promote strong giver cultures by simply rewarding employees for their collective helping output. The reality, however, is more complicated. In a landmark study led by Michael Johnson at the University of Washington, participants worked in teams that received either cooperative or competitive incentives for completing difficult tasks. For teams receiving cooperative incentives, cash prizes went to the highest-performing team as a whole, prompting members to work together as givers.
In competitive teams, cash prizes went to the highest-performing individual within each team, encouraging a taker culture. The result? The competitive teams finished their tasks faster than the cooperative teams did, but less accurately, as members withheld critical information from each other.
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To boost the accuracy of the competitive teams, the researchers next had them complete a second task under the cooperative reward structure (rewarding the entire team for high performance). Notably, accuracy didn’t go up—and speed actually dropped. People struggled to transition from competitive to cooperative rewards. Instead of shifting from taking to giving, they developed a pattern of cutthroat cooperation. Once they had seen their colleagues as competitors, they couldn’t trust them. Completing a single task under a structure that rewarded taking created win–lose mind-sets, which persisted even after the structure was removed. Johnson’s work reminds us that giver cultures depend on a more comprehensive set of practices for recognising and rewarding helping behaviour in organisations. Creating such a culture starts with expanding performance evaluations beyond results, to include their impact on other individuals and groups. For example, when assessing the performance of managers, the leadership can examine not only the results their teams achieve but also their record in having direct reports promoted. Yet even when giving-metrics are included in performance evaluations, there will still be pressures toward taking. It’s difficult to eliminate zero-sum contests from organizations altogether, and indeed doing so risks extinguishing the productive competitive fires that often burn within employees. To meet the challenge of rewarding giving without undercutting healthy competition, some companies are devising novel approaches. In 2005, Cory Ondrejka was the chief technology officer at Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world Second Life. Ondrejka wanted to recognise and reward employees for going beyond the call of duty, so he borrowed an idea from the restaurant industry: tipping. The program allowed employees to tip peers for help given, by sending a “love
message” that adds an average of $3 to the helper’s paycheck. The messages are visible to all employees, making reputations for generosity visible. Employees still compete for bonuses and promotions—but also to be the most helpful. This system “gives us a way of rewarding and encouraging collaborative behaviour,” founder Philip Rosedale explained. Evidence highlights the importance of keeping incentives small and spontaneous. If the rewards are too large and the giving-behaviour necessary to earn them is too clearly scripted, some participants will game the system, and the focus on extrinsic rewards may undermine the intrinsic motivation to give, leading employees to provide help with the expectation of receiving. The peer-bonus and -recognition programs that have become increasingly popular at companies such as Google, IGN, Shopify, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos reduce such “gaming” behaviour. When employees witness unique or time-consuming acts of helping, they can nominate the givers for small bonuses or recognition. One common model is to grant employees an equal number of tokens they can freely award to colleagues. By supporting such programs, leaders empower employees to recognize and reinforce giving—while sending a clear signal that it matters. Otherwise, many acts of giving occur behind closed doors, obscuring the presence and value of helping-norms.
Johnson’s work reminds us that giver cultures depend on a more comprehensive set of practices for recognising and rewarding helping behaviour in organisations.
t h e E M i r ro r a Sincerity screening: Keep the wrong people off the bus
As a result, Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, many companies, from Robert W. Baird and Berkshire Hathaway to IDEO and Gold’s Gym, have policies against hiring people who act like takers.
Encouraging help-seeking and recognising those who provide it are valuable steps toward enabling a giver culture. These steps are likely to be especially powerful in organisations that already screen out employees with taker tendencies. Psychologist Roy Baumeister observes that negative forces typically have a stronger weight than positive ones. Research by Patrick Dunlop and Kibeom Lee backs up this insight for cultures: takers often do more harm than givers do good. As a result, Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, many companies, from Robert W. Baird and Berkshire Hathaway to IDEO and Gold’s Gym, have policies against hiring people who act like takers. But what techniques actually help identify a taker personality? After reviewing the evidence, I see three valid and reliable ways to distinguish takers from others. First, takers tend to claim personal credit for successes. In one study of computer-industry CEOs, researchers Arijit Chatterjee and Donald Hambrick found that the takers were substantially more likely to use pronouns like I and me instead of us and we. When interviewers ask questions about successes, screening for self-glorifying responses can be revealing. Mindful of this pattern, Barton Hill, a managing director at Citi Transaction Services, explicitly looks for applicants to describe accomplishments in collective
rather than personal terms. Second, takers tend to follow a pattern of “kissing up, kicking down.” When dealing with powerful people, they’re often good fakers, coming across as charming and charismatic. But when interacting with peers and subordinates, they feel powerful, which leads them to let down their guard and reveal their true colours. Therefore, recommendations and references from colleagues and direct reports are likely to be more revealing than those from bosses. General Electric’s Durham Engine Facility goes further still: candidates for mechanic positions work in teams of six to build helicopters out of Legos. One member is allowed to look at a model and report back to the team, and trained observers assess the candidates’ behaviour, with an eye toward how well they take the initiative while remaining collaborative and open. In such environments, the fakers are often easy to spot through their empty gestures: as London Business School’s Dan Cable reports, the takers “try to ‘demonstrate leadership’ and ‘take initiative’ by jumping up first.” When it comes to predicting how people will actually treat others in a company, few pieces of information are more valuable than observing their behaviour directly. ❙
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Funding entrepreneurship a winner
In New Zealand a Victoria University student has collected the top award in a global business competition for a scheme to support entrepreneurs in villages in developing countries. Jake McInteer, a student from Victoria Business School, accepted the 2013 Global Enterprise Experience ANZ Champion Team Award at a function at Parliament on behalf of his international team. The seven members communicated across multiple time zones for three weeks to produce a business concept proposal on a profitable product or service that addresses a millennium goal of the United Nations Development Programme. Mr McInteer’s team, which included members from Nepal, Scotland, Colombia, Bangladesh and Nigeria, came up with the idea of creating a Student-Entrepreneur Finance Network, a microfinance institution offering loans of $50 to $150 to entrepreneurs in villages in developing countries. One of Mr McInteer’s team mates, Sumit Agrawal from Nepal, noted in his reflective journal that he was going to try his best to implement the team’s idea in his country. Mr McInteer says despite his team not meeting any of the deadlines they set and
the difficulties of communicating from a distance, the end result was something they were all proud of. “As team leader, the whole process has taught me about cultural understanding and intercultural communication and given me a glimpse of what it means to be a global leader, today and in the future.” Five UNESCO Commitment Awards were given to participants who went to extraordinary lengths to overcome hardship to contribute to their global team. One recipient was Victoria University student Brady Austen who was hospitalised and had surgery for a motocross accident during the contest, but used his cellphone to continue to contribute to the global team he was leading. The Supreme Commitment Award went to Baha’i student Aziz’u’llah Samandari from Iran who has been arrested and imprisoned for communicating with foreigners and associating with the banned Baha’i Institute of Higher Education.
Five UNESCO Commitment Awards were given to participants who went to extraordinary lengths to overcome hardship to contribute to their global team.
“In Aziz’u’llah’s case he has been imprisoned for the very things that we are celebrating in this contest—getting an education and working in partnership across cultures.” ❙
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Village of age
Old people in China used to live with their children, who cared for them, in accordance with Confucian teachings. Now the young have migrated to the cities and more than half of the 185 million Chinese over 65 live alone.
By JORDAN POUILLE
(1) And will make up 30% by 2050.
From the main road, it is hard to spot Qin Zhuang. The village is hidden behind factories that assemble production machinery for packaging materials, and chemical fertiliser plants. The air is heavily polluted.
of extravagant projects.” Unlike Zheng Ronglin, party chief in a village nearby, hated by local smallholders because it is claimed he accepted a bribe from the boss of a polluting cellulose factory, Qin has unanimous support.
Qin Zhuang (population 800) is in Hebei Province, 300km south of Beijing. The easiest way to get there is to follow the Grand Canal, an extraordinary feat of civil engineering from the Sui dynasty (581-618) that runs nearly 1800km from Beijing to Hangzhou in the south.
The villagers rely on her to restore their quality of life, which has suffered from the unchecked spread of heavy industry and a decline in family values. In the mid-1990s, the more adventurous villagers left their farms to take up jobs in factories and on building sites springing up all over China.
The reeds at the water’s edge catch the bright yellow foam that the slow current has carried from a paper factory 80km upstream. On one side of the canal are fields of wheat, divided into narrow strips. Behind them stand little brick houses sheltered by orderly rows of poplars. This is where the ageing smallholder farmers of Qin Zhuang live.
Many sent home money to maintain or enlarge the farms, but the latest generation of migrants have been completely seduced by the new urban lifestyle, more comfortable but also more costly.
Qin Xuexi, 65, greeted us warmly, offering Red Pagoda Mountain cigarettes. Dressed in a synthetic fur coat and nylon oversleeves, with a boyish haircut and discreet makeup, she solemnly showed us around the muddy alleyways. One paved with bricks in a herringbone pattern led to a little Buddhist temple. “We used the materials we had,” said Qin. “We repainted the temple red, this year, to smarten it up a bit. Some of the farmers come to pray here... that they will become civil servants.” She has a good sense of humour; as head of the village branch of the Communist Party she needs it. “Over-60s make up 14% of the population in China (1). In this village, they are 70% of the population, and 100% of them live inpoverty.” Qin, a retired smallholder, took on this role two years ago, and is paid 600 yuan ($97) a month. It’s the first time since the People’s Republic was founded that a woman has been head of the local branch of the party. People told me: “It’s because she is always the first to take action on our behalf. She brought up five children, you know” and “She’s very resourceful, and she holds her ground when party officials start talking
Everyone is called Qin
Dongguang (population 70,000), the county town 15km away, doesn’t yet have a McDonald’s, only a Dico’s, the Chinese substitute. A six-lane motorway is nearing completion. On either side, the ground has been cleared, and a forest of cranes shows where apartment blocks will soon be built. Billboards promise surprisingly wide green spaces between the towers, where flats will sell for 4,000 yuan ($647) a square metre. “Rural hukou [internal passport] accepted,” says the ad. Migrant workers don’t usually have the right to buy an apartment in towns and cities, or send their children to local schools even if they are well established in the area: they are discriminated against because their hukou identifies them as rural residents. Dongguang is absorbing smallholder farmers from the surrounding area, including those who dream of city life. In November 2012, shortly after the Communist Party’s 18th national congress, Qin Xuexi was invited to Dongguang by party officials. She listened dutifully to a 74-page lecture cataloguing the achievements of outgoing secretarygeneral Hu Jintao, then went home, by bus.
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Qin holds weekly meetings in the back room of the village’s only grocery store. The comrades sit on beer cartons or on the shopkeeper’s concrete kang, a sleeping platform heated from underneath by a charcoal fire. A poster on the wall praises the People’s Liberation Army. Another advertises the aphrodisiac properties of a cheap rice wine. The ceiling is covered with hundreds of flattened soft drink cans. Everyone at the meeting has the same surname: Qin. In the past seven years, four factories have moved into Qin territory. In sheet metal sheds, sometimes built between two ruined farmhouses, young men assemble machines that will produce cellophane or corrugated cardboard. None are from the village, or even Hebei Province; they come from Qinghai, a poor province in northwestern China, where the monthly basic wage is less than 800 yuan ($130). Qin Zhuang has five motor vehicles: a grey Wuling van that belongs to the grocer, and four red three-wheelers that cost 20,000 yuan ($3,233) each, designed for handicapped people. “People here are too old. They haven’t the money or the courage to drive a car on roads crowded with speeding lorries,” said Qin Xuexi.
But if the smallholders are not careful, their fields will disappear. Last year, in the next village, a developer started building four residential blocks on abandoned land. “They say it’s so that we can live in greater comfort, that we can no longer live the old way, getting our water from a well, and using a hole in the back yard for a toilet.” But the flats are so big (120300 square metres) that they are out of the villagers’ reach: the smallest cost 240,000 yuan ($38,800), and then there is gas heating to pay for.
‘Beautiful town by the river’ “The flats are aimed at shopkeepers with household incomes of between 200,000 and 300,000 yuan [$48,500] a year,” the developer said, proudly showing us the gate to the development, with two gilded pillars and a marble plaque bearing the inscription “The beautiful town by the river”. A concrete track links the development to the main road. Qin Xuexi tries to ensure that the retired smallholders are farming and maintaining their land, even if they only get a few sacks of maize or flour from it: “Every year, in January, we give smallholders a bonus of
“The flats are aimed at shopkeepers with household incomes of between 200,000 and 300,000 yuan [$48,500] a year.”
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For an annual contribution of 40 yuan ($6.50), the retirees of Qin Zhuang get 80% of their health treatment costs and 30% of their prescription costs reimbursed, under a national programme.
687 yuan.” Officially this is aid, intended to help them buy chemical fertilisers from the nearby Hua Ge factory. “But they can spend it however they like. People here don’t really like chemical fertilisers any more.” They have good reason: the factory has polluted the drinking water supply of 60 villages. Strange ads have appeared on walls: “To take a shower in clean water, call this number...” For an annual contribution of 40 yuan ($6.50), the retirees of Qin Zhuang get 80% of their health treatment costs and 30% of their prescription costs reimbursed, under a national programme. Treatment isn’t always adequate — water pollution is making the villagers sicker each year.
some access to the consumer society the villagers see on television: 30 brands of cigarettes, dehydrated tea with milk, potato crisps in five flavours. Apart from eggs and vegetables, everything in the shop is plastic wrapped and displayed on strong wooden shelves. “In the early days, I only sold 20 different products,” said Qin. “You could have bought my entire stock for 150 yuan.” In the 1980s, an ice cream manufacturer gave him a freezer and the villagers discovered ice cream.
The village doctor, 34, inherited the practice from his father. His medicine cabinet mainly holds blood pressure pills: “Twice a year, in spring and autumn, people go off to the hospital at Lian Zheng, half an hour’s walk away. They stay there for a week, and get a whole series of tests and injections. It only costs them 200 yuan [$32].”
