The Hyenas, The Hunger and The Hercules

000012We saw the lights come on, one under the nose really bright, cutting through the darkness the all embracing darkness of an African night in the semi-arid lands of Somalia. The darkness had enveloped us in the last half an hour. We heard the four engines roar as the pilot wound them up to get off the ground and head back to Nairobi and a cold beer.

We had three rotations of Hercules, Lockheed C130, in to our dirt strip in Huddor, Bakool, southern Somalia, during the day. Bringing us not food for distribution but boxes, resettlement kits, with a few pieces people half a globe away had decided were necessary if you were going to give up your Red Cross and Concern Worldwide cooked beans and rice served once a day in a wrecked building in the town and head back to your home village. I cannot remember the exact contents of the box. The boxes themselves became part of the staying rather resettling culture we had then.

‘Then’ being mid 1993 as the first substantial rains for a couple of years began to fall across the region and we were going to move people back to their home villages; break the new status quo of people collecting food in the town or having one meal cooked for them. I had an old gentleman come to me, stick his metal plate under my nose and launch a tirade at me. I had come to understand a few words of Somali and when one of my team told the gentleman to ‘clear off’ I said no, translate. The gentleman, plate still stuck under my nose, launched into his piece about he was expected to eat rice and beans and meanwhile the galgal, white man, was eating meat. I quietly explained, I was eating beans the same as him. Lived on rice and beans, along with some greens, for the best part of a year. His eyes burned into mine, seeing the thought processes in my head. We stood looking into each other’s eyes as the translation was made. He may have listened to the words; somehow I sense he was communicating through the sincerity of my actions. He nodded a thank you and went off to find a place to squat in the wrecked building to eat his meal. He asked, we should always ask, was answered. He accepted the truth in my words, in my eyes. We should always answer truthfully and accept the truth.

Now we were repatriating people to their villages where they would find seeds and tools already distributed according to the registration process we had undertaken. I was learning fast in a setting that had nearly brought me to tears some four months previously. A wrecked town, human excrement, shit, laying everywhere along the tracks masquerading as roads; there was no tarmac in any direction for at least 250 kilometres where some pieces of broken road led you back into Baidoa. We were changing cultures – yes, people would plant sorghum but the staples were goats, camels and few cows in between. The majority of these had long since died, feeding mainly the hyenas so emboldened they had even come to stalk people as they stumbled in their starvation. Death was with us and meeting a, even dead, hyena is something else for any of us.

And now we were giving the women of child bearing age, our very unscientific way of trying to determine heads of families and cause just a little bit of change by empowering women, a box with a few pieces of some value in it. We had already lined further distributions to women with food now starting to arrive in a convoy and other supplies of cloth and household utensils appearing in our warehouse. The resettlement boxes were never enough. We took the contents out of the boxes, looked at the kits and made new kits with other things we had made locally – harvest knives – and pieces of clothing for women and children particularly. We had registered well over 10,000 families in a redefined distribution area. This equated to in the region of 70,000 people; when I had arrived, we were attempting to feed over 110,000 people in a 120 plus settlements. People were still dying, some quickly as water was pitifully short and almost always far from clean. Food was still meagre. Other would perish more slowly from the effects of poor water, sanitation, and nutrition.

Three aircraft had flown in, up and until this time we had been receiving supplementary food rations via the air bridge; it just was not enough to sustain life in the region. We also had taken receipt of bolts of cloth, seconds from Manchester, much of which we were handing out to make death shrouds. I had a toe-to-toe dispute with the self-appointed Governor of Bakool, he was a leader within the clan set up and had come to use his position to hoard food when even his near relatives were struggling to keep body and soul together. He wanted to challenge me regarding not having enough white cloth for shrouds. I said to the translator to make sure the Governor was aware he was only translating and these were my words. I then told the Governor before he complained about the colour of shrouds, perhaps he should work with us to have what food we had, distributed better so we did not need shrouds. Needless to say, I received a death threat some days later. Another story.

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The first two aircraft had been unloaded in daylight. The third, the light was failing when he circled and came in to land. We had all the doors open – cargo door, the large ramp at the back, had a string of trucks backing up and men throwing boxes out of the Hercules innards on to them. The two crew doors, small doors along the sides of the aircraft, were open and more boxes were headed out. This is where we had a few issues as boxes started to run away; not on their own as cardboard can do many things but, as yet, not grow legs or wings to transport itself. We had French Marines in our sector and seeing these guys deal with thieves is a lesson in how to prosecute with force to ensure the boxes were not lost. I seem to remember we lost a dozen or so out of well over a couple of thousand of these boxes as, even the next day we rounded up boxes. It is something else to see A French Marine go on to a bus and retrieve a cardboard box from a man. The man did not argue. Not bad going.

The pilot, another of the Southern Air Transport brigade, in his nice slow drawl evoking a confidence, asked us to be as quick as we could since he had broken the rules landing as he did. The pilots were some great people who just conjured a belief they had all been in Vietnam or some other hotspots of the previous couple of decades. We had one who flew in and called for the strip to be cleared so he could hit some golf balls. Most of us could only look on disingenuously as the gentleman swung his paunch through a nine iron and hit a few balls across the scrubland. ‘Now I can go tell the boys I driven some golf in Soo-maa-lee-ah!’

Back to this particular evening and the pilot asked me if I can have a car drive up the runway making sure no donkeys were ambling across. The town’s main water wells were on the opposite side of the strip from the town itself – was a constant concern when we were one of the busiest dirt strips on the globe I should think as we had French aircraft supplying a company of Foreign Legion first and then the Marines plus our own flights bringing corn soya blend and dry skimmed milk powder. These supplies were totally impractical since we had no clean water and I was going through the toilet paper to prove all of us were in the same boat – or shithouse.

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I climbed in beside Sheik Kuna, a great man who I met again years later after the Rahanwein Resistance Army had been in the wilderness for a couple of years eating what they could from the bush. We greeted with a handshake and a hug and I am sure I could feel every bone in his body. Never a big man, he had lost so much weight his ribs seemed to be auditioning to become a xylophone. We drove gently up the strip looking left and right and shouting at bushes we thought may have been animals. We got to the top and turned the old Mark II LandRover around. Single cab, Sheik Kuna and I sat there on the plastic and sack seats and I told him to flash the lights on the LandRover. The halogens on the C-130 burnt bright, we heard the engines roar and saw the lights coming toward us. I had thought the pilot was going to taxi up to our end and then take off back down the strip; the way he had landed. Nope he was off for the cold beer right away.

Sheik Kuna looked at me and I looked back at him. We were both nervous and dived into the foot well as a 150,000 pounds of aircraft hammered toward us seeking take off speed. I swear I felt the aircraft go over us. The dust of the take-off enveloped us and we were definitely of the same complexion as we wondered whether there were tyre marks across the roof of the LandRover cab. After we had collected our collective breath and Sheik Kuna had given thanks to Allah; my words of exclamation only detract from his sincerity, we drove back down to join the rest of our team. Our senior man, Hassan, said what we had all been thinking – We thought the LandRover had been hit as the Herc hurtled down and then climbed into the night sky. We had disappeared into the dust so even our LandRover’s eyes, the lights, had not pierced the darkness.

We survived to tell stories. Maybe we should have embroidered a bit more as we washed the dust off the old LandRover and said we had to clean the rubber from the Hercules wheels off the LandRover roof. We were dirty; but un-blooded save for some scratches as Sheik Kuna and I dived into the foot well, and with a warehouse of boxes to be given to ladies as they climbed on to buses without seats and trucks without batteries to start them off as they headed back to villages where sorghum could be planted, young goats could be tended and, possibly the next generation could have some hope. Alas, we; Dini, Nuradin, Hassan, Muktar, Tukulush, Sheik Kuna and others, lived to see much hope extinguished. Some of this crew have died, at least one has succumbed to the stressors of life wrought with yet more issues. Many of those we worked with have disappeared to be memories only with their loved ones. Some are still around and may wish to add to this.

We did some great work back then offering some support to those who lived and some dignity to those who died.

And yet, what did we, really, achieve?

Cycling – the new golf and a way to find religion in a new form?

 

Many years ago when I was a club runner, finishing a Sunday cross-country run I used to love doing, I met our local vicar. I said ‘Afternoon’, he was not in the most soulful of spirits and muttered about being in church of a Sunday rather than out running.

I stopped and turned, I was moving at a pace dictated by a couple of hours running through thick, wet clay. A plod collecting sod? I politely said ‘Vicar, I have come closer to my Maker running than you came saying prayers from your knees’. Then I ran, plodded, my last half-mile home. The vicar and I never talked but he did say to my Mother, a religious lady who sadly passed away a relatively young age, about his encounter with her son and how he had made a valid point as to how we each find our spirituality.

All these years later, I am still running, slower, and have taken back to cycling to find peace, enjoy the countryside and stay fit having learned lessons of genetics from the lives, now completed, of my Mother and Father. As the summer revealed some fantastic harvest weather, I cycled through villages of North Buckinghamshire, south Northamptonshire and mid-Bedfordshire. Passing perhaps twenty places of worship; Church of England with a couple of Methodist places reflecting the industrial heritage of some villages among the wider agricultural undertakings of the region, I saw only one, only one, with a congregation. The doors were shut on all the others, I did not stop to see whether unlocked, and the parking not occupied. I read a piece later from The Economist – http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21704836-britain-unusually-irreligious-and-becoming-more-so-calls-national-debate – we are changing in how we practice religion. But are we looking at what we believe? Are simply against organised religion taking up our spare time we find ever more our time? Certainly, the majority of more, much more, time for ourselves than we ever had before. We are more able to say we do not want organisation of this free time imposed on us.

Are we becoming ever more individualistic? Losing the sense of community given by rigours of organised work places and organised (Sunday) religion? Perhaps not, fore Sunday family cycling is there as I see a couple of families out with dad or elder son cutting the wind for mum to get home and finish the Sunday roast. Or maybe not as those family occasions are also challenged to change, adapt and adopt to how we live as individuals, families and communities now.

As I rode out beyond Olney, a town noted in Marx’s Das Kapital because of the conditions under which lace workers were forced to earn a living, and the home of William Cowper – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cowper and John Newton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Newton, the creators of Amazing Grace – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtteRD5bBNQ , then I came in to contact with groups of cyclists, or friends or family cycling together. The sun was out, the weather close to perfect for cycling. Some were cycling at pace to talk, enjoy conversation whilst doing something to keep fit and possibly savour the countryside. Others were organised, same kit and powering along the lanes heading from Buckinghamshire – @DailyBUCKS – into Bedfordshire doing a communal ride to train for club racing. A gentleman came past me in all his kit on an expensive bike, I could not stay with him and he made doubly sure of this looking back and exerting himself further to see whether his puce face could turn to the red shade of his shirt. Was he finding himself in his powerful exertions? Or simply taking further his weekly work and wanting to be ‘better’ than others he sees along the way?

I caught him some miles later in a gorgeous village called Harrold – http://www.harrold.info – as he headed toward his mid-morning coffee and cake at the Country Park; a regular stop off or target for Sunday cyclists. His nice kit was stretching a bit over a bulging belly and I wondered as to his mental workings fitting this – All the superficial kit but is there depth in what he is doing? Believing? Yes, making the effort, but Amina Sana in Corpore Sano, ASICS[1]?

So we return to the places of worship, do we need a place to worship? Places to reflect? Know we are doing right by others and so fulfilling the mainstay of the great majority of religions in terms of living a good, and full, life benefiting ourselves spiritually and ensuring others are good?

Certainly, cycling has become something of the new golf, middle-aged men riding nice machines, dressed in the regalia of cycling. Feeling they are doing something more for their physical health than walking the golf course playing a sport with the inherent risks of competition in an asymmetric sport – back problems abound with all those who play golf as the competitive edge cuts in and the desire to press the drive just a bit further exerts forces on the hips and back; especially for those untutored.

Cycling? A great sport, or even way of being, as you journey through the countryside; but as with going to a place of worship, is it about inner fitness and fortitude? Or, perhaps, a desire to one-up other middle age men out on their expensive machines, in Sky Sports regalia, charging down country lanes?

As I continued extending beyond the Ouse Valley with its lovely churches providing spires to guide as I look up on leaving Harrold to see Odell, then Felmersham church spires knowing these are beautiful buildings in beautiful countryside I just love cycling through. I push, I look down and watch my legs pumping as I have a blast and feel my heart pound and my thoughts multiply if not clarify as the endorphins kick in. My senses are heightened; my nose assailed by the smell of wheat chaff and threshed straw as combine harvesters continue to work. I hear the sound of a powerful engine dipping and returning, a tractor working with a baler. Yes, when tuned, then the sensory perceptions and, just maybe, my thinking deepened.

I journey on, clipping in to Northamptonshire before heading across the A6, a piece of geography set from Roman times at the least, before heading through strange villages in mid Bedfordshire, mid-Beds as it is euphemistically known. It is now I truly see how life is changing because of the way we work. Villages themselves are dying in some instances. In one village, two farmyards are defunct, left to stay since planning permission for change of use will come and we may well see dormitory settlements in what is a commercial farming area on prairie scale. The small farms are not viable and nor are the small villages. Amazingly, the churchyard was the only kempt open area in the village. A dying village where respect for the dead lived on.

I turn to head toward home. My own village within decent walking distance of Newport Pagnell, famous for its service station on the M1 as we started to become slaves to the automobile, and fast becoming a dormitory for those working in Milton Keynes or London. On this leg back toward Bedford, the villages start to change again as viability of settlements changes; commuting time to Bedford’s fast line into the heart of London? The churches and other places of worship remained shut until I reached Oakley where a congregation, predominantly women, were just leaving. All the men on board cycles finding themselves through those thin saddles as women pay penance on pews? Back in the Ouse Valley, back with spires which will need maintenance in the future no matter the quality of previous generations of craftsmen who built these great sights for some of us who still look up and take the beauty and inspiration we see and feel around us to make our inner being recharge, refresh and revitalised.

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I am not a religious person in the traditional senses of specifying a denomination within a particular faith. When my Mother-in-Law asked if I was a Catholic I said no. She reminded me her daughter was and why did I not honour the faith. I explained about sharing a cold damp vestibule with a Belgium priest drinking whisky at 10 o’clock in the morning high up in the hills of northern Rwanda. This was 1994 and he told me through slurred speech about not defending his congregation when the Interahamwe came to kill the Tutsis among his congregation. They had taken ‘sanctuary’ in his brick built church above the clouds north of Ruhengeri thinking respect for the faith would save them. It did not. They were massacred. I have worked in other places, been with many others who have different paths to be close to their maker. My wife’s Mother accepted this and said she respected the way I met my obligations towards others. Perhaps, now, as I cycle and look up at the churches and the beauty of the countryside then I am offered another opportunity to be aware, to be Hanif – https://www.britannica.com/topic/hanif, and know my inner self without any specific religious belief offered by fellow men (deliberate use of man).

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But it does require us as mankind, humans, to nurture the landscape; the flora and fauna, creatures we share these green and pleasant lands with. So we can have an inner solitude allowing us to be better people with all other people as we do our Monday commutes pressured by time, money, and all those other men who had Lycra on yesterday. Listen to your breath, feel your heart, but let it beat faster and harder thinking of the wonders around you and the joys of challenging inside yourself.

[1] ASICS – A healthy soul in a healthy body; the basis of how the company arrived at their name for their sportswear products

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Hakuna Matata? Urban awareness – No problem? The Etiquette of Pissing or taking the Piss

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We guys have a thing about behaviour in urinals. Do we even call them this? Or perhaps toilets, restrooms, washrooms, bathrooms, choo, bog, loo and on and on. Maybe the most appropriate vernacular is piss house.

An incident I had in a Gentlemen’s toilet in South London brought on this stream of consciousness on bogs.

Having travelled down to London, then across London and out into the suburbs to the south and west, I needed a little bit of relief and took advantage of buying a bottle of water from a supermarket to use their facilities. As I stood at the urinals, single receptacles, not the trough common still in some places.

The trough – ah, standing next to the person who sees it as fun to chase flies zooming around in toilets. No, not chase around with a fly swot but with his stream of piss. Usually the act of a person on his third or fourth beer; or simply someone who has lost the will to be anything other than an ass playing games with his stream of urine. Often they get carried away – Alpha male behaviour kicks in and the fly must not escape. At this point, with a little bit of loss of control, the fly chaser is pissing everywhere but into the trough. How many fist fights started after such people have pissed on someone else who happens to be there relieving themselves at the same time.

These troughs are often aluminium. And can produce a drumming sound. Yes, musicians have to pee and people with gay abandon like to think they can pee a rhythm. The consequences are:- either a collective pissing to rival the Burundian Drummers or an idiot trying to get extra volume and beat building splash back and spraying himself and unlucky others with his piss.

I digress, not as much as some pissing seem to change courses and flows, but I digress; back to South London.

At the single receptacle gently relieving the pressure on my bladder, a gentleman comes to the receptacle next to me. Gentlemen’s toilet protocols, studied by academics, has it men do not come to the next spot when others are available. The laws of behaviour uphold the etiquettes of pissing? The gentleman, 6 feet tall and so definitely bigger than me (at least in height, I certainly do not go in for other bigger than competitions in any male setting), was carrying a rucksack; a common thing in urban settings now as people scoot and commute swiftly through public transport with lunchbox and all electrical goodies carried safely and easily across the back.

This gentleman had a boom box in his rucksack, the newest form of sound system built on those previous decades of people carrying one of those enormous ‘ghetto blasters’ on their shoulder. The thumping beat was ticking along nicely; better than any aluminium trough pissing competition for sure, and I kept myself to my job in hand, excuse the inference, and my eyes fixed to the graffiti on the wall in front. Always some interesting things written on toilet walls – would you spend time doodling and putting works of decent street art on to a wall where the smell is far from pleasant?

Then the gentleman started speaking. Not sure whether just to himself or to me or the other couple of gents in the bathroom. Gently murmuring – ‘Not in the toilet, not in the toilet. No, not again, not in the toilet.’ Very off-putting who ever the words were for. And the tonality of the spoken word as well.

Takes all sorts to make for the diversity of street life; I prefer my psychological moments to happen in places where I do not feel closed in and there is space to look at the person who may just be struggling with the pressures of life and urban angst.

The gentleman repeated his mantra – ‘Not in the toilet, not in the toilet. No, not again, not in the toilet.’

Then a violent physical movement as he swung toward me and faced me! I avoided to be physically reacting to this swift move invading my personal space allotted to me in the confines of this public toilet. But my heart rate leapt and I felt my demure status was to be tested. Zipped and on the move well within ten seconds, a cursory wash of the hands; what I was catching here would not come from a lack of personal hygiene in an enclosed space with a person who may well be an example of how care-in-the-community needs some further thinking and positive action as our social and community systems become ever more stressed.

Lesson? I am no longer street, or urban small toilet, aware. Been a very, very, long time since my first ever encounter with a person who had nefarious intentions in a toilet. Waterloo Station circa forty plus years ago and my first encounter with a voyeur. I was with someone who was street cred and sorted the bastard out. London Gents scenes, years past and just a few years later I defended a friend who was about to be accosted in a pub in Soho. We were not so aware of things, learned quickly, and my friend was seen as ‘game’ by some strong arm guys asserting their right to be gay; my friend was not gay and so asserted the right to drink and not have this type of behaviour. Had to step in. Now, this Summer, I am not stepping in but rather wondering about all those previous pissing incidents.

Had I messed my trousers? No, I headed on to my appointment, my heart rate came down and I enjoyed the walk to the offices in the afternoon sun.

Save the best until last; or at least the piece of cunning worth telling now. Twenty years ago, flying in and out of Somalia in the days before electronic money, we often broke Kenyan regulations in terms of carrying hard currency in and out of the country; maximum, without all the extra paraphernalia of central bank, was US$4,999. I arrived with my monthly expenses tucked away safely – US$20,000, does not take up (too) much room. Then had a driver arrive from another organisation – I would be carrying US$20,000 for them – too. The driver wanted to have me count the money in public. Hey, hey, breaking a regulation is one thing, advertising I want to be mugged another. I went to the bathroom, aluminium trough, and put myself in a cubicle and tucked away the wad inside my trousers.

Feeling I would get by any pat down searches, went to wait for my flight into Mogadishu’s northern airstrip where I definitely would not walk too far – maybe just to the side of the strip to use the bush relief toilet. As we waited for the flight to Mogadishu, a colleague from another NGO came up. He was worried, carrying, yep, you are with me, US$20,000. I said give it here, in for a penny in for a pound, already packing 4,000,000 cents may as well go for broke. Now I was concerned. Went back to the bathroom made my wad sit comfortably then did a little trick offered to me by someone who knows how to embarrass others by being embarrassing and embarassed. I splashed water down the leg of my nice beige trousers as if I had just pissed myself.

Went to the gate, policemen stood there, took a look at me and quietly said ‘You can go through’ No search, $60K safely tucked away and now bound for Belet Weyn Somalia.

My trousers dried long before landing and the story faded from mind. Having a person with a boom box making exaggerated movements has made me remember not to judge people too readily, but to be prepared certainly. People have been attacked for far less than US$60K for sure. I would have been in big trouble in South London the other week if this gentleman had gone from anti-social poseur to aggressor and turned his behaviour into real piss-your-pants assailant.

Aaah, the joys of relieving oneself

Take a look at this http://www.urinal.net/schiphol/ as the Dutch take urinal design and fly chasing to new levels; maybe they will have annotated storyboards for all us guys to tell pissing stories and get over some of our angst?

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Foreigner in my Own Land – BREXIT HS numbers and Social Inclusion or Exclusion?

 

IMG_0661I am being astounded at my own land, my country folk and the diversity of settings in England.

Much is going on presently with regard to migration and who belongs where. Taken aback by the private hire driver as he recounts two stories with dawn appearing my first Sunday back in England in 2016. I do not think we are allowed to call them taxi drivers since the laws of this land change according to the manner we contact the person driving us from airport to home.

I have lived abroad for the last twenty years and have a home and family who see where we currently live as home; we are a cosmopolitan family with roots across cultures and within different communities. This means I possibly have increased my awareness of passports not being symbolic of cultures and nationalities but only being indicators, and not predictors of, wider values. Maybe it is because of recent work being done on migration and related issues of seeing people as this or that passport holder, but I am very aware of people around me as I travel.

I go no further than the spine of England, do not travel to the areas geographically peripheral to the sceptred isle nor the other key places around which other national ethos occur as we enjoy Rugby Union’s Six Nations competition (Leave France aside, although the influence is heavy for so many of us Brits) English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish then define themselves nationally when carrying a United Kingdom passport and enjoying the Schengen and Syria migration headlines atop of European Union in our ‘in or out’ debates

Back to arriving into Heathrow and moving swiftly through the immigration controls. Thanking the automation of passports while knowing the connections such automation allows has surveillance services knowing this person, name and individual number recorded, is back in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. No bad thing? I certainly do not mind, those with an easy mind can be thankful for connectivity; until it is commercialised and we get advertisements on our computers and phones trying to sell us a hotel room, taxi (or private hire facility) or even a ‘wealth creation manager’ on tax avoidance.

The gentleman I have contacted to get me from Heathrow to Newport Pagnell is standing looking cold in the harsh lights of Terminal Three in the predawn of a March Sunday morning. A taxi driver? A private hire driver? A chauffeur? A courier and conveyor of people on an individual, bespoke basis? Pick the manner to describe someone who offers quality service in terms of logistics for me. Why this seeming convolution? It seems, what constitutes a taxi in Bedford is not the same as Luton, both in the County of Bedfordshire and, last time of checking, both in England and the United Kingdom. I am all for subsidiarity and definitely delegated responsibility however, surely we have some common standards across England if not the United Kingdom? We appear to have made the world of politicians increasingly remote from the everyday issues we face. Their distance from us has increased as they continue to become ever more superficial with their election promises. Increasingly, they are elected by smaller numbers of people within the overall the overall population. As I sit to complete this, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stands to tell us there will be a ‘mayor of East Anglia’. Get real, what is this about? Or are we going to divide the state as it was when the English language shaped from Norse, Germanic tongues, different types of French and assorted English parlances? More layers of (nonsensical) promising politicians without the necessary technical competences to deliver on their garrulous verbosity.

Heading north, I have my first shock to the system as I arrive at Milton Keynes Central train station 06:45 on a cold grey Tuesday morning. The place is buzzing with cars pressing to get to prime parking spots cutting the walking to the needful, passing of your favourite barista for coffee and, it seems, porridge and ensuring the return, pushing past people on the way off the train and up the steps, is complemented with a fast getaway into the evening traffic and home for an M&S packaged meal (M&S? Almost a universal acronym surely? Marks and Spencer). No stranger to the place, the automation and machine driven approach means we are becoming ever more efficient travellers and ever more insular in our travel. Gone the days of Reggie Perrin and knowing others well enough to talk positively on any given day rather than the foreign view of London commuters as only talking when the wrong kind of leaves/weather/voodoo forestalls the train running on time. We are functional as we stand in queues to collect tickets, watch the screens to decide when to rush to the cold platform where texting fingers will suffer further. As a coincidence, if not a consequence, London does not feature in the top thirty friendly places on the planet; visitors from Pluto, take note, get your ticket and ensure you have downloaded an automated voice to guide you through the sites when travelling in.

I fall into line, pass the data to the machine and it spews out ticket after ticket after ticket – seven pieces in all for my journey to Sheffield. I join the barista favouring going for a Costa served by a set of guys epitomising the points on job, passport, nationality and culture. Maybe all carry a UK passport, maybe one of them is from a refugee family from previous crises. Maybe they are go-getters simply following the next trend in movements to the UK, to key places in the UK, seeking opportunity and, quite possibly, finding the realities entail serving this or that frothy milk, water and flavouring to people rushing through and now sold the idea of coffee and snacks on the move. Interesting to see porridge is there, everywhere it seems, in these coffee shops and stands. Coffee spouting from the machine and porridge out of the microwave; onward into the day as we all do our individual thing within the overall marketing machine – my choice of coffee or tea and, of course, I just know I am doing well by myself eating porridge. Read the ingredients lately?

Arriving in Birmingham, central, if not centre, to England and Wales, http://visitbirmingham.com , I take advantage of the facilities. Interestingly, go to our capital and you will be charged a minimum of thirty pence, 30 P, to pee. Not in Birmingham where there are clean facilities, no grubby turnstiles, with the opportunity to wash my hands before moving on. So where is the capital of English culture? Making money from bodily functions or in being hospitable? I have to say, on my return, I have a bit of time and head upstairs in New Street. A revelation, fantastic blending of the modern and efficient throughput of travellers with those who just have a few moments to dwell. There are people meeting up here, taking a coffee, tea or even something alcoholic and talking. Me? I am taking pictures since I feel proud to be standing here. None of this was my work, but I feel people have put something in so we do not have to stick with curly railway sandwiches. Sleek and smart, not out of place from the Dubai connections I used to make. Nice one Birmingham. People put something in so people get something back. Altruism but one we have let go in so many machine driven (human) exchanges

This is the second string to the travel. My private hire driver had recounted a story of a lady working for a famous UK store. A store started by immigrants to these green and pleasant lands. She tells the driver her theories of migration which build around we all should stay where we are start. Swiftly hoisted by her own petard, she has already told how she is living in the Yorkshire Dales, lived and educated in Southwest England and now realising what rubbish she is talking not answering the gentleman as to where she was born. Heaven help if her theories roll on and we have to work out conception; Joseph and Mary’s 21st pretenders would need the inter-city trains alongside the latest school test results and some job prospects for 20 years future to decide whether, after coffee or cocktails above New Street they decide on some conception engagement.

We are all on the move, rural to urban started some three hundred years ago and the flow toward nodal points has possibly accelerated more recently despite the rise of global communication and the all pervasive ‘web. To an extent, the centralisation of people allowed some to centralise control and this has, then, allowed some to be more footloose. We have people, such as this lady, holding high-powered positions able to own a place in the Dales, a functional apartment in London and, quite possibly, a holiday retreat for some sun in the Mediterranean. What would happen if this lady finds herself on Lesbos with people migrating from, if not emotively fleeing, Syria? I am sure she must have passed through Birmingham with the cosmopolitan feel generated not just by its centrality but also by it being our second city and a great draw for people through the last, three hundred years. A mixing bowl to savour, a rich heritage of production. And now? What has the Birmingham stamp on it?

Burton-on-Trent, ‘gateway to the National Forest’, so the signage proclaims. Please let me know when we had reached the nadir of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=208 , and now have ‘a National Forest’. Maybe better to talk of Robin Hood the legend and the underlying intent in these days of talk on taxes, freeloading and people working themselves into poverty. Burton-on-Trent, home of some iconoclastic beer marques, http://allaboutbeer.com/article/burton-on-trent—the-worlds-most-important-beer-town/ , now subsumed into Global brands with Coors Molson signs dominating alongside the rail track. We are becoming consumers of brands designed to offer some trigger inside our heads where we are individuals because of the brand we consume. As we lose the individuality of place and person, heavily damaged by industrialisation’s use of people in a collective fashion, and now, recreate a brand supposedly giving us individuality. The power of choice; choice decided by marketing and to build value for those with the power to so do? And move to the Dales with pet theories? Or perhaps run for Mayor of East Anglia? Boadicea, get your chariot out.

Next up Derby; thinking Derby County, and the iconoclastic Brian Clough, a gentleman from the North East with a talent reaching far beyond any geographic location. A gentleman is helped onto the train as I read the signs for Derby College – Investing in people and helping them shape their future. Practical courses offered to young people when so much of the practical work has been stripped away because of people who saw only making money short term from global brands letting the global brands we had, have, shrivel. Yes, Rolls Royce still in Derby; but what of others where managers and leaders did not have the vision of a Brian Clough? The gentleman who is helped on to the train? Who says goodbye with the phrase ‘Hope to see you again when I travel through’. He is without the use of his eyes but has sight in terms of social interaction many of us have lost.

Derby with its college motto of investing in people….the rest I have forgotten nor cannot find on the ‘web (no reference here since I leave you to search Derby College, Derby University – proclaiming to be first in graduate employment. Some interesting thinking being sponsored by competition and collective standards of employment education). Possibly a reflection of a vision being nothing without the necessary capability to back it with substance in terms of feeling what we see beyond the catchphrases. Substance of what it will take to regenerate, reinvigorate, redevelop the cities of the Midlands and south Yorkshire (and Lancashire) industrial heartland. These areas, along with the coast of the North East and the Clyde of Scotland, gave so much to the World and, now, it would appear, have been paid lip service yet to manifest itself in structural engagement of the Whitehall mandarins (beyond weekend holiday homes?). This is provocative since there are initiatives; but these pale into insignificance compared to, say, the HST1, high speed train, planned to take minutes off a journey between London and Manchester. Two cities already well connected, both within the European growth corridor and already serviced so people can work on the move. Where would Birmingham stand as trains whizz up this new link? Use the money wisely not to line the pockets of footloose companies. Have we not learned the lessons from industrial policies of the Sixties and Seventies? (1971 was the last time the major road link Manchester-Leeds saw appreciable upgrading – interesting 45 years?) The feeling is we have divorced ourselves from our industrial heritage as short-term profits were highlighted over the longer-term investments which, elsewhere, have produced far greater returns on capital; human as well as financial.

The BREXIT debate is here, signs with the blue background and the circle of gold stars adorn boards proclaiming new or re-developments. How many gold stars? Answers please and reason why we stopped there. Feelings from those who feel ‘their star’ is not figuratively on the flag? Do people know anything and care even less? Yes, Derby, and Sheffield, benefit from the European Union’s regional programmes. Who is talking about this among the Eton Wall Boys campaigning yes or no for us all being here or there? Whitehall, Brussels, Strasbourg – what difference when we do not feel a sense of belonging? Have a read and offer fresh opinion, not one mention of this heartland of the United Kingdom as services dominate and analogous with services is the City of London with its banking and financial sectors http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21693568-david-cameron-will-struggle-win-referendum-britains-eu-membership-if-he-loses

Sheffield, steel city, built on seven hills as is supposedly Rome and Kampala. Interestingly we are back to a government web link for visiting information, https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/out–about/tourist-information , saying something for the get and go? The place is making a good stab at changing for the new economy as old ways of working have been overtaken by efficiencies of production and innovation Sheffield itself made famous in bygone generations. Private sector development linked to different forms of worship as non-conformist churches appeared in the industrial revolution. Overtaken by staid collectivism founded not in the mutual support of the origins but in defence of a status quo being overtaken by others? Left behind in terms of infrastructure, Sheffield presents different faces as I walk through the city and take in the museum on the way back to the rail station.

A Sheffield knife or razor,

with the mark of a good firm upon it,

will hold its ground

against the world’

The Illustrated Guide to Sheffield, 1879

Yes, such quality work and this is the place to celebrate it. More to be made of craftsmanship ingrained in generations? I do not know, I am a day tripper feeling the differences in how we are seemingly making do in the industrial heartland as more and more is invested in making the heart of London ever more attached to other (financial) hubs. London, or more correctly the City of Westminster, is isolated housing our United Kingdom government but, somehow not truly serving any number of agendas we now face as Little Islanders if we are to remain together in spirit and sharing elements of body politick with social cohesion. The impending vote of yes or no on staying part of the European Union has already seen political grandstanding of the already ruling elite with much information but little solid data. This is to say, the data is filtered and regurgitated to fit with the information the yes and no camps want people to hear; get to the nub of the data and many of us will see neither of the camps at the political heights are truly empowering people. Where is the sign saying the UK is investing in Derby, Sheffield and other cities across the United Kingdom?

Sheffield and back to the blue and gold: a signboard on a newish development in the diffused centre of the city carries European Union flag again; the same flag and lettering seen on a mother and child health centre in South Sudan. The European Union is reinvesting UK taxpayer funds, and the tax receipts from other people carrying other passports, to assist (industrial) places seeking to change their raison d’etre; as well attempting to bring a bit of health to South Sudan. Not saying the two are analogous, rather pointing out why we need to come together then immediately delegate responsibility when ever possible. Sheffield and Derby have accountable government, why all the layers of civil servants and politicians in between? South Sudan? Another set of questions and quite possibly not to be answered by the European Commission; but Europe, together, in the Union, can place pressure on those who can, must, answer them.

Sheffield’s industrial heritage is being turned in to a plethora of offices blocks within a city that seems to be struggling to have a heart of distinction; a strange setting given the heritage and, surely, the ingrained learning within people to differentiate Sheffield from Shanghai? But who am I to talk? Stranger on my own shores and certainly a stranger back in these parts; a theme decorating the side of a Hallam University building.

A journey by train, by foot, in mind, to touch a few things and, most importantly kindle a few thoughts as to who we are, who we are becoming and where accountability lies.

 To quote Ralph Stacey

The world people act in is the World they have created by acting in it

Do we have equity in how our actions impact this World and our Futures?

