Sunday, 17 January 2016

The beauties of embarking on a new adventure #lifeisbeautiful #everydaynairobi

Embarking on a new adventure comes with a magic mix of excitement and apprehension.

You are looking forward and excited to explore and discover new territories, break new grounds and come out of your comfort zone.

At the same time, you have to deal with the little voice in your head that nags you with its annoying questions such as "Are you sure about what you are doing?"  "Is this the right thing to do".

Overtime I have learnt that if you want to grow, if you want to live your life fully, if you want to expand your horizon, if you want to make the most of your life, you need to take control of your life and pursue your passion, convictions, ideals and most importantly follow your heart. 

Living life fully means coming out of the “comfort of security” and embracing the unexplored, embracing the adventure, embracing the new encounters and the new experiences.

Embarking on a new adventure while having its share of apprehension and anxiety helps you become more of a complete person. It allows you to see things with a fresh eyes. 

It allows you to see the beauty of what may otherwise may have been “normal” and explore the beauty of novelty. It allows you to live every day as a new day. 

Embarking on a new adventure with an open mind and heart, allows you to live your journey without prejudice, thus enjoying the luxury of creating something new without the burden of a past. 

Embarking on a  new adventure is like being a kid in a candy shop. Everything is new and fresh. You look forward to the unexpected, new flavors, new faces, new sentiments, new challenges, new scenery and new dilemmas.

At the end of the day life is nothing but a journey. And by definition a journey means not staying put, but traveling, moving around, being a nomad, changing horizons, gaining new experiences, meeting new people, learning from different experiences, people and cultures.

I’ve learnt that to make the best out of any new adventure, you need to:

  • Go with the flow
  • Keep all options open
  • Keep the door of your heart and mind open
  • Say yes to opportunities and people
  • Get out and explore
And I commit to do so as I embark on my new adventure. 

One week into my new adventure, I cannot but fully subscribe with this quote from Hunter S. Thompson.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Is technology killing communities? #kmers #socialmedia

Last month I attended a meeting entitled "What are we talking about when we talk about community?" We started the conversation by sharing our ideas and views about a wide variety of congregation of people - which for ease of reference we called communities. These ranged from tribes to cooperatives to kibbutz.

We then shared our perception and understanding of different types of communities, such as, community of practice, community of interest, stakeholder community and social community and talked about the importance of nurturing strong and weak ties.

As we engaged in the conversation, it dawned on me that communities have the power of uniting and dividing....

They unite, when people who share a common interest or value come together to learn, share and innovate. They may divide when people who share different interests and values end up going head-to-head. At the same time, while fostering discipline, they are a great conduit for innovation and collaboration.

As we delved in and starting unpacking the subject matter, I thought to myself when was the last time I was part of a community together with a competitor. For example, as a Ferrari fan,  would I be considered a traitor if I joined the McLaren or Red Bull community?

This made me realize that for communities to stay at the cutting edge, they MUST have a disruptive element. I realized that perhaps the dividing factor is as good, if not better than the unity factor. This is because having competing interests will help us come out of our comfort zone, challenge the status quo and as a result transform, create something new.... in short innovate.

If you've had the privilege of being part of a community, you may have joined it because you shared a common interest or passion. You may have joined a community to survive or you may have joined a community because you were in search of diversity or wanted to get close to your traditions and roots.

What ever may have been your drive to join a community - once you embraced YOUR community and no matter whether you ended up being a fervent contributor or a lurker - you probably benefitted from a sense of belonging and established some sort of an emotional bond.

The concept of communities is nothing new. They have existed since the beginning of time when groups of people sharing something in common came together to pursue a common goal and/or passion.

The new element today is technology. Some argue that technology - could be a double-edged sword - as it is contributing to loosing sight of the PEOPLE component of community.

As Henry Mintzberg eloquently outlines, in his article We need both networks and communities,before the advent of technology, the city center, the village square was the heart of the community. Today, the village center has an on-line rival.....

