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December 2002    Main Feature
a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
No. 68

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Managing editor:
David J. Skyrme


Leading Latin America:
PDVSA 4th International Knowledge Conference

Debra M. Amidon

"Now, in the case of satellites,
and with machines approximating the condition of mind
and minds of humans connecting across time and space,
the future can and should be more
a matter of choice than destiny."

- Derrick de Kerckhove

We were back in Caracas, Venezuela, for the 4th International Knowledge Conference; and one wonders whatever they might do for an encore?! It was the Oil & Gas industry that first adopted the knowledge focus as an industry in a London conference in 1997; but it was PDVSA - the quasi-governmental oil conglomerate, and largest employer for the country - who adopted it as early as 1999 as an integral business strategy.

We participated in the 1st International Forum on Knowledge Management (Foro Internacional Gerencia del Conocimiento) where 450 of their senior executives convened for a week of activities organized by Dr. Olimpia Salas. The substance and magic has continued - and on an annual basis - with the influence expanding well beyond the corporate walls of PDVSA into the nation of Venezuela, throughout Latin America and into stakeholders from around the world.

Program Par Excellence

Nelson Nava, Director of PDVSA, opened the conference outlining the challenges in the new economy:

"We need to redesign the entrepreneur with a push toward 'neo-business' and highlight the intellectual contribution to growth and sustainability".
He described the synergies that have started in and across all the business units. Given the new rules of the game, he admits that the assets to be managed are human resources that need to be converted into a professional network that creates value in the 'real-time enterprise'.

Nelson G. Rios F., President of PDVSA CIED (Center for International Education and Development) continued explaining that this event had become a tradition; but now PDVSA opens the doors for visitors "to expand influence beyond the geographic and corporate boundaries…now extending to 100+ countries". He foresees ways that now - especially with the agenda of corporate social responsibility (see below) that "Knowledge Management (KM) and Intellectual Capital (IC) Management should become a daily operation in our networked world and integrated into society".

The well-orchestrated agenda included presentations from some of the finest pioneers in the field, such as Arie DeGeus, formerly from Royal Dutch Shell, who described how "learning is the investment that the human species develops to cope with and adapt to its environment". Speaking of the current velocity of circulation, he issued the challenge for top management understanding the changes in the world around us. Using the oil industry as an example and emphasizing the shift from a Capitalistic to a Humanistic Society, he described the 'war on talent' that had been previously noted in McKinsey reports. "We think we can buy talent get knowledge off the shelves; but knowledge-creation and work are two different things. The only way to acquire knowledge is through learning. Therefore, we need to start putting people before profits!" Legislation, he suggests (and we will concur) is running 20 years behind the changes.

Tom Stewart, of Fortune magazine fame and now the new editor of the Harvard Business Review, redefined the proposition of what companies can do to reap economic results. Putting the evolution of the movement into perspective, he argued: "Knowledge makes the difference between success and failure". Affirming that knowledge matters to both high-tech and low-tech firms, he said:

"The Knowledge Economy was never about the bubble. We've done a lousy job of connecting the idea - knowledge as an asset - to purchasing and ultimately, the bottom line".

There were several other presentations from international beacons of insight representing a diverse group of institutions (e.g., Madrid’s Institute for Innovation, Gartner, IBM, Fuji Xerox, Statoil, CITGO, Schlumberger, Ford Motor Company, Cap Gemini. Accenture, and The World Bank) and even more from several boutique knowledge consulting firms from various countries.

Results, Relationships and Respect

There were some common themes in the messages:

  • Today's economy measures results.
  • The possibilities of macro-transformation.
  • Refocusing the questions on building cultures of knowledge-sharing, knowledge-asking, knowledge-doing, etc.
  • The value of organizational 'energy'.
  • Need to bridge the economic/social/cultural/digital divide to close the gaps between the haves and have-nots.
  • Our inevitable interdependence.
  • There's a relationship (and balance) between creating, knowing and doing (Note: we would call the balance of all 3 the art of innovation!).
  • Financial capital as the instrument for sharing wealth.
  • Collaboration may be the only viable path to the future.
  • Respect for individuality and role/impact of the individual (e.g. 'aggressive individualism').

