Averting the Revenge of Gaia

On a visit to Victoria, B.C. in 2007, my brother-in-law, Horst Molleken, a nature lover, introduced me to the ‘Gaia’ hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which entails planet earth to be akin to a living organism having its own feedback and self-regulating mechanisms. This aroused my interest and I quickly headed for the downtown bookstore where I picked up Lovelock’s sequel titled “The Revenge of Gaia”.

Lovelock, is a globally reputed British earth scientist, and his book is both fascinating and alarming.  In short, the author argues that our generation has lived so irresponsibly and our reckless living has inflicted a disease on Gaia (literally, goddess Mother Earth in Greek) leaving her with no option but to destroy the invasive parasite (human economic activity). The author goes on to say that even if all economic development were to come to a halt, it would take more than a thousand years to recover from the damage already done and thus champions the case for a sustainable retreat rather than sustainable development.

Lovelock’s views and recommendations might be a bit extreme but there is no denying the fundamental tenets of his arguments. Lovelock’s assessment was corroborated by the Rockstrom report in 2009, which showed that three of nine planetary boundaries have already been crossed.

Pleanetary Boundaries_Rockstrom

Figure 1: Nine Planetary Boundaries as Depicted in the Rockstrom Report

Despite the writing on the wall, human beings are way too engrossed in economic growth as the altar to live and die for. I have attempted below to explore and asses the main issues in the environment debate; what is being done and what needs to be done.

The State of Mother Earth

A short prognosis of the state of planet earth reveals the following 5 top maladies:

Global Warming and Climate Change: Our failure to control greenhouse gases is leading to erratic and extreme weather patterns which was so noticeable in 2017 when we witnessed a record series of typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes across the globe.  There is enough scientific evidence that global warming is for real. Massive reliance on fossil fuels for energy and transportation has led to rising greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. On one hand, global warming is causing large scale ice melt; rising sea levels and abundance of warm water that threatens aquatic algae. On the other hand, it is threatening the existence of tropical forests.  Both aquatic algae and tropical forests are natural absorbers of carbon and our best insulation for global warming.

shutterstock_81823690_Glacier Melt

Figure 2: The Retreat of the Athabasca Glacier in 11 Decades (Source Euractiv.com)

Ocean Plastic: The unchecked use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics is destroying oceans.  World Economic Forum (WEF) in partnership with Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that by 2050 the weight of plastic waste in our oceans will equal the weight of fish. Plastics may a take a second to use and dispose but they take hundreds of years to decompose.

2018-02-11_21.00.57_Marine Litter

Figure 3: Consequences of Dumping Plastics in Oceans (Source: WEF)

Depleting Rivers: Across the world, we are witnessing depleting rivers on which townships depend. The city of Cape Town is currently experiencing its worst ever drought. In India we are witnessing previously perennial rain fed rivers drying up for some months in a year.   A lot of this has occurred due to unchecked deforestation; over exploitation by agriculture and wanton dumping of industrial effluents in rivers.

cauvery_dry river bed

Figure 4: River Kaveri in South India which Runs Dry for 4 Months in the year (Source: News18)

Industrial Pollution: is a consequence of not only fossil fuels consumption but also a by-product of the manufacturing economy and farm fires. Cities like Delhi have attained unprecedented pollution levels crossing well above the danger mark. Such pollution levels represent a major public health hazard. According to the U.N. 6.5 million people die annually because of air pollution and 92% of the world’s population are living in places which exceed recommended limits

Feeding a Dangerously Crowded Planet: This might just be the root cause for all our environmental problems. It is a lesser talked about matter that our planet is grossly overpopulated with a total population of 7.2 billion people. Large scale deforestation is taking place daily to bring more land in use for agriculture and animal grazing. This along with large-scale mechanised farming is causing unprecedented soil degradation. Industrial meat farming is contributing to more greenhouse emissions than all forms of transportation combined and meat eaters are responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions compared to those living on a plant diet.

Taking Collective Responsibility

Our planet is everyone’s responsibility and not just of the officials working at the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Governments across the world; the private sector; NGOs and individuals all need to come together as partners.

In 2015, 196 countries and representatives (collectively referred to as Parties) passed the Paris Agreement to combat global climate change.  Of these 196 parties, 174 have ratified the Agreement. By becoming a party to the Agreement, each nation/representative is responsible for containing rise in temperatures, to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and ideally within 1.5 degrees Celsius, in the time frame from 2015 till year 2100. Also, in 2015, the U.N. formulated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda consisting of 17 SDGs. The beauty of the SDGs framework is that it makes sure the goals of economic development and social inclusion are mutually inseparable from preserving the environment.

