'The system of management in a society shapes the character and effectiveness of its institutions of government, business and community. The character if these institutions in turn effect the type and future of that society.'
-Peter Senge, MIT.
This is my second essay on Nepali management and organizational realities and a preliminary strategy for transforming them. The aim of the first essay, titled 'The Jagir Culture in Nepali State Organizations' (The Kathmandu Post, June 6 & 13, 1993) was to reveal the predominant management culture and practices in Nepali public organizations and institutions. That essay presented some of the key traditions and practices that, in my observation, continue to shape the management of our public institutions.
The current essay "Chakari, Karma and Ke Garne" offers a deeper view of some of the rituals, practices and beliefs that embody the attitudes, strategies and actions of managers and leaders of Nepali public and state institutions.
The challenge, I believe, is to research, design and apply management models and practices that are more effective for the current reality and future challenges of Nepal. In the west, the system and practices of management that powered their industrial development is undergoing fundamental changes. But in Nepal,the feudal managerial system (or the Jagir culture), though inefficient and ineffective, remains unchanged.
The intention of this series is to provoke a wider public dialogue about the challenge of transforming our organizations.
My purpose in these essays is to assist the design and development of models and practices based on the "ground" realities of our country. Change, reform, and transformation occur within the space of what is, the way it is; with people as they are, where they are, how they are; with what you have, however much or little you have.
Clearly, we Nepalese must accept the responsibility for undertaking this journey. Only then will we gain the courage, the freedom, the wisdom and skillful means to effective transform current reality.
In the Jagir Culture, three of the most essential principles and practices are reflected in the words CHAKARI, AFNO MANCHE and ADESH. The central claim in this essay is that the CHAKARI, AFNO MANCHE, ADESH, KARMA and KE GARNE continue to shape and reinforce the centuries- old Nepali model and practices of management and leadership, despite their ineffectiveness and inefficiencies.
Given the nature of the Jagir Culture, my contention has been that it is extremely difficult for even highly educated persons to take a stand, to think independently, to manage according to more modern and successful management models and values. Neither the existing public and private educational system (nor the western model) nor the current strategies of aid and development proved effective in enabling Nepalese to challenge the Jagir Culture. Undoubtedly, there have been incremental changes and developments in many sectors of Nepal. However, the feudal mind set and management models and traditions based in them have remained quite intact-despite huge investment over the past forty years. This powerful and invisible structure of beliefs, attitudes, and patterns of behavior of the ruling elite and their coterie continue to dominate Nepal.
THE CURRENT REALITY
A successful process of transformation begins with an honest examination and acceptance of the current realities, paradigms, models, traditions and practices prevalent today. The medical profession offers us a helpful metaphor. When a patient consults a medical doctor, he/she expects to hear an honest and accurate diagnosis. Does a patient get upset at the doctor for diagnosing, for example, that he/she has liver cirrhosis? Does the patient accuse the doctor of being critical or biased? It's only the when patient accepts the reality of the cirrhosis that there is an opening or possibility for a new future.
In the same manner, one of my intentions is to offer a diagnosis of what is ailing Nepali institutions. The importance of examining the current reality were precisely pointed by the 16th century Italian consultant/counselor, Machiavelli,
"At the beginning, a disease is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; but as time passes, (the disease) not having been recognized or treated at the outset, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure."
In my experience, Nepali institutions are a critical juncture. If we continue to pretend or ignore the disease afflicting them, it will become easier to diagnose but difficult to cure. Some would go so far as to argue that Nepali organizations have reached the chronic incurable stage where major breakdowns and catastrophe is imminent. However, my deepest conviction is that it is possible to treat this disease.
The recent introduction of a western-style parliamentary political system has, in my observation, further encouraged and reinforced the Jagir Culture.
Decades after the end of the Rana regime, a similar pattern of intrigue, betrayal, treachery, backstabbing, mistrust, lying, cheating, swindling, misuse of public funds and authority, chakari, afno manche, management by adesh, misinformation, and suppression of critical or innovative thinking are vividly evident.
A generous interpretation could be that people find themselves in a catch-22 situation. In order to avoid or minimize the risks and instability arising from betrayal and treachery, chakari and afno manche are encouraged.
