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John Roughan: Customers Not Cattle!

Customers Not Cattle!


John Roughan
9 January 2006
Honiara

An overseas business house has recently made a drastic, hardnosed business decision. A newly established Honiara shipping company has invested big bucks in two ships to transport village people in style. It's fleet of two ships--new, fast, clean, neat--, the Pelican Express and the Solomons Express, are the latest additions to the Solomons rusted, slow, old and smelly fleet that have been plying these seas for too many years.

The new ship owners seem to have set themselves international airlines standards. Ships leave on time, not Solomon Islands time! If a passenger turns up minutes late for a 9;00 sailing from Honiara's wharf, then the person sails on the next ship, that is next week! Passengers' cargo is not heaped up on near by seats thereby blocking exit doors and paths but is stowed away on top and clearly marked. The ship's cabin is clean, fresh (the air condition is probably set too high, however,) not a tear or stain on the comfortable seats and the toilets are as clean and on par with international aircraft ones.

This newest shipping venture is taking a big gamble. It seems that the owners have done their homework and read the Solomons emerging market: the traveling public wants a fast, comfortable, clean and reliable shipping service. Villagers are sick and tired of being treated as cattle: traveling on the rusted hulks with toilets that don't function, nothing to drink and taking hours, if the ship doesn't break down in mid-ocean, to get to destinations. Last week, for instance, one decrepit ship was so overloaded that one family stood for the full nine hours it took to get to Afio in Small Malaita.

People are currently voting with their pocket book. They willingly pay extra money for first class service. They too want the three hour journeys rather than the 10 hour purgatory on hulks that long ago saw their best days.

Of course it means major investment, but one company, at least is willing to put the money into a new, untested venture. I'm not sure how long it will last, or what kind of return this shipping company will gain from its gamble but a trip down to Honiara's wharf area any day of the week is open to open to one and all. But this essay is really not about shipping, nor about sea travel. It's about thinking new, looking outside the box!

What I am asking is for all of us to put on new glasses! See how far our world has changed and so much of it changing right in front of our eyes. RAMSI's presence gives us a golden opportunity to think, talk and act creatively. The up coming national elections in March are right around the corner. Imagine if the newly elected leaders actually saw the village and the villager as the central key to a national re-birth. That the village people are the true custodians, owners and trustees of the nation's resource base and should become, therefore, the major investment focus.

Our rural people, society's most productive sector and the true wealth makers, are in desperate need of, have a deep hunger for and a strong thirst for up to date and accurate information. The world already enjoys such a technology to bring this about. It's right at hand! World wide, the prodigious surge of cell phone users, has caught leaders, planners, investors and governments off guard.

Take Kenya in East Africa for instance. This country, poor, with much of its people isolated, out of touch with leadership, is undergoing a cell phone revolution. This country has 400,000 people hooked on land lines but about 3.6 million citizens using cell phones. Cell phone owners are transforming how the country works. Rather than depend upon the post office or the banking system to get money out to villagers, cell phone users daily transfer tens of thousands of dollars safely, quickly.

How is it done? Easy! My brother in law in West Are'are needs $200. It's not a good idea to send money by post or worse still giving it to a wantok. Too often the cash never arrives at the right destination! But if the Solomons had a cell phone system as in Kenya, I could, with a touch of a button, send him $200 air time . . . he then would have $200 of cell phone time. He could make $200 worth of phone calls if he so wanted, or he could also transfer $100 of that cell phone time to another local cell phone user, like someone selling chickens for instance.

This is what I mean by thinking differently, creatively, new. Our country is on the brink of an exciting period of change, let's be part of it. Treating people like cattle is finished. Think of them as customers, as worthwhile partners and watch the Solomons surge!

ENDS

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