The Energy Response

The energy response needs to consider both supply alternatives and altering fossil fuel consumption. Across the globe, we are witnessing an overwhelming interest in renewable energy.  International Solar Alliance (ISA) was set up in 2015 to harness energy from the sun and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. ISA needs to work with governments and communities across the world to promote policy level measures for deployment of renewable energy.

Policy makers need to work on a war footing to provide incentives to the auto industry for switching over to electric vehicles. We need further progress on carbon taxes and introducing robust monitoring systems.  In India, the government has announced halting of new thermal power plants and a program to eventually wean these away.

Dealing with the Plastic Menace

We desperately need measures to curb the use of plastic given its non-biodegradable properties. Costa Rica, perhaps, is the first government to introduce a ban on single-use plastics and have it fully enforced by 2021.   PlasticBank , a noted Fintech,  was set up to build at-scale plastic recycling opportunities and provide incentives to monetize these using blockchain technology.


Both, droughts and floods can be brought under control by understanding the flow of rivers and appropriate land use along their banks. In India,  Isha Foundation has taken a move of bringing civil society together to RallyForRivers and promoting polices to promote afforestation, particularly along the banks of rivers. The idea is to enhance ground water retention through tree plantation along river banks which in turn will increase natural cloud seeding; carbon capture; make water flows perennial and also provide buffers to prevent flooding.  RallyForRivers  has submitted a draft policy document to the Government of India on how India’s rivers can be revitalised.

Curbing Pollution

In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a new air quality model with an aim of reducing the number of human deaths attributable to air pollution. Dr Maria Neira of WHO said “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cook-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions”.

City/state councils need to limit the number of cars that can be owned and operated in a particular city or district. For instance, Singapore and the City of London have got programs that limit ownership and plying of cars.

Taking Personal Responsibility

The Story of Stuff

Quite recently, whilst attending the program India Leaders for Social Sector I was introduced to this beautiful video prepared and published by Tides Foundation featuring Annie Leonard. It’s called The Story of Stuff and depicts how linear (conspicuous) consumption on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster and how each one of us as consumers is responsible for environmental decay. In his seminal book  “Ecological Intelligence” author Daniel Goleman advocates the case for eco-consciousness and provides solutions in terms of exercising eco choice while consuming services and goods.

In the last decade or so, there has been a big leap in eco-consciousness in humankind. But we are clearly addressing only the tip of the iceberg. To avert the revenge of Gaia, we need to assume collective responsibility; we need to put the environment before economic development; we need to include externalised costs in production and we need to make correct choices in the way we eat food; the way we travel and the ways in which we consume and discard. Only then would we have earned our true salvation.

Shakti is a former banker, management consultant and I.T. professional and shares a close bond with Mother Nature. He can be reached at saranshaks@gmail.com

Is There Common Ground Between the Corporate and Impact Sectors?


The corporate sector and the impact sector are both part of the larger ecosystem of Life. There are certain activities that the corporate sector can do that the impact sector simply cannot and vice-a-versa. In the final analysis, both the corporate and social sectors are not mutually exclusive. A corporation cannot sustain itself if it subtracts value from or fails to add value to society. Likewise, society cannot progress without a healthy corporate sector. Both the corporate and social sectors require some unique and some common qualities although in the case of the latter these get applied very differently.

In terms of personal qualities, logical thinking, speed and being business like (or astute) are preconditions for success in the corporate sector. The impact sector, on the other hand, favors people who are more intuitive, compassionate and sport qualities of patience, tolerance and inclusivity. However, there is common ground too. Both sectors require passion, drive, integrity and focus. Bill Gates has time and again gone on record saying that unquestionable integrity is the overwhelming but silent quality responsible for his success.

In terms of professional qualities, in the corporate sector, it is expected that a person will have significant analytical capabilities. It’s not that analytical capabilities are not required in the impact sector; it’s just that relative to the corporate sector, people are expected to display greater empathetic qualities. Corporate sector is about understanding the profit zone; social sector is about understanding the social impact zone. Most corporations, if not all, are saddled with a quarterly mind-set whereas the impact sector expects one to assume longer-term horizons. Therefore, it isn’t without accident that the term patient capital has been defined. Corporations and managers are eventually driven by understanding of markets and stock market valuations whereas social sector success is driven by measurement of positive impact(s) on society, human well-being and the environment. Fund raising in the corporate sector is often in anticipation of projects whereas in the social sector it more often than not is linked to defined projects.

Whether it is the corporate or the impact sector, both require a certain set of common professional skills and qualities. In both, one needs to be accountable, and be able to perform and deliver results. The acumen for strategy; problem solving and risk taking are pervasive except that they have different contexts.

