The Future in Georgia
26 July, 2012

There is something different about arranging a meeting in Georgia. Elsewhere, if you ask to grab lunch a week from Wednesday at one PM, you'll agree on a place and, at one PM on the appointed Wednesday, the two of you will meet for lunch.

 

In Georgia this doesn't happen. "Great, let's talk Wednesday morning" is what everyone says. I've always wondered what this means: do they suspect they will get a better offer from a more interesting or more attractive person before then? Nearly everywhere else in the world, people actually plan ahead days or weeks in advance, and they show up even if the meeting isn't confirmed the morning of. In Georgia if you don't confirm that morning, the person won't be there. In the rest of the world, this is extraordinarily rude but here it is simply how things work. I suspect that this has to do with how Georgians conceive of the future.

 

In most of the world, people are sure there is a future. They think about their own future, see themselves as having some control over it, and because of this plan things; sometimes many years in advance. In Georgia, there is a sense of helplessness when considering the future.  Since there is no way we can know what's going to happen, and we can't do anything about it anyways, let's just ignore it now and deal with it later. There are some advantages to this way of thinking. It can prevent worrying I guess. But it also has grave problems associated with it. It is connected to the Georgian habit of waiting for and expecting political leaders to save them and to fix Georgia. But those political leaders, being Georgian themselves, tend to be as attached to the here and now as all other Georgians. I have never once heard a Georgian politician say we will achieve this in ten years or even in five years. Twenty years? Forget about it. The usual time frame for something to be achieved that sounds great is two to three years. One year is ridiculous and five years, amazingly, sounds to many people like an impossibly long time.

 

Perhaps that is why Georgia is a country of initiatives. Of starting things. Because at any given moment you can start something, get excited about it, make a big noise, and begin. Initiatives are for when you notice something NOW that requires a response NOW. That "now" part is fun, but the real work is when you plan and get agreement and put down on paper and the internet exactly what the project will be; not just a beautiful picture or diagram but the real details, budget, timeline, specifics written down for all to see. And then you do it step by step. That part is less fun, and takes many years.  Unfortunately, the thought process here is often: we may change our mind along the way, so it's best not to spend too much time planning.

 

I think of this when I hear about the new employment ministry. What the employment ministry is likely to do is to hand out money; this isn't the same thing as employing people. Job training in Georgia is in a sad state right now mainly because there is no clear picture of how many workers are needed for which jobs. Currently, there are Turkish and Chinese builders in Georgia because there aren't enough Georgians who know how to work in modern building projects of which there are many. What is the plan to address that? The same lack of a plan is true of the manufacturing, health, and education sectors. First there needs to be a public discussion of what the workforce ought to look like at some point in the pretty distant future say in five or ten years; how many of which jobs will likely be needed. Then, what training should those workers have, and who will give it to them. These are all extremely difficult and like everything can of course become politicized decisions. But if those decisions are left unmade then Georgia will keep its high long term unemployment rate and continue to import its talent.

 

This sort of planning isn't much different from any other sort. What exactly do we want this new thing we are talking about to look like at some future point. We put it out there and we discuss it and think about it. And agree on a detailed vision. Then (and only then) we walk it back to the now and construct a step by step plan that leads us from where we are to where we want to be. I wonder when these type of decisions will be made in this way so that the public can join in the discussion.

 

But returning to our lunch plans, is it better to plan a week in advance and to both show up on time, or is the "let's talk that morning" style preferable? If we can't plan that far ahead, the future Georgian workforce and all other programs, since they require planning, are sure to suffer.  Why wait till the morning of to decide everything?  Let's impose some certainty on the future in Georgia by planning, it is an independent country now, nobody can prevent us from doing that.  Because one thing about planning is that if you do it right, it really does make things work better.