In the past, communities were made up of people who knew each other, met each other at the market, talked with each other, came to each other's help in moments of need. The advent of technology has changed the way community members interact with each other.

Mintzberg argues that since members of virtual communities may not necessarily know each other in person and may never get an opportunity to talk with each other face-to-face, these are more of networks than communities. Others argue that networks are better at communication than collaboration.

Where does this leave us?  I think we all agree that nothing can and will ever replace the nuances that a face-to-face interaction offers. At the same time, I believe that the affordances of technology  have helped to bridge the time and space barrier. For example, we now can have face-to-face interactions and collaborate with each other virtually. But we cannot break bread virtually, we cannot enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine virtually ..... We cannot do the social stuff, the very things that bring people together, help create a bond, thus foster collaboration.

So, are virtual and face-to-face interactions mutually exclusive? I am afraid there is not a black and white answer to this question. It goes without saying that when you know members of your virtual community in person and have opportunities of interacting with them face-to-face, this definitely has an impact on the quality of the conversations and undoubtedly facilitates the virtual interaction.

This does not mean that you are at a disadvantage with it comes to engaging with members who you do not know in person. I am firm believer that you can establish collaborative relationships with people who you have not met in person. At the same time, I also know that when you have had the luxury of meeting them in person and have an opportunity to "socialize" with them, this will end up having a night and day impact on the quality of the relationship.

While I cannot agree more with Mitzberg statement that we need both networks and communities, as a technological determinist I am not sure how to internalize his conclusion "The new digital technologies, wonderful as they are in enhancing communication, can have a negative effect on collaboration unless they are carefully managed. An electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that's all" as I believe that technology is nothing but a tool. It is up to the user - that is US - to make the best use of it.

I am putting the question and perhaps my personal dilemma to my KM and social media communities and I look forward to hearing your your view and ideas. I am sure your informed views will help take this conversation forward. Let me thank you in advance for your contributions.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The bitter sweet story of #migrants: how about considering the receiving nations as venture capitalists

The influx of migrants to Europe is a story that has dominated not only the headlines but also featured prominently on political and diplomatic agendas.

It's been a bitter-sweet story... one of solidarity and humanity on the one hand, and harshness and grief on the other hand.

As a migrant and an immigrant I can tell you that leaving your country of origin, leaving behind your family, your friends, your connections, networks, your identity and sense of safety and security and going to a foreign land is never anyone's first choice. 

So when people migrate from a place and immigrate to another it is because of necessity. It is because they find themselves in a dire and desperate situation, it is because they find themselves between the rock and a hard place. It is because the only choice for a better and more dignified life is to move on... to migrate.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the perils of migration and immigrants. I am be utterly naive and ask for your indulgence to pause a minute and look at this challenge as an opportunity.

Consider the countries who welcome and accept migrants as venture capitalists or angel investors. Consider seeing the influx of migrants as an influx of talent, experience and expertise. 

Imagine a world where nation state venture capitalists continuously and constantly create the right environment to unleash migrant's  talents. Imagine a world where we continuously and constantly read about the achievements of sons of a migrants.

As a migrant and an immigrant, I can tell you, our journey is one that starts with an upheaval and uprooting. It is one of loss and pain. It may be one of humiliation and loss of dignity. 

No matter what is the spark that ignites our journey as migrants, we all aspire and hope that the rest of the journey is one  of hope, acceptance, solidarity and accomplishment. Every smiling and welcoming face we encounter along our journey is one that sows the seed of hope. Every opportunity, sows the seed of accomplishment. Every hurdle that we overcome, sows the seed of acceptance.

While we all hope to be able to go back to our countries of origin, we make the land that welcomed us our home. We integrate, contribute and join forces to make our new home a better place and in doing so, we embrace what Pope Francis said to the  Latino immigrants in Philadelphia, We try "not be ashamed of your traditions.”  His Holiness reminded us: “Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land. I repeat, do not be ashamed of what is part of you, your lifeblood. You are called to be responsible citizens and to contribute, like others who with so much strength did before you . . . fruitfully to the life of the communities in which you live.”

