Friday, September 15, 2006

Widespread Creativity & Problem Solving: Basics for the African Renaissance

How reconcile this world of fact with the bright world of my imagining? My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold, the outer day-light world was stumbling and groping in social blindness”.

These gracious words were uttered by Helen Keller, American author and lecturer who through the painstaking support and mentorship of Anne Mansfield Sullivan at the initial request of Alexander Graham Bell (Telephone Inventor) overcame physical handicaps including blindness and deafness and has served as an inspiration for many, both the physically challenged and the “supposedly whole”.
She traveled many countries of the world and was very active in socialist causes. Her life eventually became a subject of a motion picture, The Unconquered and a play, The Miracle Worker by William Gibson.

She rightly observed that the world she lived in was one predominantly built upon facts in the sense that tradition, conformity, factualism and resistance to adventurous but constructive change stood in the way of human creativity, development and the realization of endless possibilities. As some have rightly commentated, Adversity fortifies and reveals hitherto concealed competencies (if you we are lucky enough to pull through, but we almost always do) and this possibly explains Keller’s ability to recognize and explore her bright world of imagining! Her darkness (physical blindness and deafness) experienced salting with the emancipating light of her intelligence while the generality of the outside world, though possessing physical vision, kept thrusting along the path of social blindness.
This brings into remembrance the words of my foremost social-development mentor and freedom crusader, also considered to be one of history’s greatest orators, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He remarked: “every man must choose either to walk in the light of creative altruism or in the path of destructive selfishness”.
Though without sight, her inner eyes, mental vision, and passion for positive non-violent change in society distincted her and etched her name in Gold. Little wonder she later remarked in similar fashion as Benjamin Elijah Mays (Martin Luther King’s Mentor) that “the greatest tragedy of life is to be endowed with natural sight, but lack aim and vision in life”.

Keller lived at a time when creativity was not common place and only a few dared express themselves thoroughly. However, the 21st century has surfaced and needs no further announcement. Condensed information (knowledge) has been intensely proliferated and the pace of technological innovation has redefined business, economic development and even the very art of breathing and existence. Creativity and problem solving has now become a universal currency and medium of exchange. Effectiveness, climbing profits and results have become the metrics of corporate performance. The scriptural extract “do you find a man skillful and diligent in what he does, he shall stand before kings, not mean men” is being fulfilled more than ever before.
Wealth creation is increasingly being linked with problem solving and neo-developmental economic policies the world over are consistently reflecting this ideology. These policies have stressed people empowerment, collaboration, market decentralization and the provisioning of an enabling environment and access to all forms of capital (financial, relational, intellectual and spiritual) that will encourage entrepreneurship and pervasive harnessing of local opportunities. Niche-players are increasingly attaining significance and this is evident even in the operations of Intel, a major global player in the processor, hardware and wireless technology market. Intel now subcontracts a lot of its production and R&D jobs to smaller but more effective companies. They simply furnish these companies with their resources and research labs and allow them to focus on their highest competencies. Intel realized her success may soon loose significance if she attempted continuing all her technology-development operations in-house. Henry Blackaby, author and consultant to many Fortune 500 CEOs rightly remarked that “the small service-oriented companies are the companies of the future”.

Africa has however lagged behind in the Creativity Era. While economic development indices of highly industrious Asian and South-American countries are experiencing all time highs, we are still slowly reeling out of the socio-economic mess we almost drowned ourselves in. This is not to undermine the scattered substantial progresses made. Reduction in HIV rates in some countries like Uganda, thriving democracy in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and a few others, continent-wide debt forgiveness, economic reforms (Ghana and Tanzania’s reforms ranked 9th and 10th worldwide while Nigeria is ranked 94th,…hmmm) are proofs of improvement. The cause of our slowed growth has been attributed to many factors that we are all familiar with and needs no further emphasis but failed leadership has been perceived as the premier culprit. The virus of malfeasance, irresponsibility and hate has long eaten deep and everyone of us is now directly or indirectly responsible and should be held accountable if the trend persists.