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Hakuna Matata 3 – If we have some ‘Chomaing’

Last night a neighbour, home alone, heard someone jump the gate, the rattle very discernable against the quiet of the night. The hurrying footfalls easily heard and of the type to make the heart rush not with the thought of her husband returning but with the fear of someone trying to avoid detection.

The footfalls faded off into the black of the night and were overtaken by the frenzied barking of dogs. The lady had the presence of mind to call another neighbour and, a couple more rungu seeking to emulate my own Somaliland aid of choice, they mobilised to ensure the want-to-be perpetrator of more crime saw we were far more prepared to act.

My mind went back to days following bad nights a quarter of a century ago and thoughts prompted by the policeman who came two months ago when my own house was broken in to. The police detective had talked of ‘chomaing’ thieves and people causing communities to live in fear. A rule of law is here; but many still see it as working for those with money and not for the vast majority people.

Is this wrong? In terms of working only for those with money – Yes. In so many places we are seeing the outsourcing of security or even in the case of South Africa, insecurity in the name of landlords – see these graphic pictures of the Red Ants – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12525859. In Kenya, insecurity is providing security of employment for some in the security sector – http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21654074-more-kenyans-now-work-private-security-tourism-guards-not-guides as the number of people guarding now surpasses those guiding tourist. And still the elephants (and rhinos) are endangered requiring a nice Bwana Kuboir (Big Man) conference as a host of presidents pledged to defend elephants recently. The meeting itself, of course, required more security and saw the ritual ‘chomaing’ of ivory from already dead elephants not defended; probably because of disempowered people?

No wonder people who feel disenfranchised and disempowered are reclaiming direct action on security for themselves; no matter the issues of legality and Rights.

A quarter of a century ago, we, in East Africa, had heard of necklacing from South Africa and, despite the lack of global media of the type we now have, there was also knowledge of using straightened coil springs to ensure people were sent messages. Knee capping never caught on in Africa as far as I know; we remain the continent of ‘Would you like long sleeves or short sleeves?’[1]

Necklacing – I lived in Meru, a nice town on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya. We were starting to get anti Moi, the then President of Kenya, movements as Meru was starved not only of investment but even leaders able to be party to a morally bankrupt regime. Incidents of theft at all levels were rising and people had little or no faith in judicial process. Necklacing is about taking law into your own hands, some would call it mob justice, and others would say it is sending a message when your life and livelihood is threatened by mob injustice.

In Meru the first acts of this type were two thieves, caught in the act, judged by those who caught them and sentenced to send a message to others. The two thieves were marched up from where the market and bus stage are to outside the central police station. Tyres put around their necks, dosed in petrol and sent on their way to meet a higher authority. The choice of venue was clear; it sent a message the police did not unduly mind and were in essence complicit in the message being sent.

The following days, buses were loaded leaving town as those with doubts as to whether they would survive if such a purge took hold decided to go elsewhere.

I was running a meeting with the Jua Kali, the informal sector and micro and small business people, who were busy arguing among themselves following thefts from their cooperative set up. We were down below town in a place called Gakaromone where land was still relatively cheap and informal businesses could prosper from people coming in to town to walk up to the Municipal, County and District Offices. The meeting was in a dell where the land slipped away swiftly from the town down toward a river itself incised into the slopes where Mount Kenya started to climb above us. Myself and a few office holders were seated on the ground looking up at maybe a hundred business people, men and women but predominately men in their thirties and forties who were hard working enterprisers seeking to get ahead.

The meeting ran in Kimeru, the Mother tongue. Another outsider, trusted (as far as anyone was trusting anyone) to translate my words from English to Kimeru sat with me at the bottom alongside the new chairman of the Meru Jua Kali Association. A gentleman from one of the churches who insisted in all women wearing all white stood up to speak. Flanked by two ladies, dressed in white, and from three quarters up the embankment, slightly off centre but definitely in the midst of all. He launched a tirade against the changes to the Jua kali Association management saying he was the legitimate chairman and he would seek a court injunction to stop any further business. The meeting saw this as apostasy and the embankment became an amphitheatre. I called for order but was quietly told to watch and see (social) justice in action.

The movement in the gathering took it’s lessons from preceding events outside the police station and the gentleman claiming to be chairman was warned not to stop development for the wider Jua Kali otherwise a fate similar to that of the thieves would befall him. He was a thief, he was told, having stolen earlier dues paid by members of the Jua Kali Association.

After maybe four or five minutes furious discourse during which time I kept asking for a translation, interpretation and or explanation of what was going on, the gentleman with his two all in white women took their leave. They carried on and were also on a bus out of town within a day or two. I received an explanation and then tried to lighten things by saying necklacing was not the way to go even if the courts were ineffectual, some sense of law should be maintained. If nothing else, the gentleman was not worth a tyre a fundi could turn in to sandals and petrol costing precious money. Environmental consciousness. Straight faced the new chairman, who became a very good friend, said not to worry – ‘We only use tyres that cannot be used for anything else and never use petrol – waste oil burns better once ignited’.

Justice served with an environmental and cost conscious edge? The smell of retribution did not need to assail our nostrils as people of dubious character took note of promises of swift actions. Lessons to be drawn in terms of ‘hot justice’ and points of no return for those who perpetrate crime against the wider community? Meru now has blossomed as it came out from under the yoke of dictatorial approaches of patronage for those in support and subjugation of those who wished to stand up to be counted as opposition. But, somehow, the talk of ‘chomaing’ is still there and, despite the trappings of a supposedly middle-income country, there are those who are left behind without real recourse to the apparatus of functional state. Environmental consciousness will not safeguard those who continue to cause trouble for some communities.

[1] During the dark, dark, days of West African rebellion, different groups would ask their victims if they wanted the hand, long sleeves, or forearm, short sleeves, amputated – their form of sending messages as to their control of places.

The straightened coil spring was used during the days pre-removal of apartheid on informers. The victim would be bent over and the straightened, tensile steel, would be rammed up through the spine from the anus destroying much of the central system enabling us to function leaving the informer crippled and as a message to others.

Women’s Economic Empowerment: Words and Deeds The role of Supply Chain Management for Opportunity and Empowerment

 

Perhaps, the Deeds should be written deeds, since we seem to have been big on words and small on deeds? Ban-Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General signed off on the following statement with regard to the post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda:

“This is the century of women:
We will not realise our full potential if half of humanity continues to be held back”

Yes, progress has been made, definitely decent progress since 18 December 1979 and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), let us acknowledge what has been done and then look at the challenges facing women, particularly, and note the obstructions for all young people and for the aging populations in certain areas of the World where social protection remains weak and economic opportunity to escape poverty is something where factors beyond the control of the poor are major hurdles.

 

With the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, it is interesting to note the number of the first sixteen can be addressed through the empowerment of women. Cross-reference this with the seventeenth, Partnership for the Goals, and we have a new level of dialogue. Are the SDGs constructed primarily for those already with voice? SDG 1, no poverty, 2 zero hunger, 3 good health and wellbeing, and 6 clean water and sanitation are basic goals we have all committed to practical work toward achieving. SDG 5 and 10, gender equality and reduced inequalities seem awfully similar; particularly when looking at why the need for 16 goals with 169 targets. SDG 8 decent work and economic growth is something where policy is necessary but surely member states deliver (and opinions of how to deliver are as varied as the number of states signed up to the SDGs)? The underlying point being made is could all these goals be rolled into fewer outcomes where linkages are apparent and realism expressed?

