Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Three Ideas For SIEU


I recently received the Mentor, a publication of the Singapore Teachers' Union (STU), from my sibling.

I found it to be full of information. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the rich history of the union and that it represents some thirteen thousand teachers. I found a work plan of the union for the year ahead. And they are organising at least four dialogue sessions in one month alone to cater to busy members so as to share information and get feedback about the future of the union.

I also visited the STU website. It is regularly updated and a useful resource for members telling them about upcoming events and continuing education opportunities.

In contrast, the Singapore Insurance Employees' Union (SIEU) has about 6,000 members and is about ten years younger than the STU. Its website also appears to have had its last comprehensive update in 2005, when it was launched.

The STU is perceived to be more energetic and youthful than the SIEU.

I think the SIEU can learn from the STU in three ways:
a. Update its website with new developments and as a platform to inform members about future events and continuing education opportunities.
b. Improve its own union publication to the calibre of the Mentor.
c. Make public its own work plan for 2007, and be more consultative and vigorous in its efforts to reaching out to members about this plan.

If it does these, I am confident that the SIEU can be as vibrant as the STU.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Meeting Ateneo de Manila University - Part 2

Recently, I was interviewed by a graduate journalism student from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. The graduate student works for a broadcasting company in Singapore. Here are some highlights of the interview. For part 1, read here.


How do I lean politically - am I left or am I centre or am I right?

I think the best way to describe me is that I am a "swinger".

We have a penchant for putting people in boxes. Being in a box can be useful in certain situations but it can limit you as a person. I prefer not to be put in a box.

My friends say I am liberal in my views. I think this has partly got to do with my liberal law school background, where I was taught not only what the law is but provoked to go further in deciding what the law should be. But being a liberal in an Asian society can have negative connotations.

As such, I prefer to describe myself as open and willing to learn. And it is this mindset which makes me a "swinger"!


I am for political plurality because no one person or organisation can possibly have all the solutions for the problems or issues affecting a country.

Having said that, it is also important to highlight that because of the organisation I work for, it would be unconscionable for me to support anyone apart from the dominant party. My only other choice is to spoil my vote.

But I am for legal reform which helps the long-term interests of our country. It is for this reason I believe that Singapore is now ready for a proportionate representation electoral system.

In fact, if at all possible, I would like to see a second house of the legislature in Singapore, which I would personally call a "House of Elders".

We have so many retiring politicians and corporate leaders. They have useful ideas in their ageing minds, and we are often talking about tapping our older generation.

Why not create a House of Elders and let your bills that are passed after the first reading be debated in this House before it goes back to Parliament for a second reading?

I think the legislation coming out as a result of this process will be more sound.


I think there is now more space for public discussions and gatherings than existed in Singapore in the recent past. The current Prime Minister promised that individuals will no longer need to apply for licences for gatherings in enclosed spaces which do not affect racial or religious sensitivities, and he delivered on that promise soon after.

But there is now less flexibility for you to come out on the streets and display what you think about an issue. Our police force have in recent years focused their efforts on such gatherings and a tightening of the law on this aspect has also been proposed in the latest review of the Penal Code.

Many commentators often focus on this as a negative aspect of Singapore and I agree that the police, as law enforcers, can exercise greater flexibility on this issue.

But is there any real need to come out on the streets on an issue? Taking into account the other channels already available to one, I don't think there is any real need.

Some argue that our government does not listen. I think our government does listen but it just takes longer to do so. Some even see coming out on the streets as a quick way to change things and in dealing with a government that does not listen. I don't blame them however.

The government has by its own actions - going from third world to first in about three decades - highlighted that it can respond quickly to issues. And so your customers, that is your citizens, have become accustomed to quick fixes.

The reality however is that, in making law, there is no such thing as quick fix.

Consider, for example, when the government first started introducing quotas for the number of lawyers in Singapore. Over the last decade, there was dissatisfaction in that a graduate from a local law school needed only to have a lower second class honours degree to practise law here, whereas an overseas law graduate needed an upper second class honours degree. It took a severe shortage of lawyers for the government to see the harshness of this position. And, some ten years later, that law has now been changed.

In any case, you can have the most powerful laws in the country to deal with public disorder. But if you have an overly dissatisfied citizenry, there is nothing you can do to prevent the masses from coming out on the streets to protest an issue. History has shown this time and time again.


I neither object nor support politicians blogging. But this has generally been well-received. There are precedents elsewhere which show that blogging has helped politicians during elections time.

In Singapore, we see politicians from both ruling and non-ruling parties doing so. Even politicians who have been nominated to Parliament rather than elected have got into the act too. And I am still surprised that, with their busy schedules, they have the time to blog!

Our media already covers some of our politicians - especially our ministers - quite extensively so I am also not sure to what extent their blogs will help them to gain influence. Blogging can come after you have met the needs of the people you serve and delivered on your promises.


Some commentators believe blogs are waning. Others believe it's gaining popularity.

If, however like me, you prefer to see blogging as writing, I would argue that writing has a great potential and future.

Blogs and even Youtube are only a means to express oneself and, over time, such means will evolve.

