Senior bureaucrats and entrepreneurs from across the Valley on Friday gathered at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre. They introspected and wrote letters to themselves and chose from dozens of pictures lying on the floor to express what they wanted from the future of Kashmir. While one said ‘I want people to be united’, another said ‘I want people to be free from hunger’, as they undertook the ‘Government Executive and Young Business Leaders Fellowship’.
This programme focussing on training for senior government executives and business leaders in Kashmir was organised by Jammu and Kashmir State Skill Development Mission, a government run society in the state. This Skill Development Mission was launched in December 2015 as a five year project to give impetus to entrepreneurship in J&K but didn’t take off till the State government hired a development expert Dr Peer G N Suhail to head it recently. The Mission will conclude in 2020.
The fellowship is a two-day training programme for senior entrepreneurs and senior administrators in the region. According to the organisers, these introspective exercises are to enhance leadership and create conductive environment for skill development in the state. Among the consultancy firm experts who are conducting the training is Simon McKenzie of BRIDGE. “Mindset change is what we need to improve the situation,” he said.
For McKenzie who has carried out about half a dozen projects in Kashmir, big change comes at an individual level. “A lot of problems here are because people have put themselves in boxes, they don’t look at the world outside” he explained.
“The learning comes from previous projects with youth involved in the insurgency. At the end of the workshops, they chose to give up violence,” he said with a smile.
As for the bureaucrats, the workshops are a relief. ‘Our schedules are busy so we don’t get to think of such ways of enhancing leadership, of individual change,” said an administrator from the Directorate of Industries requesting anonymity. “Yet the workshop is only for two days and the need for improvement in the bureaucracy is extensive. We want more such workshops; leadership change doesn’t happen in two days” the administrator added.
The state unemployment rate for ages 18-29 is 24.6 per cent, much higher than the national average of 13.2 per cent. The fellowship lists employment creation as a goal but red tape in the state comes from the same administration whose bureaucrats are attending the training. According to the CMS-India Corruption Study released this year, 44% of households in the state have experienced corruption.
McKenzie, who is based out of Singapore, acknowledged the difference in how work gets done in the two regions. “Just the amount of time it took for us to get here says a lot, I think they can learn from the efficiency in places like Singapore” he said. Saqib Mir, a local entrepreneur attending the training, talks of similar problems and said, “The administration is in a bad shape and there was a vacuum when it came to industries.”
Mir added that although Kashmiri entrepreneurs have talent, they struggle with management policies, “We often face problems when it comes to leadership so it is good that we’re getting help from professionals,” he said.
Many of the professional modules include interactive sessions. In one session, McKenzie asked administrators, “People who strike the most are the people who care, is that the same in Jammu & Kashmir?” there was timid agreement.
What has stuck him about Kashmir is the passion people have for the valley. “People here are more aware of their identity than any other region I have worked in. It may not translate but I feel that deep down, everyone cares and wants the best for the region no matter the side they are on,” he said.