One of the quaint oddities of the development aid business is the industry’s dogmatic adherence to specific titles. These titles are often essentially “terms of art” – meaningless to people outside the industry but very specific to people who are in it.
That’s why many of our friends who are not in the aid business have asked me what Colleen’s job is here. It’s understandable – her job title is “Chief of Party.” Sounds fun — kind of like a sorority social chair, right?
The official goal of her project is to help the government of Tanzania strengthen the economic livelihoods of people with AIDS. Colleen’s official role is to be the director of the project.
Her real challenge is trying to get things done in an environment that is out to stop things from happening. I’d describe her real role as 25% making sure that people do the things that they said they would do, 25% preventing people from stealing stuff, 25% HR manager, and 25% babysitter.
Her list of accomplishments thus far sounds like straightforward business start up tasks. Since coming to Tanzany at the end of January, she found an office, got DAI incorporated in the country, hired staff, set up arrangements with some key vendors, created a work plan, and kept her client updated on the project’s progress.
Here are some of realities what it took to make that happen:
- A six-week “Battle of the Generator” to get a backup power source installed. Highlights included: approved subcontractors building a platform that was not to code (then getting them to fix it); the generator company sales guy pulling a bait and switch with unexpected “service fees” (then getting the management to remove them); and, the coup de gras, the generator company wiring the wrong floor of the building (then getting them to fix it).
- Withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash from ATMs in $200 increments to for payroll, rent, vendors, etc. and then carrying that cash around town to pay people.
- Finding recruits who negotiate compensation packages, accept positions, participate as guests at staff retreats and then back out the day before they are supposed to start. And then starting all over again.
- Dealing with a corporate bank that behaves as if they are doing you a favor by granting you a bank account, and then does not process signature approvals for anyone else to sign on the account.
- Having a staff member die while she was on vacation to visit our new niece in California. She spent several days sorting out the benefits with conflicting parties in Washington DC and Dar-es-Salaam. (That’s a 10-hour time difference.)
- Dealing with a rental car company that supplies cars with batteries that keep dying – four in three weeks!
I’m sure I’m forgetting other things, but those are the highlights.
So, the takeaway lesson I have learned from all this is that the next time someone wants you to be the head of some kind of “party,” make sure to ask a lot of questions about just what kind of party it is that you’ll be leading. It’s probably not what you have in mind.