Faith Based Profit from Divine Scams
How to get rich in the New Millenium
You still don’t have your own EN-GE-OH? You haven’t got a non-profit
foundation, complete with legal status? Not even a private consulting
firm? Then, my friend, you’re really out of it. Any professional who hasn’t
got one of these late twentieth century accessories is lost — clearly
someone with no imagination, no sense of opportunity, no strategic
vision, out of time and out of place. You might as well forget about your
career, and go and sell lottery tickets or become a street busker.
Let me explain. Twenty years ago a newly qualified graduate in the
humanities or social sciences had various employment options. He or she
could climb up the ministerial ladder, or use their contacts with the
students’ movement to wangle a university post. Or they could start at the
bottom, doing market research for some transnational toothpaste
company. If Daddy had the cash, they might start up a business, selling
spaghetti, for example. If they liked action films, they could go into the
military — or possibly develop a theory of revolutionary armed struggle.
If all else failed, they could go and wash plates in Los Angeles or New York.
Today things are different. The state is in collapse and out of fashion.
Forward-looking businesses don’t want trendy left-wing sociologists, but
people who know how to sell things and who can speak English. Setting
up a company means playing roulette with the family fortune. The military
are unemployed. The guerrillas are dead and buried. To do the washing-up
in Los Angeles you need a PhD from some European university.
But, make no mistake, EN-GE-OHs are the business of the 1990s. If you
wasted your time studying philosophy, social sciences, history, international
Help yourself by helping
relations, literature, pedagogy, political economy, anthropology, journalism,
ecology — and anything else that won’t earn you a living selling fried chicken
— a good EN-GE-OH is your best option. Let me explain.
To understand what an EN-GE-OH is, you need to understand The Project.
It’s rather like a fairy tale. Take Cinderella. You know she has problems:
her mother dies, then her father, then she’s adopted by a wicked
stepmother and so gets stuck with two ugly step-sisters. Cinderella has
many nice, simple friends, such as little birds and mice. She wants to go
to the prince’s ball, but she can’t. The Fairy Godmother come and fixes
things for her. Cinderella goes to the ball. The prince falls in love. More
problems come up, but in the end they are married. The birds sing and the
mice dance, and everyone’s happy. Projects are a bit like that.
Terrible problems afflict good, kind, and simple folk who have
harmless beliefs and picturesque customs. Other kindly souls befriend
these folk, who’ve been marginalised by capitalism, and want to help
them — but they don’t have the means. A representative from an
international agency arrives, sees what’s needed, uses a special magic
spell to get hold of the cash, and everyone lives happily ever after. That
is how the story goes.
EN-GE-OHs are a bit like the birds and mice in the fairy tale. They want
to help poor people and support the Fairy Godmother as she goes about
her noble business. You get the picture. Projects are Fairy Tales.
Cinderella is The Poor, or The Beneficiary. The Fairy Godmother is the
International Agency representative. The Little Mice are EN-GE-OHs.
The Magic Coach is the Funding. And marriage with the Prince is
Sustainable Development. The only difference is that in the real world,
it’s the birds and the mice who marry the prince, and the EN-GO-OHs
who ensure their own Sustainable (Self) Development. It all depends on
understanding the subtle charm of Projects, and their intimate
relationship with EN-GE-OHs.
First step: setting up an EN-GE-OH
First you need to get your legal status sorted out. This is invaluable,
especially if someone who’s resentful of your relationship with the Fairy
Godmother (whom they’d been courting) decides to denounce you to the
press, or the police, because of some impropriety committed on the
difficult road to Sustainable (Self) Development — such as leading poor
Cinderella up the garden path. To get legal status, you usually need a
general secretary, a treasurer, some trustees, and a well-connected contact
who’ll help you get it through the Ministry. But a word of advice: don’t
involve other like-minded professionals, if you want to stay at the top.
Second step: the sales pitch
The sales pitch is the aphrodisiac that drives the Fairy Godmothers wild.
Here, you have to be up to date and well prepared. For instance, it would
be fatal to start talking about Integrated Rural Development, when
everyone knows that today we talk about Sustainable Natural Resource
Management. You’d be ruled out if you talked about Mother-Child
Education when the fashion now is for Peasant Women’s Participation. It
would be like raving about Michael Jackson to an opera buff. You have to
be flexible. An EN-GE-OH Director needs to be familiar with all the
existing or potential fads of the Fairy Godmothers. If one of these decides
to take up an interest in protecting a threatened species of tropical monkey
in Ray-Ban sunglasses, you need to be able to show that from childhood
the fate of these endangered animals has been your burning concern.
Third step: public relations
Once you’ve mastered all the standard jargon — Activities, Conceptual
Frameworks, Experience and Background, Aims and Objectives, Human
Resources — you’re ready for the next step: Public Relations.
Your first aim as the up-and-coming Director of an unknown EN-GEOH
is to get on to the Fairy Godmother circuit. It’s one of the hardest
features of the New Order of Civil Society. You’ll have to hunt down the
Fairy Godmothers at all the cocktail parties to open or close seminars,
congresses, and international meetings on the following key topics:
• Critical Poverty
• Protecting the Environment
• Protecting Children and other Threatened Species
• Educational Reform
• New Information Order, New Economics Order, and any other New
Order that crops up
• Defence of Indigenous Cultures
• Informal Economy and Micro-Enterprise
• Popular Education and Adult Literacy Campaigns
• Information Technology and Development of the Rural Community
• Anything to do with the ‘Challenge of the Twenty-First Century’.
You also need to go to the receptions given at the major embassies: Germany,
Belgium, Netherlands, USA, Sweden, Italy, and France, as well as those
given by UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, WHO, UNDP, the World Bank, etc.