It must be emphasized that both sets of qualities are not either or. In other words, a person can imbibe and exhibit both qualities. There are any number of examples of people who have worn both hats. From the time of J.R.D. Tata (an eminent Indian industrialist) to now, several entrepreneurs have straddled back and forth from the corporate to the social sector successfully. Philip Mervis, from the Boston College Center of Corporate Citizenship, is a champion of creating intersections between corporations and society and advocates consciousness-raising experiences as part of executive leadership development. A grounding in liberal arts can be a good and common starting point.

Shakti retired from IBM in Aug ’17 and is a cross-over to the Impact sector. He can be reached at saranshaks@gmail.com


Why The World Needs More Canada

This happened a few weeks ago at Vancouver, B.C. just before my birthday. My nephew was driving me in downtown Vancouver and we were headed to Chapters bookstore. Just before getting there he asked whether I was looking for a specific book. I told him yes, that I was wanting to check out “The World Needs More Canada” and he gave an intriguing reply suggesting that if I were you I wouldn’t buy it. I asked him why and he gave this straight-faced answer that he couldn’t tell me why. Not wanting to disrespect his feelings we decided to instead hit the Mountaineering Equipment Company store but my mind kept wondering why he dissuaded me. Was it some inflammatory content in the book? Was it the antecedents of the author or publisher? Little did I realise that this book was going to be my birthday present which I received later that evening.

My tryst with Canada started way back in 1974 when my brother-in-law and sister decided to migrate to Montreal, later Toronto, then Ottawa and finally Vancouver B.C. In the years between, I have made 11 visits, have visited five of ten provinces and can claim to have a decent understanding of the country. My most recent visit coincided with Canada celebrating its sesquicentennial year with events laced all over the country.

Now, what makes Canada special?

As a student, when the world of global politics was just dawning on me, I was a keen follower of the then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, the current PM’s father. Those were the days when social media did not exist and I relied on the printed press. What fascinated me the most about Trudeau was that in his tenure, which coincided with the worst of the cold war, Canada managed to maintain excellent international relations. Trudeau’s determination to take on Quebec Premier René Lévesque to save the country from partition cannot be forgotten. Incidentally, in his era, the Canadian passport was the most coveted one on the planet. Perhaps it still is. At that time, I was just plain and simply fascinated by Trudeau’s antics and that there could be such a down-to-earth side of a head of state. He claimed, he was neither French nor English and that he was just Canadian.

At a first glance, especially to a visitor from India, you would struggle to differentiate between American and Canadian culture. It all looks the same till you dig deeper. There is a psychic difference between the two nations and their people and many Canadians get offended if they are referred to as Americans. Margaret Atwood, a noted Canadian poet has this to say “I have just come back from the United States, where Canada is having an unaccustomed moment in the spotlight. Once, Canada was that great blank space on the map above the 49th parallel where the cold weather came from. Now it is seen by many Americans as a beacon of light in a darkening world- a place you might escape to if things get too negative south of the border: still welcoming, still pluralistic, still committed to fairness “

This blog piece could very well have been titled “Why the U.S. Needs Canada” but that would be an understatement and would be doing injustice.  Justin Trudeau’s welcoming of Syrian refugees was in stark contrast to many heads of state. Canada has a far better record on inclusiveness than most nations on this planet. The people of Canada are incredibly friendly which got re-affirmed during our recent fortnight long visit. Canada’s sheer expanse and Canadians respect for nature; safeguarding the environment and affinity for the outdoors stand out.

Canada is the land of Celine Dion, Donald Sutherland, Yann Martel, Deepa Mehta, Malcom Gladwell and many more artists. Norman Jewison, film maker says “My birthday wish for Canada for this year and years to come is that we may be an inspiration to the rest of the world for peace and understanding and international support for climate change.” Carrie-Anne Moss, actor, echoes similar sentiments “Being Canadian means growing up in an energy of innocence and goodness. It means caring about nature and the goodness of humanity”

However, as acknowledged by Margaret Atwood herself, Canada has not always been welcoming and kind and pluralistic and has not always been committed to fairness. But, Canadians are quick to apologise and if I were to make a relative comparison with other nations on this planet Canadians rank among the more empathetic. There is one unfinished business in Canada though and that is its treatment to citizens of the First Nation or the native Indians. In 2015, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission published its report and this seems to be finally seeping into the Canadian consciousness. During Canada’s 150th birthday party I found several references to this theme in the local media. Let us hope that Canadians can complete this reconciliation process swiftly.

To conclude, author Susan Juby, sums it up best “When I travel, I’m surprised if I meet people who don’t appreciate Canada’s consummate excellence. I half expect people from other countries to cheer when they learn that I am Canadian…The country isn’t perfect and there is a problematic history to contend with, but it’s still a place that fills me with gratitude and amazement.”

