Diversity Dinners–A Cross-Cultural Institution


On Thursday, April 14th, my sister Nora and I attended a wonderful event called Diversity Dinners.  Diversity Dinners began more than a decade ago in the South Suburbs of Chicago.   Since then, close to 15,000 people from over 40 communities have shared dinner at host homes.   Diversity Dinners promote cross-cultural communication and understanding for better, stronger communities.

Through the years, Diversity Dinners has helped break down barriers that separate people and build better relationships among neighbors and communities. Many participants, young and old, have gained mutual respect and forged lasting friendships. Many people look forward each year to meeting old friends and making new acquaintances.

My sister and I found out about Diversity Dinners through a mailer that came to our house.   She, my brother and I live in the house my parents lived in, and the mailer was addressed to my mother, who had passed away years ago.    My sister opened it up, and she remembered having a conversation with my mother about what a wonderful time she had at the event.   My mother had always been a positive force for encouraging cross-cultural communication and my sister decided that she wanted to honor her by attending the event herself.   She asked me if I wanted to attend as well, and I agreed.

There were about a dozen of us.   As far as race is concerned, we were about half white, half African-American, and one of the three college-age students were mixed race.    We were representatives of Christian and Jewish religious backgrounds, and we ranged from college age to retirement age.    The dinner itself was catered, and after sharing our meal together, we started our conversation, which was directed by the host couple.

The two questions were:   how does diversity strengthen our community?    The surprising answer we got from many people was that by embracing diversity, it allows us to see what we have in common.    This, in turn, helps us to cooperate in terms of helping our communities weather the economic storms that are increasing in frequency and severity as our middle class is under siege.    Compared to when I was in college age, millennials who are of college age face an age of diminishing expectations rather than expanding ones, and the real possibility of the creation of a new form of indentured servitude.

Celebrating diversity goes beyond mere tolerance.   Tolerance is a passive, or sometimes even, passive-aggressive posture towards those who are different.   The embracing of diversity VALUES those same differences and even seeks them out, like we all did when we signed up for the Diversity Dinner.

The second question was:   what specific actions do we recommend people take in order to promote the celebration of diversity in the NEXT generation, as represented by our three college age students.   My answer is Toastmasters, which accepts people of diverse backgrounds who all have one thing in common, that is, the desire to improve their speaking and leadership abilities.

As an example of how this promotes diversity, Charles Brooks, an African-American who was the District Governor about a dozen years ago, proposed creating “seed” clubs in areas that had been hitherto underserved:   the South side of Chicago.    He contended that Toastmasters had been seen as a suburban phenomenon by the African-American community, and did not see how it had anything to offer them because there were no clubs in their neighborhoods.

So Charles got to work creating 5 seed clubs in neighborhoods like Englewood that were considered “rough” neighborhoods.    Now, more than a dozen years later, some of these clubs are the stars, not just of their neighborhoods, but of the entire Division which they are in, like the Wrightwood-Ashburn Overcomers, or WAO, club, which has consistently produced champion speakers and leaders who have gone on to be the real powerhouses of the Division and indeed, of the District itself.

My goal in this next year is to see how we can serve, not just the African-American community in Chicago, but the next largest minority group, Hispanic-Americans.    Our goal at Toastmasters should be:

We don’t care what color your skin is; we only care about the color of your ambition!

International Security Outlook 2030–Governance Challenges


In the past week or so, I have done several posts on the first part of the Global Risk Report 2016, which came out earlier this year from the World Economic Forum.

The report is, to a large extent, similar in format to those created in previous years, which makes for an excellent way of checking up on recent trends of global risks.

One feature that was specifically commissioned for the Global Risk Report 2016, however, was a survey of the international security outlook for 2030.   International security is defined as “measures taken by state or non-state actors, individually or collectively, to ensure their survival and integrity against trans-boundary threats.”

The consensus in international relations that was achieved in the first 25 years after the Cold War created social, p0litical and economic progress for people in many countries around the world.  However, shifts in political and economic power are threatening the international security order, and these are being accelerated by:

  • technological innovation (see previous post on Global Technological Risks)
  • social fragmentation
  • demographic shifts

The two shifts that have the potential of destabilizing current international relations are:

  1. Frail or weakening states–these open up space for the rise of armed non-state actors (like ISIS) in the global security space, and present themselves as alternatives to state-based governance structures
  2. Return of strategic competition between strong states with conflicting interests–this can be seen in the competition between the BRIC  countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) on the one hand and US and NATO countries on the other.

The last post showed how these two shifts are interconnected by using the example of the challenge that Daesh (aka the Islamic State In Syria or ISIS) poses to the Middle East region and eventually to the entire world.

This post will discuss other examples of frail or weakening states creating a power vacuum which is being filled by terrorist groups or criminal enterprises.

  1. Afghanistan–Gains made by US-coalition forces have been lost to resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.    For more background, see the book Taliban by Ahmed Rashid.
  2. Africa-violent and extremist groups like Boko Haram are at work in  parts of the Sahel, Northern Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and the Central African Republic.   The security and social concerns brought about by these groups have had a dampening effect on economic growth in Africa.
  3. Latin America–organized criminal gangs have gained influence over a steady stream of drugs that continue to flow from the region, thus fueling further expansion of their activities.

All of these security concerns brought about by criminal and/or terrorist activity have a common source in the failing governance of the states they were formed in.    Terrorist groups get support from the local populace to the extent that the people are disenchanted with the services they get from the government.    These groups sometimes offer services to the people in order to gain their loyalty, although the people often find that these services come at a high price in other ways.

The next part of the report on international security deals with the second of the two themes above, the strategic competition between strong states rather than the problems caused by weak states.    The example given to illustrate this are the security issues in the South China Sea.

The International Security Outlook 2030–The Challenge of Daesh


In the past week or so, I have done several posts on the first part of the Global Risk Report 2016, which came out earlier this year from the World Economic Forum.

The report is, to a large extent, similar in format to those created in previous years, which makes for an excellent way of checking up on recent trends of global risks.

One feature that was specifically commissioned for the Global Risk Report 2016, however, was a survey of the international security outlook for 2030.   International security is defined as “measures taken by state or non-state actors, individually or collectively, to ensure their survival and integrity against trans-boundary threats.”

The consensus in international relations that was achieved in the first 25 years after the Cold War created social, p0litical and economic progress for people in many countries around the world.  However, shifts in political and economic power are threatening the international security order, and these are being accelerated by:

  • technological innovation (see previous post on Global Technological Risks)
  • social fragmentation
  • demographic shifts

The two shifts that have the potential of destabilizing current international relations are:

  1. Frail or weakening states–these open up space for the rise of armed non-state actors (like ISIS) in the global security space, and present themselves as alternatives to state-based governance structures
  2. Return of strategic competition between strong states with conflicting interests–this can be seen in the competition between the BRIC  countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) on the one hand and US and NATO countries on the other.

This second section of the Global Risk Report shows how these two shifts are interconnected by using the example of the challenge that Daesh (aka the Islamic State In Syria or ISIS) poses to the Middle East region and eventually to the entire world.

The reason why Daesh poses a challenge to the entire world is because Daesh does not just recruit locally; it exploits the resentment and disillusionment of young people and recruits them from over 100 countries.    What are the causes of the formation of ISIS?

First of all, the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein in the naïve attempt to create a democracy in the Middle East.   Naïve not because the people of the Middle East are incapable of creating a democracy, but that such a democracy is not just a form of government; it requires institutions to support and nurture the growth and sustaining of this culture.   To put this into the terms of Spiral Dynamics, which classifies societies in terms of developmental stages, Iraqi was under the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein, which should be considered as the third or RED stage of development according to the model (the colors are arbitrarily assigned to make the model more accessible).    The fourth or BLUE stage of development which is based not on one-man authoritarian rule but what might be considered a feudal series of relationships.    It’s the stage where monarchy balanced by an aristocracy is a very common form of government.   The fifth of ORANGE stage of development is where representative democracy becomes possible with different branches of government.   The US, for example, is somewhere on the continuum between the fifth ORANGE stage and the sixth or GREEN stage of development, which is when more the individual is even more empowered, such as through social media, having a direct voice rather than just a representative one.   What the Bush administration wanted to do was leapfrog Iraqi society from the third or RED stage all the way to the fifth or ORANGE stage without creating the institutions that are required for this development.   A makeshift stock exchange was created with the magical thinking that this would somehow jumpstart a capitalist economy in this war-torn area.    Institutions like the Iraqi army that would have provided stability from one stage to the next were dismantled.    The result:   rather than going up stages of development, Iraqi societal development devolved from the RED or strong-man authoritarian rule back down to the second or PURPLE stage of development, where there is competition between tribes or in this case sects.   This is the state Iraq found itself in under the sway of sectarian strife between the Sunni and Shia.

When the Shiites took control over the country through the democratic process, they used their power not to create a government that would serve all constituencies in the country, as an ORANGE level democracy would do, but they started to use government powers to go after the Sunnis in the same way that the Shiites had been persecuted under Saddam Hussein, essentially using a democratic form to advance one tribal affiliation over another.   This caused a Sunni insurgency in the West of Iraq which spilled over into its neighbor Syria to the East, and contributed to the formation of ISIS in that country.

What is clear from the summary in the Global Risk Report is that whatever went INTO creating Daesh or ISIS, it will not be defeated simply by “bombing them out of existence” as some US presidential nominees have suggested.   In fact, you could say that ISIS to a certain extent has been bombed into existence, in a way that the Khmer Rouge were created as an unexpected byproduct of the bombing campaign in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.   Bombing campaigns may erase individuals among the Daesh leadership, but their create enough chaos because of collateral damage that they merely extend the vacuum in which a terrorist group like Daesh thrives.   Rather, Daesh can only be defeated if the civil war in which it is embroiled is ended.    However, major regional and global powers have been unable so far to be able to put aside differences and pragmatically find a political settlement.    It can only be suffocated socially and economically, not militarily or at least not SOLELY through military means.   For more concrete proposals for meeting the challenge of ISIS, I recommend the book ISIS:  The State of Terror, by J. M. Berger and Jessica Stern.

This requires a reversal of the second trend above, increasing cooperation between strong states, if the first trend, that of the rise of non-state actors like Daesh or ISIS, is also to be reversed.

Global Risk Report 2016–The International Security Outlook for 2030


In the past week or so, I have done several posts on the first part of the Global Risk Report 2016, which came out earlier this year from the World Economic Forum.

The report is, to a large extent, similar in format to those created in previous years, which makes for an excellent way of checking up on recent trends of global risks.

One feature that was specifically commissioned for the Global Risk Report 2016, however, was a survey of the international security outlook for 2030.   International security is defined as “measures taken by state or non-state actors, individually or collectively, to ensure their survival and integrity against trans-boundary threats.”

The consensus in international relations that was achieved in the first 25 years after the Cold War created social, p0litical and economic progress for people in many countries around the world.  However, shifts in political and economic power are threatening the international security order, and these are being accelerated by:

  • technological innovation (see previous post on Global Technological Risks)
  • social fragmentation
  • demographic shifts

The two shifts that have the potential of destabilizing current international relations are:

  1. Frail or weakening states–these open up space for the rise of armed non-state actors (like ISIS) in the global security space, and present themselves as alternatives to state-based governance structures
  2. Return of strategic competition between strong states with conflicting interests–this can be seen in the competition between the BRIC  countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) on the one hand and US and NATO countries on the other.

Although these two phenomenon may seem different on the surface, the Global Risk Report 2016 says they are linked.   The first category are “asymmetrical” threats and the second category are classical threats.   However, the instability of states such as Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria have led to the rise of both types of threats simultaneously.  For example, in the case of the Syria, the weakening of the Assad regime’s control over the country not only to the rise of non-state actors like ISIS (one of the asymmetric threats), but to increased competition between the United States and Russia to influence the situation.

The “battlefield” in Syria, if you can call it that, has blurred the distinction between zones of war and zones of peace, as well as the distinction between legitimate combatants, non-traditional adversaries and the civilians in the areas that are undergoing conflict.

Because the two categories of threats above are linked, one conclusion to be drawn is that ISIS (aka Daesh) cannot be defeated as long as civil war rages in Syria, and major regional and global powers will need to find a political settlement.

The detailed recommendations by the World Economic Forum in the Global Risk Report 2016 to defeat ISIS will be described in the next post.

 

 

 

Global Risk Report 2016–Technological Risks


1.  INTRODUCTION

In my previous posts on the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2016, I have concentrated on

  • the methodology of the report (corresponding to the Plan Risk Management process of Project Management),
  • the identification of risks (corresponding to the Identify Risks process of Project Management)
  • the qualitative analysis of risks (corresponding to the Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis process of Project Management)
  • the identification of regional risk trends
  • the risks that have changed the most since the last Global Risk Report
  • The Paris Agreement as a risk response to the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation
  • The risk responses to  Large-Scale Involuntary Immigration
  • Economic risks
  • Creating a culture of risk resilience

In looking over the first part of the Global Risk Report 2016, I wanted to make sure there were any areas that I hadn’t covered, and I did uncover one such area.   You see, I had covered geopolitical and social risks related to Large-Scale Involuntary Immigration and the risk responses to them which involved supporting immigration programs that help refugees assimilate into their new host countries.   I had covered environmental risks with the focus on the Paris Agreement as a way to mitigate against climate change.   Also, I had discussed the economic risks inherent in the slowdown of the global economy, and China’s economy in particular.

However, I had not yet addressed technological risks, which I will do in this post.

What are the major technological risks that the world faces at the present moment?

  1. Cyber-related risks—cyberattacks are among the most likely and most potentially impactful risks for the next two to three years, and they are highest risk of concern for the region of North America.   Companies need to make an appropriate level of investment to enhance risk management against such cyberattacks, particularly in the two areas of mobile internet and machine-to-machine connections.
  2. Exchange of data between countries and stakeholders—given the inherently international nature of data transfer between multinational companies, a corresponding international legal framework must be established to ensure privacy, transparency, encryption control, and intellectual property regimes.
  3. Changes to the work environment—by 2022, 40% of US workers will have a probability of their jobs being automated.   To replace manual labor jobs that are most likely the first to be so automated, skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are expected to increase in importance in the medium term, and skills in problem-solving, creativity, and social intelligence are expected to increase in importance in the long term.    Why?  Because jobs involving these skills will be difficult to automate, and thus will not become obsolete.
  4. Widening wealth, income and social inequalities—4 out of the 7 billion people on this planet do not have access to the Internet, and will thus not benefit from technological innovation.    Because of the trend mentioned in paragraph 3, there will be diminishing returns to labor and this could exacerbate current trends towards wealth disparity.    This lowers aggregate demand and will depress the global economy for decades to come, and if continued, will contribute to the greater risks associated with social instability.

Any effort that can be made to bridge the technological gap will have to be accomplished, at least in part, through educational institutions, although public-private partnerships between business and government can also contribute to this effort.   Society will support technological innovation to the extent that the innovation is seen as a benefit to all the society’s members, and not just the elite few.

Global Risk Report–Developing Risk Resilience


1.  INTRODUCTION

In my previous posts on the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2016, I have concentrated on

  • the methodology of the report (corresponding to the Plan Risk Management process of Project Management),
  • the identification of risks (corresponding to the Identify Risks process of Project Management)
  • the qualitative analysis of risks (corresponding to the Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis process of Project Management)
  • the identification of regional risk trends
  • the risks that have changed the most since the last Global Risk Report
  • The Paris Agreement as a risk response to the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation
  • The risk responses to  Large-Scale Involuntary Immigration

I think one of the reasons why people don’t study global risks is because they feel helpless in the face of risks which are, after all, global in scope.    Of course, as an individual, there is not much one can in the face of a global risk like that of climate change, but working together as governments and societies, a risk response plan like the one developed in the recent Paris Agreement is a possibility.

That is why I am not enervated, but excited, when reading about risk response plans, because as a project manager, working on teams and directing teams is what I do for a living.   That is why I was glad to see that the Global Risk Report took one of the case studies and spent it not on a prominent global risk, but on identifying those characteristics of teams which were able to successfully navigate past global crises, like

  • The earthquake in Chile in 2010
  • The Ebola outbreak of 2014
  • The earthquakes in Nepal in 2015

The Global Agenda Council (GAC) on Risk and Resilience studied the responses to these crises and came up with the following 4 leadership and institutional values which are important for weathering the storm of a crisis.

  1. Clarify roles and responsibilities—when a crisis occurs, time is of the essence and you cannot waste any time trying to decide who has authority or who is in charge of resources.   All of these roles must be specified in a risk response plan way in advance, and must be clarified through training and exercises.
  2. Develop crisis leadership characteristics—leaders must be transparent, responsible and accountable.   They must be able to articulate to the public a clear path forward in the case of an emergency
  3. Leverage expertise—social networks with experts must be developed in advance that cross professional and institutional boundaries so that these expert “force-multipliers” can be on tap when a crisis rears its ugly head.
  4. Create a culture of integrated risk management—the culture of risk management must span the whole organization, including the supply chains.    One way to create this culture is through the development of integrated planning for such risks.

In my own mind, the disastrous reaction by the Bush administration to Hurricane and subsequent flooding in August of 2005 is an example of the breakdown of many of the above values.   The Department of Homeland Security had cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget, and reoriented its mission towards recovery from terrorist attacks rather than from natural disasters.

When Hurricane Katrina hit and the flood came, the immediate response was delayed due to miscommunication and insufficient planning, and the government was not even able to deliver promised supplies and transportation based on those plans.

Effective management of crises can create a force-multiplying effect in a positive direction, but it is equally true that ineffective management can create a force-multiplying effect in the other direction.

That’s why I recommend to all risk managers to read Box 1.5 on page 19 of the Global Risk Report to see if the values listed there are reflected in your own organization.    If not, why not create such a culture?   You may be thinking, I am just a drop in the ocean, but consider this:   what is an ocean if not just a multitude of drops.    By yourself, no, you cannot do very much, but if a multitude of drops work together, they can become a tsunami of change within the organization that can enable it to withstand any storm, on the physical or economic front.

 

 

 

 

 

Experience the Unexpected at a TEDx Talk


Today I had the wonderful experience of attending a TEDx event live at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.    The event consisted of a 20 TEDx talks given from people as diverse as Dr. Lillian Smestad talking about anti-matter research done at CERN to a fifth-grader named Kate Cesario who read her classmate’s poem about her experience about coming from war-torn Iraq to the United States which she called the “Everything Country.”

My favorite talks included:

  • John Katsoudas—talked about how Nano Liquid Batteries can be the breakthrough that are needed to jump-start the market for purely electric vehicles
  • Haydn Shaw—talked about millennials are not a problematic group to deal with if you realize they are just going through a problematic period called emerging adulthood, like every other generation has done before it
  • Garrett Gray—on how to suppress the instinct which terms healthy competition into unhealthy competition
  • Carl Seidman—on how his first “retirement” at 32 taught him that all of us will need to reinvert our career and our lives at least once in our lives, so we might as well do it voluntarily rather than being forced to do so.
  • Ellen Schnur/Jim Mecir—talked about how the powers of improvisation can help you not only be more spontaneous, but can help you stop negative “self-talk” which can sabotage your efforts

The organizer, Amy Lee Segami, spent six months putting on the event with her team of IIT student volunteers.   I am still on an intellectual high after listening to an entire day’s worth of information and entertainment.   It is now my goal to BE on a TEDx talk next time around in 2017 …