The power of connecting: I was not good at it (Part 2)

By: Fernando Fajardo - CDN Digital | December 11,2019 - 06:26 AM

I got my first, second, and third job without using connection or recommendation. Luck might had been with me. Qualification matters too but qualification with luck could only get one up to a certain point. To go higher, connection or having someone who can vouch for you matters a lot. To illustrate my point, let me continue with my story.

I got my third job as Professional Economist (B) at NEDA Region X in Cagayan de Oro City in 1974 because it needed someone for a task, where my qualification fitted closely, in helping prepare the first Regional Development Plan for Northern Mindanao (Region X).

In 1975, my assignment was changed to Industry/Utilities Specialist (B) in order for me to focus on the Industry, Trade, and Tourism components of the Regional Development Plan. This again was due to my training on regional industrial development at UP. In 1976, I was moved up to Staff Economist (D).

Meanwhile, I finally wrote my thesis to complete my MA degree in Economics at USC that I left hanging when I left USC in 1974. I graduated in March 1981. In September, I was sent by NEDA as one of the 14 USAID fellows to the East West Center in Hawaii, USA to take up a short course on Impact Assessment of Development Projects. There I met Dr. Florian Alburo from UP who was one of the lecturers and training coordinator for the ESIA-WID Project of the Philippine Center for Economic Development based in UP that arranged for our fellowships.

Feeling nostalgic for my birthplace, on the Snap Election in February 1986, I wrote NEDA Central Office to request for transfer to NEDA Region VII in Cebu if a similar position that I had or higher were available. None was available, unfortunately. NEDA Region VII, however, felt the need for my services. It requested Manila for my detail to Cebu instead. NEDA Manila agreed. I moved right away. That was in September 1986.

By then Ale and I already had four kids. The first two, born in Cebu, were already in second year high school and grade six. The next two, born in Cagayan de Oro, were in grade three and grade one. They waited until summer vacation to join me happily in Cebu.

The reorganization of the government came with the new constitution in 1987. The NEDA Regional Offices was expanded to include an item for assistant regional director and two more divisions were added to the original two. I vied for one of the division head positions. Luck again was on my side. Instead of division chief, I was given the position of assistant director.

I did not ask why but upon reflection, I realized that someone was behind me. With the reorganization, Dr. Alburo became the Deputy Director General to Solita Monsod who was appointed by the president to be the Director General of NEDA who also serves as Secretary of Economic Planning. I supposed I made an impression on him at the East West Center. He pushed me up.

How to become regional director was my next challenge. Our first director in Cebu after the reorganization was short-lived. He soon transferred to Manila but someone from Mindanao came to take his post. I was surprised but my new director, who was new to NEDA, was very open and understanding. We blended well and I did not mind being by-passed. Then he told me that he and Dr. Alburo were connected during their higher studies, the reason he was encouraged to apply from outside.

A couple of years later, the NEDA Region X director retired. My director who was from Mindanao requested for transfer there. He got it. Meanwhile, the NEDA Region VI Director was also transferred to take up the vacant position in Cebu. This time I was beginning to think that some forces must be at work for one to get higher in rank even at NEDA where I was told connection and recommendations from outside was a taboo.

I suspected internal politics. Politics, of course, means connection by any means and the use of that connection to advance oneself or help others to advance. In the case of my new director, he was one of the UP Development Economics Program graduates who were given priority by NEDA to occupy key positions at the NEDA Regional Offices. Most key positions at NEDA Central Office are also held by UP PhDs in Economics. I just happened to be out of these two circles.

Not that I resented it. My point is that nothing is wrong with having connection or being in the circle of some powerful group as long as this is done with professionalism. What I mean is that all other things equal, knowledge, training, and experience, connection and being in the loop makes a lot of difference. There is nothing wrong with that. I had my fault also. I was very poor in connecting or in joining a circle.

To repeat, what I said last week, connecting means exactly what Keith Ferrazzi said in his book, Don’t Eat Alone, which he wrote with Tahl Raz, as “sharing knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing my own”.

This requires constant nurturing or continuous social and professional interaction not only inside but also outside of work, including going out together, helping each other, or doing whatever is necessary to make your connection grew. That, I was poor in doing.

Then I heard that at NEDA, one must be willing to leave his place to become a regional director. That, I was not willing to do also. Six years after becoming assistant regional director and exactly 20 years after I first reported for duty at NEDA Region X, I opted for optional retirement at a young age of 46.

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