Swords & Plows

Portrait of Harijan Woman, Khavda Village, Kutch, Gujarat, India
Portrait of Harijan Woman, Khavda Village, Kutch, Gujarat, India

What makes a female laborer in Gujarat wake up one day and decide that she is no longer a simple agricultural serf, but rather, an innovator and an actual participant in the global economy?  Part of it must be the lure of the free market and the attendant (albeit elusive) notions of freedom and autonomy.  Another part is a feeling that she no longer belongs to the place where she lives.  There is some dislocation of self from society that goes hand-in-hand with this evolution. Either way, this change is compelling.  I must say, frankly, that it is often completely overlooked.

When one begins to consider this shift of awareness from a social perspective, and thereby to challenge the conventional business-minded thinking of the day, then one realizes that global trends do indeed have very personal and specific implications.

With socio-cultural phenomena like social media providing a megaphone to previously unheard voices, and the mass importation of industries into the formal and informal sectors of economies like those of India, the Middle East, and Africa, we have begun to see that the transformation wrought by social media and technologies can be both sword and plow in frontier and emerging markets.

It’s a sword because not all of this transformation will be seen as “good”.  Some of it will be considered an intrusion by an unwelcome guest. It’s a plow because those groups and sectors in most dire need of equalization will be stirred to action and empowerment.

You do not have to look very far to find unrealized potential in the world, nor to find the groups that are for and against vitalization. The unrealized potential – namely, women and girls – populates two-thirds of the developing world.  In India alone, female workers outnumber employed men, and their average age is 33.6.  This is almost universally accepted as the median age for the adoption of mobile technologies – and, in the West, of social media habituation.

It follows with some ease that the rights and welfare of these beings are of the utmost importance, and that the future of women and girls will be affected by new systems of management and leadership.  Those systems of the open source variety are most relevant in countries emerging out of poverty and coping with economic stressors.

They do, however, offer a “blank slate” for management ethos and leadership potential.  India presents a fascinating scenario in which to consider the many variables presented in this discussion.  For example, the agricultural field cannot support a female-dominated work force. There are other industries that could support this demographic, and those industries could introduce wage equity. India has an abundance of raw materials, a cheap untapped labor market, and centuries of handy know-how when it comes to fabricating materials.  Textile fabrication, or just plain old dressmaking, could be the kind of labor-intensive cottage industry that could give a country like India a leg up.

Critical inquiry could be made with respect to the implications and cost parameters for increasing opportunity for those most in need of it.  Criteria for the measurement of the true success of any organizational design, or leadership ethos in such emerging systems would include two important considerations:  first, whether or not such dynamism is real, by gauging the effect it has on economic development measures; and, second, whether or not there is sufficient density to the perpetuate the system throughout the entire society. The future of free-market capitalism, if it is to evolve in emerging markets as it has in the developed world, is somewhat dependent on the success of such measures.

We are headed into a period of greater and more potent exercise of autonomy, from which we hope to see greater productivity and more sustainable and ethical profit margins. In the same way that the Industrial Revolution was driven forward by steam engines, railroads and mass production, so too mass collaboration, open-community and open-leadership systems will emerge as integral parts of the corporate economy in the next five-to-ten years.

Social media can be the progenitor of the truly liberating effects of technology on society as a whole.  Perhaps that is all that it needs to be. One need not look past the simple fact the State Department itself kept Twitter up and running last year during the political crisis in Iran. What does this say? It screams that people want to communicate openly and freely with one another, particularly when they are combined as empowered groups.  Employees, be they auto workers in Detroit or agricultural workers in India, are empowered groups.  What if we were to give our people better training, more credit, and more autonomy?  What if the leadership ethos we employed were more innovative in that it cultivated a sense of the person as human being and not only as “employee”?

The bigger picture is that social media will continue to blur boundaries, fragment media consumption, and require more granular consumer insight practices over time.  Along the way, divisions between product and consumer, consumer and brand, brand and agency, management and staff will not continue to be as they were even five years ago.  What is less obvious is the effect that social media will inevitably have on infrastructure.  There are far greater and more compelling implications for social media in the workplace than currently imagined, particularly in the developing world.

In particular, the dynamic of open-systems, and the pliability of the workplace itself, could be the very platforms upon which employment equity could begin to level. There is an unavoidable, tacit truth circulating through organizations. With the not-so-timid assistance of social media channels, organizations are realizing that they cannot sell what they do not actually practice. In other words, the inclusivity and engagement bandied about in social media circles is as much a dynamic of the new workplace and the developing world as we enter the twilight of the Great Recession.

These principles are applicable not only in the West, where a revitalization of management ethos is sorely necessary, but in the East, where developing nations must begin to provide more than the sword or the plow as tools of mobility and development.

Lunching with Bankers

The Impenetrable Chinese