Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is Global Warming the New terrorism?

It’s another scorching day in Moroni, Comoros and it seems I will be stuck here for a while - my next R&R is not due five weeks or so as I have interrupted the count with a recent retreat in Addis Ababa - so I decided to take a break from cooking the books (meant to cover those underspents in “operations” and overspents in “colsultants”) and went for a walk on the beach.

Maybe all this time spent in hardship postings is getting to me, or maybe 'tis the season, but I am in a very philosophical mood today and as I was dignifyingly walking past fishermen, oblivious to their attempts to sell me their day’s catch, I couldn’t help wondering: What will be the future of our business? What will be the next big thing? The next gravy train? Are we doomed to forever follow the conflict money, the famine money, the refugee money or can we branch out some more, into areas where no charity has ever been before? HRI & affiliates are well funded at the moment what with the famine, the draught, the boat people, etc. But what do we need to do to stay ahead of the game and to ensure the cash keeps flowing?

Not so long ago, “terrorism” was the formula. As a first mover, over night HRI become an expert in “Public health and terrorism”, “Migration and terrorism” and “Terrorism prevention: income generating opportunities for high risk groups” - field in which we conducted countless groundbreaking workshops, seminars and capacity building excercise. We even put together a few expert teams formed by retired law enforcement types and one distinguished academic from the University of Utah (all showing a common interest in conducting workshops in South East Asia, preferably Pattaya) and rode the gravy train all the way. As a celebration of Public-Private Partnership we even obtained funding from this or the other security company, eager to implement high-tech biometric technology in village hospitals in Indonesia, primary schools in rural Bangladesh or, incidentally at the outside border of countries that people may rather not live in.

Throughout the mid-naughties HRI has also refined another beautiful business model in close cooperation with several CDAAS (Countries of Destination for Alleged Asylum Seekers): for a reasonable fee, HRI manages an “Alleged Asylum Seekers Assessment Centre” on behalf of the CDAAS Government, which is a convenient way to legitimize-by-humanitarian-charity what would really be a detention center of questionable legal status. Then, an HRI affiliate is commissioning a reasonably priced research into the impact of detention on the AAS (Alleged Asylum Seekers) and finds that detention is bad for their health. HRI’s public health wing subsequently applies for funding to mitigate negative effects on the health of AAS. Indeed, it is another HRI win-win: CDAAS governments are happy because the illusion of legitimacy means a lot to them and HRI is happy because the overhead is pretty good and we can report massive growth in revenue to our donors. The "alleged asylum seekers" may or may not be happy but hey, they should know better, it's a tough world out there and everyone is gotta make a living.

I really think this global warming thing may be the next gravy train. If so we better put the thinking caps on - there must be a way to link global warming with our work. Maybe my humble residence in Moroni could be run on Californian crafted and fairly procured solar power? Or I could trade my V12 Land Crusier for a white Prius with the HRI logo on the side and a HF antenna that could double as a wind turbine? Or maybe I should stop importing south african steak and wines using the HRI operated humanitarian flight?

Hold on, hold on, bugger that - the little Cessna can’t possibly add more CO2 to the atmosphere than those goats there just outside my compound. And those goats make one tough steak i tell you, no wonder those fishermen think i may be interested in their catch.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Famine and High Tea in the Horn

I apologize for the long silence – the end of year season in our business is a busy one: between annual retreats in dignified resorts where HRI executives exchange strategic ideas over foie gras and end of year functions fueled by polite conversations about the troubles with the “domestic help”, there is little time left for trivial blogging.

One of the meetings I attended last week was in Addis Ababa where my stay in the dignified Sheraton Hotel was slightly spoiled by the vista behind the reassuring fence, where people in rags seemed in general to be enjoying slightly less comfort and for some mysterious reason - which I assumed was a cultural thing – were carrying around what looked like yellow cooking oil containers:

Thankfully, the local draught did not affect the water pressure at the fountain systems around the hotel where we took the edge off with regular dips in the heated pool, usually before high tea. The theme of the meeting was “Draught and Famine – HRI opportunities for 2010” but it was naturally also a welcome occasion to catch up with my trusty colleagues as well as with other dignified HRI consultants, who always stay at the Sheraton (the  Hilton nearby has lost much of its dignified air and remains unreasonably crowded). Around the white piano by the reception, we exchanged stories and anecdotes about various aspects of hardship that our lot are facing every day. We weren’t complaining though, as the draught has obviously helped with HRIs funding to “mitigate” famine with rigorous workshops and capacity building exercises, in close cooperation with the Ethiopian government, an excellent partner led by a visionary man.

