Last week I mentioned that I attended a conference titled “Africa Arise”, organized by Beza International Church in cooperation with members of the diplomatic community in Addis Abeba.
This conference took place just prior to the annual African Union meeting and in fact has become an annual event since the first one took place five years ago. It was observed that Africa, for a great deal, depends on imports instead of local production. This is true for a number of countries in Africa and certainly for Ethiopia. Progress is being made in some sectors but there remains a lot to be done. Instead of processing our own raw materials into finished products for the local and export markets, we still export raw materials to be processed abroad. Edible oil is but one example. The oil seeds are exported, while processed oil is being imported. The business opportunity is obvious and a foreign company is about to invest and set up a mega oil processing plant. Meanwhile, factories depending on imported raw materials to make their products find it hard to obtain the foreign currencies required to import them and have to slow down. Indeed we import more than we export and spend more dollars than we earn. Local production, using as much as possible the locally available raw materials will save foreign currency and if the quality is good enough will help earn foreign currencies instead through export. Simple as it seems, it takes courage and some bold initiatives to step up local productivity. We must realize that indeed the private sector is the backbone of any economy, initiating development and employment. For them to be able to play their role effectively though, it is essential that they can operate in a conducive environment to be created and facilitated by their governments. An environment that is fair in terms of competition, taxation, conditions of service and that protects human rights and Africa’s natural resources, an environment that is free from corruption and which protects and provides services that can be relied upon. And to achieve this we need people and organizations in all sectors of society with a vision, a mission and integrity.
Writing vision and mission statements began to become popular some twenty five years ago. Defining the mission of an organization or business is the easier of the two as it describes what it is that the organization or business does. Describing a vision is more difficult, as it often becomes more vague, generic and seemingly unrealistic. Sometimes we end up with vision statements that could apply to any organization and it doesn’t distinguish one from the other. Consider the following examples:
We will be the best in the business.
Excellence is our motto.
We will be the market leader.
We will give the best service to our clients.
Diversity is our strength.
Many vision statements try to convince the public that the company provides quality products and services and that their employees are honest and respect their customers. In other words, that they are trustworthy. The reality is often different though and this is where the issue of integrity comes in.
Integrity means that what you do and think corresponds with what you say and feel, or that you “walk your talk”. Integrity means keeping your promises. Not just once in a while, no, all the time. A measure of consistency comes in here. Where there is no integrity, habits do not match values. In other words, what I do does not relate to what I really find important. If a person lacks integrity, how can (s)he be trusted? Instead, this is what is called being hypocritical. And if a company lacks integrity, how is it going to satisfy its customers and stay in the business? Never mind its vision statement, which screams “We will be the best!” And where the Chief Executive lacks integrity, why would the workers be honest and do the best they can? Following the leader may thus end up in lying, stealing and corruption. To make matters worse, the boss will now begin to loose grip on management as leading by example results in workers following a bad example. And so we see that individuals, organizations and companies often don’t do what they would like others believe they will do. They do get found out though as their true values are different from their statements.
It is easy to recognise others in such situations and say of somebody else that that person lacks integrity. Next time you find yourself blaming everybody and everything else for the problems around you, I suggest you look into a mirror and ask whether you are a person of integrity yourself. I find that question extremely hard to answer.