I am writing this month’s Postmark as I return from a fascinating two weeks in the Asian sub-continent. I have spent a week in India, largely on IBLF business travelling with Sandy to Delhi, Mysore and Bangalore and am now flying back from Pakistan where I have been on a trip with the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. My mind is still full of the colour, noise and smells of these exciting countries. Of course Pakistan has been much in the news of late and this added an extra dimension to the trip.
The year started in wild storms as 80-90 mph winds buffeted our house in North Devon where Sandy and I spent the week after New Year. It was one of the biggest storms to hit the UK for some time and we were pleased that our rather exposed hilltop house was not uprooted and we were able to enjoy some bracing walks and experience the massive rollers and flying foam in the sea below. January is our traditional “dry” month after the rigours of the Christmas period and this, together with our time in the global tea centre that is India and the fact that drinking alcohol is illegal in the islamic state of Pakistan, has meant that I have drunk an awful lot of cups of tea this month!
My time in Pakistan was a real eye-opener. This country of 180 million people (and rapidly rising) has had a tumultuous history since its formation with Partition from India in 1947 – with three periods of military rule interspersed with civilian administrations. The recent history of the country has also been blighted with disasters, aside from the war of 2009 with the Pakistani Taleban, there was a huge earthquake in 2005 and massive floods in 2010 and 2011. All of this has resulted in a country which, despite its demographic dividend, and strategic trade position between India, China and the Middle East, has been growing at just 2-3% and has chronic issues of poverty, malnutrition and poor public services.
The country is one of the furthest from meeting the Millennium Development Goals and faces enormous development challenges. As a result it is one of the biggest recipients of UK Aid – In fact it is planned to become the single biggest recipient over the next few years, with a substantial injection of funds and budget support planned in areas such as education and health, coming on the back of the humanitarian aid given over the past few years to respond to the flood crises.
In our role as the UK Government’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact myself, two other Commissioners and a member of our secretariat spent a week in the country looking at the landscape of aid projects supported by the UK in several provinces, with an eye to targeting a more in depth study later in the year. Our travels started in Islamabad, the administrative capital in the north and we travelled to Lahore on the eastern border with India, down the Indus valley to dusty Multan in the southern Punjab and finally to Sindh province in the south and Karachi. Everywhere we met government leadership, aid workers, NGO’s and, most importantly the ordinary Pakistani citizens who are the planned recipients of the aid efforts. It was a fascinating and moving journey which left all of us on the one hand hugely impressed with the country and its potential, and on the other, with much more understanding of the challenges which it continues to face.
Our introduction to the country was a ride at 2.30 am in an armoured bus through the deserted and freezing streets of Islamabad, weaving our way through the concrete baffles which punctuate every road en route to the compound of the British High Commission. As we passed through multiple fortified gates and sets of security checks on the way into the compound, past the first of countless machine-gun wielding guards and pill boxes we would see on this trip, we began to get a sense of the terrible security situation which pervades the country. We would travel everywhere in convoys of armoured SUVs, with police escorts and machine-gun toting guards and just in case we were in any doubt as to the seriousness of the environment, all our rooms in the High Commission had instructions pinned to the door describing what to do in the event of an armed incursion and were equipped with lock-down rooms to hide in! Our meeting with the DFID team the next day started with a security briefing where the geography of the country was outlined and areas of greatest risk. There are several parts of the country, including the whole western province of Balochistan and the border regions in the north by the Khyber Pass which are pretty much no-go areas for foreigners and in the week of our arrival kidnappings of aid workers had occurred in several cities across the country – half of which we were planning to visit!
In fact though, despite these challenges the DFID team and their partners are able to operate across large parts of the country and are a respected part of the development agenda. We had lunch with the team and met with some of the key donor and implementation organisations they work with for a reception on the Sunday evening. Next day in the offices we were given a very good summary of the programmes in health, education, governance, micro-finance and more which the group is supporting as well as humanitarian projects from flood relief, to shelters and bridges which DFID have funded. We also gained a sense of the wider context of the relationship of the UK with Pakistan and the importance of avoiding conflict and state failure.