The most moving moment in the event was the christening (and yes, they use that term!) bautizo del Libro - of the new book Concimiento y Capital Intelectual. This is the first such book written by a Spanish author - by Luigi Valdes, who also served as the eloquent and entertaining master of ceremonies for the entire week.

What was even more rare is that most of the presenters stayed an extra day for a debriefing on the conference and Steven Barth, editor and publisher of Destination KM, recorded comments. Based on the collective insight of the presenters - in addition to the traditional evaluation forms and employee response, this type of debriefing with the international experts is unusual - if not unique - for such a conference and was considered a tribute to Dr. Salas and her team for working to harness the collective wisdom!

Leadership for Corporate Responsibility

Dovetailing with (but separate from) the 4th International Knowledge Forum was the release of the book Corporate Social Responsibility in the Americas (ISBN: 980-372-192-5; published by FONCIED) that provides the output of conferences and dialogue on the topic that have brought together the minds and hearts of 70 speakers, 500 workshop attendees and 200 companies. This represents a vital debate on how social responsibility perspectives; vision and practices can aid the transformation of a society.

Nelson G. Rios F. provided the leadership to explore the role of corporations within their communities. In the Foreword, he described how the "whirlwind of activity and sponsorship" guided the eventual identification of many concrete projects to enhance the countries of the Americas. Further, the book documents the fact that corporate executives are realizing that their prevailing position in society compels them to act as critical factors in the creation of a climate of trust, and to become leaders of sustainable development actions that will ultimately integrate the corporate world to civil society and the government.

Dr. Bernardo Kliksberg, the Inter-American Development Bank, outlined the mandate: "Social capital translates into stability, and makes the difference in the economic and political achievement of nations…Latin America is the region that has the biggest inequality of the planet, a factor that has direct impact on the degree of poverty of the population of the continent".

In the summary remarks, General Arnoldo Rodríguez Ochoa, Director of PDVSA provided the conclusions citing the concluding messages from the presentations which outlines an agenda that calls for the need to overcome the social problems of the population, such as:

1. Education: Attainment of academic excellence: priorities must be defined within the education pyramid to address the labor education requirements of youngsters and unemployed in order to take advantage of the globalization of knowledge and reach the scientific, technological and humanistic development of the first world countries.

2. Social Security: Being the objective to reduce unemployment, defend the real salary of workers, to guarantee health and adequate levels of nutrition for the population, establish mixed pension regimes together with the individual organization funds financed by employers and employees, a solidarity fund financed with the fiscal income to protect the least favored population can be created to incorporate them into more profitable productive activities.

3. Cultural Values: the idea is to overcome the paternalistic and populist mentality through the motivation for success derived from work and ethical principles for which the media must assume the commitment and social responsibility.

4. Economy: promotion of savings, investments and respect for private property rights as fundamental growth mechanisms for the production apparatus and employment generation with the purpose of improving, with justice and equity, the living conditions of all.

5. Political Institution: decentralization of the administrative functions. Cooperation and coordination among the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers at national, regional and municipal levels to allow the adequate use of public resources, and to facilitate the process so that the State, the business sector and the civil society can achieve short and medium term results.

6. Public Order: guarantee juridical security, citizen security and flight against public and private corruption.

7. Environment: attain adequate balance between man and nature, preservation of the environment, biodiversity and clean air since all these are tied up to the concept of corporate social responsibility.

These factors bear a striking resemblance to the factors of the Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnership (WHKP) outlined in the first Chapter of The Innovation SuperHighway - The beauty is that companies are now placing resources where their mouths are. The biggest private experience to date is the voluntary dividend for the Community organized by Don Eugenio Mendoza Goiticoa in 1964 with the participation of 164 representatives committing to give 2-5 per cent contribution over their net profits for the solution of community problems. Since 2001, PDVSA’s plans alone include the design, implementation and financing of 204 programs and activities that will benefit directly or indirectly approximately 5,900,000 persons.

GLD meets PDVSA: Global Learn Day stops in Venezuela

We were live on the 24-hour tour of Global Learn Day VI - - when some of the finest minds involved in distance education participating in the dialogue. "Welcome to Caracas, Venezuela. The knowledge revolution has taken flight; and communities around the globe are innovating - industrialized and developing nations alike." This was my own 3rd visit to this spectacular country and I invited all listeners from Global Learn Day VI to visit this tropical paradise in person. For me, returning to Venezuela (this was my 3rd visit), it was like coming home a tribute to this global village of which we are all now a part.

