Water, Water Everywhere

Each year a number of friends get together in some part of the world for an annual hike. The hike creator and organizer, Richard Pyvis, documents and periodically publishes stories from the annual hikes. The stories are normally accompanied with some observations from Richard’s point of view about how the world works and how the world could work. Each story is supplemented with contributions from individual hikers who are invited to add their observations to the story and their ideas to the conversation.

I have been on a number of annual hikes over the years. The hike in 2008 in Vietnam included a watery experience which reminded Ian Mansfield and I about some previous experiences we had with water. We are the two Canadian hikers referred to in this story which recounts our experience on the hike in Vietnam and an earlier adventure we had during a trip to Cambodia.

The conversation in the story moves from observations on our watery experiences, to observations on the recovery process following the 2004 Asian tsunami, to observations on the reasons for and consequences of inefficiencies in the process, to observations on moving our focus from aid to exploring community interests and resources and creating community enterprise, and to exploring and creating recovery and community development systems which increase our contribution from the resources employed to creating sustainable communities.

This story was published as one of seven in The Annual Hike 2010 edition.

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Images of Viet Nam typically vary with the extent to which one was engaged in the conflict of the 1960s and ’70s, referred to by the Vietnamese as the American War. Against this backdrop fourteen annual hikers embarked to Ho Chi Minh City to commence their tour of central Vietnam.

With its current population of some 85 million people, Vietnam has a history dating back some three thousand years to the Paleolithic Period, with evidence of bronze drum manufacture and wet rice farming back to the Neolithic Age. French Indochina colonization, the huge 10% of the population loss of life during Japanese World War II occupation and famine, Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh, the American led War and its demilitarized 17th parallel zone, and “boat people” all spring to mind when thinking of Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City, renamed from Saigon in 1975, has changed in many ways over the decades – mostly in population which seems to swell at every corner. It is truly the land of small business, in all sectors, with little evidence of large scale ventures and accompanying infrastructure on any horizon. Buildings crowd buildings, roads are in a state of permanent repair, noise blares from shop fronts, and vendors peddle an amazing array of wares from all over the country, – from the latest in mobile phones to pickled dog.

In preparing for an annual hike we typically contact a local guide, have them assist our committee in plans, pay the required deposits, and then get on with detailed planning. We found the Vietnamese guides of Ho Chi Minh are like none other we have encountered, and very different from those of Hanoi in their desire for money. Dong at every corner, it seemed. But we persevered and plans eventually fell into place.

2008’s hike began with a day or so in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting post-War museums, palaces, left over armaments and market places, stocking up on forgotten supplies. Each evening, from the sanctity of our Mifuki Hotel, we occupied a street corner devouring vendor peanuts, local beer and whatever was on the skillet – a marvelous collection of local bits and pieces, and all at the right price. The steady parade of motor cycles provided some amusement, their cargoes ranging from beautifully attired young ladies to crates of beer stacked six high.

An early start the next day flew us to Da Lat City in the central highlands – the home of French expatriates during the colonial occupation where coffee, grape growing, and wine were introduced. After a pleasant flight and casual stroll across the tarmac to the terminal building, we made our way by truck to our first destination – Hamkha National Park – and put in a solid few hours on foot to Jatu village where we were housed for the night in a local M’nong long-house, spread out like sardines under mosquito nets, and served the most delicious country food – we were very spoiled hikers indeed.

A long day awaited us as our early start took us across rice paddies and then upwards along a rough jungle path. One of the local grasses retreats for some minutes when disturbed, providing a great early-warning signal that others have passed this way not that long ago. This no doubt provided valuable intelligence to the observant during the war on troop movements along jungle paths.

Our trail took us into tall and dense jungle and up a long seemingly never ending path, soft underfoot but comfortable. Tongues were well and truly hanging out when we crested the ridgeline and began a long, leech-ridden path to Lak Lake. It was not difficult to imagine ambushes at many points along the way, along with the ever-present fear of stumbling upon unexploded ordinance exposed during the recent rainy season. The trail meandered through terrain that was one minute dark and shrouded in bamboo groves, the next into bright sunshine with excellent visibility in every direction.

We walked for what seemed half a day, to emerge onto a swollen pond that unfolded into Lak Lake. Longboats with minimal freeboard awaited us, as did cold beer as we regrouped on the shores of the lake. There was little room for assembly, and had one taken a wrong turn even 100 metres earlier, it would have been very difficut to find this little enclave on the lake shore.

Our journey across the lake was eventful. One of our group does not swim, and while his lifejacket was one of the better ones, his trepidation spread through his boat, made from old bomber drop-tanks, making the five centimetres of freeboard that little more threatening.

We hit wind-age halfway through our two hour journey and his boat was forced to offload one of its passengers on a small uninhabited island to avoid running the risk of being swamped. Frantic bailing failed to lower the ever rising water level and things began to look dire. In a magnanimous gesture, our District Commissioner, the heaviest of the boat’s cargo, volunteered to go ashore and wait for a boat to return to get him. Such is the high regard he is held by the hikers, many question to this day why that return journey was ever made.

It was with some relief that we all disembarked safely, washed in the lake, and walked for another few hours to that evening’s longhouse to cold beer and more outstanding local food. A sing-song that evening not only raised tired bodies but provided the locals with some very light entertainment – to which they responded in kind creating a pleasant evening to cap off a long day.

The next day was a tough one. Our hiking was mostly on sealed surfaces, very hard underfoot, and without the variety of constantly changing vegetation and altitude to break up the journey. The trek involved a long walk past many M’nong villages, took us to our pick up point, and a ride into Buon Me Thuat, where warm water, a massage and light entertainment awaited us. There is not a lot that would encourage a return to this City. It is a transshipment point for coffee and like virtually all of Vietnam is a maelstrom of small businesses, badly in need of major infrastructure. This will no doubt be provided with private sector participation when the prevailing regulatory environment permits a sensible return on the equity so deployed.