Governments like Zenawi’s allow HRI to approach donors with a straight face blaming lack of results on the hopelessness of the government (in addition to the collateral offered by our friend bono), while making mates with the people in the government by sharing a knowing smirk over injera & St George about the unreasonableness and naivety of the lofty donors who have no understanding of the realities of the ground. Hey, at least no-one gets hand-grenaded on the streets of Addis Ababa, so there is some progress. Sure that doesn’t really apply to some people in the east of the country, but then they are terrorists anyways. Besides, a bit of conflict has never harmed HRI & associates – increased funding aside, hardship benefits are important for morale .   

And so, in 2010 HRI & affiliates will continue to maintain a strong presence all over the Horn of Africa, where the fortunate combination of geopolitics, history and climate makes sure that funding keeps flowing – a HRI best case scenario really, what with the availability of qualified help, pleasant climate in the highlands and safety for our expatriates, not to mention decent food and a reasonably well connected airport complete with direct flights to Rome where our discerning expatriate employees prefer to spend their hard earned R&Rs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oversharing: Money, Sex and HRI

Forever working to change behavior wherever it makes business sense and genuinely inspired by our donors’ high values, HRI & affiliates have naturally positioned ourselves as the outfit to contract by anybody with money to invest in ineffective communication campaigns that make them good look on paper. With thousands of successful t-shirt and caps campaigns under our belt, we have a well staffed communication department manned by reasonably paid experts that have cut their teeth in many a complex communication campaign.

The more ignorant of you may think that mass communication in our business sector is a matter of putting together bewildering combinations of euphemisms, acronyms and jargon that no one understands and print them on cheap t-shirts and baseball caps all followed up by the “burning” of significant amounts of money to “launch” the campaign in seedy junkets with endless speeches and 36 pages brochures containing mainly red-eyed photographs of our staff posing in full campaign kit next to some ragged kid, under a HRI banner.

Well you’re wrong, and as an unprecedented favour to all of you I have decided to give you an insight into the sophisticated thinking process behind HRIs cutting edge campaigns.

For starters, HRI is 100% committed to evidence based communication. We got unquestionable evidence from our donor that sex is pretty bad and immediately committed to change people’s sexual behavior to address this sound evidence from the good book. Further research done by one of our reasonably priced Harvard consultants has indicated to everyone’s surprise that, in spite of it being pretty bad, people in certain African countries still enjoy engaging in this ancient pastime, not knowing what’s good for them. HRI has been a leader in "ABC Communication" for years, back in the day when abstinence was the name of the gravy train:

Times have changed since and this time around we thought to up the ante and position the sex thing in a way that will pay lip-service to the pleasure thing. The ultimate safe sex, sheer genius:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Free investment advice for the season

With the upcoming world aids day, every HRI affiliate worth their salt is organizing talking shops and other junkets to celebrate mark another year passed without any impact on the epidemic. With the expert help of consultants, UN agencies the world over have been busy over the last six months putting together "matrixes" to make sure there is no duplication of celebrations events and no-one in the health business community is left out from having their logos printed on this or the other t-shirt.

This time of year also coincides with the closing of the year's accounts and quite a few donors discover mysterious buckets of money that needs to be spent before the end of December. Indeed, this is HRI territory – our affiliates always position themselves strategically to pocket this cash in the frenzy and create yet another win-win situation: as the year ends, the donor can report 100% "burn" on their budget, making a solid case for increased spending in the coming year, while HRI and affiliates bag the money and prepare a request for a no-cost extension so the money can be used to buy logo-ed t-shirts and fund some junkets next year as well.

Of course, Southern Africa is the place to be for the celebrations festivities and as HRIs Global Executive Director I am looking ahead to a busy month with trips to key Southern African countries where my presence will add dignity to various functions. I will be wearing my striped suit and crocodile shoes to go with my golden timepiece and am looking forward to banquets along ambassadors, key stakeholders and local maverick pastors. I have a standard speech for just such moments and it is saved on my power mac next to my three standard powerpoint presentations. The speech is a quality mixture of numbers, facts and drama, infused with that element of local touch and a bitter-sweet anecdote-cum-metaphor. Don’t know about others but I am always touched by the moment when the children come in singing and dancing in their dignified uniforms and thanking HRI for our life-saving work.    