And the same can be said about political discourse. I recognised earlier that we now have more space, albeit enclosed, for expression in Singapore. I am hopeful this will grow.

The Internet has been a catalyst in these efforts.

I remember, when I was in junior college some twelve years ago, I was one of the first few in class to have access to the Internet and e-mail. It made me more curious as a person, and, at least for me, it has been a powerful medium for education.


I recently had to prepare a blog policy for my own organisation. It offered various lessons. There are three key tips from there which I wish to share:
1. Write about what you know.
2. Accept feedback.
3. Be positive, that is add value, be constructive, correct your mistakes and apologise, where necessary.


Ethics is often a debatable area. That is why I had hoped that in my proposed code of conduct for bloggers, some minimum ethical standards would be established.

To me, ethics is about having good taste. Personally, I am uncomfortable about blog postings of pictures or videos of persons who do negative things. Some years ago, there was this unfortunate video of a polytechnic student in a sexual act circulating on the Internet. I liked how blogs wrote about this but did not carry the video. I think this is a practical example of ethics at work.


In our quest to be a wired nation, we cannot ignore a person's basic needs.

I was shocked by the comments of a new Member of Parliament before he was elected. He said something to the effect that he did not know that poor people existed in Singapore before he started working in the community.

I have heard of families in Singapore who cannot afford to buy spectacles or books for their children. There are also old people who live alone, wallowing in self-pity and living a life of just waiting for death to come and relieve them of this burden of living.

And some self-help groups, instead of focusing on meeting these needs, choose to give them access to the Internet and provide them computers. Who is to pay the bills for such facilities? Who is to monitor the children who are not supervised while using such facilities?

Some days ago, I was returning from Johor Bahru in Malaysia. I saw, just before the entrance to the Malaysian checkpoint, a person who had set up a desk to help people complete immigration forms, and he charged them a small fee for it.

Likewise, as more government services go online, I suspect more such little economies to evolve. Some entreprenuerial students are already helping people complete their tax returns online. It's only time before others start charging for help to do other online services.

Dharmendra Yadav

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Meeting Ateneo de Manila University - Part 1

Recently, I was interviewed by a graduate journalism student from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. The graduate student works for a broadcasting company in Singapore. Here are some highlights of the interview. For part 2, read here.


I started blogging some time last year on the encouragement of Alex Au of Yawning Bread.

Blogging, which is to me the same as writing, has helped to shape my views and also improved my command of the English language.

In fact, some of the postings have either been carried in other publications or led to longer contributions on other platforms.

The blog is also now an archive of what I have published in the past. I realised before setting up the blog that there was no comprehensive resource I could rely on on what I have shared in the past. This process of archiving is still going on.


While blogs have enabled more people to express themselves, it has also come at a cost to some people. For example, the individuals in Singapore who have found themselves in trouble with the law over things they have posted.

It was this concern which led me to propose self-regulation of blogs. There was a mixed response to this proposal by the blogging community in Singapore. In fact, one blog, Singapore Election Watch, even colourfully labelled me.

But I still believe there must still be continuous efforts to educate bloggers and keep them out of trouble. Defamation, for example, is a complex area of law that your ordinary blogger will find difficult to comprehend.

The Nanyang Technological University had one such learning programme recently. The Law Society of Singapore also published an article on responsible blogging in its magazine. There is also now a regular bloggers' convention, which can serve as a useful education platform.


I am not sure who runs it but it's not important. What is important to me is that its feedback on comment moderation did help me to make improvements to my blog.


I have no objections to anonymous postings although my wish is to see more people coming out from this closet of anonymity. I think not being anonymous enables you to take this discourse a step forward.

For example, when I used to contribute to virtual forums some years ago, that was it - contribute. A lot of these discussions eventually degenerated into negative remarks so I stopped contributing to virtual forums. It was not helping me grow.

Instead, I now organise a regular Thinking Talkies session where I bring about 15 people from different walks of life together. And in one night I learn about issues spanning a spectrum of topics that these attendees would like to share. This has helped me as a person and it's something I won't have got as an anonymous poster.

Of course, there are some advantages in anonymous postings. For example, I know a university professor who has an anonymous blog, away from the attention of curious students, which he uses as a platform to experiment with his thoughts. And this has helped him to formulate views which he has later used professionally.


Recently, there was a lot of debate in Singapore when it was revealed that the ruling party here has used anonymous postings to help shape a more positive view about it on the Internet. This was not surprising to me since it is a strategy that even companies in Singapore and elsewhere use to pitch their offerings and reputation. Perhaps, an anonymous poster is more credible in sending out an unbiased image. But, in one way and as some have argued, it is also deception or unethical because you are claiming to be something you are clearly not.

It is for this reason in my organisation, we have a policy where we encourage our employees to blog openly and to recognise that, even if they don't tell others, it is possible for people to associate their views with that of the organisation. In fact, my former boss championed this by blogging himself. I strongly believe that such initiatives can help one's corporate image.


If you choose not to blog anonymously, you must also recognise that you need to take steps to protect your own privacy. Like it or not, we all have some skeletons in our cupboard and, in the wrong hands, it can land you in very unkind situations.

