February was almost totally dedicated to preparations for the opening of a new operations center in Punjab. Ziqitza is planning to launch services covering the entire state of Punjab from its new operations center in Amritsar with a fleet of 90 ambulances on March 31.
Residents will be able to reach the center by dialing 108 (rather than 1298) from anywhere in the state. February began with the final selection of an IT vendor and the training of core members, and by the end of the month my main tasks consisted of the following:
1. Project management
2. Planning for and coordination of the training program (for 250 drivers, 250 medics, 60 call center workers, and 50 other employees)
3. Preparation of operating procedures and tools for the ambulance staff
4. Oversight of software development for the call center and GPS system
Filling in the Gaps
In my previous report, I lamented the lack of opportunities to broaden my leadership skills due to my overextended day-to-day schedule. While my situation a month later has not changed much, I see things a little differently now.
I’ve come to feel that if I can fill an immediate need or provide a missing skill at Dial 1298, I will happily play such a role—including those in a supporting or behind-the-scene capacity—even if such activities do not directly involve leadership skills.
Take, for example, project management, which I listed above as my first task. This is something that the CEO of Ziqitza had been handling alone, but now that I’ve joined her in a supporting role, we have been working together to create a routine for process and issue management.
In our daily teleconferences with the Punjab team, the CEO did the talking while I organized her presentations. With our eyes, ears, and minds working together, we addressed a wide range of issues and gave instructions to deal with them. The CEO was the visible face, and I gathered the facts necessary for her to make informed decisions, and when there were details we didn’t have time to go over during a meeting, I would follow up with relevant information on an individual basis.
As for my fourth task—software development—there was no one at Ziqitza who was actively liaising between our operations department and the engineers at our system developer. Luckily, I had done similar work at a previous employer, so this role naturally fell to me. I’ve also started filling the role of supervising software development in the other states.
I think back sometimes on what Bill Mayer said during our training in New York, that everyone has something they like and that they’ve gotten very good at. Wherever you go, he said, whether as a kid or an adult, you’re going to use that skill, consciously or not, and that’s your gift.
I can’t pinpoint what that “gift” is for me yet; it’s still a very nebulous concept for me. But what I can definitively say is that I’ve been able to apply a skill developed in the past to make a contribution to Dial 1298 and that this has helped me to earn the trust of the CEO and others at the company. I won’t be limiting my involvement to just those tasks at which “I’m very good,” nor I am going to complain about lack of opportunities. Instead, I’m going to focus my energies on making a sincere effort to meet the company’s immediate needs, especially through the end of March.
Communicating in Steps
Planning and organizing the training program have been a lesson on how the right information should be distributed at the right time. My habit had been to work in a rush on the assumption that it’s important to provide 100% of the information in the first few days and that everyone else wants the same thing. But of course not everyone thinks that way. When my gaze is fixed on some future goal, there’s a danger of neglecting issues right in front of me.
This time, therefore, I’m learning to feed information more slowly, and so far so good. (This approach may be more suited to India, especially for the field staff.) If things continue going smoothly through the end of March, this may help to cure me of my bad habit and give me a chance to add a new approach to my chest of tools.
Same Work, Different Values
As I’ve mentioned in my description of project management, many of the tasks I’m handling are things I’ve done in the past at a consulting firm or manufacturer. I’m in a different country now and in a completely new field, but the work is more or less the same.
While a profit-focused multinational corporation might seem a world apart from a mission-oriented social business serving the BOP market, the skills needed to run them are pretty much the same. This is, in a sense, good news, for it means there are already people in the job market with the skills and knowhow that social businesses need. It also means there are plenty of opportunities for people who are currently working at an ordinary private company but are interested in addressing the problem of poverty to apply their skills at a BOP business.
The decisive difference between the two business approaches lies in their values. For what purpose are efforts being made, as individuals and as an organization, to make money? As I work on the training program for the new Punjab workers, I’ve met with some of the incoming employees. Many of them (especially drivers and other blue collar workers) have applied to Ziqitza without a special interest in the company’s social mission.
This has brought some key questions to the fore, like how they can be convinced that transporting a truckload of apples and driving patients to a medical facility have very different connotations. How can one influence their values? I’ll be pondering over these issues in the coming weeks.