As migrants,  we become citizens of the world and have many homes. We thank the warm and welcoming smiles and embraces, we thank the opportunities offered to us and we look forward to be able to give back.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Celebrating young people: Investing in the future #youthday

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are 1.8 billion young people  in the world. Today as we mark the International Youth Day we are celebrating and paying tribute to these talented, energetic and creative young people.

These young people are the very people who can and are willing to change the world and make it a better place.

For those of us who do not fall in the 10-24 age bracket, if you were to close your eyes and imagine the youth of today, what are some of the images and characteristics that come to mind?
  • the internet generation, who lives and breaths on technology
  • a generation who if separated from their hand-held device will perish
  • an educated generation with a giving attitude, with the desire to change the world for a better place
  • a generation that believes in collective action
  • a promising generation of accomplished CEOs, CFOs and CIOs
  • a "virtual and social networked" generation 
  • a generation that converses with instant messages
  • a generation that excels in cutting through information clutter
Whatever your image of the younger generation,  let's not forget the 500 million young people who live on less $2 a day. Let's not forget that 60 per cent of these young people with high potential are neither at school or have any type of employment - be it regular or irregular.

According to Dr  Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA “Today, nine in 10 of the world’s 1.8 billion young people live in less developed countries, where the young encounter obstacles to their rights – to education, to health, to live free from violence. Many of these young people may never realize their full potential, as leaders, as change-agents, as entrepreneurs, as people with the power to transform the future,”

Imagine a world where these very same young people have overcome their many challenges and can fully benefit from and actively contribute to the 2015 edition of Youth Day theme "Youth Civic Engagement." Imagine a world where these same young people have access to the technological revolution that their peers are benefitting from. Imagine a world where these same young people are able to fulfil their dreams and aspirations. Imagine a world where these same young people have the opportunity to become accomplished CEOs, CFOs and CIOs.

I think we can build a world where all young people can have a better and brighter future.

So next time, you are presented with the opportunity to advocate on their behalf, do so. Next time you have the opportunity to raise awareness about their challenges, do so.

Next time find an opportunity to extend a helping hand to young person, do so. Next time you have an opportunity to coach and mentor them, do so. Next time you have an opportunity of sharing your experience, do so.

And if they show arrogance and have a "I know it all attitude", be patient and persevere. The ones who want to learn will do so and yes there will be those who will display arrogance. But hopefully they will be few and far between.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

What's the next big thing for #socialmedia? Let's consider going back to basics....

Is it me, or has the content on social media channels lost its freshness and edge?

As an early adopter I remember the days when we shared punchy, out-of-the-box content. I remember the days when we had full-fledged conversations on social media. I remember the days when we cherished the affordances of the various channels and used them for different purposes. I remember the days that we shared more from our heart than our head. I remember the days when social media channels were more SOCIAL than media.

In reading Twitter's blogpost  "Introducing event targeting", I could not but smile at the statement "if it’s happening in the world, it’s happening on Twitter”. It is now conventional wisdom that Twitter’s strength is “providing as-it-happens coverage and commentary on live events”.

To prove this point,  I checked the live Twitter feed from an event which was taking place at that moment. I was stunned by how we may have ran out of creativity and as a result the messages and content seem to have lost their punchiness and sound and look all the same. Scanning the feed made me realize that we may be living under the false impression that we've outsmarted Twitter's technological affordance.

We seem to have forgotten that Twitter was born to convey messages in 140 characters or less. We've forgotten the mantra "If you can't explain it in 140 characters, your idea is too complicated!"  We seem to have forgotten why Twitter is at its best during live events. We seem to have forgotten that while maintaining a professional tone, what travels well is a message from the heart.

