The Flying Geese Principle in Foreign Direct Investment: Invaluable Lessons for us

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Nature always teaches us something. The lessons are vast, far-reaching, deep, tremendous and endless. No wonder the Creator once said, “Look to the birds of the sky, for they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into storehouses, and your heavenly Father nourishes them; are you not much better than they? Consider well the lilies of the field; how do they grow? They do not labor, nor do they spin; and…not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these.”

Nature vs Pollutive Humans

I wrote an article back in December 2020 to argue that there is in fact enough design in nature to suggest a designer – a Creator, a God, especially when evolution is a failed and unsubstantiable, overpromoted theory. That’s all it is. So in actual fact, nature was purposely meant to be a continual lesson and a guide to proud and arrogant yet mortal, insignificant, dependent and helpless humans.

Remember 2004? Nature speaks!

On 16th January 2005 Don Oldenburg of the Washington Post wrote a very interesting story entitled, “Elephants, birds, other animals fled before Tsunami”. The animals and birds escaped hours (some say as much as three days) ahead and ‘headed for higher ground’ before the 9.0-magnitude earthquake ‘fractured the ocean floor’ triggering the disasterous and massive Asian Tsunami of 26th December 2004. This has baffled scientists to this very day. Oldenburg reveals that ‘at the hard-hit Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, stunned wildlife officials reported that hundreds of elephants, leopards, tigers, wild boar, deer, water buffalo, monkeys and smaller mammals and reptiles had escaped unscathed.’ So, do animals have a ‘sixth sense’? Lets leave that argument for another time, another setting. Our key point here, for now, is that Nature Speaks. And it speaks volumes, in case we’ve missed the boat.

Flying Geese V-Formation – Why?

Author Gavin Kenny explains it this way. ‘We have all, at one point or another, found ourselves staring up at the sky, eyes trained on a flock of migrating birds [geese] flying in V-formation and marvelled at this curiosity of nature. This study of rare northern bald ibises has outlined exactly how birds take advantage of their neighbour’s flap. As air squeezes around the outside of a bird’s wing it creates a vortex and causes air to move upwards.

The following bird then keeps the tip of its wing in this area of upward-moving air – or upwash. Birds sense what their companion in front is doing and position themselves perfectly, keeping their flap slightly out of phase so it remains in the upwash.’ Wildlife scientists have long marvelled about the V-formation of these migratory birds.

They teach us three invaluable lessons on the vitally important subject of Teamwork. For the purposes of this article, I will apply it to teamwork in promoting, facilitating and advancing Vanuatu’s economic development through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Three Invaluable Lessons for Us

Lesson No.1: Cooperation is far better than Competition. For far too long our agencies have tended to operate very much in silos. We operate independently (too much of it actually!) and avoid sharing information. We restrict our vision and decisions to our governing legislations passed by Parliament. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes we fail to see and appreciate the bigger picture and we make rash and poorly-calculated decisions which in turn negatively impact the broader vision of economic development that the very same Government we serve is struggling to promote, in this case, FDI. End result, zero sum game! We give, we take, we kill, we lose. Benefit = zero. Because of the illegal activities of some, we suspect all to be the same. Impartiality replaces good judgement and we kill the goose that lays the golden egg, i.e, investors and the private sector at large.

Nature experts say that when geese fly together in the V-formation, the whole flock of birds ‘adds 71% more flying range than if each bird flew alone’.

Imagine if we cooperated more than competed. Imagine if we consulted more than fired those legal arrows too early. Imagine if we improved and better managed employer-employee and employer-Government relations. Imagine if we unleashed the full potential and power of the private sector to help catapult Vanuatu’s economic development to heights beyond our wildest dreams. The flying gees principle teaches us that the greater they cooperate the further and faster they reach their common destination. This is how we should be thinking as officials of a ‘Developing Country’, now than ever before.

Lesson No.2: It requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly alone than it does to fly together. Writing of this phenomenon, wild life expert Derric Bakker points out that ‘when a bird falls out of formation, it suddenly realizes there is a lot more drag and air resistance flying alone. They quickly flap back into formation, having discovered that the extra energy needed to fly alone wasn’t worth it.’ Afterall, no man is an island. It works better to be part of a cohesive team rather than flying alone.

Lesson No.3: This is specific to word of mouth (WOM) marketing in FDI. It is almost 100% the case that new investors trust their friends, colleagues and existing investors who are already in a country. This point was confirmed to me when I visited a major company CEO this week.

The power of WOM overides the most colourful marketing collateral (websites, brochures, flyers, etc.) that a country can ever produce. According to a Nielsen study, ‘92% of consumers believe suggestions from friends and family more than they do advertising’.

As I close, I make this appeal firstly to the hardworking staff at VFIPA and to our colleagues at Labour, Immigration, Customs, Trade, Industry, MALFFB, Lands, Environment, and all the other agencies that promote, facilitate and handle foreign investments in this country.

How do you want investors to see us as a country – is Vanuatu a friendly environment for FDI or are we deterrents and impediments to FDI and to our country’s economic development?

Howard Aru is current CEO of the Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (VFIPA) and former Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity, and the Ministry of Health.

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