For example, in a television interview recently, Timothy Go - a Filipino news presenter who works in Singapore and has his own blog - shared there are various aspects of his private life that he would not discuss in the public sphere. And he highlighted it is important to do this in the interest of his professional image.

Dharmendra Yadav

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Trust Those You Love

Trust is a very important ingredient of a happy relationship.

I know of someone whose partner wants to know his every movement.

His partner also demands to read the messages he receives on his mobile phone or as part of his personal mail. The partner further dictates that he not keep in touch with his ex-partners.

The partner is often instigated by negative friends to be more questioning of what he does and suspicious of his intentions. The partner has even gone to the extent of doing regular checks to verify his whereabouts and his intentions.

This is really an unfortunate state of affairs.

I have told this person to really reflect about the value of this relationship and to decide if he really wants to be in such a relationship.

But, of course, running away from a relationship is often not an easy solution and there are some relationships that we just cannot run away from.

For example, one between a suspecting parent and a child. I know of someone who often makes negative remarks about her child. As a result, the child often runs away from home to the sanctuary of his grandparent.

I don't think these are positive ways to conduct our relationships; they are full of insecurities.

We can trust those we love to do the right thing. If they get it wrong, it's okay. Let's forgive and help them to learn from it and move on.

And may you be blessed with the power of love on this Saint Valentine's Day!

Dharmendra Yadav

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Learning Customer Needs

A colleague recently asked, "How can we learn about our customers' needs other than conducting customer surveys?"

I shared with him four ideas:

1. Invite your most difficult customers for focus group sessions. Buy them a nice meal. You'll automatically get some useful suggestions.

2. Organise a contest inviting ideas from customers. Give cash rewards to customers whose ideas you implement.

3. Commission an independent research company to do this.

4. Buy the top 10% of your sales team a meal and ask them.

I am sure others can think of alternatives.

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Retain employees using innovative work areas

I read in Think magazine (Issue #26) that a Singapore company, muvee, has found a unique way to keep its employees happy and retain them.

Most companies stick to the traditional approach of paying employees competitively and providing them relevant continuous learning opportunities. muvee, which employs some 80 persons, has gone further by empowering employees to design their workspaces.

Each employee is given a budget and certain rules to follow in customising the individual work area.

Additionally, when muvee moved into its present office space in Bugis, it asked its employees for a wish-list and delivered this list. As a result, its present premises now incorporate "games rooms, cinema, American style diner, many many Fatboy bean bags, steam shower, focus groups suite and a war room, where company strategy is concocted amidst fake guns and camouflage gear". There is even a "kiddy style area with ABC matting and bouncy balls".

This indeed reflects the power of involving your employees proactively in issues that are likely to affect them.

muvee achieved substantial cost-savings in innovatively designing the present premises; it saved 40% of the budget allocated for its new office space.

Its approach has also been welcomed by both its employees and customers.

Now, give your boss the same idea about designing your workspaces, and persuade your employer to visit muvee for inspiration!

Dharmendra Yadav

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Redefining How Time Is Told

Until recently, there were only two ways watches displayed time: analog or digital.

This weekend, I learnt about a new way from the Financial Times magazine, How To Spend It.

One patented German innovation, NEOLOG, is attempting to redefine the way one tells time. According to its website, the watch "no longer displays time by hands or numbers".

Instead, "time is shown as what it is - quantity". The time is divided "into intelligible units: hours, units of ten minutes, and units of one minutes which are arranged in vertical blocks".

And so the time now is...

Several press commentaries have lauded this innovation. One commentator notes, "This sleek way of displaying time makes the watch as much as a fashion statement as a convenient and effective way of telling time."

A serious collector of watches is likely to find the price of 200 Euros affordable. It is also a dear and unique present for those you really love!

Unfortunately, for now, one can only buy the watch online.

Meanwhile, anyone wants to buy me a present this year?

Dharmendra Yadav

Friday, February 02, 2007

Give Her A Raise

A friend shared with me last year that people want good service but most do not know how to place a premium value on good service. This has left a lasting impression on me.

Two nights ago, after watching a football match, I was at Starbucks.

I was dead tired and, faced with the daunting task of choosing a drink from such a wide array of beverages, I was absolutely lost!

My plight must have been too obvious to one of their friendly employees, who approached me and offered help.

I told her, "I am superbly thirsty and need something refreshing."

She recommended chilled still water or an icy mango drink. I bought both. She served me the drinks swiftly and she said she hoped that I'd keep coming back.

As I was about to leave, I asked her for a feedback form. I gave her positive ratings and in the comments section I justified my ratings. My final remarks were, "Give her a raise!"

I have done this quite regularly in recent months. I am not sure how far it helps one get a raise but it sure brings a contagious smile to the face of the persons that attend to me!

Sometimes, instead of leaving a feedback form, I also ask if a person needs to share his or her tips. If such persons reply that they get to keep their tips, I make it a point to tip them well.

I hope I am giving good service an apt value.

Dharmendra Yadav