Monday, May 05, 2008

Passion and leadership.

This is a '60 Minutes' story about a doctor who provides medical help to the poor in third world countries and has had a major impact in improving their health. The annual budget: 50 million dollars.

Contrast this with the programs by large charities and government-financed organizations. The MCA fund in Armenia has spent 4 million dollars on consultation fees! Given the amount of money spent in Armenia since the end of the war in 1994, the country should have been a decently developed place. The only thing that has become decently developed has been the corruption since these large scale programs seem to be designed to foster and promote corruption.

The only large scale program that has had a visible impact has been Kirk Kerkorian's program for infrastructure improvements despite the lack of passionate ground level leadership. The small scale programs backed by passionate individuals have probably yielded far superior results per dollar spent.


Ani said...

This is why microfinancing and organizations like Heifer (which works in Armenia) are gaining donors (including me :), not to mention the individual remittances that are the only reason Armenia still exists at all. Unfortunately, providing to individuals and specific needs only can go so far; infrastructure and large-scale plans simply can't be funded this way, which is why the corruption needs to be uncovered, punished, and lessened.

Also unfortunately, under Bush's administration the graft is almost as bad in the U.S.--here's an interesting article about the money pit called New Orleans:

Emir of Qatar Tours New Orleans to See Fruit of His $100 Million Donation

nazarian said...

It's mainly racism, I believe. Despite my wishes that institutional racism is behind us, it is still a strong and prevalent force in the US. Obviously, it's not like the 60-s but it's still quite unsettling.

How else would you explain the hoopla in the media around Rev, Wright?

tzitzernak said...

I think you're right about the hoopla - while some of the hoopla is just the moronic way in which the media portrays elections, which is tolerated by the voting population which is to a large extent undereducated (both in terms of basic reading levels, and in terms of politics domestically and internationally), but also because the have's in the US are quite afraid of what the have not's might do, and have done, in the past, when empowered. So, rather than actually solve the underlying problems, which I believe starts with education, they perpetuate the schism.
Regarding Paul Farmer - I think it is very encouraging to know that his organization started very poor and grass roots- he had to "borrow" the first microscope for the project from his medical school.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Surely you mean the hundreds of millions since the Armenian Earthquake in 1988 under the corrupt and undemocratic regimes of Levon Ter-Petrossian and Robert Kocharian.

As for fostering and promoting corruption, I don't think Armenians (or the former Soviet space need any help with that). Perpetuating it, I agree, but corruption and siphoning off money is part of a Soviet legacy as well as the local mentality.

Of course, corruption in the construction sector also defines other countries such as the United States. Meanwhile, what are you suggesting? That Armenia become a collection of communes and hunter-gathering?

Anyway, I have to be honest. USAID, OSI, Eurasia Foundation, all of them, work on the basis of corruption, nepotism, connections and siphoning off large chunks for consultancy fees. This is true for both government and civil society. It promotes inefficiency and dependency.

Besides, improve tax collection and much of this money would not be needed. On the other hand, society is not going to change. Corruption has become a way of life for most Armenians. It is part of society and will take generations to reduce sufficiently.

Probably a balance is needed with maximum oversight implemented at every stage of the international donor process and reducing it over time. Of course, as the MCA money is not a loan, demand better management and it can be more efficient.

However, it will make a difference. How much of a difference is up to everyone who cares enough to make sure that it does. And when you consider that Azerbaijan's military budget will hit $2 billion, I'm not sure that even in the best case scenario of fighting corruption and improving tax collection Armenia will be able to allocate enough funds for projects that international donors fund instead.

Which is why transparency, oversight and management is key.