No doubt that a picture is worth more than 1000 words and we all agree that it is great to add a photo in your tweet highlighting what is happening in that very moment. This said, I am not sure, whether it is cool to add  photos jam packed with text to outsmart  the 140 character limit.

In the good old days we conveyed a message with 140 characters or less. This meant we spent more time to craft a punchy, meaningful, relevant and engaging content which had the potential of going viral.

We seem to have forgotten the wonderful and unique affordances of the various social media channels. We seem to have forgotten that social media networks are supposed to connect PEOPLE and as such, in sharing content, we need to talk WITH people, and not AT them. We seem to have forgotten that the key to success on social media is engagement.

This brings me to content curation – which I believe to be an art and something that we should do more of. The key to success is walking a fine line between delivering relevant and timely social engaging content without this being “contaminated” with our own bias and/or interest, without it being a megaphone or in the worst case scenario end up being propaganda.

In scanning the various social media channels, I longed for the conversational tone, I looked high and low to find a piece content that I could engage with, a soundbite from the heart. What I found was more of the same. I wonder if the lack of punchy and engaging content is to avoid getting into trouble? And if so, this is probably one of the reasons we are seeing less and less  viral content.

How can we go back to create conversational and real content, content that touches both hearts and minds and goes viral.

Think about it, when was the last time you shared a piece of content? Why did you do it? Probably because it was something that touched your heart, meant something to you and your community. It may have been counterintuitive and controversial, it may have been simply fun and something out of the ordinary.

As an avid follower of Simon Sinek, recently I've been pondering whether we've lost sight of the WHY of social media and are exclusively focusing on the WHAT and HOW.

So, is all lost…. or have we reached a point where we need to think of what's the next big thing for social media? Maybe it is time to find our way back to the beginnings of social media – to the WHY.

Maybe we need to come to terms with the fact that the next big thing is social media is to go back to the original affordances and uniqueness of the various technologies.

Maybe we need to go back to basics. Let's be less of an emulator and more of an innovator. 

Join the conversation.... @rsamii

Monday, 29 June 2015

Aspirations and challenges of rural communities: Bridging the rural digital divide globally

What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of a rural area and rural community?

A beautiful country-side; cows, sheep, chicken happily grazing. Maybe a well curated farm-house or dirt roads with dwellings with no water and electricity. How about huge stretches of farmland and make-shift markets. Or draft animals carrying heavy loads; villages and hamlets with few households; a quiet setting with no phones and internet access?

Last month while visiting "rural America", I came to realization that like everything in life, there is always more than just one truth. And in this case, the truth related to different flavors of "rural" and “rurality”.

I was intrigued by the idea of "rural America", and keen to see first-hand the similarities and differences between rural communities of the most advanced and richest country in the world and those of developing countries.

My visit to rural America took me from Berkeley to Mendocino county and more specifically to Point Arena and Manchester in Northern California.

My interest in visiting “rural America”  was to see first-hand the challenges and opportunities of bridging rural digital divide. I found the concept of “rural digital divide” in the United States quite a paradox. And especially so in Northern California, considering that Mendocino county is only 200 miles away from the Silicon Valley.

Difference and similarities of rural areas
Thanks to the excellent road infrastructure – albeit a good stretch of winding roads -  my 140 mile journey to “rural America” took about three hours. This was definitely a different experience from a similar journey in a developing country.
Those of you familiar with the rural roads can attest that undertaking a similar journey in a developing country could take anywhere between six to 12 hours.

Rural America, unlike its developing countries counterparts, not only has good road network, but it also provides its communities with other basic infrastructure and amenities, such as water, electricity, schools and health clinics.

However, surprisingly it seems to lag behind when it comes to connectivity and internet access and the percentage of underserved rural communities is quite staggering.

I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with the Mendocino county communities. On the one hand listening to their challenges and aspirations confirmed the fact that rural challenges are universal. On the other hand, I was surprised and taken back by the fact that the rural communities of  the most technological advanced nation in the world shared the same challenges of accessaffordability and adoption rate as their African, Asian and Latin American brothers and sisters:

One of the common characteristics of any rural area - be it in developed or developing countries - is the fact that these areas typically have a low population density, depend on agriculture and offer little or no employment opportunities for the younger generation.