 Shakti can be reached at saranshaks@gmail.com


The Many Faces of Corporate Social Responsibility and why Strategic CSR Matters

#CitizenIBM  #IBMCSC

The relationship between business and society has been a long but somewhat checkered one. However, in the last three decades we have witnessed some major breakthroughs in what remains an evolving journey. The notion that corporations are pitted against society is not quite true. In this era, we are witness to the birth of several entities like Gates Foundation; Dell Foundation, Omidyar Network and, closer home, the Azim Premji foundation. These are all show case examples of high impact philanthropy that got funded only because of very successful businesses.

To be fair, even before the Gates era, we had foundations promoted by the likes of Rockefeller and Ford. We also had a few business houses and corporations whose ownership was transferred to charitable trusts. The foremost among these were India’s $ 100 Billion conglomerate Tata Sons which is owned two-thirds by a cluster of trusts and the German multinational engineering and electronics company Bosch, which is 92% owned by Robert Bosch Stiftung (Foundation). Each one of these trusts has given back significantly to their constituents and society. Tata Trusts have been supporting endeavors in the areas of education, social sciences, healthcare, nutrition and much more. Likewise, Robert Bosch Stiftung has been focusing on themes such as social cohesion in Germany and Europe; migration and cultural integration and building sustainable living places.

Bosch and Tatas are not alone.  Hershey’s the American chocolate maker is dominantly owned by Hershey Trust Company. The Rolex watch company is owned by a non-profit foundation which sponsors the annual Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Wellcome Trust which once owned Burroughs Wellcome, eventually sold of its holdings to GlaxoSmithKline and the trust continues with its charitable work through a formidable £ 18 billion corpus

Whilst corporate social responsibility (CSR) of the kind above is at large scale these instances are few and far between. There is no denying that modern economics, although very different from the laissez faire era, has been overwhelmingly focused on shareholder value, ignoring a host of other stakeholders that constitute society. This topic has been dwelt on in a recent Bloomberg post Toppling the Idol of Shareholder Value   and is the central theme of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism , co-founded by Lynn de Rothschild. These attempts are like potent seeds but with long gestation periods.

More than a decade ago, Harvard professor Michael Porter along with Mark Kramer authored a seminal article “Strategy & Society; The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility”. Porter stressed that business needs a healthy, educated and skilled society as much as a healthy society needs successful companies, jobs, standard of living and innovation. But more than anything else he advocates the need for corporates to align their CSR activities to their business strategy and he provides a framework for creating win-win situations. To make his point, Porter provides several examples of how corporations do that. One, for example, is that of Credit Agricole that introduced innovative financing options for energy saving home improvements and audits for certifying farms as organic.

There are scores of organisations which are thinking along these lines. I would like to share with you three shining examples of how corporations are addressing this. The first is my own employer IBM which has a dynamic Corporate Citizenship department promoting CSR in a uniquely effective way. In 2008, IBM had the courage to launch its Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program around the time when the rest of the world was reeling under the financial crisis. CSC is a probono consulting shop which caters to the needs of NGOs, NPOs, government and quasi government entities in about developing 37 countries. What does IBM get out of it? Goodwill, immense goodwill and it’s this goodwill that helps emerging markets to become receptive to IBM as it expands its global footprint. Another IBM program is P.TECH or Pathways in Technology which instills vocational IT skills in high school kids which IBM introduced recently in Morocco.  Why Morocco? It’s like this: Morocco has the potential to become a hub for IT global delivery in Francophile countries but the country faces a shortage of skilled IT workers.  P.TECH will spawn otherwise scarce skills in Morocco leading to better prospects for its citizens and in the process make available a much needed resource base for IBM.

The second example is of the much talked about company Tesla.  Inherent to Tesla’s business model is the need to save our environment. No company in the world is working to make that dramatic shift to renewable energy the way Tesla is. Tesla solar roofs allow home owners to source their energy requirements captively; Tesla Energy has built one of the largest solar farms in the world and Tesla Electric is building electric cars which such gusto that Stanford University economist Tony Seba has forecasted in his recent report Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030 that the end of petrol cars could be just eight years away.

The third example is closer to the Indian subcontinent. A few years ago, French Yogurt maker Danone built what was unthinkable i.e. a small 2000-ton yogurt plant in Bangladesh keeping social business in mind. Unthinkable because the company never imagined that anything less than 20k-tons would be economical. Danone worked on this through experimentation; abandoning its legacy processes and using a bottoms-up approach. The net effect of this was enhancing nourishment in Bangladesh and providing remarkable insights to Danone that helped them adopt direct-delivery systems and new products in France and other markets.

