Survival as Innovation

Walking around the souks in Muscat, Nizwa, Sur or Salalah one normally comes across small and medium enterprises everywhere. The heart of the Omani economy is the small businessperson who meets quotidian concerns in the economy. In the backstreets of Ruwi, on Honda Road in Muscat is an example of the eclectic character of the traditional SME space in Oman. The computer retail and repair shop rubs shoulders with an engineering consultancy to an ethnic South Indian eatery.

All over Oman, the dominant category of business is one which does not have much bandwidth as the focus on the everyday makes the case for innovation hard in the western epistemic sense of the term, however everyday as a site of negotiation to survive is also innovation, the Omani way. How innovation is framed in the Omani SME context needs to be anchored in the local history and culture. SMEs in Oman are family owned and multigenerational hence innovation in the conventional sense might seem problematic. Hence innovation needs to be communicated as resilience for the SME rather than a fancy jargon.

SMEs in various parts of Oman have a variegated spectrum of anchor industries to service from Oil & Gas to the restaurant sector. SMEs are not a monolith and innovative interventions would need to map as per outcomes desired. The fragmented nature of the SME also needs innovation to realize economies of scale with each SME plugging in a specific node in the value chain, including retaining In Country Value as a part of localization requirements. The economies of scale through the innovation glue will factor in the pace and the cultural instincts of the SME community in Oman which is of glacial place but of solidity.

Loyalty is a State of Mind.

I would really suggest my country men to tone down their acerbic nationalism when overseas as if things were that great back home you would not have applied for the PhD here, funded by local taxpayers right?

Practice gratitude, loyalty is not defined by your travel document.

theory is for research papers not for transgenerational migrants such as me! It’s lived experience as we live fragments in many places in an archipelagic manner (hat-tip to Prof Ananya Jahanara Kabir and Ari Gautier !)


Reanimating ESG: Best Served Politically Hot

ESG is the flavor of the season, post Glasgow where it has transitioned from regulatory to risk to climate (sorry cash) resilience with the key to access to climate finance. At the grave risk of green washing, ESG has been the favorite hot expert title on LinkedIn, with each one a freshly minted ESG expert with little appreciation for the intellectual genealogy of the term from CSR to SROI to Impact Investing to Triple Bottomline to Sustainability. ESG or Environmental, Social & Governance is a meta-framework meant to capture non-financial risk with a multiscale import, as it works both top down and bottom up with global scales of compliance jostling for competition with local politics. ESG as a global ethical barometer is driven to tick box measures and standardized aggregated metrics for rating agencies, gives the impression of being politically aloof, masking its origins in ecological and social justice for communities located at various places, nested within scales of Global Production Networks (hat-tip to Prof. Neil Coe, my Labour Geography teacher).

The problem with non-financial disclosure it that it is non-financial, with no clear translation of E&S risks to the bottom line. There are academic researchers who attempt to build in the E&S Risk to the balance sheet, however the alphabet soup of GRI, TCFD, SASB and BSR add layers of complexity which add to the paper trail. The datafication imperative of ESG couples it to the digitization agenda. But data is good for evaluating performance, however culture as a local determinant is hard to quantify.

ESG needs to ground itself in local realities of workers’ rights and environmental loss. People work within local laws, although global SA8000/RBA standards help express worker voices. Worker collectives take audit findings to take companies such as Dyson to court in the UK, by workers. Local politics adds teeth to the global ESG regimes. Many Malaysian suppliers have been banned from exporting to USA and Canada over forced labor complaints.

ESG should be taken as dynamic toolbox to solve problems taking up from the notion of dynamic materiality to solve business issues, rather than an embellishment. ESG from a ‘Jobs to be Done’ approach compels the paradigm to think beyond green washing. Materiality thresh holds for ESG risk, brings the skin back into the game, as the woke millennials feel for brands who take care of their workers, even if companies do not. The CFO will care for the quarterly numbers.

Value That We Produce.

The difference between a content writer and a consultant is the value that the ‘content’ or insight that it creates. Every academic think that the transition to the consulting private sector is easy, there is the hidden transcript which is not considered in the transition.

Consultants take work as an extreme sport.


Culture Centered Digital Problem Solving

Digital is an assault to the senses whenever we scroll our feeds on Twitter or the hard copy pink papers such as the FT. There are a few characteristics of the digital which are exemplary, ability to aggregate users and for pattern recognition, and fundamentally to shrink space-time. We are surrounded by technology, and the ubiquitous nature of digital has taken quarter of a century to emerge as is gauged from a16z’s conversation to Kevin Kelly. The human being in the realm of the digital is a ‘data-double’ which is a data point or a coordinate available for transition. Data is the new oil, but for whom?

The prowess of the digital spans a spectrum from the core to the periphery as per my conceptualization as a scholar of technology and society. The traits of technology will interact, refract, and diffract of the terrain of the community and the company, which ensure that the other vital C, the client has its pain point in everyday operations remediated or solved. The sectors which generate a massive tranche of data at a velocity are well suited for the digital economy. Aggregators of any typology from real estate to retail will bring the service to the tap of a smart phone. ‘On Demand’ is a feature of digital economy, however the digital incorporates human labor as a technology in terms of ‘Humans as a Service’ as per Jeremias Pressel in his Oxford University Press Book of the same name. Digital is not sans human labor, however digital maps, morphs and mutates the human of the human into digital features, which are conducted by human coders only to optimize the business value. However, the question which cuts through a knife into the haze of digital rhetoric is.

What additional value is the so-called digital transformation, adding to the consumer?

The core purpose of a business is to serve the client at the point of their need, to solve their problems at the best sustainable price, rather than blindly jump on to a band wagon without critically thing through the second order impacts. Oman struggles with the digital economy as the local cartography is pinned to the building number and the way number rather than a name, which makes deliveries harder to make. The cash centric culture also makes it challenging for the digital players to map transactions. The Omani consumer is price sensitive client and seeks to touch the product before making a purchase, although the culture as other things with time evolve.

The cab transportation sector in Muscat was ripe for disruption as flagging a cab on the street at 45-degree August heat during peak summer was a strain especially when one is with elderly parents. But with the presence of digital cab aggregators such as O Taxi, it makes for a better quality of life in turn better businesses. In India, Cash on Delivery is a feature of local adaptation of the aggregator economy. The digital is therefore a plastic wrap which covers the product. The optimizer rather than the substrate, bringing a disparate set of actors to the consumer, and not a universal panacea.

Each local culture will lend imports into the digital paradigm, and Gulf will do the same. The applicability will also depend on the user case. It is about time that the focus is shed back on the need rather than the shiny possibilities that the digital offers, keeping in mind the culture.  With the gulf in the post oil, post pandemic scenario laser focused on job creation, digital is an opportunity for reskilling but also deskilling where low-income labor will be impacted. Digital is therefore deeply contextual, and the youth would have to be skilled as per the risks as well as the potential. 

Re-blogged from : Digital Transformation | Solving pain points (