Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Monkey Named Soup… And, Lessons in Management

Tonight, at a dinner party in a house overlooking UN Drive, I met a monkey named “Soup.” The owner, our most generous host for the evening, had adopted the small female monkey in Madagascar to save it from an alternate fate as dinner course. While native Liberian monkeys hail from the Northern Lofa County, I’ve seen a number of pet monkeys over the past few weeks; most are kept on leashes, though I’ve seen a couple tied to trees. My first impression of this particular chimp was that her cage was far to small – but I suppose it beats a soup bowl any day.

CHAI Liberia welcomed three new staff members today; two doctors and a nurse, all Yale Fellows. The event was occasion for convening a number of the Deputy Ministers, inviting a slew of introductions and ad hoc speeches, and reviewing the CHAI development model and mission in Liberia. There were two key themes for the day, both came in the form of toasts: first, this is a time of reform in Liberia, rather than reconstruction; and two, the role of the “trusted adviser” hinges on keeping one’s distance from party politics.

On this latter point, Liberia today offers great opportunity to build and employ a-typical management skills. There is a vacuum of experience for many mid-to-upper level ministry positions and, subsequently, a high demand for consultants. Because internationals, those “without a dog in the fight,” are perceived as offering objective advice, they have the ability to positively impact policy on many levels. While it is tempting, at times, to take a more aggressive approach to meeting goals and deadlines, it is vital to the long-term success of development initiative here (and elsewhere, for that matter) to achieve success through local implementers. The Clinton Foundation places a great deal of emphasis on the practice of “reform through government.” In fact, CHAI programs are established exclusively at the bequest of host governments. CHAI employees work as government employees, offering technical support and promoting the institutions they advise. My impression, thus far, is that this model has achieved impressive results in the field public health and hold great potential in other sectors.

In short, lessons in management (or development negotiation) thus far include:

1. Never enter a meeting without knowing the outcome
2. Reform through local government, rather than acting as an implementing partner
3. Treat every draft as a final draft - I've already had one instance where a questionnaire I "drafted" was implemented as a final copy
4. Know your customer(s)
5. Publicizing objectives only limits the scope of your work
6. Aspire to remain under the radar; anonymity offers leverage

and more to follow...

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