Thursday, September 25, 2008

‘Surgeons do not cry’

“My knife is my wife,” Dr. Jose “Ting” Tiongco told me 12 years ago. “My fascination with surgery has been total I have forgotten to get married.”

Ting is a brilliant surgeon, one of the passionate doctors who blazed a trail in health care cooperatives in Davao and later in the rest of the Philippines. Twelve years ago I did a feature-review (“Ting Tiongco and the dream”) of his book “Child of the Sun Returning”. On his book he had scribbled, “You once asked me if I was writing a book. I did. In my heart. Aniana.” Aniana is Visayan for “here it is.” A more dramatic translation would be “It is here.”

Earlier, I did a long cover story on him for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. I went to Mindanao just for that. I got to watch him perform a Caesarian operation and interview his fellow doctor-visionaries. These doctors were once called “doctors who refuse to say die”.

Twelve years after “Child of the Sun Returning” I received from Ting another book titled “Surgeons Do Not Cry”, a compilation of his column pieces for a Mindanao news agency. On it he scrawled: “Twelve years later and the anger and bewilderment is still there. Thank God there is still hope!”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A day at a factory

I invited myself to the factory. The company does not need media exposure or publicity. They don’t sell their products here. In fact the owner requested that there would be no mention of his name (let’s call him Mr. K), the company’s name, the brand names, etc. It was I who was interested to know more about what was going on in the factory, how production was, the workers, the size, the product. I had never been to something like this before.

I met Mr. K and his wife, through a friend, during the breath-stopping Cloud Gate Dance Theater performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines some weeks ago. The show was part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. The Cloud Gate’s founder Lin Hwai Min of Taiwan is an RM awardee (1999).

One day last week, I visited this Taiwanese-owned luggage factory (let’s call it the K company) just outside of Metro Manila. This factory produces some of the most expensive, if not some of the most durable luggage in the world, more expensive and more durable than the enduring popular brands that we know. That is what Mr. K, the Taiwanese owner, an electronics engineer, told me and he showed me why and how much the products cost abroad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Knowledge economy 101

Seoul--When you give something a name, you empower it. And so, they’ve given it a name—knowledge economy or knowledge-based economy. In layman’s terms knowledge economy (KE) means using knowledge to create wealth. Wealth isn’t a bad word if it means quality life, not just for a few, but for all.

Representatives from six countries—Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Philippines and Vietnam—gathered in Seoul to learn more about knowledge economy and how it could be made to work in their respective countries. If you look at the list of countries that were invited, you would right away see that these are the economic laggards in Asia. In Pilipino, we say, the kulelat or in Ilonggo, kulihot.

The World Bank Institute and the Korean Institute of Development brought together individuals from these six countries, most of them educators from universities, government officials from the education bureaucracy, economic planners, information experts, plus a couple of media practitioners. Before we left for Seoul, we had to attend a teleconference and then go through some online learning about (KE) through—here’s a new word—moodling. Yes, in a classroom in cyberspace.

But nothing beats coming face to face with one another and with the gurus of KE who preach the gospel of KE. You bet, there was a lot of KE jargon flying around and a few times this journalist had to ask: What does that look like on the ground?

And what’s KE all about? Here are the ABCs I have lifted from notes.

Knowledge economy rests on four pillars: 1) improving the economic and institutional, 2) fostering innovation, 3) upgrading education, and 4) strengthening information and communication.

A sound economic and institutional regime (EIR) is of primary importance, we were told, for achieving better policy results in the functional knowledge pillars as well as for getting the most from related investments. Advanced economies have something to show for their success. They have well-established institutional frameworks based on democracy and free markets. But hand in hand with the development of a KE is an institutional framework that goes far beyond and into labor markets (employment flexibility, employability, mobility), sophisticated financial markets (microfinance, venture capital), products and services markets and effective protection of intellectual property.

What about the kulelats with mediocre economic and institutional regimes? They would require “a well-articulated, strategic set of steps focused on very specific problems and taking into account bureaucratic, political, social and economic interests.”

Innovation was a word that was mentioned so often. It is supposed to be the spearhead of the KE concept. Innovate or be left behind. Innovation is key to the developmental success of a number of countries, South Korea among them. Technological innovation, in particular, is crucial for dramatic growth, it enhances competitiveness and increases social well being.

Innovation can be defined as “the design, development and diffusion of something new to a given context, leading to a significant improvement in the economic, social or environmental conditions.”

Innovation occurs at three levels: 1) local improvements are made by adopting available technologies to satisfy basic needs or to upgrade products or services, 2) competitive industries to develop through adaptation of technologies initially produced in or by developed countries, 3) ultimately, new innovations of global significance are developed.

Innovation cannot be forced to happen. In developing countries an appropriate technical culture must first be built. Then there should be incentives to support and stimulate entrepreneurship.

And now the education pillar. Education is supposed to be the great leveler and enabler. It creates opportunities and reduces poverty. The educated individual is able to create, share, disseminate. An educated population, being more sophisticated, has higher demands, thus driving industries to innovate.

Strong information and communication technology (ICT) is the fourth pillar. It is the component that should fill the knowledge gaps in poor countries. ICT creates better efficiency and improves services. ICT creates advances in manufacturing, trade, governance, health care, agriculture and delivery of services. ICT also reduces costs, breaks down time and distance barriers and enables speedy mass production of goods.
Getting there, becoming a so-called knowledge economy does not happen overnight. Erecting the four pillars requires a long-term strategy. A country may be strong in one pillar but weak in another. Leaders and policy makers must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their people and resources.

For those interested, the World Bank Institute’s Knowledge for Development (K4D) has developed the Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM), an internet-based tool that provides a basic assessment of the KE readiness of a country or region. Log on to www.worldback.org/kam and find out.

KAM is meant to be a user-friendly interactive tool based on the KE framework. It was designed to help countries assess their strengths and weaknesses and compare themselves with their neighbors. KAM could help identify problems and opportunities for a given country, help direct its focus, say, in making policies and investments and how it could make a transition into a knowledge-based economy.

KAM is able to assess a country’s or a region’s comparative KE position on a global scale (compared with 140 countries), on a regional scale (compared with eight regional groupings), on the basic of human development and the basis of income levels.

KAM na.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reflections for Ramadan

One of the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees I was able to interview recently was Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Indonesia. He is the awardee for the Peace and International Understanding Category.

The banner headline last Monday was was “Fighting continues as Ramadan begins.” Just below it was my article with the title “Terrorists hijack God, says RM awardee”. I thought it complimented the banner story.

Here was a revered Muslim scholar and activist, trying all his best to help restore the good name of Islam which has been tarnished by terrorists. “Terrorism is not the authentic face of Islam,” Maarif keeps stressing again and again. “The terrorists hijack God.”

These “hijackers” kill with the name of Allah on their lips, they invoke the name of Islam to justify their extreme causes. At this time when Islam is suffering a bad image because of the extreme behavior of some its adherents, a voice—brave and loud—calling for moderation is hard to find.