Posts

What is “Inclusive” Democracy?

And what are a country’s national values?

Much of the commentary following the recent US presidential election is about if and how “American values” will be defended and promoted by the next administration. Potential appointments, speeches, and interviews of President-elect Trump and his surrogates are parsed to speculate about priorities and possible actions that may or may not become emblematic of the new administration. Yet aside from generalized nods towards “making America great again,” there does not seem to be a coherent definition of which values are most salient at this time and under what circumstances.

Some would argue that values are enduring, not situational. Yet the relevance of specific values to what one believes is right and actionable is not always clear, particularly when there is confusion about the transactional nature (this for that) that characterizes most global political exchanges. As we look  at the results of these elections, we can’t help but question which “American values” will be most important to President Trump as he takes office and begins to steer his agenda through Congress and has to deal with groups of engaged citizens.

A recent article on the emerging Trump policies noted the importance of interests in framing how values are expressed to the world at large. There is often confusion between interests and values, the former situational and subject to negotiation, while the latter are supposedly existential and often more enduring than interests. But that distinction doesn’t explain how values become honored within a culture, how they are acquired, and how they evolve or not over time.

In the US, we have several foundational documents that characterize American values: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equality, and justice for all, to list the more obvious. Over several hundred years, these have evolved into notions of democracy, human rights, equality before the law, defense of the homeland, and peaceful relations with other nations, among others that most Americans, at least conceptually, would agree on.

image: Tipperary Republican

image: Tipperary Republican

This is not the case in most of the developing world where constitutions are sometimes treated as ephemeral statements that reflect political conditions at the time of independence including, prevailing political centers in the regime, strong cultural mores, and dominant themes such as anti-colonialism, third-world solidarity, and the language of rights espoused by the UN. As countries in the MENA and Africa move through post-independence to more robust political systems, they face the challenge of defining their national values anew, promoting their adoption within an adaptable framework, and sustaining relevance to governments and citizens alike.  This is especially difficult as subgroups within the country start to differentiate their unmet aspirations from the prevailing narrative associated with the national identity.

Ultimately, the central question is how countries can adopt core values that are resilient over time and accepted by the vast majority of citizens. These shared values are at the heart of a country’s social contract that embodies the mutual obligations of the leadership and the people. And it is the erosion of these basic ties that are at the heart of the current contradictions in forming a “more perfect union.” The Arab Spring as well as the wave of populism in Latin America and Africa are both reactionary in terms of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and proactive as people seek to find a responsive, inclusive, transparent national political culture.

Part of the problem is that in many countries, the depiction of national values at the time of independence has come under criticism as either having been imposed by elites who drove independence, borrowed from regional and international organizations (think the AU and UN for example), or come about through consensus building among various groups, which often includes resolving conflicts and expanding definitions of nationality, while excluding others.

The current unrest in these countries in transition reflects the nexus of two currents: the need of citizens to articulate their own narratives abetted by technology, and the mistrust that divides rulers and citizens as the original social contracts have lost their relevance and binding power. In the case of the US or anywhere else, the issue of how values are formed and sustained continues to be relevant as technology and external influences are redefining what matters in building national cohesion in a country.

In my next blog, I will look further into what tools can be useful in this emerging definition of “nation-building” and national values.

 

Featured image from the Immigrant Welcome Center

 

Global business in emerging markets: Transformational partnerships

At a recent corporate presentation in the Maghreb on the potential transformational effect of foreign direct investment (FDI), I focused on two points: the notion of impact investing and the corollary dynamic of how FDI impacts human development beyond the benefits of economic growth.

The discussants were company leaders and employees discussing how to build a globally competitive company culture integrating local sensibilities and priorities with technologies and industrial know-how developed abroad.  The initial discussions, following the usual pattern of strategic planning sessions, concentrated on building a common vision and purpose among the participants. The vision that coalesced was then defined in a series of core values and principles that would become the “brand” of the emerging company culture.

As I listened to insightful and well-presented points of view, it became apparent that as the new company drills down from values and principles to behaviors, it is critical that both sides examine the scope of their assumptions and expectations. While there was a strong consensus around the vision and principles, agreement was not so clear on the behaviors that would then follow. It reminded me of the iceberg metaphor in cross-cultural communications, where the core values, principles, attitudes, and beliefs are unseen below the waterline, while the behaviors, which are visible above the surface, are subject to interpretation by the other party who cannot see below the waterline. The lesson: we make judgments about others based on what we see, rather than what we know lies beneath the surface.