CHAKARI, AFNO MANCHE, ADESH, KARMA and KE GARNE are commonly used words in everyday conversations among Nepalese. Even the illiterate understand the meaning of these words, would be able to tell you what kinds of behavior are associated with each word, and when and how a particular behavior is required. They might even venture to say that the more skillful you are in this tradition (of chakari, afno manche and adesh), the more successful you will become. In my observation, there is an unspoken operating belief that to get ahead in Nepal, one must learn these skills (whether as a hakim, jagirdar or businessman).
The principle and practice of chakari seems to have taken root during the Rana years. The Rana demanded it, encouraged it, rewarded people for it and judged people by it. A lack of chakari could result in some form of penalty or negative consequences. On the other hand, the right level of chakari could lead to special favors.
What is chakari? Chakari "means to wait upon, to serve, to seed favor". It is a "passive form of behavior to demonstrate dependency with the aim of eliciting favors. Instead of efficient fulfillment of duties (and responsibilities), persistence in chakari is seen as merit, and with enough merit favors may be granted" (pg 89, Bista, Fatalism and Development) by the hakim or thulo manche.
During the Rana years, chakari required that the subordinated visit the Rana Prime Minister or the big hakim everyday at a certain hour much as the ritual of going to a temple in the mornings to make offerings and to get a "darshan" of the Lord What is important it note is that- every now and then, someone would be granted a favor, such as a job, the right transfer or promotion for performing the right digress of chakari.
This practice was encouraged and some would say demanded the during the panchayat rule. The current reshuffling and bargaining among the political parties for ministerial berths in the new western style parliamentary system seems to have elevated the practice if chakari and afno manche to its former status. Even the smallest of public organizations are affected by this practice. Witness the transfers and appointments of project managers, department directors, field level officers, etc. over the last three years.
In our public institutions, one particular form or chakari takes place daily - yet it goes unquestioned. A senior hakim keeps his subordinates waiting around just in case he needs them. The subordinates are quite are quite willing to sit around (without having to produce any results) to be at his beck and call and thus demonstrate loyalty and subservience. The hakims seem to be quite nonplussed by the fact that they are not being productive, that they spend more time reading the newspaper, debating the latest political rumors wondering who is being transferred where or just drinking tea and chit-chatting.
Results and performance are not, after all, the yardstick by which staff or their hakims are judged or evaluated. The consensus seems to be "It's who you are connected to, which party you belong to, and who you have been able to bribe or share the loot with" that really matters. This principle seems to apply at levels within the bureaucracy- from the senior secretary, to the department directors and on down.
The majority of educated Nepalese will say " Ke garne, chakari is essential. This is Nepal and one must do it to survive. "Such a world- view only solidifies the reality they unquestionably believe they are living in. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A westerner must be cautious in playing the chakari game. There's a risk that she/he will be perceived as week and unimportant or as arrogant and inflexible. In either case, people quickly conclude that she/he is ignorant of the game.
I recommend that a westerner begin by becoming an observer of this ritual practice, and then only consider taking some initial steps. It would be helpful to have a Nepali guide while journeying through this unknown territory.
Afno manch is another key principle in our bureaucratic, political and public institutions. Along with chakari, it is one of first lessons people learn while growing up. It seems the longer a Nepali family has been associated with the Kathmandu elites the greater the focus in establishing the right afno manche connections.
What is afno manche? Afno manche is "used to designate one'e inner circle of associates- and refers to those who can be approached whenever a need arise. The strength or weakness of anyone is measured in terms of the quality and quantity of the circles of afno manche he/she is part of." (pg 98, Bista, Fatalism and Development)
A term often used by western observers is patronage. However, in my experience is that afno manche is that afno manche covers a wider set of behaviors and expectations than patronage.
Recent changes in political leadership clearly demonstrate how this tradition lives and guides the selection, appointment, transfer and promotion of people within our public institutions. Chakari and afno manche are closely interrelated. To establish afno manche connections the critical elements are:
1. Family connections (which is an extensive network),
2. Loyalty to a particular thulo manche or person;
3. Affiliation to a political party (particularly the party in power), or other associations;
4. Bribery and "commissions".
It also includes a willingness to pay obeisance, display the right degree of chakari, not criticize your afno manche regardless of the issue, blindly follow adesh from your thulo manche, make the right offering (chadaunu), praise your "boss" publicly and defend his/her reputation despite evidence to the contrary, be willing to accept requests for favors even if it costs the organization or country.
