Communications and trust

Some learning not quite on the topic of egovernment but which emphasises the focus required when considering egovernment projects was clearly presented to me when catching up recently with an old acquaintance. The person concerned, Maryam Bibi, was back in England to receive an Honorary Doctorate from York University, in this instance a well-earned one.

Maryam founded the organization Khwendo Kor in what used to be known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA). These areas, bordering Afghanistan, and culturally similar are largely populated by groups of the Pashtun people.

Maryam’s experience is one of trying to improve the well-being  of women and children in the region by improving their education and health. This she has been doing since 1993. When the central government dealing with the area is in far-off Islamabad, where the language is Urdu or Punjabi, and here the tribespeople speak Pushto and the women commonly wear the burka, even Pakistani officials find some difficulties in introducing change. So, as the military are finding in Afghanistan, other approaches are required.

This is where Khwendo Kor come in. Bringing their understanding of the languages and the cultural gap they are able to communicate with the local people, starting off with the leaders and establishing a level of trust with them before introducing what is new to the village people. In this way a small group is able to improved the education and conditions of women and children in many hundreds of villages in a way that would ordinarily be met with violence, or at least antipathy. Khwendo Kor are also able to mediate on behalf of international organizations such as UNICEF, when people are displaced by earthquake or flood, as has happened recently.

What Maryam’s message means to me is that change requires trust, and that in order to gain trust one must first be able to communicate with those one is dealing with. Communications is also not just a matter of speaking the right language, but being able to speak the language with the cultural overtones necessary to gain that trust. It also means a laborious process that can’t be rushed.

Much trust has recently been lost between journalists, police, politicians and the wider public. This can only be regained by talking the same language that demonstrates truth i.e. by acting upon those words, and from that slowly rebuilding what has been lost. The News of the World revelations, follow the Parliamentary expenses scandal, which follows a long line of others. In the NWFP these actions would have probably been dealt with by execution! We’ve moved on from that, but it does mean regaining trust is a slow and painful project. Similarly introducing participation, digital government and similar projects will require skills and patience, rushing will only result in rejection.

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