Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Inside Innovation - Bring it On!

As expected, I landed in Moroni this morning to a dignified welcome organized by my loyal team who one by one expressed their gratitude for my safe return in verse (being an ex French colony, Comorians have learned to appreciate poetry along with quality bread), as part of a spontaneous ceremony organized  at the VIP lounge, complete with A0 photographs of yours truly and banners reading “HRI – 100% commitment to saving lives, one workshop at a time”.

The way from the airport to my humble residence was lined out with children experiencing genuine joy, neatly organized along the roads in their little uniforms, waving in the general direction of my convoy what looked like green branches taken off the few trees that still survive on the island. Although my landcruiser was going rather fast (HRI flag to HF aerial) and the windows were tightly shut - better to prevent the savage heat creeping inside my airconditioned space, my driver politely assures me they were singing, in one voice, a song about HRI and our donors, apparently learned spontaneously in school.

It is always reassuring to see that one’s work makes a difference in the life of a child (not sure about you, but this stuff keeps me going) and I do take pride in being a man of the people. I waved a dignified salute through the steaming windows, before returning to my data-enabled thuraya to update my facebook account (“status: back in moroni - hot”).

I found my residence in good shape and I asked my “help” to prepare me a double espresso, but without burning it like last time – I take pride in doing my share of capacity building even outside the office – and sipping it slowly I sat back in my study, thinking about how I really would like to pay the “help” a bit higher than 50$/ month, but as a member of the expat community I could not possibly do that as that would unbalance the market with unimaginable consequences. That’s me right there – a man of the people and a long-term thinker of the big picture.

Speaking about thinking – I have been thinking about “innovation” a lot lately, as I noticed the word is all the rage these days. The challenge in our sector is how to “integrate innovation” in our language without changing much about the way things work. First step is to create the inter-agency “innovation committee” and invite members of partner organizations to participate, ticking both “inclusiveness” and “innovation” off the list of words no donor can resist. Making this a senior level committee will insure the right combination of in-disposition to change and generous sitting allowances – ideal when concerned with “burn rates” and the importance of attendance lists to show to donors as a sign of success.

Passing innovation is a world dominated by career professionals with many years in the business and certain ways of doing things is a pretty tall order but then donor’s don’t really want to see much rocking of the boat happening either – that would force them to change their ways, which always makes them uncomfortable – they want to see the word used a lot, and they want to hear the occasional 300-words story about it, that can be put in a neat textbox in a report.  

And this is why they love HRI – we give them what they want, using bullet-proof, time-proven methods. 

As we speak, Nathan the intern is putting the finishing touches on HRIs latest publication – a newsletter dedicated to innovation in our sector called “Inside HRI Innovation” - printed on glossy, high density paper and (money well spent) also distributed in PDF format (as another nod to innovation, we are going digital). The best part about this publication is that it is not a formal donor commitment but rather an innovative, pro-active activity, bearing proof of our dedication to embracing modern means of communication that no-one ever reads, aimed at impressing donors. In another cutting-edge step, we are using SMS to inform our readers about the publication of this newsletter, which is another way of saying that Nathan will text the donors off his pre-paid phone.

It does take a lot of creativity to sell innovation while resisting change, but we are known in the business for getting the job done and do like a challenge. Bring it on! 


  1. Very innovative to use Nathan the intern to do all the work on the newsletter and other PR work -- excellent work experience for him, and a useful saving as obviously you don't have to pay an intern. In fact, you probably make Nathan's parents pay a modest daily charge for all the advice and expertise you're passing on to him, all bankable assets in his future career!

  2. Love this. Resonates with all the bureaucratic organizations I've worked in.