From village to city: change management in China

Last month, I visited my father’s birth village, Sun Tak (Shunde), in the Quangdong province in southern China. The previous and only other time I visited was 22 years ago when it was a small farming village with dirt roads, no running water, old houses, and bicycles and rickshaws.

In just two short decades, Sun Tak has flourished into a thriving city with three-story homes, traffic jams on asphalt roads, office buildings, and half-million-dollar condos. It’s no longer a farming village and there are no more farmers.

I found myself thinking about the rapid development that Sun Tak had undergone while I was at the Toronto Forum for Global Cities this week. At the forum, I heard a lot about the rapid urbanization and technological innovations on the planet and about the strain cities place on the planet’s infrastructure. But I didn’t hear much about change management, specifically, managing the drastic change to the lives of village dwellers who must become city dwellers.

At the forum, IBM Canada president, Dan Fortin, described a city as “a system of systems that works well together.” But surely citizens are also a kind of system that must fit in the overall infrastructure. I’m sure Sun Tak residents are grateful for the economic boom around them, but in two short decades, how did they adjust and was that even a concern for local leaders?

The same holds true in the world of software implementations in the business where one of the biggest challenges is managing change. Decision makers must first consider the impact of new technologies on business processes and end user habits before implementing anything.

At the forum, Warren Jestin, senior vice-president and chief economist with Scotia Bank, said “change by itself creates losses and it creates hope.”

That’s so true for Sun Tak. The urbanization of Sun Tak says a lot for its economic and societal progress. The city is now a magnet for migrant workers for the kind of jobs residents used to do. And while the old Sun Tak is gone, some elements of the old way of life still peek through all that modernity: there’s the occasional old-style house with clay slats, and the little rickshaw meandering its way through lanes of traffic.

Read more on the Toronto Forum for Global Cities 

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