Alchemy of Change and Courage
Alchemy Change Courage1

Alchemy of Change and Courage

"Become yourself the change that you want to see in others and in the world." Mahatma Gandhi.

Having reviewed the judgements/decisions of the newly established UN Disputes Tribunal (July-Dec 2009) and having analysed the fundamentals of UN reform in three broad sectors – operations/administration; human resources/human assets management; and the area of geo-politics, I would probably suppose what the next logical step should be to think deeply how this whole change/transformation exercise can finally unfold.

The UN reform itself has been a hot topic for many years of discussions, deliberations, knowledge-idea exchanges around the world often tagged to political deals and one-up-manships. In purely mechanist terms – i.e. standard office methods and procedures, use of the ICT technologies, etc. – there is no denying of significant changes resulting in cost-effective improvements in a number of areas. The downside of the exercise has also been clear: not infrequently, the whole change "mantra" became a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to different form(s) of the same malady from which we wanted cure in the first place. Inter alia, one key reason has been totally disconnected, systemic and compartmentalised thinking, and absence of holistic system-wide approach and treatment regime.

On the other hand, look at the external world:

I. The Business World

A surprising number of business leaders are applying the principles of Alchemy in the fields of finance, human resources, marketing, and research and development. These innovative leaders realize the power of the universal paradigm of Alchemy to streamline and energize their company and products as well as grow their business in new ways that meet the needs of customers and end-users, and help the company grow. There is a growing awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and preparedness in addressing some of the social problems and issues within its operational territory and in turn, gaining deservedly brand name loyalty and support.

II. Government and Public Sector

Successful progressive government and public sectors create an enabling environment where "Alchemy" begins as a unit of thought(s) and ideas with a self-driven momentum to solve the problems of the day and bring about welcome changes in the heterodox administration and governance disciplines.

Change is now the new theme in competent governments and many public sectors working in a globalised competitive environment. They see Alchemy offers tested, effective methods of dissolving outmoded structures and building new sustainable paradigms. Modern practitioners are working to dismantle dysfunctional bureaucracy and show civil servants and other public workers how to become "alive" at work to every-one's benefit.

Read about the Right to Information Act 2005 of the Indian Government (described elsewhere below) and see how this simple tool has empowered the ordinary folks and put those lethargic government outfits on a short leash.

Change is unchangeable, unstoppable and inevitable.

In analysing and understanding how these changes and transformations would be possible, the following key characteristics and requirements are noticeable:

  1. Inevitability of changes in the outside world, advances in technologies, new discoveries and tools; the unavoidable impact of these changes in personal life style and human interaction and relationships.
  2. Slow uptake and understanding among those involved in the governance process (especially in the government and public sector), with often delayed response that such changes deserve to be studied, tested and successful ones adapted in time to enhance all round performance levels – be it self-improvement or socio-economic well being.
  3. It is becoming increasingly evident that new technologies allow flexibility, scalability, replication possibility, accountability, and at the same time freedom of choice.
  4. When changes are introduced in the heterogeneous governance units of the federal and provincial governments in a vast country with diverse cultures, faiths, customs and behaviour patterns, understanding of and respect to sensitivities of different population and ethnic groups and right communication medium become key to effective implementation.
  5. Awareness of the impact of such changes on the environment and consequences – intended, unintended, natural or otherwise.
  6. Finally learning the practical lessons and workable solutions through experience and building capacity to sustain change(s) and at the same time guarding against any unwanted or backward results beyond human control.

Heritage Tools of Alchemy

According to ancient Eastern wisdom, there has always been a cutting edge knowledge and technology available to humanity to learn and apply. Uniquely human beings are born equipped with these tools, but need to learn about their presence and availability and get the necessary training to employ correctly. These are three key solutions for the art of personal and societal transformation, personal and social Alchemy:

  1. Removal of Malam (impurities, both physical and mental/emotional);
  2. Control of Vikshepam (mental aberrations/modifications/vacillations/agitations);
  3. Overcoming Aavaranam (sheath/veil of ignorance).

All the qualities and attributes described here are the result of our notoriously "well-known" Raga (likes) and Dwesha (dislikes), both embedded in the psyche, inherited and also acquired habits through daily living. Note each Sanskrit term has multiple meanings and usages with reference to context.

Now, is it not becoming clear why the reform in the UN system is not happening as it should be with the same speed and sustenance as the outside world? Why there is often total resistance/breakdown to the needed change/transformation? The diagnosis in simple language: the internal bureaucratic culture has accumulated all the three toxic elements: Malam, Vikshepam and Aavaranam; over decades with impunity and it requires Vairagya (strong axe of dispassion) to understand the problem with clarity in order to eliminate the "garbage" and come with suitable Alchemy solution(s).

On the surface, the UN as it is seems a good candidate for total "surgery", but it is possible that the patient may not survive or may end up in interminable-expensive-coma without any assurance of ever waking up to reality. What is however guaranteed in this line of treatment is resource wastage and a good deal of disarray all around. I am not saying that the political UN is indispensable, but in the kind of world we live in today it will be total catastrophe to close down the common global platform of "punching bags" for all the good, bad and ugly ones to come and release their tensions and frustrations periodically.