“I remember having to teach the villagers how to use a cigarette lighter to light a fire. Some customers just won’t hear of progress. I still have to get my abacus out for them.” For the past year, Qin Ruhe has been offering subscriptions to China Telecom’s 3G network. “But nobody here knows how to use a computer, let alone a smartphone.” Qin fetches his supplies from town in his van. He has no cash register, just a wooden box (“at least 200 years old”) with a slit through which he posts the notes.
The other major figure in Qin Zhuang is the grocer, Qin Ruhe, 65, who has run the only shop for 45 years, providing
Qin’s neighbours claim he has 100,000 yuan ($16,166) in savings. They are jealous because his second daughter,
now 32, was born when China’s single child policy had just been introduced, so he only had to pay a 200-yuan fine. Families whose children were born later paid 10 times more, had their children in secret, or even killed them. They say he is a hard man: “Once, he demanded that his sister pay him 100 yuan, as a kind of fine, because a tree in her garden was touching his electric power cable.” Yet the grocer often gives credit, and the smallholders pay him back after the harvest. Qin Ruhe said: “I read the papers, and when people want to hear the latest news from Beijing, they ask me.” He does his best to find sweets for the smallholders’ grandchildren (around 50 live in Qin Zhuang and go to school in a neighbouring village), the latest kind that they see on the cartoon channel, Kaku TV: “Last year, they all wanted orange chewing gum. I had terrible trouble finding it. All these kids are being brought up by old people, and their parents are far away... it’s not much fun for them.”
The East is Red We stayed with Zhou Fengjun, 64, and his wife Ge Hairong, 62. The front wall of their old farmhouse bears the inscription “The East is Red”, from a Cultural Revolution song. The interior is modest: no fridge, no washing machine, just a coal-fired boiler and an air conditioner, which they bought four years ago, with the help of a government grant aimed at encouraging rural dwellers to buy modern appliances. The couple are both handicapped. They were brought together by a professional matchmaker, for a fee of 50 yuan. It was love at first sight: “My wife is hardworking and looks after me very well,” said Zhou. “She has dinner ready and pours me a glass of rice wine when I get home. I do the shopping for her, and I wear my clothes for as long as possible, so she doesn’t tire herself washing them all the time.” Zhou grows cotton and maize on a 0.3-hectare plot. His wife looks after the child of their only son, who works as a salesman in a neighbouring province for 10 months of the year. In September 2011 Ge slipped and fell on an icy patch. She fractured her right knee, already damaged by polio in childhood. The operation to mend it cost 16,000 yuan
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($2,587) and was not reimbursed. At least, she jokes, the steel pins in her knee allow her to predict the weather: “When it hurts, it means it’s going to rain the next day.” To pay the hospital bill, Zhou went off to work on a line for the new high-speed train to Nanchang. He earned 80 yuan a day, and was only paid at the end of his one-year contract. “Our son only sent 3,000 yuan, and didn’t once come and see his mother during the two weeks she was in hospital.”
Farm as day nursery Because Ge has difficulty walking, she rarely leaves the house, and minds the village’s smaller children. The farm has become a day nursery, with pictures of animals and early learning posters on every door, and a kite hanging on the wall. “If parents have one child too many, they have to hide it until they can pay the fine. In my day, things were far stricter. You had to kill the second child yourself, with poison you were given by a government official, or by strangling it.” A message painted on a wall in a nearby street exhorts villagers to “Be honest with the Family Planning Bureau.” At eight o’clock every morning, if the track is dry, Zhou gets on his electric delivery tricycle and sets off on a tour of 10 villages. He collects empty plastic bottles and sells them by weight. He complains that his son never sends money, only clothes and powdered milk for the baby. Zhou and Ge each have a pension of 60 yuan a month. Since September 2009, the government has been experimenting with a new pension system in rural areas: everyone between the ages of 18 and 59 pays contributions of between 100 and 500 yuan a year. From the age of 60, they get an allowance of at least 59 yuan a month (2). Zhou’s son pays in 100 yuan a year.
Because Ge has difficulty walking, she rarely leaves the house, and minds the village’s smaller children. The farm has become a day nursery, with pictures of animals and early learning posters on every door, and a kite hanging on the wall.
“Thanks to the new system, our household income is now 5,000 yuan [$808] a year,” said Ge. When I asked him what he spent the most money on, Zhou immediately said: “Rice wine.” Then he shouted: “Bottoms up!” drained his fourth glass in one go and vomited his dinner all over the table, for which he apologised like a child. Later he warned me: “Watch out for the grocer: he’s telling everyone you’re a spy.” ❙
(2) “China extending pension program to countryside”, China Daily, Beijing, 16 September 2011.
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