At first, many Nepalese probably protest that any changes in the tradition of afno manche go against the grain of Nepali culture. However, what is interesting to note is that people complain about the use of the afno manche connection when it goes against their favour or expectations. But, if and when they can use afno manche to get what they want, they are happy and proud of it. Should the afno manche connection not be used, you would be considered foolish and stupid. As a minister, hakim or politician or thulo manche, you lose respect and/or support if you fail to at least go through the motions the of accepting the request of those who consider themselves as afno manche.
An example of a powerful (and invisible) afno manche connection is called Nepali "phariya ko nata" which can be translated as the sari connection (through your wife or through marriage). Hence, a proper match in the marriage of a son or daughter plays a critical role in making afno manche connections.
In conversation, you can hear people make such comments as "whole afno manche are you? Do you have an afno manche in that office or ministry? Send your afno manche to that place to get a more accurate reading of the situation." These are important role in making things happen or negotiating when things get stuck.
Afno manche is also an essential tradition of Nepali political and bureaucratic culture. Politicians and bureaucrats are expected to help afno manche through such actions as getting them a government job, the right transfer, a study tour abroad, bend the rule to award a bid contract, obtain a loan from the government owned bank, or a telephone, and more, importantly, the benefits of commissions and payoffs. The recent changes in government have amply demonstrated that many a new Director, or Project Manager or General Manager owes his/her appointment to a strong afno manche connection within the ruling party.
In other uncorrupted forms, afno manche helps to open doors, obtain information quickly, complete paperwork in time, bypass bureaucratic hurdles, speed up the movement of your file for approval, save you from unnecessary hassle at any number of bureaucratic situations, or help resolve a conflict.
A Brief footnote:
The word Sarkar refers to the King as well as his administrative structure, authority and power. Today, the administration of a democratically elected government is still called in Nepali "Shree Panch Ko Sarkar" (His Majesty's Government) much as it was earlier. It is important to recognize that the word government is not the same as sarkar.
To govern means being accountable to the people, respecting a certain set of values and ethics, following the rule of law, and a sense of "stewardship" or trust ship, taking care of the welfare of the people who have entrusted their authority to the leaders, the trustees.
However, when people say that they are a jagirdar in Shree Panch ko saekar, they are referring to the historic meaning and implications from the days of the all powerful monarch. Hence, the axiom I wrote in the first essay" A jagirdar is not a public servant, rather the public serves him."
For a hakim in Nepali public institutions, a key management tool is "adesh" - an order or directive. The predominant style of management is through adesh. In the lexicon of a hakim, this is the operative word. Hakim believe that to be an effective manager, one has to issue as many orders or adeshes as possible. If the adesh is not followed, either you punish the persons (if you can get away with it and the other person does not have or use a more powerful afno manche connection) or you find reasons and excuses why the work or results did not get done.
In fact, it can be observed that a hakim knows of no way to manage other than by issuing adesh- regarded of its impact. As a subordinate, the main duty, so people believe, is to await and carry out an adesh. Subordinates will often say that since they have not received an adesh, they cannot take any action or don't know where and how to proceed next. Or that the adesh is not clear and precise.
The game is to issue as many adesh as you possible can get away with (or if you want to play timid, do not issue any adesh at all without a written clearance from above). This allows bureaucrats to play by their own rules, without informing the public why and when these rules are being changed, and whose interpretation they are following.
A jagirdar must carefully decide which adesh to obey or oppose, subtly undermine or find ways to counter and invalidate. He or she will also issue as many adesh or orders as he can get away with or find the right bribe to have hem accepted. A hakim will also find many excused or reasons as to why the results were not produced or job done regardless of the adesh when he is not included in the sharing of the bribe. He is always on the lookout for the afno manche connection of the people his is dealing with and will seek ways to force people to drop money or paisa jarnu. *
Of course, there are exceptions- some hakims are frustrated and ineffective, others are not promoted despite their clear competence and experience, still others quit and go elsewhere.
In organizations what, we have observed is that there seems to be an inverse proportion between orders and commitment. The more adesh or orders are issued, the lower the degree of commitment and responsibility of the rest of the people in the organization.