Which brings me to the free investment advice: if you have some cash burning holes in your pocket wondering how to hit the jackpot, this is the time to open that t-shirt and baseball cap factory. Anywhere in Southern Africa would be a good place, but if you are unsure where, here is a helpful graph – the higher the prevalence the safer your investment).

In Comoros, unfortunately we do not have reliable numbers on AIDS prevalence. Which means that we have successfully raised money from several donors to determine exact prevalence by conducting complex qualitative and quantitative research guided by best practices and using six different cutting edge toolkits put together by different UN agencies. Meanwhile we are assuming the worst, which means we could well be on the verge of a massive epidemic that can only be avoided by comprehensive “sensitization”. We have already procured seven hundred thousand t-shirts and baseball caps that sport the message: “Change Your Behavior - Avoid Any Intercourse That Could Put You Or Your Loved Ones in Danger of Acquiring AIDS, Which Is a Not Exclusively but Mainly Sexually Transmitted Virus That Causes HIV which Is Not Curable” in red Arial 10 (we needed some space for the logos of donors, partners and stakeholders). Within HRI & partners, this ground breaking campaign is known as the “CYBAAITCPYOYLOIDOAWNEMSTVHIV campaign”, as we needed a catchy acronym to make it more memorable. 

The slogan is in English of course, which is the official language of our donor and the message was pre-tested in a focus group discussion with our accountants and their friends who were made aware of all the research behind this campaign by an epidemiologist from Harvard University who came in as a reasonably priced consultant to facilitate this process.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Boat People, Refugees and other Business Opportunities

From my outpost on the beaches of Comoros, between all important workshops and capacity building exercises I hear rumors of miserable boat people headed for the dignified countries of Europe and I sympathize with the outraged euro-citizenry.

As a matter of fact HRI has successfully offered its services to the policymakers in Europe at large based on a simple philosophy: why spend less money on giving these people the protection they are entitled to, when one can spend much more on inefficient law enforcement-ish workshops and “capacity building” while pushing the limits on acceptable ways to deny protection to people who need it?

My host country, the Comoros, is practically around the corner from the Horn of Africa and it is inhabited by people who own boats. It is a matter of time before they start heading north, joining the “Eritrean route” towards Europe. Therefore HRI is proposing a comprehensive set of activities that involve workshops and capacity building of the Comoros Government, complete with funding of EU standard biometric passports and border technology (we'll hire a consultant for this job, i happen to know just the man, a retired immigration officer from Belgium). The funding would come from the deliciously named Directorate General for Freedom, Security and Justice. Of course, additional funding will be required to “sensitize” the Comoros Diaspora with workshops and communication campaigns. Since none of this makes any sense, HRI will blame any failure on “lack of local capacity” and request more money for “capacity building of local partners”. 

We’ll obviously need more staff to manage the extra workload, which means we’ll need more vehicles and while I’m at it I may enlarge the beach in front of my villa – I grew up in Miami you see and tend to get home-sick, I thought maybe I start a beachpolo club here. 

What was that? How will we get the horses? I’m glad you’re asking – have I not mentioned HRI’s Agriculture & Livelihood Program?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yet Another NGO goes Yet Another Blog

After years and years of working underground, Hand Relief International has gone mainstream, under my visionary command. For the moment, I have decided to base our headquarters in the Comoros, where i knew a spot on the beach unobstructed by any unpleasant man-made structure involving corrugated iron. Strictly for security reasons, I  am keeping the rag-clad fishermen off the HRI beach by offering employment to a dynamic team of local unemployeds, severely hit by the recent economic crisis as well as the untimely demise of their mentor (and my old friend), colonel Bob who has built their capacity in security matters over many a workshop and on-the-job training. 

A few people complained that they were using this beach for fishing, which i consider a cruel and primitive pastime. I therefore invited them to apply for the currently vacant positions of drivers and cleaners. That's called sustainability - we identify useful skills available locally and provide a platform to make use of them while further building capacity.

I will remind you that we are a charity so if you sympathize with our cause do get in touch and i will advise my swiss account details where you can contribute your donations.