I had a chance to travel over to the US Embassy and meet with the Head of USAID. It was good to understand the challenges and priorities through the eyes of another donor country which has an even more complex set of relationships and perceptions to work with. This is the kind of complexity with comes with the territory in providing aid to more fragile states.
Islamabad is a somewhat sterile city of wide avenues and imposing government buildings and it was hard to get any sense of the country from it. That could not be said of our first travel stop – the historic city of Lahore, a bustling metropolis which is a chaos of beeping brightly-painted tuk-tuks, trucks and buses and market-shack lined streets. We were in Lahore to see the work that DFID is doing in the area of education. There is a tremendous issue with education of all levels in the country, with large parts of the population not schooled and many empty classrooms and absent teachers.
DFID has been working with the Chief Minister of the State of the Punjab to create and monitor a roadmap for tracking progress in rehabilitating the state education system. A network of monitors has been created and regular top-level meetings track progress on enrolment, attendance, attainment and teacher presence among others. Alongside this state provision, a flourishing low-cost private sector has exploded on the scene filling geographic gaps and setting high standards.
We visited examples of both state school and private sector schools in a very deprived area of the city. Such is the shortage of good public facilities the government is adopting a two-pronged approach and is funding a large number of registered low cost private schools too. In both models we saw first-hand the progress on attendance and quality of teachers and materials which appears to have resulted. I even grabbed the chalk in one classroom and led a brief impromptu English lesson with a group of eight year olds! The most interesting parts of the visit though were the chance to talk to parents of the children in the “PTA” of one school and the opportunity to walk to the homes of three of the children and meet with their families and discuss directly the choices they were making and the level of provision. This kind of direct contact with the recipients of aid is at the heart of our approach to evaluating its real impact.
As we spoke to the parents, all from broken families touched by tragedy of one kind or another, we heard about the pride they have in the progress their children are making and how committed they are to bettering themselves. It is clear that the schools touched by the increased investment in talent and resources are making a difference but there is a lot more to do to spread the coverage and enhance quality. The plan for UK aid is to make a very substantial incremental investment in schools across all the regions of Pakistan over the coming years, both public and private to bolster the major expenditure planned by the Pakistan and provincial government. There are innovative models to involve the business community in this endeavour and a conversation with the Chair of the Pakistan Business Council identified some important opportunities.
Our next stop was Multan in the Southern Punjab where our attention turned to health. We investigated the Community Midwife training programme. Pakistan has one of the worst maternal and neo natal death rates in the world and the provision of skilled birth attendants is a proven approach to improving both and getting the country back on track to the MDGs in this area. We spoke to trained and deployed midwives as well as new trainees at the District hospital. They were a very feisty and confident bunch who were very proud of the impact they were having but concerned about how the programme which had trained and paid them was to be integrated with the ongoing healthcare system. It is clear that they are making a difference, with almost no deaths in the locales covered by the scheme, but if the funding from donors ceases their future is uncertain. Also the pay increases recently given to the rest of the health service have left them paid below par and with no source of state funding – a classic sustainable aid dilemma.
We went on to visit one of the Basic Health Units which have established to provide local services in the rural communities and were impressed by the relative levels of staffing and facilities. They are however short of drugs because the same health worker salary increase has squeezed the drug budget and disrupted supplies. We also met with a group of Lady Health Workers. This is a cadre of semi-skilled local community providers of care and health information which has been established across the country over the past few years. They too were very confident of the place that they have carved out as a front line service and clearly they have enhanced their own positions in a not particularly women-freindly society. They establish dedicated rooms in their homes, map their local area and each provides health and family planning advice to about 1,200 people. The shortages of funds however were evidenced again in the fact that they had not been paid for three months and their drug kits were half full.