Given this observation, I asked the group to consider a broader perspective, moving above their particular iceberg to consider the implications of the new partnership beyond the terms of the company’s goals and objectives. I began with what I know best—defining the mission of the new company and how training impacts its brand.

The Arab uprisings pointed out the need for rapid economic growth to stimulate broad and meaningful employment and drive education relevant to the marketplace. This is not a simple task; it is not merely about providing skills training to enhance work opportunities; it is about the core aspirations of people and what this means to their country. Employees and employers are not the only beneficiaries of FDI; all of the country benefits from a more capable and effective workforce.  The workforce that is emerging will have better technical capabilities, operational sensibilities, and soft skills that enable them to define options and make choices about their futures.

In the MENA countries that I have surveyed in terms of technical and vocational training needs, soft skills are defined as more than communications and teamwork; they include the capabilities to pursue a career and anticipate and grasp needed learning opportunities. This involves creativity, innovation, and judgment. Thus, these enhanced soft skills are more complex and encourage what is called “global dexterity,” blending awareness and knowledge that lead to effective behaviors in the workplace while securing one’s core values.

The Arab uprisings remind us that there is a related issue that needs attention: that what we are dealing with is more than better training, education, and employment; Arabs are redefining the social contract that existed between regimes and their people. At the heart of it all are the issues of identity and the basis of legitimacy of the governments: political, religious, ethnic, cultural, etc.

Historically, the social contract was an exchange between a government that provided order, stability, and a bit of prosperity to citizens who felt protected and secure enough to have sustainable livelihoods.  That balance has, in many countries, been shaken to a large degree by demographics, the global economy, technology, more gender equality, a reduction in social distance, and education, which are providing the ingredients and tools for reshaping and recalibrating social contracts. So it is this redefining of the social contract that is at the heart of the struggle for political legitimacy and national identity.

In this context, skills training and professional development enable employees to access careers and benefits that equip them to be part of a generational and transformational shift. These empowered employees become capable participants with tools to achieve aspirations for themselves, their families, and their children. This confluence of skills and knowledge has the capacity to impact the debate on the social contract, which has implications for the MENA region. This may sound a bit grandiose, but it is a historical lesson that economic development and human development go hand in hand. What was once considered a business relationship has the potential, in today’s highly connected and able public space, to be a link between global markets and local human development.

By raising the performance of employees to better engage the global economy, we build a platform for moving beyond issues of economic growth as both employees and employers seek growth opportunities that require more effective governance and use of human capital. People become internal change agents that provide the role models, mentors, and early adaptors missing from the broad business landscape in the MENA countries. These local transformation agents link with others throughout the region and larger markets to promote global dexterity – adaptive behaviors built around core values.

And what is the external partner’s role in this? The concept is “impact investing,” which focuses on projects that have social and environmental benefits and generate profits. At its core, impact investing reflects business models that are sustainable, advance human capital, provide opportunities for community development, and have results that are attractive to long term relationships with the private sector. The key consideration is to move beyond social and community outreach that is beneficial in the short-term but does not significantly alter the future prospects of the communities touched. By promoting an investment perspective that recognizes that broader and deeper FDI requires long-term returns, countries and companies make mutual cause for mutual benefit. Governments have their role to play but no more than is usually needed to attract serious FDI, ranging from needed infrastructure to incentives for training, use of local materials, and similar inputs.

There are several revolutions going on in the MENA and elsewhere, some messy and unwieldy while others are barely perceptible. The role of workforce development in crafting solutions should not be overlooked or minimized as simply giving people jobs. Companies exist for a purpose, to be profitable and grow. Employees share these goals, to profit from their employment by acquiring skills that free them to know and exploit opportunities for themselves and their families. Partnerships between local and international private sectors that are emerging will, in many respects, help governments in their mission to build a new social contract with their citizens by greatly reducing demands for counterproductive government intervention in the economy. Good business making better jobs and great citizens and governments is a goal worth pursuing.