The Blog of Alikhan Baimenov, the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Astana Civil Service Hub

March 5, 2021

"On talented individuals, women and men, and competitiveness"

The post-industrial world is characterized by increased levels of uncertainty, unprecedented growth in the volume and flow of information and a growing propensity to seek out-of-the-box solutions to complex problems. As a result of globalization, the development of IT technologies and communications, manifold factors influence decision-making. A person may not always be conscious of this, when making decisions, he/she does not specifically take this into account when analysing a problem – yet this is in fact the case.

If, in his day Mark Twain, comparing intellectual games, concluded that checkers were closer to real life, since chess involves multivariate correlations, today the level of variability involved in decision-making is changing, and the amount of information involved in such an exercise is multiplied to an excessive degree. This requires more adaptability of systems and of decision-makers.

It is no coincidence that in management systems, be it corporate or government, the role of leadership, both emotional and intellectual, is growing in comparison with the standard set of management tools that played a key role in the last century. This, in turn, underscores the importance of finding individuals who are ready to take on the burden of leadership.

Who are these individuals, men and women? Undoubtedly, they are, first of all, talented persons who worked hard to increase their successes exponentially.

The particularity of a talent lies in the fact that this person can work and assimilate information in his or her favourite sphere without regard to time since he/she does not perceive it as work or labour per se. That individual man or woman regards it as enjoyment, an activity that brings satisfaction.

Now the time has come to seek out talented individuals, to unlock their potential, to nurture and promote them. The time has come to overcome fear when encountering talent.

Talented individuals lead a company, government agency, industry and society forward. For an average head, talent is not always convenient: a talented person asks questions, he/she focuses on an independent search for solutions, puts forward initiatives. But that individual does not always fit into the system.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine, speaking about the attitude of a leading figure to another person who quit the system, said that he respects, but does not understand him.

The problem with talented individuals is that they are respected, and perhaps loved, but not always understood, although the out-of-the-box solutions they often come up with lead to significant breakthroughs thereby creating new solutions, new conditions, a new level of development.

That is why talent management, which includes search, selection and a specially-designed career ladder for talented individuals, men and women, takes precedence in human resource management today, both in public administration and in the corporate sector. For this management approach to succeed, there must be an environment that accepts talent, that overcomes fear and embraces talented individuals. No matter what sphere - whether in economics, politics, the arts, or literature – talented individuals must be able to fulfil themselves.

Certainly, recognizing and promoting talented individuals, men and women, is not a universal solution to all problems, but its correct application definitely boosts the potential of any organization, system and country.

Our country is not deprived of talented individuals. That is true both for our past and our present. Our culture in its natural evolution has created conditions for the emergence of talent, because in the annals of our history, including the nomadic period, openness, adaptability and tolerance were the advantages of Kazakh culture. Perhaps the nature of our tolerance is somewhat different from the nature of Western tolerance, but it does exist.

It is important that fair competition exists in every sphere, in every company, in every industry, in every type of activity in the country – a competition of ideas, a competition among talented persons, a competition for finding solutions.

In conclusion, we can say that one of the responses to the challenges of uncertainty, globalization and competitiveness is the promotion of talented men and women, for which conditions of fair competition must be created.

However, the increased uncertainty also requires a certain flexibility – open- mindedness, flexibility of approaches and the search for solutions that can alleviate the problem, and also not negatively impact other related areas, people, industries.

In that regard, I recall the expression of Fazil Iskander about the difference between an intelligent person and a wise one. He said that the former can solve a problem, while the latter solves it in a way that does not harm others.

Talented individuals do not tolerate stagnation, they do not fit into any stereotypes. Therefore, they are frequently victims of biased attitudes, especially if the talented person is a woman.

However, historically in our country, talented women have always had the opportunity to prove themselves. I will not cite well-known examples – from Tomiris to Aiganym, from Nailya Bazanova and Patshayim Tazhibayeva to Nagima Aitkhozhina, from Dina Nurpeisova to Bibigul Tolegenova, Aiman Musakhodzhayeva, Zhaniya Aubakirova, as well as a whole series of brilliant contemporary Kazakhstani chess players – followers of Aida Muslimova.

I will give an example of a maiden from our Ulytau region. At the end of the 19th century, a maiden, Bidash, married a fellow from our district. Possessing a keen mind and an eloquent tongue, she often expressed her opinion in conversations. Once her father-in-law reproachуed her with these words: “As long as there is a stallion, the mare will never be the first,” to which the answer immediately followed: “If the mare cannot come first, then return the herd of horses to the owners, which the mare once won at Yerden's funeral.”

As time passed, Bidash became a volost[1] ruler in her husband's aul[2]. As a ruler of a volost, Bidash was always fair, solving issues through outside-the-box thinking. It is no coincidence that the people remember her the most out of the entire cohort of volost rulers, although she ruled over a region as a daughter-in-law.