Therefore, my approach and strategy would be more of a Yoga therapy, a kind of holistic wellness programme whereby the patient is being helped to function at whatever possible competency and productivity level as of now, while simultaneously the patient receives sufficient infusion of energy of new thinking and a period of treatment and therapy of removing all impurities. The prognostic goal is to get the system rejuvenated and its brain cells re-wired and enlightened. The therapy (strategy) consists of three inter-linked stages of application. As the strategies work interactively, the positive changes will start happening with discernible quality improvements in the organisation and its leadership. However, the importance of the key role of the "leadership" in the change paradigm cannot be overstated.

Stage One of Three

"Mala Nivirti" (removal of impurities – inside and out/structural obstacles) – instead of patchwork ad hoc reorganisation process, it is necessary to put in place a permanent division/department – Bureau of Organisational Procedures & Standards (BOOPS) – whereby a continual programme (both long term and short term) and plans of action should be agreed and implemented in a time frame. This change process should embrace the whole set of organisation and agencies in the UN family: its purpose is to study, analyse, agree and implement continuing improvements in all the functional areas of the organisation that are comparable, consistent and cost effective.

It is OK to continue with the present internal oversight group, whistle blowers, etc. who are primarily engaged in a kind of post-mortem, pointing out misdeeds, mishaps, malfeasance and final punishment of wrong-doers (if any), after all the damage is done. The BOOPS, on the other hand, is more of a preventive approach, pro-active and cross-cutting all functional areas in all agencies with Alchemy transformative operational tools. For effective implementation and real change, BOOPS mandate should cover the whole gamut of divisions of the organisation within a period of four years; and each of the participating divisions' work methods and standards will be subject to mandatory monitoring and evaluation, and a wholesale review within 2-3 year period.

Stage Two of Three

Vikshepa Nivirti (control and re-balancing mental modifications/aberrations). There is an Indian proverb: "You can plumb the depths of a well, but the depths of the mind are unfathomable".

The propensity of the body-mind-sense composite can be as broad and expansive as what we see in the aftermath of the horrific earthquakes in Haiti with the pouring in of humanitarian aid, compassion and help from all over the world to the poor victims, on the positive side of the spectrum Vs. the continuing heartless destruction and killing of innocent people by suicide bombers day after day in these past months on the streets and bazaars in Pakistan and Afghanistan, on the other extreme negative side of the spectrum.

The collective "mental" power of the UN to carry out its corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be reckoned somewhere between the two ends of the spectrum. In the context of Haiti, its vibration frequency probably moving toward the positive end; whereas in the normal work day situations with no external emergencies to absorb all attention and forget petty internal bickering, the usual politicking and the game-play of likes and dislikes take hold and enjoy a hectic field day. When this happens it can leave only untold heart burns and unmitigated frustrations.

Stage Three of Three

Aavarana Nivirti (removal of the veil of ignorance): Notwithstanding all confusions and frustrations of the muddled behemoth bureaucracy, there was an important breakthrough in the Indian democracy not very long ago that may well be a precursor to enhanced transparency and accountability in governance. It is called The India's Right to Information Act 2005, which empowers an ordinary citizen, for a small expenditure of one dollar fifty cents or about, to ask and obtain valid and truthful information from any of the government departments, public sector units, right up to the chief justice of the apex court in the country. The norms, procedures and timelines are provided in the Act in all languages, and readily available to anyone, including Internet website.

As an important feature of this landmark legislation, it has enabled the creation of several innovative websites to facilitate the citizens to lodge their complaints/enquiries sitting at home through websites for a small additional fee. Think: a civil society citizen in a remote part of the country and just with the help of a PC and Internet connection has the capability to seek and receive relevant information from those whose job is to govern and govern properly. This puny citizen in a remote village has the right to question those responsible when things are not done as they should!

If we want to beacon hope and reform in the UN, this blissful ignorance and lack of empowerment (of its staff and other users) has to change. It is not going to be changed through information overload and millions of colourful websites. Accumulation of information is NOT knowledge; when information is given in an "usable and user-friendly" fashion and can be studied, absorbed and assimilated, then "knowledge" arrives and ignorance is likely to evaporate.

When the UN Staff is given a similar right to information and can enjoy what has already been provided in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I am confident things will change for the good in the governance environment of the UN . But, remember, "rights" on this human planet cannot be absolute, they do carry corresponding duties and responsibilities in order to ward off the cycle of any unwelcome consequences, see the trinity of Malam, Vikshepam and Aavaranam described above.

Remember that the duties and responsibilities are the real bricks by which an individual or organisation's character is built, and the quality of real character is what one would do in total transparency and with a sense of accountability.

V. Muthuswami

Joint Appellant of the Common Cause Appeal # UNAT 2009-001. Vm/250110.

The UN • Copyright © 2010 • All Rights Reserved

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments