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Connection power or wasta?

One of the means of power that people can use in the world of business to influence others is that of connections: Using one’s relationship with someone influential to influence other people. Some believe that this is the same as what is called “wasta” in Arabic and maybe they are right. 

Like all other types of power, connection power can be used ethically or unethically, but the fact remains that this type of power works if it is used in the right circumstances. 

As far as the term wasta, it is an Arabic word that refers to using one’s relationship with someone influential to get something that cannot be gotten or is hard to get without the influence of the wasta, or the influential person. Most of the people who live in Middle East are familiar with the word. Some consider it “the best type of power one can have,” as one businessman put it. 

Wasta has a negative connotation to it: People use the word to refer to a negative way of using connection power as if wasta is having a connection who can get you what you want “under the table,” so to speak.  Through wasta, one’s request may be expedited, or especially handled to fulfil the wishes of the wasta person. Some say this is merely using connection power and there is nothing wrong with it.  They are right on the first part; wasta can be a type of connection power, however it is usually a negative way of using that power.  There are ways in which connection power can be positive, and using wasta is not one of them.

It is necessary to note that connection power is a positive power to use and is not necessarily the same as wasta.  While you can get your self noticed through connection power, it does not mean that you are going to break the rules or get an unethical advantage over others.  It can mean that you are trying to get yourself and your abilities known, to improve your chances of success.  Wasta, on the other hand, is something totally different.  Wasta means getting something that is not dutifully yours through a certain connection, or getting something that is yours, but you cannot get it without  wasta.  Connection power can be used like advertising; you get yourself known out there. Yet, wasta  usually means gaining an unfair advantage over others because of who you know, regardless of your abilities. 

To give an example, it is normal to use networking or connection power to find a job.  You talk to the people you know and ask them to let you know if there is a vacancy available.  They will talk to people they know and see if they can find you a job.  If they need someone of your qualifications, they may skip going through CVs and pick you to fill the job, if you are qualified. 

Wasta, on the other hand, means that you ask a wasta to get you the job, not because you are qualified, but because of who you are and who you know.  So, even if you are semi-qualified, you may get the job, even if you do not deserve it.

Wasta is less acceptable in today’s business world than it used to be.  Many companies and government agencies throughout the Middle East are working to eliminate wasta.  One of the ways to end wasta is to create consistent, clear, and simple business processes.  For example, if there is a clear recruitment process that is documented, well communicated, and transparent, then those qualified will not need to put in a wasta because the system makes it easy for them to qualify and get the job they deserve.  On the other hand, for those who do not qualify, wasta will be less possible, as the process itself does not allow it, especially if the process, itself, is frequently audited and transparent.

Friday-Saturday, March 2-3, 2007


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