If just issuing adesh and directives would really generate effective actions and results, Nepal would probably have achieved a much higher level of development. Our managers and bureaucreats are experts in issuing adesh under the mistaken belief that it will achieve the desired results. They have yet to wake up to the reality that issuing adesh doesn't equal effectiveness. Nor do they recognize that to produce results requires a lot more than formulating policies, making decisions and issuing adesh.
In other words they seemed to be immersed in a pool of "avidya" or ignorance, falsely believing that issuing adesh or directives is the way to manage people and organizations. I often hear them say " If only the lower staff would do… or if only the others had done their job…or it's their fault …etc." They blame others or the external situation as to why their adesh didn't produce the desired results. Our senior bureaucrats and politicians are experts at this game.
Another common phenomenon in public institutions is that conflicting decisions and adesh are given-often without any consultation with the other hakims. When this happens, there is often no forward movement or action. Or sometimes, it erupts in dispute, conflicts leading to costly delays. Of course, the fact that it costs the public treasury or inflicts losses and hardships or the others is of minor importance.
Who is accountable for the adesh and its impact and benefits or lack of? NO ONE, it seems. A crucial question in Nepal is "Who is going to guard the guardians of our nation, who themselves are stealing from the national treasury." This concern was also publicly shared by the new president of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, when he declared that the Bank "and its partners in government must be accountable-and must be seen to spend scarce resources wisely and well…and that projects must be well managed and corruption eliminated."
KARMA and KE GARNE
The common everyday understanding (among Nepalese) of kama is that "your future is already written down for you". People put one hand on their forehead to indicate that it is written down there. According to this understanding, you are where you are, your health, your skills and capacity are what they are, your situation is what it is because it is your karma or fate. Implicit in this understanding is the devastating meaning that "there is nothing you can do to change your karma and hence your future. Ke garne." So, accept it, pray to the gods to change it, do a lot of chakari, and establish the right afno manche connections. Accept that this is your fate and therefore it's pointless to take any action to change your current reality (according to the common understanding of karma).
This commonly accepted meaning of karma reflects only one side of the coin - "that where we are today is the result of our past karma, so ke garne! There is nothing one can do to change the situation, the way I am or where I am. It is all my karma. And, Karma can not be changed". Such saying reveal, in my view, that we Nepalese have forgotten the other side of Karma.
Given this erroneous view and understanding of karma, it is not surprising that employees of public organizations are immersed in a mood of resignation, apathy and cynicism. In other words, people believe that the patterns from the past will repeat itself in the future regardless of who the new hakim, or manager or Prime Minister, or no matter what the circumstances. In this mood, people believe the future holds no new possibilities for them. It is quite hopeless. So, why bother, or as we say in Nepali, "Kinna tauoko dukahaunoo" (why give yourself a headache over it).
The result seems to be that people then conclude that the best strategy is to look out exclusively for one's own interest and gain. If you are a hakim, then you might justify yourself by saying, "I don't know how long I am going to have this opportunity. So, I am going to enrich myself as much I can get away with before I am removed from this position."
Any fundamental change effort must address and shift this prevailing mood of resignation and cynicism in Nepali public organizations and institutions. To initiate such a shift requires that we re-interpret the concepts of karma so as to enable and empower people to take charge to their own lives and future.
On the other side of the coin, karma means that the actions we take today shape our future. That who are now- our current attitudes, thoughts, behaviors and action - will influence and affect who we will be and how we live tomorrow. Karma is always in flux, fluid and changing. This means we can change and create our karma. This meaning of karma has power and freedom in it.
In the work of community development, if the poor continue to believe in and accept the commonly accepted view of karma as the only reality, then our efforts and actions will continue to perpetuate this reality.
As professionals, politicians and educators we must first reinterpret and reinvent karma for ourselves. when we have changed our own understanding and view of karma, we will be able to, spontaneously and effectively, help others to see both sides of karma.
The law of karma means that our attitudes, thoughts and actions of today influence the flow of life tomorrow and thus shape who and what we will be in future.
We must never forget that we posses the ability to create and determine how and why we act. It is through our actions, words and thoughts that we have a choice.
There is real power and freedom when we understand and take to heart this meaning of Karma.