 

There are those pressing for cash transfers to grow from the present 6% of total humanitarian aid to a far higher percentage and absolute figure. It is argued[1] as the nature of crises changes then the manner of responding must also change. This tenet can flow further saying the probability of drastically reducing the aid industry from the present supply chains and skilling up people within communities, however defined, will have a profound impact both on the response and on how communities, let us call them markets since this is what they are, build resilience thence development.

 

It is suggested, as has been posited before, the practical transfer of skills and power of process will address the majority of the SDGs when done with a gender lens.

 

The underlying issue remains one of poverty of people and resource poor places. Resources covers a breadth of points and reflects the issues women face from provision of basic services for themselves and their families through to being able to earn a living in an increasingly commercialised World where the role of government has often retreated. Social protection issues remain prominent for the delivery of tangible benefits to and for women. Of the one billion, this being one person in every six on the planet, who continue to live under the absolute poverty line of US$1 a day, 60%, 600,000, are women[2]. Women who will, in the main, be directly responsible for children thus increasing the number of people impacted directly, daily, by absolute poverty.

 

Research is showing how the economic empowerment of women has shown investing in women has a higher return, both direct economic and non-economic, than investing in men. This can be hypothesised as reflective of the responsibilities and commitment of women.

DFID’s definition of economic empowerment is outlined as:

“a process that increases people’s access to and control over economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets (from which one can generate an income), skills development and market information”. DFID (2012)

Some would say this is slightly narrow given the caveat ‘from which one can generate an income’. Here the argument is made for this to be broadened slightly to:-

 

….control over economic resources and opportunities, skills and information allowing improved living standards.

 

The need to look at basic service provision and capability to influence primary infrastructure inhibiting the development of economic opportunities is overpowering.

 

Directly, women find a continued inadequacy of provision, and a drain on household income, when children, particularly, fall ill they, mothers and care-givers, suffer accordingly. The capability to address health improvements through promotive health provision is a long held desire among health professionals noting how sustainable gains made in good health, hence improved livelihoods, have been founded on quality public health – promotive health rather than the costly and under resourced curative health provision where women suffer real paucity of service provision. The underlying issues are the provision of quality training and support to women health practitioners; be they fully skilled or partially skilled, and then being able to support them with the necessary provisions for the delivery of services. Public health requires wider skills and, as with numerous capital inputs projects, the management of the supply chain raises broader issues with regard to accountability from the procurement of supplies and services through to the recurring needs required to maintain and sustain improvements. Yes to efficient curative provision (and there is a great deal of room for improvement[3])

 

Major challenges remain in terms of infrastructure-facilitating women’s enterprise. Fitting with promotive health, the (seemingly simple and basic rights) provision of sanitary facilities in a market for women marks a profound improvement for women being able to market produce they are able to grow or procure through earlier sections of a value chain. Recent commentary in Kenya has postulated the last decade of infrastructure investment has not benefited micro, small and medium sized business where help is required if the engines of growth are to not stall due to lack of lubrication of the right kind. Women, particularly, have been left aside as gender questions are left aside when major infrastructure investment is underway.

 

Infrastructure aside, there is vast amounts of work directly with women. Not wishing to demean the vast amounts of work on women’s literacy, in terms of reading and noting financial and business literacy, improvements to microfinance for women, work on representation in policy and monitoring and evaluation forums, the contention remains practical engagement on supply chain, within value and market chains, can significantly impact on women’s ability to step up and claim their rights.

 

The United Nations Security Council, UNSC, adopted the landmark Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognising war impacts women differently and reaffirmed the need to increase women’s role in decision making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution. The UNSC subsequently adopted 7, seven, additional resolutions on women, peace and security[4] – what has been the results and impact of these resolutions? The contention must be they have not sponsored the kind of practical engagement required to lift women, and children, into safety and out of poverty.

 

Key areas of work have shown interventions to be very positive; but not always aware of what Cahn and Liu[5] delineate as the Care Economy. The research found and formalised the altruism: Women have limited time to devote to training not delivering income, time or control of resources in the immediate instance. Where people, care givers particularly, are living on less than US$1 a day, then primary consideration is for a social protection provision allowing people to focus on skills uplifting knowing their families will be provided for in the immediate time.

Developments acknowledging the limited time of women have been more successful. Given other demands on their time, the need to generate returns on time invested and flexible in the manner skills are built; respecting the need to continue earning a daily living. Khan, 2014, showed the positive elements in Pakistan’s “Lady Health worker” programme referenced in The World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014. Seeking to provide essential health care, the project trained up 100,000 female community health workers over a 15month period. The women then worked from home as independent enterprises attending to health needs in their community, storing basic medicines and creating their own (community) markets. The scheme enabled women to be employed full time and paid for their services. But the question goes unasked – how and who managed the supply chain to and for the women? How were their skills to be kept relevant? Here we return to the recurring issues of maintenance, being able to ensure relevance and effectiveness of any enterprise where market forces drive quality of service. Far too often we remain guilty of quality set-piece projects delivering results but not always contributing longer term to the outcomes of empowerment through resilient, if not fully sustainable, self-reliance. This requires investigation along the supply chain in terms of the women’s dynamics and the manner public and private work for and against each other when incentives and motivations may not always coalesce.

Tied with capability of women being able to exploit opportunities is the need for them to also be able to exercise their personal duties of care toward children. It remains a fact of life, the duty of care falls on women and remains the priority instinct for women as they seek to balance family care with livelihood development which, when done well, feeds back in as an enabler for duty of care toward family.

Possibly the answers may be in cooperative movement where developments have picked up again with regard to focused cooperative development in terms of supply or demand side networking and cooperation as well as financial cooperatives – the so-called SACCOs (Savings and Credit Cooperatives). A critical ingredient, one exploited along supply chains, is the isolation of individuals and small communities; usually with an inability to access information to the same level as those further along (in terms of added value) the chain. Cooperation, cooperatives, offers opportunity for women to network, gain knowledge and experience of managing within a political environment additional to the practical side of influencing supply chain dynamics[6].