Mendocino county which covers a total of 10,040 km of surface has a  population of approximately 87,192 people. The town of Point Arena has 449 people; Albion has a population of 225; 210 people live in Manchester and Gualala and Sea Ranch have a population of respectively 2093 and 1305.

The entire county is faced with the challenge of youth out-migration who are leaving for bigger cities in search of better employment opportunities. This outmigration is caused not only because of lack of job opportunities, but also because of inadequate internet connectivity, thus preventing the youth to work from home.

The youth exodus to larger cities has negatively impacted the agriculture sector, caused a decline in real estate and slowly is changing the social fabric of Mendocino county and transforming it as a destination for pensioners and retirees.

Internet connectivity: A basic need and global good public service
The prime goal of any private sector company across the world is to make profit. And private sector companies - despite their social corporate responsibility arms - want to do business and invest when they are sure they will make profit.

So, it is no surprise that incumbent telecom companies are keen to invest in highly-populated areas, as they see promising business opportunity. Sadly, big telecom companies shy away from investing in infrastructure or providing services to rural areas with sparse and low population density, simply because this type of investment is not profitable.

You can see this trend not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries. And yet everyone knows that connectivity can and will help reverse youth outmigration, boost tourism sector and provide better opportunities across the board.

The people of Point Arena and Manchester were faced with connectivity challenges. However, the stars aligned for them and today they are lucky enough and can benefit from internet access thanks to services provided by

The FurtherReach/Celerate project is a De Novo Group initiative made possible thanks to a grant from and in collaboration with scientists at Berkeley and Stanford.  

FurtherReach provides free wifi services to public areas and thanks to the affordable broadband Internet access, dial-up is now history for “rural communities” benefitting from these services!

The advent of affordable internet serviced by FurtherReach has led to creation of “technology centers”. This in turn is allowing people in the lower income bracket to take advantage of connectivity. Those previously excluded from the digital world are now getting acquainted with and benefit from the marvels of technology. This has led to increased job opportunities and more importantly has been a catalyst for rural communities to have their voices heard.

There is more than what meets the eye
The recent Pew Internet Research “Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015” states that “rural citizens are less likely to use internet.” It goes on to say “Rural communities tend to have a higher proportion of residents who are older, lower-income, and have lower levels of educational attainment – additional factors associated with lower levels of internet adoption.”

The above statement presents just one side of the story. It does not however explain that one of the many reasons for a low adoption rate is the fact that major telecom incumbents do not find investing in rural areas with low population density attractive enough, therefore these areas lack basic infrastructure, which means they cannot avail of internet access.

My trip to "rural America" made me realize that if connectivity is a challenge in the most technologically advanced country of the world and for communities 200 miles away from the cradle of technology, what should the development community do and what types of policies and interventions are needed to advocate for bridging the rural digital divide in developing countries?

Love to hear your views, ideas and insights.......

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Building high performing and cohesive teams - an art or alchemy? #kmers

For the last two decades, I’ve been asking myself whether building a cohesive and high performing team is an art or the fruit of alchemy?

I’ve benefitted from the wisdom of highly-paid management consultant,  coaches and facilitators; poured over and absorbed both academic and business literature and exhausted the repertoire of team building games.

Sad as it may be, I am not sure I can honestly cite an example of how all of this body of knowledge, expertise and know-how actually contributed to form cohesive and high performing teams.

I define a cohesive and high performing team as a group of people from different backgrounds and walks of life coming together to achieve a common goal. A group of people who set to achieve their common goal by caring, respecting and trusting each other. A group of people who innovate and inspire. A group of people who distribute work based on their different expertise and self-manage themselves as they seem fit.