Basic tips: You need to be on form for these social-cum-professional
occasions. It’s not just a question of having a few drinks and smiling
inanely in a corner. Take a nap before the event, so that you’re at your best.
Dress well. Always take a load of business cards and a dozen leaflets
about your institution. Eat and drink the least amount possible. Learn
how to spot a Fairy Godmother at a glance. They are usually fair-haired,
tall, and slightly informally dressed. They are also generally surrounded
by locals, who are either listening to every word, in a kind of beatific
trance, or energetically reciting one of their prepared speeches, with
passionate intensity. Alternatively, they might be looking askance as one
of the other supplicants is speaking.
You can learn a lot by watching. The important thing is to get a sense
of when it’s right to make an intervention. What you’re aiming for is the
incisive remark that cuts the ground from the others’ feet, so that the Fairy
Godmother will show an interest in you.
There are various risks here. Some are obvious: alcoholism, divorce,
partial or total alienation. Others are more serious. Something to be avoided
at all costs is to make any ironic or cynical reference to the holy development
crusades in which the Fairy Godmothers and their agencies are engaged.
Jokes, however well meant, are only for old hands. Don’t even risk seeming
flippant, until you’ve got a couple of projects under your belt. And don’t be
discouraged if it all takes a long time. That’s part of the training.
Fourth step: the funding request
Once you’ve got the Fairy Godmother’s ear, you need to lead her gradually
to the point where you can present a Funding Request. This is what
separates the winners from the losers. And you want to be a winner. So
you need to show the Fairy Godmother how well you get on with
Cinderella, and that she in turn respects and supports you. To do this,
you’ll need to expose the Fairy Godmother to the rarefied atmosphere of
what is called ‘The Field’.
Field Visits: ‘Field’ is a word much used in the North, where it has a kind
of tantric significance. For the Fairy Godmothers, a successful ‘field visit’
is almost a guarantee of project approval, a one-way ticket to Sustainable
(Self) Development. When you feel the Fairy Godmother is ready for a ‘field
visit’, you need to prepare Cinderella and her little friends, and train up a
couple of Poor Beneficiary groups. It doesn’t matter who they are, or how
you get hold of them. The important thing is that they are there when you
arrive with the honoured guest from the omnipotent North. No detail
should be overlooked. Cinderella and the rest need to look the part,
preferably dressed in local costumes. A good tip is to make sure they know
a couple of the folk songs that political exiles have made popular in the
North. You need lots of emotional colour and human interest. Perhaps you
could even throw in a birth, baptism, or burial, just to add to the excitement.
Essentially, you’re organising a piece of theatre for the Fairy
Godmother, who is prepared to pay to see this played out in the day-today
life of ordinary people in ‘The Field’. So, make sure your actors know
what’s at stake. If they fail to convince the Fairy Godmother, you won’t be
able to afford the AppleMac or the Land Cruiser — essential for your
image as defender of Sustainable Development. Should the locals start to
be uneasy, or demand something in return for their part in the play, tell
them you’ll build a school, or an access road. Whatever. In any case,
they’re used to broken promises, and after a drink or two they’ll have
forgotten everything. The important thing is for the Fairy Godmother to
witness your good relations with Cinderella and her friends.
Writing up Proposals:You need to write up the proposal, devise a plan
of action, and invent a budget. Some EN-GE-OH Directors work round the
clock on these, making sure that everything holds together. But why make
problems for yourself? Just hire a couple of unemployed specialists for
the smallest fee you can get away with. Tell them that if the project works,
they’ll be taken on full-time on international salaries. They might fall for
it and do the work for free. Two words of warning. First, never let the
consultants know which agency you’re negotiating with, to put them off
the track. Second, get the consultants to draw up a budget for only half
what you intend to request. You alone should manage the budget details.
Budgets: There are two vital elements that shouldn’t be left to informal
agreements with the Fairy Godmother: your salary and the overhead. There
are others too: international training, travel expenses and per diems,
teaching materials, consultancy fees (to pay back the odd favour here and
there at your discretion), and infrastructure. The better you take care of these
details, the more rapid will be your rise to Sustainable (Self) Development.
Conclusion: development is a business
Like any other business, the development impresario needs to keep an
eye on the competition. As this becomes more intense, you need to spend
about half your time running down the opposition. This isn’t the world
of ‘gentlemen’s agreements’, but of people like yourself who’ve learned
how to help themselves by helping The Poor. Business is a harsh teacher.
But in the end, the ones you need to be most concerned about are the
ones who are, in fact, genuine, and who therefore jeopardise everyone’s
career by putting their rhetoric into practice.
Much has changed since I wrote the Cinderella story in the late 1980s, and
yet the game is still on; probably more subtle, and probably on a larger
scale. Yet, the amount of aid money that goes not to the poor but to the
NGO managers has become trivial compared with the colossal sums that
are syphoned off the well-intentioned programmes that are promoted by
the big multilateral institutions, the billions in loans, and the megaproject
budgets; and let us not forget, in this age of private and market-driven
utopias, the sums syphoned off the private banking sector and private
contractors in developing countries. For example, one single banker at the
Banco del Progreso in Ecuador managed to ‘disappear’ (sic) at short notice,
in an offshore labyrinth, some US$1,000 million belonging to 700,000
small depositors. Some independent estimates show that about 15 per
cent of the sales in the privatisation of state enterprises in Latin America
went to build private fortunes for about 10,000 individuals; that is to say
about US$10,000 million in commissions. So, when we trash the NGOs —
as so many of them deserve — we should also remember we are discussing
the crumbs on the floor while the real banquet is happening elsewhere.
This paper was reprinted from the journal Chasqui, and was published
in Development in Practice Volume 5, Number 4, 1995.