There are enormous policies, value-entrenching campaigns, re-orientations, societal changes and reforms that ought to be put in place for a 180 degree turn-around in our situation but I’ll leave all of that for the corporate and economic development geniuses like the Pat Utomis and Okonjo-Iwealas of this world. However, in the spirit of the theme of this publication, analytical problem solving (a product of strong analytical positive thinking and research) and spontaneous creativity on the part of everyone (including government, industry, civil society, you and I) will be more decisive in our pursuit of freedom from poverty. Poverty has been attributed to be more of a mental state than a physical condition, hence psychological, mental and intellectual wealth are a pre-requisite to material abundance. What we all crave is success and fulfillment and research has revealed that those with a balanced mix of intrinsic (personal) and extrinsic (societal and people oriented) Life-goals and Vision have experienced much greater fulfillment and a sense of accomplishment than all others. As a mentor once implied, “recognition of a deficiency in a system is the proof of a calling to rectification of same”. Rather than become mere spectators, we all have a call to conscience that ought to spur us into relevance, significance and sensitivity to the challenges facing our richly endowed kingdoms and domains.

The African Renaissance and the New Nigeria Dream after all are not mere products of illusion and vague imagination. They are practical, achievable and surpass-able targets.
The 2025 vision of Nigeria becoming one of the most desirable countries of the world to live in is certainly realizable.
Niyi Adesanya, Gbenga Sesan, Fela Durotoye,……….and a brewing Army of tough-minded, tender-hearted, young, focused, sound, God fearing and tenacious non-conformists, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and roving leaders with the support of the Ancient of Days will ensure accomplishment of this vision.
You had better join in now!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Framework for IT Penetration into Rural Nigeria

In line with the global trend, the 20th Annual National Conference of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) held from June 13 to June 16, 2006 in Yola, Adamawa State. The five star government-house banquet hall was the venue of opening and AGM while the wireless internet access enabled and air-conditioned halls of the ABTI American University of Nigeria (AAUN) were used for parallel plenary sessions. Focus was on creating wealth with Information Technology (IT) through extensive rural and urban diffusion.
The goals were to ensure actualization of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) objectives and in particular that of the States (SEEDS).

Keynote address at the opening was delivered by Prof. Charles Uwadia, the representative of the Unilag VC and the distinguished Sen. Prof. Iya Abubakar chaired the occasion.
The Deputy Governor and other government dignitaries graced the occasion. In his opening remarks, the chairman commended NCS for bringing the conference to Yola in fulfillment of the theme. He analyzed emerging global trends and the need to refocus our development strategies towards development of a knowledge-based economy. In his intellectual assessment, he corroborated that the wealthiest people of today are found in the IT sector, particularly in the software domain. He reasoned that Nigeria has the human resource to compete in the IT arena, provided the rural areas are empowered with IT facilities. He finally urged the conference to come up with workable solutions to empower rural Nigeria with IT for nation building and global competitiveness.

The NCS President, Dr. Chris. Nwannena in his welcome address thanked Adamawa State for hosting the conference. He advocated national empowerment through IT diffusion and urged on accelerated passage of the National IT framework bill.
Goodwill messages were given by ISPON, ITAN, NITDA and the Adamawa State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Bello Tukur. Entertainment and cultural dances were provided by four Local Government Areas of the State.
Parallel Plenary sessions commenced after the opening and ran till Thursday, June 15. Technical papers addressed a broad range of themes including

  • Empowering rural communities through IT
  • Evolving a National IT Infrastructure
  • Restructuring the National IT Policy
  • Professionalism in IT Service delivery
  • Public and Private partnering in IT delivery
  • Developing IT parks
  • Framework for Remote/Distance education through IT
  • Rural Internet access: Development and Availability of IT in NEEDS and SEEDS

Some of the papers aimed at re-inventing the wheel while some built on previous achievements but most offered practical IT Solutions for accelerated IT development and penetration in Nigeria. Some key contributions indicated that language and culture did not serve as barriers to IT penetration. For example, many northerners hitherto considered illiterate were actually proficient in Arabic language. The challenge is packaging IT in an innovative way such that it effectively interfaces with all classes and stakeholders in our nation. Fast developing nations experiencing increased IT penetration such as China and India have found a way to package IT such that more of their citizens could participate and reap the benefits of the information age, neo-liberalist capitalism and globalization. Developing first, a psychological NII (National Information Infrastructure) that emphasizes innovation, problem solving and content uploading (rather than constant downloading) and then a physical NII founded upon a national gateway and a fiber-optics network backbone spread through the nation constitute the initial phase of implementing penetration and diffusion.