1992... I am the Deputy Akim of the Zhezkazgan region in charge of the social sphere. One of the major events of that time was the “Ұлытау үні” [The sound of Ulytau] festival, and Aitys[3] of akyns was part of the programme. The jury of Aitys at that time consisted of local poets, cultural figures, representatives of the older generation - aksakals.

Once, before the final aitys, I accidentally walked into the office where our elders and members of the jury were gathered and heard a conversation that one of the local akyns who reached the final had a difficult financial situation and it would be better to award him the "Volga" car as the main prize. They a priori decided to help him because he was “one of them”.

I reminded them: "Have you really forgotten Bidash’s words?" They asked: "What words?" I replied: “During the baige feast in memory of one of the ancestors, as a volost ruler, she had the right to sit on the Baige-tobe among men and watch the competitions, but she stayed in the yurt and waited for news. When her guarantor rode up and said: “Suyinshi, suyinshi! Our horse came first!”, she said: “Oh! All the sweat, glory, and honour remained between the hips and a saddle!” and she slapped her hip. “If the horse of guests from afar were to come first, our glory would spread throughout the country. What are you so happy about?", she asked. This is an example of respect and recognition of talent, regardless of family kinship or community.

Public consciousness is imbued with a certain inertia and conservatism. For thousands of years, key decisions were made principally by men, and the burden of responsibility fell on them. This was a natural course of development. When humankind was more dependent on the environment, on the risks and threats that nature carries in the form of cataclysms, or from enemies, the main tasks were to ensure safety and to obtain food. The man was then a breadwinner and a warrior, and because of these dual roles he played a key role in the community.

Later, in the agrarian and industrial societies, where physical labour still prevailed, men continued to play a dominant role in the economy.  In many cultures, this state of affairs still exists today and has been transposed to social models, for example of economic management and public administration. At the same time, in a post-industrial society, intellectual work is at the forefront, thereby doing away with gender differences.

As noted at the beginning of this blog, humankind as a whole faces new challenges requiring inclusiveness and engaging the potential of all members of the community in addressing common challenges.

Let me give an example. We are all of humanity, or we are one company. We are one state. We are men and women. Each of us has a certain potential. Under what conditions will a company or state, a society become more competitive? When everyone's potential is realized in the interests of a common cause and private interests. Women make up half of humankind, and if we do not give them the opportunity to fulfil themselves, then we are thwarting the potential of half of society to realize itself. As a result, we are less competitive than we might be had we allowed talent to thrive.

At the same time, we should not compare those women who realize their potential in public administration, business, the arts, to those who realize their potential through motherhood. By raising open-minded children, instilling values in them, mothers contribute to an open-minded society where the potential of all can be realized. 

Obviously, fear is at the core of men's attitudes that hinder women's advancement. From time immemorial men are accustomed to competing with each other, both physically and intellectually; but if Judit Polgar or Zhansaya Abdumalik win prizes in a tournament with the participation of adult men, a tolerant environment will perceive this as normal, while some may react badly.

In order for all of us to become stronger, for society to become more competitive, we must give women the opportunity to realize their aspirations.

At the same time, we cannot justify our fear because we are a Turkic or Muslim country. After all, women leaders appeared not in the USA or France, but in Muslim, Turkic-speaking countries: Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Tansu Chiller in Turkey. In the Asia, Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, Siramavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi in India were at the helm of the state. History is replete with examples of men from the East who recognized the leadership of women in various fields, including public administration. But if we take all of humankind, Angela Merkel is perhaps the most successful state leader of the 21st century. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is another outstanding leader.

Let's simulate the situation. Let's take two extremes where the smallest cell is the family and the largest one is humanity. Every person living on earth has a potential both as a family member and as an individual. We all believe that innate aptitude, talent, multiplied by upbringing and work, should benefit everyone.

At the family level, a mother, like no one else, wants her children to flourish, for therein lies her maternal joy. But the achievements of one talented individual are often significant for all of humankind. At the end of the day, we are all children of Adam and Eve, and we should be interested in talented people around us making headway. Today we use the legacy of Al-Farabi, Al-Khorezmi, Ibn Sina, Newton and Einstein, and Sofya Kovalevskaya and Marie Sklodowska Curie to the same degree.

The development of modern technologies led by Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and, a little earlier, Steve Jobs would have been impossible without the discoveries of Ada Lovelace, who created the prototype of the first programming language, Heady Lamarr, who patented the technology of "jumping frequencies", which later became the prototype of wi-fi, as well as Karen Spark Jones, who pioneered the search engine technology that powers Google today.

Talented individuals as representatives of a family, generation, nation, race, or gender, belong to all of humankind. Every talented individual is the property of humankind. Every talented person is a great potential of humanity. We must not allow ourselves to waste talented individuals. This is not only the loss of a particular person, it is the loss of the possibility of a general improvement in life. This is a demotivation for other talented persons.

