Friday, April 30, 2010

Making 1millionshirts a Success in Ten Easy Steps

The last few days were quite emotional as the “twitterverse” came alive with the voices of many offering an opinion on the serious matter of some dude from US of A wanting to send a million t-shirts to “Africa”. Some of the noise, produced in a wide spectrum spanning from “constructive smugness” to aggravated snark, reached even the sleepy metropolis of Moroni where I have recently returned after a culturally significant and high impact trip to “Zim”.

Regardeless, as I take in the many angles of this story, along with a humble breakfast prepared by my trusty “domestic help”, I thought I should also throw in some unsolicited advice for the nice people who came up with this idea, in the hope that the vast experience HRI has in matters of aid may perhaps benefit this or other such innovative ideas in the future.

  1. Before going live with the next big idea, you are well advised to get in touch with a HRI affiliate "on the ground" and arrange for a "needs assessment". All it takes is a reasonably paid consultant to go down to “Africa” and see what’s going on, take some pictures, write a report.
  2. After that you want to call together all “stakeholders” and discuss the report. The trick here is to pull the old “recommendations monte” and by the end of the event it should be obvious that the recommendations were made by a “committee” (helpful language: so and so working group, on the base of the obvious gaps resulting from the assessment reports recommends mobilizing resources for the identification of 1 million t-shirts to be distributed by HRI affiliate in the logistica cluster along with other NFIs). That simple detail is very helpful in managing eventual PR issues as you upgrade to the position of someone just implementing what the committee has decided.
  3. You have to ensure the government, as a main stakeholder, participates in this workshop (think lunch), after which you will visit the Director/ PS/ Minister and obtain an official letter in which the government requests so and so many t-shirts, urgently; if you are smart, you could even pull out a "t-shirt state of emergency" situation, which will qualify you for CERF funding.
  4. Once the recommendations have been “formulated” and “approved” by the stakeholders, you approach donors and source some funds, not forgetting to include crucial overheads and costs of marketing and distribution;
  5. It gets a bit tricky once you find the t-shirts, as every intern knows t-shirts can only be distributed if the logos of all “stakeholders” are appended very visibly. This minor inconvenience can be resolved by contracting (following due procurement procedures) a company that can either silkscreen or embroil the respective logos on the t-shirts, along with a well designed and creative slogan (my back used to be bare, now it is covered, thank you HRI).
  6. To increase "perception of value" you could also contract a company that can shrink wrap the t-shirts after they have been embroided. This phase, along with the business of the warehousing and distribution strategy will come in handy in your final report where you claim success under “supporting income generating activities”;
  7. Your next problem is targeting. You need to avoid that t-shirts get distributed randomly or that somebody will god forbid grab more than their share and sell them, falling in the sad trap of exploiting his brethren. This can be addressed by developing a number of activities, to include “edutainment”, “exercises in community inclusion and participation” and of course life-saving workshops. All participants will receive one t-shirt, with the better ones (polos) distributed as prizes during games.
  8. If there are too many t-shirts and you "face challanges" in distributing all in the given timeframe, what you do is you first put them in your central warehouse (upgraded to comply with WHO standards for storing t-shirts) in the capital, after which you take them out in batches that you then deposit in regional warehouses. You do your counts on the bin-cards in the main warehouse only and once that is empty, job done.
  9. All you need to do now is finalize your first draft of the report and present it to the same stakeholders for approval – ensure you take many pictures under HRI banners, which will then be pasted in the final version of the report that will subsequently be DHLed to all participants. 
  10. You will print more reports than necessary, and deposit them in the now empty central warehouse. You can then hand them out to any person you run into that wears one of your, easily recognizable, shirts.

And this is how, friends, wisdom and experience can make the difference between a PR disaster and a “best practice”.


  1. Knave of PovertyMay 1, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    Keep it Dr.

    I also try to take a nap or two before cocktail can be so trying after heavy lunchs and 11's pink gins. As long i as make at least a resonable mess in the hotel room, i ensure one more person has gainfull employment.
    Think about how to work while you relax, the jobs we all do can have twice the impact on local communities!

  2. Yeah...probably friends, wisdom and experience would make a huge difference!