Thank to John Hibbs and his able Global Learn Day team this village is getting smaller and expanding at the same time. We now have global friends in every corner of the world and through the computer and communications technology, we are all now accessible to one another. This is an ideal example of The Innovation SuperHighway in action!

I was joined with Dr. Olimpia Salas founder of the Knowledge Management Team at PDVSA , who was hosting the conference for knowledge and innovation. This event the 4th International conference in a row - has become a premier event in the knowledge field and is sponsored by their CIED. The meetings involve key company organizations and stakeholders, including suppliers, distributors, customers and alliance partners from around the world. They are learning and sharing the knowledge required for their sustained prosperity and thus the prosperity of all their stakeholders within Latin America and abroad.

Dr. Salas outlined the operational steps along the way to link executives with this new agenda and convert good ideas into action. She shared her aspirations for the agenda of the week. She suggested, "The Corporate Knowledge Management Team emerged as a group of advocates, from the different business units, interested in getting synergy from the different efforts that were developing in an independent and autonomous way within PDVSA, such as technological intelligence, knowledge centers, center of excellence, communities of practice". Today over the 117 communities of Knowledge integrate the KM Corporate Network corporate networking, and more than 10,000 employees are connected sharing knowledge and experiences.

Olimpia says that to be a change agent you always will find advocates that follows you in a easy way since sometime they see opportunity in news ideas; and more of the time they may feel and think like you do. However, sometimes you can underestimate people since you feel they think different because they don't embraces the new ideas in the same speed that you do and you may need to understand the difference of being an innovator.

The program objectives as outlined in the brochure:

  • To share worldwide evolution, trends, and advances in Knowledge Management strategies, Organizational Learning, Intellectual Capital, Knowledge and Society, Innovation and Strategy.

  • To learn from experiences, research and learned lessons on how a Knowledge Management approach enhances and leverages the value creation and promotes a value-sharing culture.

  • To provide an update on tools, applications and information technologies, networks, collaborative work, portals, metrics, content management and knowledge repositories in large corporations.

Now, the KM program is an integral part of each business structure rather than a para-system. Salas says, "The challenge to institutionalize the KM, to promote a new way of doing things and working, and to keep working to close the knowing-doing gap".

I was also joined by Dr. Silvard Kool,a professor of marine biology at Boston College and the international recording artist, who provides the music harmony for the Tour of the Knowledge World the knowledge entertainment featuring the ENTOVATION 100 from around the globe who are featured on the Global Knowledge Leadership Map.

Silvard, originally from the Netherlands, started playing the piano at age ten. At 18, he left Holland for the U.S.A. to pursue studies in Marine Biology. During his undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina's Coastal campus in Myrtle Beach, he began performing his own arrangements of contemporary music in local restaurants and hotels. He continued his education by pursuing a graduate career in Zoology at George Washington University, in Washington, DC. Silvard carried out his dissertation research, partially funded by the Smithsonian Institution. In 1994, Silvard recorded his first piano album, Heartfelt. In 1996, he released his second album, Picture of Time, featuring original, orchestrated piano compositions.

Since 1989, Silvard has been the resident pianist for one of the Nation's leading convention hotels, the Boston Marriott Hotel at Copley Place. In addition, Silvard keeps an active concert schedule and also performs at corporate and private functions all around the USA and abroad. When performing, Silvard often composes as he is playing just as he did for PDVSA composing and original composition for them: "I feel that composing is communicating from the soul of the musician to that of the listener. It is like sharing your innermost emotions with the audience. When the audience is captivated, it feels like magic!"

In the GLD visit to South America, we also explored the global implications of The Innovation SuperHighway - the Innovation Frontier, Architecting a Future, the Globe as a Network, Innovation Leadership in Practice and a Millennium Vision.

Bottom line: it is up to us as individuals to make a difference in creating the world we want our children to inherit; and the time is now. Following 9/11, it is even more imperative that we 'innovate our future…together.'

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