All stakeholders were represented at the event including government, industry, civil organizations and of course, youths led by Martins Madueke (the National President of NACOSS; Nigeria Association of Computer Science Students). Stakeholders aired their differing views and perspectives but we all concluded on the need for a robust, all-inclusive, sustainable, scalable and proven NII that will help actualize our vision for diffusion and penetration.
I attended the event both as an active veteran participant and in my capacity as the Technical Director of the InfoTech Corps Community Development Service group of the NYSC, Zamfara State. My 14 hour trip from Zamfara to Yola was worthwhile at the end of the day. I contributed particularly in the sessions addressing SMEs development in Nigeria and NII/fiber-optics backbone implementation in Nigeria. Developing vibrant, innovative, entrepreneurship skills and business acumen amongst Nigerians and implementing a robust, scalable, national electronic information network has been my passion for several years running.

My personal point of reflection was birthed by a conversation I had with one of the deepest analytical minds of IT development in Nigeria also known as the oracle of the NCS, Dr. Chris Uwaje of Connect Technologies. He inquired if I was adequately engaged in Zamfara and the status of welfare. I responded I was engaged at their youth skills acquisition center but that general remuneration was low. He reiterated that what was important was that I was impacting my students with adequate information, knowledge and skills and not the pay. What a reply!
There were other informal events that added spice to the conference such as the grand dinner at Sen. Prof. Iya Abubakar’s mansion, the Suya/Cultural night, excursions to farms and the much anticipated conference banquet that concluded the conference.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Redefining success in the universal society

Futile Wealth Accumulation: Redefining Success in the Universal Society - (Part I)

The emergent redefining force of globalization has wittingly eroded pre-existing barriers between cultures and triggered the emergence of a universal society in which economic, political, environmental, and cultural events in one part of the world quickly come to have significance for people in other parts of the world. This is consequent upon ground breaking innovations and advances in communications (Single Wireless-CDMA base stations are now being deployed in Kenya covering 120km radius and you have underwater fiber-optics communications cables in the Atlantic/Pacific connecting entire continents electronically and have now rendered satellite telecoms a secondary option), transportation (we now have jets like the Airbus-380 and Boeing 787 that can fly unprecedented distances and maglev trains exceeding 1000km/h) and information technologies (examples abound all around you). It explains the growing economic, political, technological, and cultural linkages that connect individuals, communities, businesses, and governments around the world and also involves the growth of multinational corporations (businesses that have operations or investments in many countries) and transnational corporations (businesses that see themselves functioning in a global marketplace).

The most dramatic evidence of expanding universal wealth is the increase in trade and the movement of capital (stocks, bonds, currencies, and other investments). From 1950 to 2001 the volume of world exports rose by 20 times. By 2001 international trade amounted to a quarter of all the goods and services produced in the world. As for capital, in the early 1970s only $10 billion to $20 billion in national currencies were exchanged daily. By the early part of the 21st century more than $1.5 trillion worth of yen, euros, dollars, and other currencies were traded daily to support the expanded levels of trade and investment. Large volumes of currency trades were also made as investors speculated on whether the value of particular currencies might go up or down.

Now, “Seven habits of highly successful people” (by Steven Covey; he visited Nigeria recently), “21 Irrefutable Laws of success”, “How to be successful”, “Success Power”, “Success Digest”, “Be the Best”, “Rich Dad Poor Dad ” …… (and the list goes on) represent slogans, publications and clich├ęs that have become pervasive and crucial to functioning in our evolving, fast paced, digital, consumer driven and neo-liberal capitalist policy dominated dispensation. Prosperity indices (in GDP terms) the world over are striking unprecedented all-time highs and to be left behind in this revolution could be equated to being accursed or more simply put, uninformed! Huge Private investments, cross-border acquisitions and mergers, hedge, pension and mutual funds, corporate restructuring and debt financing are now becoming the norm in a global economy where neo-liberal and capitalist economic integration ideologies of the “Washington Consensus” (a term describing the predominant western indoctrinated institutions of globalization namely the World Bank and the IMF both headquartered in Washington) are reigning supreme.

