Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Apple Ipad and Memories of Humvee Bumper Sticker Wisdom in Haiti

As I am digesting the lobster consumed in the pleasant company of Ed, a reasonably paid consultant in town for a rapid assessment (in preparation for the "development of a joined strategy aimed at identifying sustainable ways to create an enabling environment for a better distribution of aid to the people of the Comoros") I am having an epiphany triggered by an agreement reached with Ed about the increased efficiency HRI could achieve in our work if we were to adopt Apple’s new gadget as a working tool (his assessment report about the "enabling environment" will naturally include a recommendation along those lines).

Apple and HRI are not as different as you may think. As a matter of fact, we share the same DNA: we are both committed to making a living out of flogging must-have stuff to people who don’t really need it. To make the model sustainable, every so often we come up with upgraded stuff or better looking ways to package the same stuff and define the next must-have concept.

Let's take the iphone as an example: you can kind-of make calls on it (provided you know how to hack it off the network that gets pushed down your throat with the package) but it costs much more than a regular phone. It does look really, really good though, and you want to be seen with one. If this doesn’t sound familiar, you know nothing about HRI.

Ed the reasonably priced consultant is also using the opportunity to collect some practical first-hand intel on Haiti, as he is supposed to fly in next week to lead a consortium of stakeholders in the development of a more coordinated strategy for a better penetration of aid in the aftermath of the earthquake. He will naturally use the opportunity to identify the need for several of our affiliates - who unfortunately did not have a presence in Haiti before the earthquake – to establish much needed presences there, to give a hand in the coordination effort.

Ed and I know a thing or two about emergency coordination as we go back to the days in Aceh, where I’ve hired him to develop HRIs fishing-boat distribution strategy, a program that is currently being monitored and evaluated by HRIs M&E wing: initial findings indicate that this program will become yet another world’s best practice. The 800,000 or so USD that have remained unspent in that program will come in handy as HRI is preparing a dignified launch of the findings report in Bali, with a mass distribution component aimed at making one M&E report available to each family in Aceh and beyond.

As one of the first global NGO directors to set foot in Haiti after the Earthquake, I have very good intel for Ed (i still owe you an update on my trip there, but as time passes i am not sure if impressions collected on my recent and very short visit remain relevant to my news-consuming reader, almost two weeks later). Things have changed in these almost two weeks since I left, but I know for instance where to find the coldest beer (I have personally ensured HRI’s generator has enough fuel to run 24/7).

Anyways, as I am going through practicalities with Ed over espresso chasers to take the edge off that lobster (slightly fortified with quality contraband Malagasy moonshine), I suddenly remembered my last memory from Haiti. It was Monday, late in the evening and I was leaving Port au Prince. I was walking towards the helicopter in the still disorganized airport when I was nearly run over by a Humvee driven with the i-mean-business confidence so characteristic to technical drivers. First I actually thought it was a technical and that the cold beer, the jet-lag, the madness are getting to me and I start mixing up countries. But then I turned my head to have a better look and, just before the humvee dissapeared behind those piled bags of rice i beheld the bumper sticker:

“I save Lives, What do You do?”

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