Merry Christmas

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While we are preparing ourselves to celebrate Christmas around the world, we see many countries sliding away into more conflict and environmental degradation at the hand of people. Indeed this is a time to reflect and ask ourselves what we are doing ourselves to make this world a better world?
Most of us are following the political and economical developments in the world and at home from a distance, accepting the fact that nothing can be done about it anyway, that the power is in the hands of a few others who play the game at other levels. It is good to realize where you stand and know whether or not you can do something about a certain situation.
It is true that we all have issues that we are concerned about: national and international politics, disasters and emergencies, terrorism, extremism and closer to home the costs of living, the education of our children, crime, our health, our jobs, the business etc. All issues are certainly issues to be concerned about. Not everybody is in a position though to influence them. There are issues within our so called circle of concern and there are issues within our smaller circle of influence. If your circle of concern is big and your circle of influence is small, chances are that your life and business are at the mercy of your external environment. Your situation is dictated by other people, circumstances and factors and you have a lot to worry about. The point is to realize how big your circle of concern and your circle of influence are in relation to each other and ask yourself what to do to enlarge your circle of influence to push towards your circle of concern.
In other words, make up your mind about the issues that you are concerned about, decide whether or not you want to do something about it and subsequently work on enhancing your influence on the issue. If you come to the conclusion that an issue is not for you to have any influence over, it may be better to stop being concerned about it at all. Instead focus on what you can have a (growing) influence over.
Our degrading environment for example and the subsequent loss of natural resources. While we may have little influence over the global climate changes that we observe around us, we are in a position to protect our direct natural environment. Practice can be influenced by policy and in our own business we can make sure that we apply environmental friendly techniques, dispose of waste in a proper manner and don’t pollute the air, ground and rivers we use for production.
Another example is the formation of producers’ associations. While a single business will not be able to exercise any influence over policies and rules & regulations over a certain sector, an association of business owners from the same sector can. Such association will also be able to set certain quality standards and facilitate technical advances within the sector. This way the sector will be protected against opportunists who do nothing to further develop the sector but simply copy what others do, only cheaper and with less quality. You will extend your influence again if you decide not only to be a member and use the services of the association but become an active committee member.
Looking at international business there are growing opportunities for upcoming markets to join the global markets. Somehow though, many of us may have the feeling that we are still missing out and that the largest parts of the pie are taken by producers from other parts of the world, more especially Asia. And that is indeed the case. But what can we do to turn our chances around? For one thing it is a good idea to have a look how business is done in other parts of the world and learn from that. Exposing yourself to other ways of doing business and learning how things can be done differently and perhaps more effectively is probably easier now than a number of years ago with all the opportunities that the internet and increasing competitive international travel offer. We may conclude that we miss opportunities indeed, in the area of Christmas decorations for example.
Every year there is a growing demand for Christmas decorations, especially in North America and Europe. Containers full are exported from Asia into Europe and the United States. And the products are sometimes very simple indeed. I have seen examples from the Philippines. Angles made of the dried leaf of the false banana tree for example. Or Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus made from dried leaves of the maize cob. Materials we have no shortage of here either. And the technique is not too difficult to learn. In fact, with Ethiopia’s legendary Queen of Sheba and Ethiopian roots going back to the reign of Solomon, an extra dimension can be given to this opportunity. The challenge is in the quantities though. When a department store makes an order, it makes it in the thousands or even millions, not just a few.
So there are plenty things to learn and what we learn can be used again to influence our situation and turn it around indeed. I’d like to encourage the reader to reflect on what can be done in your particular situation or line of business to make a difference, for yourself, your company, your employees, your sector, your country.
Merry Christmas!

Ton Haverkort