We as individuals are now constantly being challenged and engaged to be more efficient, effective, productive, learned and emotionally intelligent if we are to attain and maintain the career and achievement heights we desire in what is now termed the knowledge society. The numerous ingenious publications on self/corporate development and actualization, financial security, communication and Success are very much aware of the opportunities presented by the thriving global free-enterprise domain where the individual who is able to harness potential, leverage resources, utilize appropriate technology and translate it into commercial success achieves competitive advantage and is labeled successful. Success in this era now incorporates both attainment and sustenance of societal recognition, respect and admiration.

Let’s now examine the lives of those currently experiencing success. Drawing on the U.S (land of the extremely wealthy) as our first case study, incomes especially for the upper and middle class have increased significantly over the past decades and are still increasing. Statistics has it that the top 30% earn as much as over 50 times what the lower 30% earns. Research (non-faith based) has however revealed a downturn in the level of happiness, (as they put it), contentment and fulfillment experienced by the people in this class. In-fact, some were candid enough to suggest that their soaring prosperity increased pressures and demands on them to at the minimum, maintain their levitating social status. To express this more succinctly, the more wealth they accumulated, the less peace they experienced. This sounds more like a curse but you couldn’t expect less when u have to be aggressive and highly speculative to consolidate social standing and remain on the success list!
By the late 1990s the 20 percent of the world’s people living in the highest-income countries had 86 percent of the world’s income; the bottom 20 percent had only 1 percent of the world’s income. An estimated 1.3 billion people, or about one-sixth of the world’s population, have incomes of less than a dollar a day. Inequality has grown worse, rather than better. More than 80 countries had lower per capita income (income per person) at the end of the 1990s than they had at the end of the 1980s. In 1960 the top 20 percent had 30 times the income of the poorest 20 percent. This grew to 32 times in 1970, 45 times in 1980, and 60 times in 1990. By the end of the 20th century the top 20 percent received 75 times the income of the bottom 20 percent. It’s been the rich getting richer all the way but how do you reconcile that with a survey published in Newsweek that authentically revealed that Nigerians, (classified as one of the poorest based on per-capita-income but an enormously talented mix of people who have been exploited for decades running) are the happiest people in the world!

Now, examining another survey of Australian millionaires, the study indicated that only one in twenty of them had a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. The others simply felt they were still under-achievers and needed to work harder in order to create an enduring impression, an elusive dream anyway!
These findings defy the logic that more resources and a better standard of living imply peace of mind and improved psychological well being. Higher income inequality (a natural spawn of capitalism) resulting in a richer upper class at the expense of the poor workforce (who actually get the job done) ought to make the rich happier you might be tempted to argue but emotional satisfaction has remained elusive to the crux of the high achievers.

Could we then hypothetically relegate and de-emphasize the significance of wealth and social achievement in the true concept of success since the perceived notion of success includes happiness and fulfillment in addition to others? Bearing these in mind, would it be appropriate for us to classify the greater fraction of the proletariat of our societies as being successful? Was it Winston Churchill that said he had achieved so much but at the end of the day felt he had achieved nothing! A contemporary dictionary defined success as attainment of power, wealth and fame (fulfillment not included). Well, maybe success has lost its true meaning or that the word in itself is fundamentally deficient in describing what we should strive towards as humans! Maybe scholars out there could help find that word that sums-up all round fulfillment and accomplishment. Even if that single word exists, there’s only one true source. If you don’t know that source, you can call me or send an e-mail and I’ll be glad to deal with your potentially anathemic ignorance!