Back in Multan we shifted our focus to the humanitarian aid arena. When the River Indus broke its banks in August 2010, a huge curtain of water poured down over much of Pakistan – some 8 million people were impacted, making it the single biggest natural disaster in modern history. Countless people were killed, displaced and impoverished and vast areas were devastated and services were eradicated. There was a huge humanitarian response, led by the Pakistani people themselves, coordinated at first by the Army and then by the international community. We visited flood victims both in Multan and down south in Sindh province, where there was a second terrible flood in 2011, caused by unprecedented rainfall. We learnt a lot about the way that the UN, through OCHA coordinates the interventions both of the UN agencies, donor groups and NGO’s in such situations. It was clear that the initial period was somewhat chaotic as the disaster unfolded, the waters moved down through the country and different groups struggled to help. We heard about the “clusters” of thematic support in areas such as shelter, health, water and sanitation and food which are created as an organising principle for the efforts of the government, agencies and NGOs and the attempts to bring order over the early days and weeks of the disaster. Told in hindsight it clearly appears more organised and orderly than it was at the time. One of the most important post crisis interventions was the provision of funds to those impacted by the floods who had lost homes, livelihoods and property. They have used an innovative smart card scheme to distribute these funds to the hundreds of thoudsands of people effected.
We visited two WATAN card distribution centres, one near Multan and one at Thatta in Sindh to see the process. The Punjab region was clearly ahead of the game and we were shown a very orderly neat process of enrolment, checking and grievance management by the District Coordinator. Meanwhile in Thatta, where the process is at an earlier stage we saw thousands of men and women queuing in the sun in serried ranks to get their precious cards. The benefit of this approach though is that it is much more secure than pure cash payments and allows a lot more verification of identity and need. It has also helped to introduce the poorest in society to the concept of cards and ATMs which together with micro finance and mobile technology are beginning to change the access to finances for this vulnerable group.
Some of the most vulnerable in a disaster situation are those already excluded from society and that includes the disabled. We spent a fascinating morning with the French-headquartered NGO Handicap International who were very deeply involved in short and medium term support for those impacted by the floods in Sindh and beyond. They were able to showcase their very community-centric approach to identifying and building trust with needy individuals and providing very targeted support in terms of equipment, hygiene services and livelihood support. What was most most impressive was their use of IT to track the thousands of people they have assessed and worked with and the tying back of these individuals to specific strands of donor funding. So we were able to see the names of the people directly assisted by DFID. This kind of closing of the loop is world class and it represents the kind of certainty of recipient impact we are aspiring to see. We had a moving lunch with some of the beneficiaries. I spoke with a crippled man who had been provided with a wheel chair and some funds to start a small shop. He had gone from absolute dependency and helplessness to real self esteem and even the aspiration to buy himself a motorised chair!
Once the floods receded the priority was provision of interim and permanent shelter. We visited a rural village community which had been 100% swept away by the floods but which, just a few months later is rebuilding itself. A local NGO is working with the UN IMO organisation to blend traditional building design with simple principles of enhanced structure and materials to make more water and flood-resistant homes. We saw and spoke to several families who are in the process of building new homes on the site of their former village. As one woman pasted the mud and dung plaster on a new wall, the husband spoke of the new vertical posts, raised plinths, wooden wall constructs and roof designs which he has built into the design. It was interesting to hear that each of these new homes cost 20,000 rupees (about £140) which compared with the prefabricated 40-50,000 rupee homes provided by the UN. These were apparently rejected by much of the population because they were not of traditional design and too hot in the summer due to their iron components.
This was a great example of the kind of real community-led aid and value for money thinking we are also looking to instil. There was one obvious flaw with the programme nonetheless; as we supped tea on the brightly coloured village bed-seats, the siloed nature of the cluster model became clear. There was no water supply in the village and for the sake of a 5,000 rupee (£35) hand water pump the families were having to walk several kilometers to get the water to mix with the plaster!
