by Eric Santillan
I remember going to the National Museum many years ago and talking to its curator. Every Sunday, the National Museum opens its doors to children and students of poor families. They can enter the museum for free–offering the children and their families an alternative educational tour and recreation that does not really cost anything. He said that at the end of each tour, what strikes him is that the children stop at the garden within the building and stare in silence and wonder at the beautiful garden, manicured lawns, and clean surroundings. Then they go home and begin to beautify their own surroundings and clean their own environment. They go home and clean their homes.
Seeing something that is beautiful and just works does two things to us: first, it makes us realize what we lack and want to improve; and second, and more importantly, you begin to see what is possible.
Our problem is not that we are an undisciplined people (although we have been called that). Our problem is not that we are corrupt (although we probably are). Our problem is that we lack imagination. Our problem is that we don’t know any better because we have become so used to the status quo and we don’t see possibilities anymore. Our environment has desensitized us from what is do-able. Our problem is that we have gotten so used to filth, to token cleaning, to unhealthy surroundings.
So WHAT IF we could dream? What if we could do something that allows us to see possibilities? What if we can choose one spot in our city, and put our collective efforts in:
1) Fixing and beautifying it. In a truly world-class way. No haphazard paint jobs. No scrimping on materials. No use of second rate equipment. And definitely no corruption so that all resources go to where they’re supposed to be.
2) Getting processes and procedures behind it. We strive for the most efficient processes. We learn from other cities and other countries. We learn from the private sector. We learn from our beautiful malls. We learn from the airports of Incheon and Singapore. We learn from the precision of a Disney World for example. If they’re able to do it, so can we. I could already think of several systems to put behind this place: an inspection and maintenance system to keep it in pristine conditions, a hiring and placement system to get the best people working there, a training system for the development of the people hired, and for them to implement the processes, a change management coupled with a documents system to capture all process improvements (because we expect the processes to continually improve over time).
3) Getting the best people in the city to work in that place. With good wages so they won’t be tempted to cut corners and take bribes. They’re the ones who are not tired and will not just wait for the last bell to signal the end of the day. They will have the heart to make things work and know that this is something that can potentially change the city and the rest of the country.
When you really think about it, you see several potential places where this could work: it could be a city’s tourism office (imagine one that looks like a world class museum showcasing the best that the city has to offer), the city hall (imagine a city hall that runs like clockwork and looks and feels like a world class airport like the one in Incheon or Singapore?), a one-stop-shop business permits office (imagine going to just ONE office–one that feels like a Starbucks for example, treating you with world class service, calling you by name, treating you the way a real estate agent treats someone who’s about to buy a multi-million condo –instead of several to open your business?), or it could be the city’s park (imagine going to a park that looks like a garden you would normally see in Japan or in Europe). The possibilities are endless. You can choose one place, just one place, and make that the focal point of your efforts.
It is a dream. But this is a do-able, non-quixotic dream. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the potential for this to work is really high. It focuses resources and energies into one place, and it rallies a whole city into making it a reality. It just needs some imagination, great leadership, cooperation, and planning. But it can be done.
And once you do one, you can move on to do another place. And another. And this can spread like wildfire and transform the whole city. And the cities beside it. Just like those kids in the museum.