Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tragedy of Errors

I have felt since the day that I started at this job that there was a distinct lack of global vision as well as a total absence of communication. At some point, I decided to reserve the harshest judgment because I know that I miss some things in translation and, frankly, it isn’t easy to manage projects on this scale with established timeline.

Last week, however, we had a meeting that was about 95% in English. It was a briefing, really, for a USAID official who (for reasons I won’t discuss) is taking over the liaison role for our project. (Normally, USAID hires a non-USAID person to fill the role). His Spanish is rough to very basic, something I can identify with, and thus the presentation of our program, goals, and accomplishments, was in English.

As usual, things didn’t go so well for my team. This clever chap asked a number of pointed questions that I asked last March and which were never responded to. It was embarrassing. The team had no answers. It’s also fairly obvious that we have been reporting “achievements” that are contractually not achievements and that each month, we have been falling further behind in our contractual goals, meaning that the amount of work that has to be completed each month has escalated to the point that it is entirely impossible to reach the goals for the year (something I explicitly commented on last March in email – you can only plant so many trees in one year).

Perhaps the most embarrassing moment, however, was when the USAID functionary asked how we can guarantee that the profits generated by our projects are distributed evenly to the target families. Our company response (from the very highest level) was, “well, there’s a law that regulates that.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

There can be no doubt that there has been a clear deficit in leadership and that a positive, functional corporate culture has yet to be implemented. The new boss, who does seem like a very nice guy (and who must be a distant relative a certain lawyer friend in Chicago with the initials LH), has yet to make an impact in changing that culture. It won’t be easy, but he needs to crack down on a variety of shenanigans because if he doesn’t and things continue as is, I don’t think we’ll complete our contractual goals through 2008 not to mention 2009.

Moreover, on a functional level, the program is missing critical global vision and leadership. We employ wonderfully talented business developers and forest engineers, but those types of profiles aren’t particularly adept at the political aspect and our “social expert” is a loon with penchant for acting the fool. It makes you wonder what she learned at Westminster University in London (thankfully, they rejected me).

At any rate, they do have someone on staff with the knowledge, expertise, and ability to provide this vision but they see him as a peon charged with translation and other support services. So far, my overtures have passed by deaf ears. I did, after all, write a brief addressing the governance issue in April.

We shall see what happens, but their initial attempts to include “governance” issues into our proposals have been rather juvenile. The team appears more inclined to pay lip service than actually address this issue substantively. USAID still isn’t happy about that and yesterday’s presentations were decidedly tense and ultimately, not approved. This is putting our team in a precarious position as there has recently been a change of leadership on our side and the USAID side. I am in position to provide assistance on this issue and am spending time refreshing my memory about governance issues so that I can put myself into play in the near future. Whether they accept my assistance is another issue entirely.


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