Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Converting Credit into Development - What's it all about?

Those in the business sector who have recently joined the ranks of the cynics can be forgiven for thinking that it is all about the money. In fact they would be very wrong and that’s why the saying goes about this profession being filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfu*ers.

While money makes the world go round - and don’t get me wrong, proud HRI affiliates do like to dance to the tune of sizeable chunks of them ka-chinging in our bank accounts - fact is money does not come directly out of anybody’s pocket, which brings us closer than you’d think to the proverbial insurance salesman.

what is it all about then?

Well, it’s about credit. I mentioned elsewhere how important credit is in “M&E”, but that’s just a small part of it and this credit i'm talking about is different. Think about HRIs many partnerships - the trouble to administer all that money on behalf of various inferiorly capacitated local partners, the hassle we are putting up with when we play middlemen between the donor and so many unreasonable local organizations, and what do we get for it? Sure the 40% overhead fee is welcome, but the thing that keeps me going, in spite of all the adversity, is clicking on HRIs webpage and seeing how many lives we touch, what a difference we make, all over the world.

A good example is a recent project in Laos where a local organization (LO) has been providing sub-standard orthopedic surgery to children since 1999. They were struggling with resources, coordination and “demand” until HRI, using our cutting edge fundraising techniques, have “mobilized resources” to support this and other similar LOs in and around Ventianne. We have organized a few workshops to ensure that all relevant LOs get to meet each other and coordinate their work. We have identified medical students in the US who came for several 3 weeks cycles, just enough to change all procedures, point out the unsuitability of available instruments and, with sustainability in mind, training surgeons in modern orthopedic techniques, still fresh in their minds after recent anatomy classes. Thinking out of the box, they offered a road-map that would require “upgrading” supply-chains and “increasing demand”. Each of them required a driver during their time there, which also justified purchasing a few vehicles and make some strategic hires to ensure sound administration of assets etc.

Shortly, assessments were completed, new instruments were procured, new techniques were “piloted”, trainings were developed, programmes were managed, consultants were consulting, capacities were built, enabling environments were created.

The number of people receiving surgery didn’t really increase, but as one consultant pointed out that is a matter of “demand” so a communication campaign was hastily put together – it is ongoing as I am writing and based on focus-groups and pre-tests we are optimistic that demand of services wil soar. The donors particularly liked the campaign because due credit was given in the creative execution, the right logos were there and the messaging also included a reference to the importance of sexual abstinence, a relevant issue in what are traditionally promiscuous, karaoke-loving communities.

To make the story short I am personally filled with pride to go to the HRI website and read about how “HRI is saving limbs and improving lives in Laos” and i am actually looking forward to a few trips to Vientianne to see the program myself - as someone who was based there "back in the day" i maintain a soft spot for Laos, in spite of recent developments in which the place has lost much of its sleepy charm. But really, for me knowing that I can have a small contribution to improving people’s live, making sure that people know we are making a difference, that's what really matters. It's good to see that good work like this is always acknowledged by current and other donors and I find that with every new program our track record improves, which means our eligibility for further funding improves as well.

That's what it's all about - converting credit into development. Make sure you are seen doing a good deed and money will flow, lives will keep improving.

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