There is no doubt we have come a long way in this journey. In some countries like India, the recently revamped Companies Act requires companies, achieving a certain turnover or profit threshold, to set aside two percent of their average profits over last three years for CSR activities. However, regulation may not be the best means to achieve CSR. It is true that many corporates hide behind the sheen and gloss of CSR initiatives carefully crafted and projected by public relations professionals. The realisation must come from within and needs to be Board-led. It is also true that business alone cannot achieve everything; the responsibility cannot be corporate alone. But taking a partnership approach and working in tandem with society, business has the potential to transform the world.


All views expressed above are the author’s own. Shakti can be reached at saranshaks@gmail.com

AMSAT: Levelling Down Syndrome

April 27, Rabat,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #Citizen

AMSAT, an NGO, is the acronym for- which when translated into English reads- ‘The Moroccan Support and Assistance for people afflicted with Down Syndrome’. It was set up in 1981 under a different avatar and has evolved to now focus only on people with Down Syndrome. It has the backing of the Royal family of Morocco and a few other prime donors but that evidently is not enough. The NGO supports 327 individuals but there is a waiting list of 400 people.

My colleagues, Diep Nguyen from Vietnam, Gerardo Elizondo from Mexico, Liz Markiewicz from the U.S. and Ulrich Leuthner, from Germany have been assigned to do a consulting engagement for AMSAT. Ulrich and I have had an animated exchange on the AMSAT project and today six other IBMers and myself decide to join the IBM AMSAT project team at the AMSAT restaurant for lunch. At our table, we are together with Zahir Mastapha, Director and Fatima Zahra, a key sponsor. I ask both Mastapha and Fatima Zahra about their backgrounds and what really motivated them to be associated with AMSAT. Many reasons, I gather, but neither of them have any family member or close one suffering from Down Syndrome.



Above: Paintings by AMSAT children

AMSAT has a novel way of supporting its beneficiaries. It’s called the ‘AMSAT Way’. They speak the language of services  instead of therapy; they refer to the recipients of services as users instead of patients. For more information on the AMSAT way check out my colleague Ulrich’s post on Understanding the AMSAT Way . The restaurant is done up most tastefully and the walls support several paintings done by AMSAT children. AMSAT is more than a therapy or a services centre; it is a companion for children and young adults in their journey through life. It’s important for you to know that the restaurant is operated (mostly) by AMSAT users and this forms a part of the services offered in bringing them as close to the mainstream. Our colleagues later on show us around the centre and explain the types of services that users undertake. This includes art lessons, physiotherapy, speech and sports services and much more. A key objective of AMSAT is to extend their services to include training mothers to deal with and manage their children so as to step-up their integration in society.

AMSAT needs advocacy, legislation, funding and more. The IBM team has worked on a management plan that addresses these needs. The plan is to help mobilise sponsorships and diversification of financial resources; build a marketing and communications strategy and to equip AMSAT with donor database management and other tools.

The lunch is great; the strawberry quencher is awesome but just being with the AMSAT team and visiting their facility is an enlightening experience. To learn more about AMSAT and see how you can help them, do visit their website http://www.amsat.ma

Celebrating ‘Earth Day’ in Marrakech

April 22-23, Marrakech,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #CitizenIBM

It’s 22nd April; its Earth Day and we are on the road to Marrakech via Casablanca. In Morocco, I have been less involved in checking my Twitter account but today I happen to do so. Twitter is humming with messages reminding us of the significance of Earth Day. I am quite in sync with these messages but for one point which is “what about the other 364 days”? The danger of celebrating Earth Day is that many people might find it convenient to forget about our planet for the rest of the year.

We owe our existence to Mother Earth or, as the Greeks would say, to Gaia. One of the first things we learn in business school is about ‘capital conservation’. That’s why banks are required by regulators across the globe to maintain capital adequacy. Transport that same thinking to our planet. Earth’s resources are finite but human wants and desires are otherwise. If Earth was a large corporation should we see its resources as being capital or income? Do you get the point?  Are we not squandering away precious capital?

All is not lost though and I am reminded of  Marrakech’s role in course correction. The city hosted the 22nd edition of Conference of Parties (COP22), a convention organised by the United Nations to implement a framework to manage  climate change. COP22 was significant as it was the first convention after ratification of the Paris Agreement. The  Paris Agreement (COP21) seeks obligations from various governments, that are party to this convention, to limit global temperature increase to a maximum of 2°  Celsius over pre-industrial levels  and preferably not in excess of  1.5° Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Additionally the Paris Agreement seeks building climate change resilience in a manner that will not adversely impact global food production. The convention at Marrakech was to gain consensus on several administrative aspects of the Paris Agreement and to make its implementation smoother.

Come to think of it, Earth is our source of life and our source of well-being. What can be more precious than our own lives.  The Paris Agreement is a treatment of symptoms we are afflicted with; the root cause remains a lack of awareness and consciousness of nature. If we were truly conscious, we would not need inter-government obligations and our economics would be shaped by concerns for not just our generation but for all future generations.

During my stay in Morocco, I happened to stumble on a blog written by Samir Saran (no relation of mine) on “Shaping the Development Narrative at Home and Abroad”. He writes eloquently on the need for “ease of living” to be as central to the ethos of the nation as the “ease of doing business”. Here I am in Morocco, working on a project to enhance ease of doing business in Morocco. I pause after reading Samir’s article and I see how Morocco scores so high even on ease of living.  Surely, Indian policy makers could learn a lot from this country but I hasten to qualify that managing a nation of 1.3 billion is hugely more complex than managing a nation of 34 million people.

We are soon about to enter Marrakech, a pink city that reminds me of Jaipur and has an unending array of buildings and monuments in sandstone colour. Marrakech, with its wide boulevards and flower studded avenues is exotica personified. The major attraction at Marrakech is its market square the Jemaa el-Fnaa in front of Medina. This market square is also the same spot that hosts Marrakech’s famous night market. During the day this place sports snake charmers,  henna artists, musicians and what not but its real pulse lies at night.


Above: The main thoroughfare of Marrakech. Notice the width of the road and the widespread use of sandstone colours. Picture courtesy: Gerardo Elizondo, CSC10


Above: Celebrating at the night market. The guy on the banjo is playing the title track from the Bollywood movie “Dilwale Dhulaniya Le Jayenge”

Marrakech has a lot to offer to the visitor. Its rampart; the numerous souks; the mosques; the sight of people playing the tambourines and African drums is real charming. Let’s not forget the Jardin Majorelle botanical garden created by the famous french painter. It sits on a six acre plot revealing true art-deco designs and contrasting colours and has the best collection of cacti from different parts of the world.  This is a retreat you don’t want to miss.


Above: Glimpses of the Jardin Majorelle garden. The art-deco architecture stands out in the midst of a stunning collection of plants

The Jardin Majorelle gardens remind us of the beauty and diversity inherent in  nature. If only we were to open our eyes and be more sensitive to nature we would not need an ‘Earth Day’

Morocco-India Relations Are Looking Up

April 23, Marrakech,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #CitizenIBM


The one thing that strikes you in Morocco is the absence of the Indian diaspora which is otherwise so widespread. Indians are among the top global travelers today but barely twenty thousand Indian tourists make it to Morocco every year. Perhaps, Morocco is under marketed in India. My CSC colleagues and I hail from ten countries but I am the only national that requires a visa to visit Morocco. How do I feel? I find this acceptable since I understand the process of visa issuance is often a reciprocal affair.

Ties with Morocco, however, are on the upswing. In early Feb this year, Morocco was readmitted to the African Union (AU) after the former exited the bloc in 1984. Yassine MEDDAD, our customer at CNEA, puts it aptly “Morocco’s branches are in Europe but its roots are in Africa so there is a re-assessment within Morocco to enhance South-South cooperation”. It is a lesser known fact that India played a role in Morocco’s re-admission to the AU. In October 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened what was the third India-Africa Summit. All members of the AU were invited save for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). India also went ahead and invited Morocco against the wishes of the AU. King Mohammed VI of Morocco himself led the delegation to the New Delhi summit. India helped facilitate the language of the Delhi Declaration which was the cornerstone of Morocco’s readmission to the AU.

The story goes like this. In 1975, Spain granted independence to the Spanish Sahara better known as the Western Sahara. The area of Western Sahara was eventually divided between Morocco and a newly formed state i.e. SADR.  The latter has about 1/4th of the original territory under its control and claims sovereignty of the entire Western Sahara. The balance of the area is an autonomous province but ruled by Morocco. You will observe similar parallels between India’s own Jammu & Kashmir story and that of Western Sahara. The SADR is recognised by the U.N. but is officially recognised only by some 40 odd countries in the world.  In year 2000, India dis-recognised SADR.

So coming back to Morocco India relations, we have seen engagement at multiple levels.  Morocco is a member of the OIC group but it isn’t just politics that’s driving the enhancement of ties. There are economic underpinnings and these are important.  Morocco is among the top 3 global producers of phosphates; India depends on Morocco for a steady supply of phosphates to meets its agricultural sector needs and runs a trade deficit due to heavy imports of phosphates.  In 2015, trade between the two countries stood at $ 1.26 billion, with India importing as much as $ 936 million and exporting $ 326 million. In the three plus weeks I have been here I have come across a Tata Motors showroom but I haven’t seen a single Tata bus nor any Bajaj motorcycle although I have seen several Rangerover SUVs. But that’s a slightly different story. I am also told that many of the Indian chambers of commerce have stepped up ties with their Moroccan counterparts.

