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: