The Human Resource Gap

As I hope most of you know, I supposedly have a regular column/blog over at the MicroSoft Canada website.  The problem is that their interns keep turning over, and I have no idea anymore who is responsible for uploading my content!  The last article I wrote for them, and that was published, was in April of 2010.   I wrote another one in August of that year, and sent it to every one of my contacts over at MS Canada… but they all seem to have disappeared.  Or maybe my column/blog has been quietly discontinued.  I have no idea.

But I have other things to do.  So here is the article I wrote on Aug 25, 2010, meant for the MicroSoft Canada website.  I doubt I’ll be writing any more of this kind of stuff:

The Human Resource Gap

It’s been a while since I updated this blog.  Sorry about that.  I’ve been traveling a great deal and haven’t found a free moment to organize a thought lucid enough to be worthy of you gentle readers.

One of my recent travels took me on a lecture tour of India.  It was a bit of a game show atmosphere at times, wherein I wasn’t told the topic of lecture until the morning of the event!  But, interestingly, that’s part of what makes a public speaking career so exciting.  It’s also interesting to have actually reached a point in my development as a speaker that I feel comfortable traveling to a foreign country and culture, and delivering a two and a half hour talk to a room full of scholars… on a topic for which I had very little time to prepare.

So how was it?  In a word… fun.

Part of my journey took me to a town called Kakinada in the Indian state of Andrah Pradesh, where I met with Dr Chandra Sankurathri.  If you do a web search for his name, you will learn of his remarkable personal trajectory.  His is a story well covered in various media profiles, so I won’t go over it here.  But suffice it to say that Dr Sankurathri transformed incredible tragedy into public service of a nature that can only be called transcendent.  His foundation has educated hundreds of underprivileged and impoverished young people, and, in the past 7 years, treated almost two million opthalmological patients too poor to have otherwise received such life-changing medical treatments.

The work I’m doing with Dr Sankurathri’s foundation involves the analysis of some of his carefully kept databases.  This requires the extraction of large amounts of selected data from relative databases kept in Access format.  This sounds like a simple process, but it’s actually fairly trying if you don’t have a certain amount of database management expertise.  Luckily, a MicroSoft certified software engineer lives nearby and volunteers his pricey services to the foundation.  Frankly, I can’t imagine how much more difficult simply gaining access to the relevant data would have been, had this gentleman not been available.

More than just a paean to MicroSoft-certified technicians and engineers, this anecdote is a distilled example of a wider concern in the larger world of do-gooders.  It is true that the remarkable work of Dr Sankurathri’s foundation requires funds, and thus its founder spends almost all of his precious time courting donors.  However, his need –and that of almost all philanthropic endeavours in the low-income world– is for human resources.  Yes, both well-meaning students and seasoned Western professionals undergoing mid-life crises alike can be relied upon to donate intermittent swaths of their time to such ventures.  But the long term problem will always be finding well trained local talent to adopt middle management and administrative roles.

It’s a bit of a lesson for small businesses, as well, which, while similarly driven by a singular vision, also often operate on inconstant funding, yet rely on that most temporal of skills sets: the efficient and competent administrator.