The concepts of Ke garne can be viewed as a continuum. On one end this indicates apathy, fatalism and ignorance. On the other end it means accepting life as it is and being at peace with it. So, for instance, people can be quite tolerant and accepting of such circumstances as the weather, of other people idiosyncrasies and patterns, of bumping into each other in a crowded street. However, missing in Nepal is an attitudes best revealed in the saying of St. Francis of Asissi (paraphrased) as: "Lord, please give me the courage to chance what can be changed; to accept with peace what cannot be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference between the two."
What is needed is a campaign to communicate, teach and help people fully understand karma fully. Taking this meaning of karma to heart has the power to dispel the mood of resignation, cynicism and apathy so widely prevalent in Nepal. With this view and knowledge of karma, people can be motivated to take responsibility for their lives, for their work and for influencing their common future.
Many educated Nepalese and western friends and acquaintances express frustration and impatience with current reality despite billions of dollars of aid, grants and loans. Isn't it paradoxical that this very investment, (while generating some benefits) has reinforced the invisible structures that continue to keep Nepal impoverished in thought and action. Westerners seem to be ignorant, or it they are aware, keep silent about the urgency of transforming the Jagir Culture. Most Nepalese and westerners alike seem to find it too risky to public voice their opinions. While many others are engaged in perpetuating and preserving the Nepali way as practiced in the Jagir Culture.
These five- CHAKARI, AFNO MANCHE, ADESH, KARMA and KE GARNE - are like the poisons that, according to Buddhism, keep us immersed in suffering: ignorance, attachment, anger, jealousy, greed and aggression. To liberate ourselves it is absolutely essential that we dissipate and transform these poisons through awareness, commitment, effort and the help of a teacher/coach. In addition, what drives us is our attachment to hope and fear. We hope for praise, gain, fame pleasure while fearing blame, loss, disgrace and discomfort. What we must do is turn this thinking upside down, becoming indifferent to these hopes and unmoved by these fears.
In Nepali institutions the poisons of chakari, afno manche, adesh and ke garne must be transformed into the nectar of performance, teamwork, participation, responsibility and commitment.
We need to develop leaders who are fearless and indifferent to praise or blame, gain or loss, pleasure and discomfort. Even if we were to nourish such a group of bold leaders today, it may take several generations to establish new norms, traditions and practices by which organization are managed,
There aren't, it seems, any quick and easy solutions. No magic formula or solution. The longer we delay a real honest and open public examination about the current reality and the need for urgent and fundamental reforms, the more, I believe, Nepal will continue to slide into poverty, disharmony and ignorance.
The process of transformation must begin with us, Nepalese. We must build a coalition of bold and committed Nepalese who are willing to ignite and drive this process. To start with, we must set up a practice field where a dozen or more organizations (and including more in subsequent years) can begin to study, experiment, innovate and implement more effective approaches and models of management and leadership. Through this cycle of study, learning, innovation and practice, we will be able to pioneer and develop appropriate and effective models and practices for Nepal.
Donors, aid agencies and multilateral banks (WB, ADB, etc) share a major responsibility for educating, encouraging, and persisting with the political and bureaucratic leadership to seriously undertake a process of transforming our public organizations.
We must learn from the ideas and experiences of management innovators in both the East and West. In the last decade or so, new thinking in quantum physics, biology, neuro-sciences, and cognition is triggering a fundamental shift in theories and practices of management and organization. In addition, we must seriously begin to draw upon the wisdom of Eastern spiritual traditions. Isn't ironic that while western scientists are now examining the wisdom of these practices, while we, Nepalese, continue to ignore it in our country.
"The article was written 22 years ago. The author believes that the underlying patterns he asserts are still alive today, with the additional patterns of corrupt practices of the multi-party political system. The current leadership believe they are not accountable to anyone, that they are above the law of the land,
and in essence believe they are the new feudal masters.
So, it is not enough just to rebuild houses, schools, and roads. We have to transform the underlying patterns of feudal management and leadership behavior and ways of thinking. Of course it is easier said than done. Will the big donors and agencies admit that they don’t know how to help with such a transformation, nor that they have the guts to do so. Neither will wishful thinking, complaining, or pretending these patterns don’t really exist help.”
Ravi Pradhan is
the founder of Karuna Management and has over two decades of experience
as an international consultant and trainer in management and
organizational effectiveness. His current focus is on change management
and leadership as well as on introducing mindfulness based emotional
intelligence. He lives in Nepal and Vietnam where he is working on a
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