There’s more still. When India’s Vice President Hamid Ansari visited Rabat in 2016, pacts were signed for greater cultural exchange and in the area of Information Technology. So, India is helping set up an IT Centre of Excellence in Morocco and C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advance Computing) has been given the mandate to design and execute on the curriculum. This pact is especially significant as Morocco is a leading candidate to provide global delivery of IT services to the Francophile countries.

Last but not the least, several people reminded me how popular Indian movies are in Morocco. The one movie that people keep referring to is Dilwale Dhulaniya Le Jaayenge (DDLJ). Believe it or not, last evening at the night market at Marrakech, one group was playing the title track from DDLJ on the banjo. That leaves me wondering when is it that IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) will decide to host its annual award ceremony here. There couldn’t be a better destination than Marrakech!

Fes: The Shopping Capital of Morocco

April 16, Rabat,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #CitizenIBM


Fes is a must-do for travelers to Morocco. We are visiting Fes for just the day and decide to take the very first train departing Rabat. Our train is late by about 45 minutes but that hasn’t dampened our spirits. Fes was the former capital of Morocco till 1925. It is Morocco’s second largest city and its cultural capital and famous for its Medina, souk and caravansarais.

We get to Fes around 11 a.m. and our guide Saeed is waiting to greet us at the railway station. Saeed is not just friendly, he is gregarious. Our group is fixated on the Medina and nothing else and I rightly suspect it has to do with the shopping. The Fes Medina is perhaps the largest in the world and a maze of some 11500 alleys. And to think of it, the locals know their way like the back of one’s hand.


IBM is overwhelmingly concerned about our security so we have a plains clothe cop tailing us through the Medina, somebody we never get to see. Our first stop is at the famed open-air tannery, a UNESCO world heritage site. I have never been to a tannery before and this one is humongous.  Our guide takes us through the whole process and stresses on how the tannery only uses natural dyes.


Our next step is at the carpet cooperative store. This is a deceptively modest structure as it does not reveal the numerous rooms and corridors, all filled with carpets, across three levels. The store owner delivers us a brief lecture on carpet making in the Fes region. These carpets remind me of the ones I have seen at Samarkand but the industry here is way larger and more organised than its counterpart in Uzbekistan.


Its lunch time and our guide ushers us into a traditional Moroccan restaurant. I settle for Pastilla avec Poisson (Pastilla with fish). This is an interesting dish. The outer crust reminds me of a samosa except that it is round it is stuffed with fish, eggs, tomatoes, parsley. cinnamon, garlic and honey.

Post lunch we indulge in a shopping spree. I am particularly interested in buying saffron but end up buying other things too. Thanks to Catalina, whose bargaining skills are numero uno, I buy a small rug which I will take home. My colleague Ulrich does better than me by buying three. We leave the Medina and head back to the railway station to catch our 6:40 pm train. I feel a bit incomplete not having seen anything else in Fes.

Our return train is also late. It’s the end of the spring break for school kids in Rabat and the trains are overcrowded even though we are in a first class cabin. We have to ask a family of passengers to vacate our cabin as we have reserved seats. This is about the most interesting train ride ever. Peter, Ulrich and I have Ghizlane and Achraf DADOUCHE for company. Ghizlane teaches English to high school kids in Rabat; she has been a Fulbright scholar and is returning from Ouzoud at the end of the weekend. Achraf, is an executive with Morocco national railways better known as ONCF and is preparing for his PhD on the sides. We have an animated discussion on Morocco; King Mohammed’s ancestry; the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity; the politics of Western Sahara & the Maghreb countries and the varied types of dates to be found in . Ghizlane laughs occasionally as she corrects my Google acquired knowledge of Morocco but she quickly hastens to add that when in Rabat make sure to use Google Maps and not to rely on directions given to you by people passing by. No matter what, Google has touched our lives in more ways than one.

Career Counseling at Universite Mohammed V De Rabat

April 15, Rabat,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #CitizenIBM


As part of our assignment we have been asked to meet and mingle with students from the University of Rabat to provide them guidance on a choice of careers. We commence this exercise together as a team of 15 volunteers and subsequently divide ourselves into four tracks. These students, numbering about 100, are mostly pursuing their Bachelor degrees but there are a few Masters students as also a few teachers. They have been selected for their proficiency in English language but this means we end up talking to mostly students majoring in English.

We get started around 10 a.m. Karima and Liz take the opening session and explain IBM’s Corporate Service Corps program; IBM’s presence in Morocco & Africa and the recent MoU signed between IBM and the Government of Morocco to  establish the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program, an innovative global education model aiming to provide students a clear pathway from high school to higher education to career and addresses the nation’s skills gap. Morocco is just the third beneficiary country, after the U.S and Australia, for this program. After our introduction, we shuffle and start  parallel track sessions. The four tracks are i) Technology Trends ii)  Marketing & Sales iii) Communications and iv) Consulting & Project Management.