Saturday, April 01, 2006



MDGs and Developing Nations

Talking about the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals set by the U.N. aimed at bridging the developmental/digital divide between Africa/Asia and the West), it’s really encouraging that the developed world interfacing with the U.N., are now so committed to eradicating/containing extreme poverty in the world (living on less than a dollar a day, one billion people are affected worldwide mostly Africa and Asia). Many OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries (the big boys) have consistently scaled up the percentage of their GDP’s that gets routed to poor nations as funds for disaster relief, infrastructure development, improved governance and accountability (democracy), health (mainly HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria eradication), food (with innovations such as RUTF, ready to use therapeutic food) and you know the rest. Euro-Zone countries are giving as much as 0.4% of GDP while the U.S. still hangs on to 0.1%. Funds in the excess of $65b are being disbursed annually for these purposes but Jeffery Sachs (Consultant to the IMF, World Bank and WTO) thinks this amount needs to be scaled up to $195b annually by 2015 if we really mean business. In-fact, in his publication ‘The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time’, he states that Africa is poorly governed because Africa is poor! (we are used to the reverse but that’s his opinion!).
From Geneva (first phase) to Tunisia (2nd phase) to God knows where next, its been formulating one policy, establishing one forum and staging one follow up conference to another.

I applaud the focus and strategic nature of this global initiative but how effective it really has been up till now remains elusive. There are not enough authoritative statistics that validate perceived accomplishments of these goals and be sure we’ll be living in a fool’s paradise to assume we are progressing without substantive statistical progress indicators. Amir Attaran (Canadian Research Chair in law, population health and global development) once stated that the U.N. has misled by setting specific but immeasurable MDGs. Sachs (Director of the U.N. research millennium project) dismissed this claim by stating (in the PLoS medicine magazine) that only a handful of the MDGs are immeasurable but Attaran also replies citing the United Nations' own data analysis (which the UN subsequently blocked from public access) showing that progress on a very large majority of the Millennium Development Goals is never measured.

I do not intend to get into this argument but I’m a strong proponent of the Harvard style research methodology known as RACE meaning Research, Action, Communication and Evaluation. My focus is on the latter sub-component i.e. Evaluation. Inability to obtain specific metrics that are indispensable in ascertaining the efficacy of some activity is demeaning and unacceptable in our present global information age.
A report has shown that just about 10% of funds disbursed as aid actually gets to organizations that relate directly with the poor. (Looks like bureaucracy and graft are important issues in NGOs now!). The world bank recently halted all forms of financial aid to Chad (Chad govt. diverted oil revenue meant for infrastructure into arms to ward of insurgents), cut $800m worth of aid to India, scrapped unconditional aid to Zimbabwe all due to suspicion of graft and mismanagement.

2015 is less than a decade away and one has to wonder how achievable these goals really are. China successfully lifted 300m of its citizens from extreme poverty (living on less than a dollar a day) in the space of 20 years. This was largely internally and local policy driven. I strongly believe Nigeria and indeed, Africa can repeat same. It all depends on us, not just our leaders. NGOs accessing substantial funds but executing white elephant development projects, propaganda, dearth of sustainable development initiatives and ineffective leadership are depressing but certainly not enough to destroy the Spirit of a rejuvenated, educated, tenacious and development consumed citizen.
My community development group in zamfara state of Nigeria approached a ministry of education official with a proposal to impact secondary school kids and government with basic and then advanced ICT skills at zero cost. All they had to do was approve, give us a list of schools and provide some available hardware. He welcomed the idea initially only to convert the whole thing into his personal propaganda. He asked us to spend just a day at each school and do some publicity gymnastics under guaranteed press coverage. He didn’t realize we were not some press starved or State-award chasing service men. Intensive and sustainable education is what society needs, not some public awareness that many so called NGOs and advocacy groups are conducting around the country and continent.

(In same spirit as my elder one (synonym for mentor), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), I have been to the mountain top, I’ve looked over and I have beheld the Promised Land. Though I may not get there with you, we will get there as a people. Mine eyes have seen the coming of the Lord.
I have a dream that my (four or less) little children will one day live in a world where they will not be suppressed by the evil around them, but will be fired up through harnessing their limitless potential to effect a positive sustainable change in society by acting locally, but thinking globally.

adetayo bamiduro; +234-803-065-5386;; zm/05B/0276;;