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by Mr. Shigeo Takenaka
Ladies and gentlemen, Distinguished guests, Dear friends and colleagues:
The Asian Productivity Organization (APO) is honored to be invited to Nazareth, Ethiopia, as a participant in this Workshop on Productivity and Social Dialogue. We are happy that the African Union, the regional organization encompassing all nations in Africa, has recognized the importance of promoting productivity on the African continent and has taken initiatives to organize this important meeting. This workshop will be remembered as an important milestone in accelerating the productivity drive throughout Africa. We are here to share our experience in the Asia-Pacific region to help ensure the success of productivity enhancement in Africa.
The APO, established in 1961, is a regional intergovernmental organization headquartered in Tokyo devoted to improving productivity in our 20 member economies. Our mission is to contribute to sustainable socioeconomic development through human resources development in the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors. While our member economies are diverse in terms of economic development, political system, history, culture, and technical and scientific capabilities, all share a common vision of achieving a better quality of life through the promotion of productivity. The fact that Asia has achieved the highest economic growth rates in the world in the last half-century is, we believe, not unrelated to the existence of many vibrant national productivity organizations (NPOs) in the Asia-Pacific region and the activities of the APO.
Since 2006, the APO has been cooperating with African countries to help the productivity movement in Africa with a special cash grant from the Government of Japan. This cooperation has been undertaken through partnership with the Pan African Productivity Association (PAPA), which has its headquarters in the Republic of South Africa. During the last three years, PAPA and the APO have collaborated on various programs.
“I have faith in human progress, and productivity in all spheres of human activity is certainly at the heart of that progress.” These were the words of inspiration delivered by former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa to the participants in the Roundtable Conference for the Promotion of the Productivity Movement in Africa in Sandton, South Africa, in 2006, the conference which officially started the partnership between PAPA and the APO. The opening ceremony of that conference was attended by about 100 guests, including South African Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana. The seven resource persons from the NPOs of Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore and many APO Secretariat officers including myself were there to share the Asian experience in productivity promotion. PAPA was represented by high-ranking government officials, labor union officers, and NPO staff from Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The roundtable conference formulated productivity master plans for participating African countries by identifying their immediate needs, including capacity building of their NPOs, so that they could spearhead the productivity drive in Africa. In response to the needs identified at the roundtable conference, the Basic and Advanced Training Courses for the Development of Productivity Practitioners were subsequently developed. The objectives were to provide practitioners with in-depth knowledge of productivity concepts. The courses also familiarized participants with basic and advanced productivity tools and practical techniques, thereby strengthening the technical competency and institutional capacity of those NPOs. While the basic course forms the foundation, the advanced course broadens participants’ perspectives and deepens their technical competency in the use of more advanced tools and techniques. The APO and PAPA have organized two four-week basic courses and one three-week advanced course since 2007, training more than 90 trainers of other productivity practitioners.
Although the challenges facing African NPOs vary depending on the different levels of cooperation and assistance from local, political, labor, and institutional entities, African participants in our projects showed genuine enthusiasm and commitment to enhancing the productivity movement in Africa. They have acknowledged that the productivity movement is a valuable, effective tool in their economic development strategies.
In recognition of the APO’s contributions to the productivity movement in Africa, we were invited to the Summit Meeting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-IV) in Yokohama, Japan, in May 2008, hosted by the Government of Japan. Mr. Tembo Lebang, then president of PAPA, together with Mr. Antonio D. Kalaw, Jr., the head of the Philippine NPO, and myself constituted the APO delegation supported by a host of APO Secretariat staff members. It appears that the results of APOPAPA activities were part of the reason why the meeting stressed the need for promoting South-South cooperation, in particular between Asia and Africa. The Yokohama Declaration adopted at the end of TICAD-IV included the words: “Encourage the full use of existing institutions mandated in the field of South-South cooperation, such as the Asian Productivity Organization and national productivity organizations in both Asia and Africa.”
Let me share my view on some of the factors contributing to a successful productivity movement in APO countries. First are the NPOs of member countries. The NPOs occupy a pivotal position in the productivity movement by guiding, coordinating, and orchestrating other stakeholders. In order for NPOs to perform such functions, they must enjoy a high degree of autonomy, support, and flexibility. The Japan Productivity Center (JPC) is an example. It played a major role in reconstructing the postwar Japanese economy by exposing thousands of top Japanese business managers to the most advanced management methods from the West. Yet it has been functioning independently without governmental interference since its founding in 1955. Although the JPC is somewhat exceptional, most successful NPOs in the APO region have substantial independence from their governments. Our experience has shown that excessive intervention by a government dampens the initiative and saps the creative spirit of an NPO.
The second factor is government. The government has a crucial role to play in raising awareness of productivity among the people and industry and nurturing their positive attitude toward productivity improvement. Generally speaking, the effectiveness and sustainability of a productivity movement depends on the extent to which the government commits itself to the movement. This is because the productivity movement calls for considerable financial outlays, and in many countries only the government can provide funding on a regular, sustained basis. This is particularly true in countries where the productivity movement is still in a nascent stage.
Third, productivity is neither a monopoly of the NPO nor that of the government. Productivity cuts across all sectors and embraces all actors in and layers of society. Therefore, the NPO must ensure that it secures the widest representation and participation, including labor and business. In some countries, the productivity movement is regarded as anti-labor by union leaders. Every effort must be made to clear up such misunderstandings by treating labor as one of the pillars of the productivity movement. The business sector forms yet another pillar. For this reason, activities to improve productivity must be directed, first and foremost, at strengthening the private sector, particularly SMEs. Their active involvement is essential for any successful productivity movement.
In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity once again to applaud our friends and colleagues, especially the organizers of this workshop, the African Union, ILO, and PAPA, for their commitment to revitalizing the productivity movement in Africa. Asian-Pacific countries as a group have been promoting the productivity movement for the last half-century with some tangible successes. I believe that this is one area in which two great regions of the world, the African continent and the Asia-Pacific region, can cooperate more closely in future. As I stated in my address at the 51st APO Governing Body Meeting held last month in Colombo, Sri Lanka, we are ready to continue our commitment to disseminating the Asian-Pacific productivity experience to Africa through conventional means. We are also contemplating the use of more innovative means such as establishing partnerships among NPOs and the productivity organizations of African nations to deepen our mutually cooperative relationship. It is my hope that this meeting will produce concrete ideas that will lead to further promotion of the productivity movement throughout the African continent.