ICT, mobile telecommunications and financial services technology, smart phones (and now cost effective phones with as much power as a smart phone but without the frills) are changing the manner women are able to participate and challenge the people who set themselves as gatekeepers, middle men, on supply and value addition chains. To an extent, the ICT speed of evolution has created opportunity for younger people; if they have the necessary skills to be able to exploit such opportunities. Thus we start to see further segmentation of the rather bland global targets set. You do not win customers simply by saying we sell to person, it is a specific type of person with data disaggregated by sex, age, income, where they live, what job or work they do and…….. and yet the aid and development industry continues to struggle with the realization of the primacy of data and its distillation and dissemination into information to inform specific decisions and subsequent actions

Melinda Gates wrote on her Medium blog –

‘The hard reality is that in too many areas, data doesn’t exist. What’s more – even where it does exist, it’s often sexist’

Melinda goes on to highlight issues in global health where blind spots remain – basic information about women and girls particularly. The Gates Foundation is investing in data across sub-Saharan Africa (US$80million over the next 3 years). The Gates Foundation is also painfully aware, possibly well informed from the quality of people in Bill Gates’ Microsoft who understand customers must see benefits, there must be delivery once data is generated. Logically, we return to supply chains:-)

  • Let us stop saying beneficiary and call people, women particularly, customers. Then, perhaps, we will change the manner we act with them and for them.
  • Supply of the tools to generate data in the first place.
    • Issues remain with regard to who owns data, who has skills to analyze data and how information generated is then employed to challenge the status quo of vested interests
  • Capability to act on the information the data generated must seek to address; the needs of specific customers within supply and value chains
  • Access to common infrastructure facilitating, if not fully allowing, disadvantaged customers to exercise their own power of choice
  • Ownership of infrastructure granting people the confidence to exercise power of choice
  • Further development of mutual support through cooperatives
  • Set up of social protection floors through supply chain developments; ‘privatized’ basic services delivery for women by women

 

 

 

[1] https://www.odi.org/publications/9876-cash-transfers-humanitarian-vouchers-aid-emergencies

[2] http://www.enterprise-development.org/wp-content/uploads/WEESynthesisSept15.pdf

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/crown-agents-partner-zone/health-supply-chain-development – a piece from Crown Agents who deliver commercially with an ethical way of working.

[4] UNSC 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013) and 2242 (2015)

[5] Women and Rural LivelihoodTraining: A Case Study from Papua New Guinea Cahn, M and Liu, M – Vol 16 No1 Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture – March 2008

[6] http://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/ent/coop/africa/download/women_day_coop.pdf

NEET or just politically nice and neat? Micro and Small Business driven by Big Enterprising Minds – Questions on Why and How to Further Develop

 

We live in times where the old adage ‘Needs must’ rings true for many, many, people. In a number of key countries, notable statistics emerging in the United States and United Kingdom, the number of self employed and micro and small businesses, MSMEs, has boomed in terms of registrations. The motivations for starting your own business are as diverse as the people starting out on the enterprise trail.

There are the two themes driving the majority of what we do in all facets of life; and these underpin the thinking of the majority of people starting out on their own; the negative and positive forces can work together or against one another to destroy businesses and the enterprise within people.

Firstly: People are enterprising; they have the desire to be self-reliant, achieving something for themselves through their own efforts and the support of like-minded people. Big enterprising minds require encouraging and support in the practicalities of how to make an enterprise idea into a business realising its potential. Alas, big business rarely is so altruistic as to facilitate competition and as we continue to see the development of internal markets to create innovation, then big business has placed itself well to stimulate then capture innovation and development.

RSA/Populus survey work[1] has brought forward just how many people want to enjoy what they are doing. The motivations or incentives for taking a job are not higher pay or a shorter working week along (respectively the survey found 1 in 5 persons said pay was a driver and under a fifth of respondents [17%] said a shorter week was a driver for new work opportunities). People want to be involved in something granting a sense of satisfaction, the dignity and pride in work. A dignity lost in the days of machine like assembly lines and now being thoroughly rediscovered with bespoke production. An overwhelming 82%, 4 people out of every 5 persons who undertook the survey, said their work was more meaningful, 84% said they were more satisfied in their work now they were self employed. One in every two people said they could now use their talents to fuller capabilities.

However, there is a negative. Increasingly in United Kingdom, and a few other places where the social in capitalism has been seemingly usurped, people are facing the stark realities people in Lesser Developed and Middle Income countries face as social protection breaks down (or never developed) – do for yourselves in a World which has seen virtually everything commercialised. Face the harsh reality, as the social support platform is no longer capable of offering societal backing given the manner we have evolved as individuals and societies.

Unemployment is there, always has been. What we are seeing now are continuing industrial shakeouts in large capital-intensive industries underpinning any number of the infrastructural works on to which niche enterprises tend to build. In such settings, the nature of work is possibly changing faster than the definition of what is a job. Whilst writing lesser-developed countries, perhaps there are again lessons to be drawn across societies as we see new forms of social protection, barter and use of technology dressed in new language to have mutual support. Borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour has become crowd-sourcing funding?

Inequity and inequality continues to grow and there are those who have made political capital from how things are going[2]. We are seeing (further) generational shifts and the need for further development of the educational structures[3] challenging thinking, and acting, in much of the UK’s differing communities. A former Prime Minister’s exaltation to do nothing if not ‘education, education, education’ and then turn down reports to overhaul the education system of England and Wales (Scotland was far more progressive) to look at the skills we will need rings as an opportunity missed. Instead, the perpetuation of the annual political claim to have increased exam passes in a dysfunctional system was carried on. And we are paying for it as self-employment is seen not in the positive light but as a means to meet the here and now of corporate mores and addressing the NEETS of political agendas rather than the needs of the people making up this acronym.

Where are we going? The language of enterprise is definitely changing as people talk disruptive innovation; people centred skills and related phrases looking at new ideas and how to sell them to customers. We have arrived at bespoke products and the emotion of doing business. Some, many, will say these are altruisms enterprisers have known for generations. But, there are more people entering the working (away from jobs[4]) environment who do not know and require people with knowledge and experience to mentor them, cut through the crap and allow new enterprisers to gain from true networking.

Professor Allan Gibb[5] made points I have continued to seek to differentiate in terms of the ‘how’ of doing enterprise and the ‘why’[6] any of us decide to pack up jobbing and go to work.

Thus, the way forward:-

  • Let us know the ‘Why?’ of the business owner/practitioner. Why are you going in this direction?
  • Where are the checks and balances on big business as they deliver on their own ‘Why?’ and seek to dominate the underpinning infrastructure we all require to deliver in this age of convenience
  • Let us be able to question the ‘Why?’ of the politicians – different levels, different agendas different exposures to ‘the what’ of doing business.

 

  • How to support enterprisers through networks of mutual support; the redevelopment of cooperative movements and the revolution of worker organisations to truly be of mutual benefit
  • How to offer up enablers and have responsive, and even proactive (see lessons from Leicester)[7], government
  • How to have government engaged for people who have become disenfranchised and/or disillusioned – Enterprise Government? Self employed administration?

And what is NEET – Not in Employment, Education or Training – which means the workers of the World now need to re-unite as working for oneself once again becomes a bigger draw than a job and employment in its usual connotation. Working for oneself in a new networked age.

[1]https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/reports/salvation-in-a-start-up

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/04/the-problem-for-poor-white-kids-is-that-a-part-of-their-culture-has-been-destroyed?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H&utm_term=165295&subid=17241690&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

 

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06qjyrr and http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21698679-europes-top-performing-school-system-rethinks-its-approach-helsinking

[4] The RSA survey also noted how, through style choices and also because of cumbersome policies and related regulations the new generation of workers are less likely to create employment for others – thus another political agenda statement is undermined

[5] http://www.allangibb.com

[6] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/micro-small-medium-enterprise-why-how-support-develop-paul-crook

 

[7] http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21698271-there-are-lessons-learn-city-much-football-club-foxes-and-tigers