And yes, sometimes becoming a headache and challenge for the leader or the boss, as they end up setting their own norms and sticking to them.

I never thought I would be lucky enough to witness with my own two eyes the formation and maturation of cohesive and high performing teams. And guess what, I got lucky!

So how did this miracle happen? Was it art or alchemy? Here is the story:

20 inspiring and bright people were asked to share a seed of an innovative idea.  Almost immediately after doing so, they came together socially for a drink. This casual and relaxed gathering allowed them to get to know each other better, find out and learn about each other's interest and listen to each other’s ideas in an informal setting. 

This early social gathering was instrumental and contributed immensely to building mutual trust and respect. It was a great bonding experience.

Subsequently in a more formal setting, using speed geeking method, these 20 bright individuals started to explore similarities between and among their various proposals so that they could form teams.

In doing so, they negotiated, probed, challenged, sought clarification, curiously explored, dug further into each other’s ideas and shared the values that would guide their journey to realize their idea.

At the end of this process they formed eight groups with each group having at least three team members.

Their forming stage in many ways reflected the first stage of  Bruce Tuckman’s group formation framework which is described as “This is the initial stage when the group comes together and members begin to develop their relationship with one another and learn what is expected of them. This is the stage when team building begins and trust starts to develop. Group members will start establishing limits on acceptable behavior through experimentation. Other members’ reactions will determine if a behavior will be repeated. This is also the time when the tasks of the group and the members will be decided.”

Over the course of the next four months, I witnessed:
  • camaraderie among and between teams
  • the art of maintaining focus  
  • the teams building synergies, providing guidance to and learning from each other
  • gracious and respectful ways of pushing back when there was an attempt to persuade the teams to change course
  • the teams staying true to their values, ideas, cause and passion
  • apt ways of managing upwards
  • the delivery of high-quality products
  • different tactics and techniques to provide feedback
  • transformation, maturation and sophistication of presentations and pitches
  • seamless assignment of roles and responsibilities - one based on team member’s comparative advantage, experience, expertise and skill
I did not witness Tuckman’s second stage of group formation - namely storming which is characterized by conflicts and differences of opinion. Or let’s put it this way, there was never any external manifestation of storming. What I saw was the teams seamlessly moving from norming to performing - a stage where teams are focused on accomplishing the goal by fulfilling all the various tasks. In doing so, they learnt new skills and shared roles and responsibilities.

Watching the teams delivering their final products, presentations and pitches, I wondered how many of them will actually continue working together and how many would disengage to meet Tuckman’s transforming or termination stage.

It was a delightful experience to see the formation of these eight teams and how they:
  • worked together
  • overcame their uncertainties, insecurities and matured
  • stayed true to their values, ideas, passion
  • won competitions and awards
  • reached out to seek coaching and mentoring advice

So, what did I learn from this extraordinary experience? To start with, I saw what Morten T. Hansen had to say about collaboration in real life: “ for collaboration to happen leaders need to unify people and to do that they must craft a compelling unifying goal that makes people commit to a cause greater than their own individual goals.”

I learnt:
  • successful and high-performing teams are those who believe in and have a common interest
  • you cannot force people to work in a team, they either need to come together spontaneously or at least have the opportunity to find their best fit
  • the importance of an early social get together to get to know each other 
  • successful teams are those who stay true to their values, cause and passion
  • the fundamental principle of allowing teams to come up with how they wish to manage themselves and the infinite benefits of allowing the team to negotiate and figure out their team dynamics as opposed to instructing them what they should do and how they should behave
  • the art of pushing back gracefully and managing upwards
On a personal note, it was an honor to witness the seamless group dynamics - one based on mutual trust and respect. It was truly a privilege to have been able to celebrate the successes and accomplishments of these eight high-performing teams. And I sincerely hope to have an opportunity to replicate this successful model next time I am tasked to form a team.

I am sure these 20 bright people and eight high-performing teams will go from success to success. It was a pleasure and honor to learn and work with you all. THANK YOU.