I have chosen to be a part of the Consulting & Project Management  track. I am joined by Beth, Hisashi and Luciano and we are amidst 20 young minds who are interested in learning more. Beth and I are part of the consulting sub-track whilst Hisashi and Luciano focus on Project Management. Beth starts the session, speaking about how she, as an internal auditor, has a consulting bent of mind except that in her case her customers are all internal. She dwells on Issue Based Consulting, a proven method, used by many consultants.

I go next, and I decide to start my session with a story. I find starting with a story a great way of getting your audience hooked. I speak about ‘lateral thinking’ by revealing my own experience.  In 1993, there was a breakdown in India’s financial system. This was caused by a (mis) interpretation of an ambiguous operating guideline in trading of securities and management of client funds. This misinterpretation was endemic to the banking system and not peculiar to the Australian bank I was working for.  It so happened that I had moved to the Retail banking division two years prior to set up a high net worth individual investment management service and although our positioning was different from the Investment bank, we were dealing in the same securities. My bank was embroiled in a major conflict with India’s central bank when the latter showed us the rule book with the correct interpretation. Amidst this chaos, my department seemed to have got it right but that did away with the bank’s defense that the regulator had got it wrong. In fact, I never looked at the regulation; we worked backwards from what worked for all our stakeholders. At that time I realised I was thinking laterally and that I wasn’t cut out for vertical or hierarchical thinking. The seeds for my  journey into consulting were sown.

So, what exactly is lateral thinking? It is the ability to perceive a situation in a totally different way using a combination of intuition, imagination and logic. It relies on concepts and dominant – not exhaustive- ideas and follows an out-of-the box approach. I take pains to clarify that lateral thinking complements and is not opposed to hierarchical thinking and that it’s a matter of aptitude. I  touch upon IBM’s Design Thinking methodology which is one example of lateral thinking.


I pass the baton onto Hisashi. He shifts gears to discuss project management. After all, what good is consulting if recommendations are not executed. Hisa talks about what constitutes project management; its various steps and the everyday tools,  methods and skills required for successful execution. He also introduces the group to the world of ‘agile’ but then leaves it to Luciano to get into a deep dive. Luciano explains the fundamental idea behind agile; how it varies from a traditional, ‘waterfall’ (sequential) approach  and how a more flexible approach to project management in a dynamic environment can even reduce project risk.

Later, we collectively take a Q&A session that lasts longer than we expected. The students have got a lot of food for thought. We end our session with a group photo and the feeling that this was time well spent

Design Thinking at CNEA

April 14, Rabat,  #IBMCSC  #CSCMor10 #IBMCSCMorocco10 #CitizenIBM

We are conducting a “Design Thinking” workshop for our customer Comite National De L’Environment Des Affaires today. Currently CNEA is going about with its mandate in a somewhat unstructured way and with little involvement of its stakeholders on whom they are dependent for success. Their stakeholders are many and widespread and include the likes of ministerial departments, private sector players, industry associations, Morocco’s central bank and multilateral agencies.

The reason de etre for our presence at CNEA is to help them in establishing an online collaboration platform that would enable them to get a better grip of their multi faceted initiatives across several stakeholders. One of our project deliverables is to create functional specifications for this platform. Creating functional specifications requires ‘appropriate design’.

Design Thinking has been around for several decades. Although it is not an IBM discovery, Design Thinking has been extensively adopted by IBM. In the 1950’s, IBM’s then chief executive, Thomas J. Watson Jr., hired Eliot Noyes, a distinguished architect and industrial designer, to guide a design program at IBM. In its more recent avatar, Design Thinking is being used by IBM to create a superior user centric experience that is engineered to an appropriate level, as in neither over or under engineered. The IBM method dwells on empathising with the end user; problem definition, ideation, developing prototypes and creating feedback loops with users. It uses a combination of lateral thinking, intuition and logic in problem solving. The interesting thing about Design Thinking is that it can be applied in myriad number of situations across a spectrum of private, government and non government organisations.


Coming back to CNEA, we start our workshop and divide the two groups into two teams. The CNEA Secretariat has just 11 employees, so we are limited in creating more groups. Our customers take an avid interest in this method and we see them deeply engaged. Malika, our local coordinator from Pyxera, is there to help us troubleshoot when our customers get stuck translating from french to english. This turns out to be an extremely interactive and useful session. It is summed by Siham OMRANA, from CNEA ” what I like about Design Thinking is it is a combination of doing, thinking and feeling”