As we wove our way back in the dust to Karachi through the wonderfully ubiquitous array of brightly adorned and painted trucks and buses, the smog-belching motor bikes, and carts pulled by camels, oxen and donkeys, we left behind one side of this country of paradoxes. Our final appointment of the day was a dinner held in our honour in the prestigious Marriott hotel by the Governor of the Central Bank and the CEOs of all the Banks in the country. In these sedate and luxurious surroundings there was general amazement at how “out in the country” we had been. Nonetheless there was good discussion about the micro finance and mobile payment revolution which is sweeping the country. We saw this at first hand on our final morning in Pakistan where we visited a Telenor centre to watch poorer individuals use the Easy Paisa mobile phone system (based on the M-pesa model I have seen in Africa) to transfer cash to relatives, pay utility bills and access basic banking services through a mobile “wallet”.
It was ironic to see that they were able to do things we can only dream of in the West and the leapfrog power of this piece of “frugal innovation” was impressive. We saw the same enthusiasm at the Teema Bank, which is pioneering micro-finance to the poorer members of society. The fact that Pakistan has used the banking system to drive this implementation, rather than some of the bottom-up and NGO models which have come under scrutiny elsewhere in the world, seems to be working. The default levels (1%) seem impressively low – even if it has probably meant that it has been the slightly higher levels of the poverty-stricken who are accessing the funds. We met with a group of beneficiaries once again and they told many inspiring stories about how the small funds made available had helped them to overcome personal issues and more importantly start and build successful businesses. Once more it was the women who told some of the most interesting stories about the empowerment and confidence which this approach had built.
So, as we headed to Dubai on our way home the four of us were left with our minds spinning and with a thousand impressions of this country whirling in our heads. We had seen real issues and challenges from the background poverty to the endemic corruption and difficult security situation. We had also seen a country though, where in many respects the system works and there is more structure, talent and energy than one might expect.
The $64,000 question is whether they can build on this structural base and create a tipping point to a progressive and sustained growth trajectory – one which leverages the many natural advantages the country enjoys, or whether the political environment, conflicting federal and provincial agendas and the impact of patronage systems or religious differences will hold the place back. We have a great deal more to learn from our forthcoming formal review of UK Aid to the country.
The week before in India could not have been more of a contrast. The major objective of the visit in my capacity as Chair of the International Business Leaders Forum was to spend time with senior members of the Indian business community discussing their perspectives on smart, inclusive and responsible growth. My wife Sandy and I started in a crisp bright Delhi with a lunch with Subodh Bargava, the Chairman of Tata Communications and his wife. Subodh is playing a very influential role in catalysing some of the most progressive ideas about the positive role that business can play in dealing with some of the issues currently stalling the Indian Government.
We went on to a delightful dinner with my former Accenture colleagues Sanjay Jain, Sanjay Dewar, Anish Gupta and Arvind Gupta and their spouses to get the inside scoop on family life in the city as well as catch up on the fantastic progress which the Management Consulting practice is making – and in particular the Global Talent and Innovation Network. This unique capability to provide mobile and static sources of highly talented personnel in centres was one of the innovations of my time with AMC and I was proud to hear that they are are close to reaching 1800 personnel from a standing start just a few years ago, with new centres opening across the globe!
A busy Monday saw me meeting with the Minister of Planning for the Indian Government where we discussed the next 5 year plan for the country, the deregulation of certain industries and the need for better public private partnerships to make major development and infrastructure programmes stick. He is trying to find more certain ways to engage with the poorest members of society around some of the big change initiatives the country needs to drive. IBLF has long experience in this space and we agreed to facilitate some workshops. I also spent time with other senior leaders from Tata and we recruited them to support the IBLF survey on anti-corruption which we are conducting in the country. The protest movement headed by Anna Hazare has put the corruption agenda firmly on the map in India, and, although the topic has become somewhat politicised of late, we have been finding a much more ready audience for our debate on improving business standards as part of the wider issue. The highlight of the day was a chance to spend an hour and half teaching some 70 MBA students, drawn from across the business schools of the city, on what smart, inclusive and responsible growth could mean for the next generation. As I expected, they were a well-informed and feisty group and the Q&A overran considerably. I was impressed that they were beginning to question the old models of pure shareholder capitalism and investigate some more socially expansive ideas. They are aware that India is developing fast and in a very unequal fashion. This was also the theme of a lively dinner afterwards with the CEO of Metro in India Rajeev Bakshi and his wife.
Next stop was Mysore, which we reached after a four hour dusty drive from Bangalore airport. This is a historic city closely linked with the Tipu Sultan, a hero of the Indian resistance against the British in the late 18th century, as well as the Maharajas of the 20th century. My first duty though was to speak on globalisation, growth and social responsibility at the Infosys Leadership Institute which is based in the city. This is a truly spectacular campus which is at the heart of this Indian multinational’s talent development strategy. The CEO Shibulal is a good friend and member of the IBLF Leaders Council and I was invited to address members of the top team in a three hour workshop – which certainly had me on my toes! He also entertained Sandy and I at their famous Bangalore Campus the next day – a place which I had heard a great deal about in my Accenture days and it was interesting to see it at last.
In Bangalore we also visited the school which Shibu and his wife have created to educate both deprived and regular children in an integrated environment. They believe that children need to be in the school from the age of 3, away from the problems of their home situations and families, to give them a chance of keeping up with more advantaged children and before they can be absorbed into the “streets”. Sandy and I were able to get some sight seeing in with a great visit to the Palace in Mysore, scene of spectacular ceremonies in the days of the Raj and a trip to Srirangapattana, scene of the final stand of the Tipu Sultan and where his Summer Palace still stands, adorned with fantastic frescoes depicting the battles between the British, French and Indians.
We also enjoyed a day in Bangalore – once the Garden City of India but now of course a teeming metropolis and as the fastest growing city in India a mass of road, metro and building sites. We did see black bears, lions and tigers in the rather ‘managed” wildlife park. We had a slightly surreal visit to the Hare Krishna temple where our potential as prospective devotees was tested, and found wanting! We also enjoyed the spawling and ancient Lalbagh Gardens.
The highlight though was probably the Bangalore Palace – another early 20th century pile, modelled on Windsor Castle and home of the Maharaja of Bangalore. We were struck by how different the world of even the 1920s and 30s was with its tiger shoots, women in isolation and ceremonial extravaganzas from the high tech beat of the city today. Our trip to India was capped with a lovely meal with Harsh Manglik, retired Chairman of Accenture India and his wife. I have not ceased to be delighted at the warmth of the hospitality and friendship I have encountered from my Accenture colleagues wherever I have met them since my retirement.
Aside from teaching the MBA students and the session in Mysore, I also travelled this month to Lausanne to spend time with Professor Carlos Cordon. He and I have known each other for many years since I co-developed and hosted the senior partner and Diamond Forum schools at IMD with him. The purpose of the visit was to explore becoming an Executive in Residence with the Business School and dedicate some time each year to both teaching and undertaking research at this great establishment. We had a very good session. I met many of Carlos’ colleagues as well as the Dean of the school and I am hopeful that we will be able to make something work.
Meanwhile of course January means Davos and this is the first time in eleven years that I have not been at this meeting of the great and the good in the (very) snowy mountains of Switzerland. I must admit that the excitements of Pakistan were a good contrast and I have been reading with interest the updates on the sessions at the Forum. The theme this year is Transformation and I have not been surprised to see that the ongoing challenges in the Eurozone, Syria, Iran and the Middle East have dominated the coverage and probably made the more long term global issues harder to focus on. Nonetheless I have been positively impressed by the relatively upbeat perspectives from business leaders from across the world about the year ahead. There is obviously some “crisis” fatigue behind this, but perhaps a few good quarters of better underlying activity in some key parts of the globe will help to buy time for the more volatile issues to be resolved without knocking the whole place off course again!