As we come into 2013, we will be looking at what has happened as well as what we would like to do – that is of course if we are serious about results and progress. Such people will reflect on the past and would be imaginative about the future. Some others may see the 31st night dinner dance and the 1st hangover as the results of a wonderful year gone by!
The media’s collection of newsworthy events is usually the collage depicting the negative events where much noise was created but with little or no effect on the real progress of the country. No compilation ever captured that in 2012 Sri Lanka received its first Nanotechnology Patent from the United States Patent Office, which is today an Indo-Sri Lanka scientific research activity!
The complacency that can set in when the urgency that is demanded is not given, and only valuing the growth in its mundane usual format, can be quite problematic with the passage of time. For sure the challenges are there and may not be quite foreseen. We must understand that the politician’s real world is quite different from the real ‘real world!’
The time spans for them are different for planning, execution and realising results. When the shorter time spans are all that matters, the plans that one initiates and executes may serve quite well for short-term gains but one may find that they actually lay down the foundations for tomorrow’s problems. Hence the need for correction in national planning that is only aligned to short-term gains. That is the province of the technocrat; a breed that may not be quite present in numbers today with a right set of values and understanding.
Importance of thinking
In an era of constrained resources, the one thing that should not be constrained in any way is thinking. In this era thinking has been found to be so important and useful that universities have moved ahead to establish positions of Professor of Creative Thinking – the University of Pretoria being the first to do so.
Some organisations have even advertised for in-house hermits – whose sole task would be to sit and think and come out with possible answers to global issues! These are small but revealing examples to indicate how the wind blows! We should note these developments and not snicker over someone who appears to pay valuable money to someone to just sit and think!
A key take for 2013 is to ensure that we do our thinking and ensure that we understand right what is needed. Even if it is down to hedging, we will hedge the right way! Thinking right should have covered all scenarios.
Need for expertise
To solve emerging problems, we need expertise around and within our organisations and institutes and not consultants in corridors. They come and disappear, leaving you with a neat bound padded document of what you yourself must have produced and informed them over the consultation.
Organisations need to be bold and must understand the value of specialists. Specific tasks must be set in motion, which demand expertise, and organisations should gather strength through the presence of special talent.
Inside the knowledge hub you do not reach outside for help and advice but others reach in for the same. The answer lies in having the right talent pool. Now the generation of talent is not that easy and is time consuming. That should be a 2013 pledge. We have resolved far too long in thinking that we can get by with little knowledge and only with loads of money.
Most of the time in the past we were looking at ways of getting money and not strengthening ourselves with abilities which can yield much more in the end. Then in the end we are only left fighting inflation, which brings down the real value of what we have collected.
Education is key
Education is a key for development and in 2013 this aspect should be considered, understood, and remedies and investments put in place as this sphere of activity is far from perfect. A Sputnik moment perhaps has arrived and hopefully we will recognise it. The action to eradicate ignorance and to empower with abilities begins and ends with education.
Take the first Sputnik moment as it is known today. When the Soviets sent the Sputnik into space, the American State ego was badly bruised. To America, however, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise and the rallying cry in USA was well heard and responded to. A moment was lost to the Soviets but the stage was set for USA to be a real dominant economy.
It was Sputnik that made the Americans change their school curriculum. As per John Kao, who is an economist, “We (i.e. the USA) revised school curricula to emphasise the teaching of science and mathematics. The USA passed the $ 900 million National Defence Education Act, providing scholarships, student loans, and scientific equipment for schools. NASA and Apollo were products and Neil Armstrong’s small step on moon for him was a culmination of an intense national effort. This gave birth to many commercial segments and USA never looked back.”
The point to note is when one is faced with an issue, one must confront it in the best possible way, and perhaps the most innovative and creative, and not in a regressive negative manner. Boldness is called for with the intense will to stick to the broad plans. Once a major victory has been sealed, you are a new person and the same is true for a country.
Perhaps the execution of a young Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia is a grim reminder of possible fate if one gets into the wrong side of the legal process in a country where the established law is so different to one’s own back home.
However you just cannot criticise the law in a different land. When you have decided tacitly, you have accepted the conditions that apply within. The case made headlines and hopefully sends a wakeup call.
A country that aspires to have a tag line of ‘Miracle of Asia’ cannot afford to have an economy that by and large depends on returns through such migrant labour. Nor can it expect to have a population that feels that if you are in poverty or in economic difficulty, the way to salvation is in participating in the labour market overseas – and in menial jobs at that.
Even though this case made headlines, the data indicates that many pay the supreme prize in trying to eke out a living in this way and the number dead per year may be more than the number of days per year.
The wakeup given to us in the early days of January is to ensure that different ways of living must be a goal and this way is not the way to go. Yes, it is not something that one can follow up and be done within one year as so much is dependent on this revenue stream and the returns flow into all four corners of the land – something the Government in other ways will find it difficult to achieve.
Science and technology
Science and technology must come to the fore in 2013. The 96% of schools at Advanced Level stages that do not have science education must be reversed with some vigour. The 21st century is not the place for the fainthearted in science and it is going to get tougher. Selling nuts or leaves is too simplistic and will not take us far.
John Dewey has stated that great advances in science have issued from a new audacity of imagination and many minds are really doing this and economies are dependent on such minds. It is dealing in with justice that we have spent much of the month of January! However, it is science and technology that we must bet on and we must ensure that science must be seen to be done!
That is a bold bet as we are not quite ready but we can match ourselves to USA as Sputnik took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It is this element of imagination and the desire to dare that should come in 2013 to our mental makeup. From thinking to action, boldness needs to be our guide in this new year. Let us go for it and ensure the year end collage is strikingly different.
(The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is also the Director of UOM-Cargills Food Process Development Incubator at University of Moratuwa. He can be reached via email on [email protected])