Talented person are always unorthodox, they fall outside the realm of tradition, but this should not scare us. All outstanding people in the entire history of humankind have inevitably come into conflict with the system, whether a social, economic or political system. They are gifted with foresight, so they pull ahead -- some pay for it with their lives, others experience tremendous hardships. But they manage to warm hearts or contribute to the development of humankind.

Sustainable development and increased competitiveness require doing away with stereotypes. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we will start modernization and become competitive.

[1] A traditional administrative subdivision in the past.

[2]  A type of fortified village found throughout the Caucasus mountains and Central Asia.

[3]  A contest centred on improvised oral poetry spoken or sung to the accompaniment of a traditional musical instrument – the Kazakh dombra.

June 19, 2020 

"Trust, technology and transparency as a sine qua non for good governance"

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact in all aspects of our lives. On the one hand, it once again showed us that we are all children of one earth and that our destinies are interconnected. This has strengthened interdependence and interaction in the modern world. On the other hand, as regards the characteristics of the modern world, known as VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), the pandemic and volatility of energy prices have led to the emergence of new uncertainties, which undoubtedly represent additional challenges for societies, economies and states.

In such circumstances, the quality of public administration is important. Regardless of the situation, taxpayers have the right to require states to provide quality services, make decisions in the interests of societies and economies, all in the interest of human lives. At the same time, it is very important that, along with the relevance and speed of decisions made, the observance of the rights and freedoms of citizens is ensured. One must underscore that these decisions be made transparently and that the need for quick decision-making does not lead to an upsurge of abuse.

Under current circumstances, this is also a challenge that requires a balanced response. Therefore, the study of best practices and cooperation is gaining additional importance because, due to the technologically uneven development and specific problems of certain governments, successful examples of using modern technologies to ensure the smooth operation of the government apparatus, the service delivery sector and problem areas have been identified as relevant in this situation.

In addition, it seems to me that an important challenge, to which a joint answer should be sought, is the clear conflict of interest between respect for human rights as a fundamental element of any democracy and the expanded use of visual control and tracking tools. Today, certain officials and government bodies in different countries are exploiting the situation with coronavirus and opting to use surveillance and control tools everywhere. In doing so, they are losing sight of the fact that such technological surveillance tools conflict with the rights and freedoms of citizens. It seems to me that the international community will now have to respond to this state of affairs.

The exchange of experience in the application of modern technologies should be accompanied by a similar exercise as regards ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens in the new conditions for regulating the use of monitoring and control tools and for ensuring public control and transparency. This applies both to public procurement, investment and management decisions in the interests of the economy and citizens, and to decision-making in creating and distributing surveillance networks. In such circumstances, cooperation is a key factor both between state bodies and governments of different countries and between governments and their citizens.

In this context, we, once again, have learned that trust is a key factor - not only as a social value in itself, but also as effective administrative capital. At the same time, trust is important not only to the government, but also to professional communities and among different social groups. Today when the global community is under stress from the Covid-19 pandemic, one spark could lead to the emergence of large focal points of social tension. This period underscored the fact that trust is a key factor in the effectiveness of public administration.

Therefore, in the current environment it is important to ensure transparency and accountability, while, in the long term, governments should constantly work on building trust.

In crisis situations, a strong sense of public trust is essential in support of the efforts of governments, societies and economies to overcome the crisis. That is why in order to exchange positive experiences, it is key to have such platforms where the data gained by governments and businesses of various countries in responding to a pandemic is compiled. In that regard, it seems to me that the role and importance of such platforms as the Astana Civil Service Hub are growing.

Already, in the first month of the quarantine, we shared with the Government of Kazakhstan and local executive bodies an example of using an application that allows citizens to leave their homes, visit grocery stores and pharmacies without violating the quarantine regime. Special applications for the urgent needs of citizens introduced in Azerbaijan, Greece, the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates are also of particular interest.

Advanced information technologies are becoming part of the public domain, regardless of the country in which they were invented. In such conditions, social institutions must both be ready to use new technological achievements and to create technological innovations on their basis.

As mentioned above, the role of cooperation is increasing. And alongside traditional forms of cooperation, new forms of collaboration are needed. Thus, the Astana Civil Service Hub launched the Virtual Alliance, where interested countries both share their experience in resolving issues in a pandemic and also study each other's experience.

Every crisis contains the seeds of opportunity. The current situation in the world compels all of us to find new ways and novel solutions without discarding our experience, relationships, cooperation; compels us to strengthen trust and mutual understanding in society and to increasing public trust in the state. For almost three months now we have been living in new conditions - without football, without face-to-face meetings. However, we remained staunch in our belief that trust and good governance are a sine qua non for overcoming the crisis.

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