In one of the villages we were treated to superb coffee, an explanation of growing, picking, drying, and roasting the beans, right down to the difference between beans that had been hand-picked, and those that have been harvested from the droppings of local rats that pass the bean through their digestive tracts, – without cracking the bean, – strong espresso style.

Seated on cheap plastic stools, the coffee beans are crudely crushed and set in an aluminum sieve above and drip fed into a small plastic cup. Quite strong, heavily laced with sugar and condensed milk, this brew certainly set the adrenalin flowing.

The populace seemed reasonably well off, with no obvious signs of poverty, and plenty of signs of a robust educational system. Those with whom we spoke seemed genuinely interested in us, where we came from and our intentions, although some found it hard to fathom why a bunch of older guys would bother carting all that stuff around on their backs through remote jungle paths, all in the name of fun, and had no compunction accepting US dollars in lieu of the ever depreciating dong, – demonstrating their command of all things financial. The price of coffee had been hammered of late, so we were seeing things in the early stages of an economic downturn, we believed.

Our flight back to Ho Chi Minh City was uneventful, as was the tourist boat trip we took down the Mekong, – all very civilized. But the experience that marked our adventure was our boat trip across Lak Lake, particularly for the Canadian hiker who could not swim.

What the annual hike group did not know at the time was that our anxious Canadian colleague and his perpetual world adventurer partner, also on the hike in another boat on Lak Lake, had more than their fair share of unplanned watery experiences. Through well placed probes, we got to hear about these adventures and were all left with a similar thought “maybe we should rethink having these guys around or send them first on all risky treks!”

The stories were great hike folklore. From taking a commercial, fully rusted and fully loaded ferry from La Paz, Mexico to the mainland which included an all night drinking session with the commercial truck drivers who stumbled from the bar to their huge vehicles so tightly jammed together to use every available inch of space that it needed jet pilot precision to get them down the ramp. To taking the anxious hiker’s 10 meter boat from Pender Island, across the Georgia Straight to Vancouver and encountering 15 to 20 foot seas with no opportunity to turn back without capsizing the vessel. To, unquestionably our favorite, a professionally documented journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh on the “Floating Coffin”.

The fast ferry, dubbed by Westerners as “the Floating Coffin”, plies the waters of Tonle Sap Lake, a trip of 180 miles between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and back. The day our hiker companions jumped aboard was bright and sunny, lulling the boys into a false sense of security, therefore not noticing the craft was clearly and severely overloaded, with the roof carrying as many passengers as the people filling every seat in the cabin, a fact that would barely be noticed by the locals. To put things in perspective, the lake is some 16,000 square kilometres in area and an average of nine metres in depth in the wet season.

Within an hour of the departure any sign of land disappeared, the vessel began to noticeably take on water. Crews were dispatched with mops, old paint cans, pop bottles, and string mops with a handful of strings left in them. It didn’t take long to notice they were fighting a losing battle. Passengers were rescuing their now floating packs which previously were on the floor. People were becoming alarmed as life jackets were now being taken from overhead compartments, some being in conditions that were obviously NOT conducive to floating, and some ladies in the rear of the compartment tested to see if the few windows would open, only to find they were welded shut for who knows what reason.

By this time, one of our hiker colleagues decided to head towards the pilot house, assess what the extent of the issue might be and if lucky, have a chat with the crew about remedial action. Appropriate logic, considering our hikers were well versed in crisis management and experienced in taking leadership positions. On his way through the cabin our hiker was befriended by a capable Aussie traveler who had similar thoughts of action and felt two might have a better chance than one in getting the Captain’s attention. A Cambodian frequent traveler volunteered to act as translator and off to the wheelhouse went the three.

Despite various signs of distress on the boat, such as the crew securing the best lifejackets and moving to the bow in case they might need to jump, the captain, – at least our hikers presumed him to be, – stuck to his position that all would be well and they should return to their seats and enjoy the ride. It was obvious to our hikers that this strategy was at best hallucinogenic and they communicated through the interpreter that they would threaten to take control of the vessel if the boat was not brought to a halt so they could assess the obvious problem. The helmsman then reluctantly and indignantly pulled back on the throttle, and they assumed control including communicating what was happening to the passengers who were now in a panic mode.

The hikers then took full charge, one in the rear of the cabin consoling and reassuring the passengers that the two now in control were experienced western skippers and knowledgeable seamen who would get them through this. With the boat now sitting in neutral, the water level rose in the rear dramatically and the rest of the cabin was clearly above ankle deep. As it turns out, a group of Aussie footballers were aboard and were quickly organized into a bucket brigade. Water was noticeably trickling from beneath a set of forward steps so the hikers organized a crew to tear the steps and cabin wall away for inspection. It soon became apparent that the pumps below the floor were inoperable and the source of inflowing water was below the forward cabin level.

The mood of the passengers had now changed to a temporary state of relief, witnessing someone taking control, remedial action being taken, and them being kept in the loop. What they didn’t know was that the hikers had found a football size hole below the waterline, that the front hold was fully flooded and the pump wasn’t working, that the translator had told them the lake was full of crocodiles, and that our colleagues had no idea yet how to solve either problem.

Things continued to improve, the bucket brigade was gaining ground on the water, a crew member had managed to get a pump running and a passenger who identified himself as a Russian farm mechanic assured all that he had never seen a hole he could not plug. He was right. Down he went with whatever the collective group of passengers donated, shirts, shopping bags, sandals, you name it went down with him to plug the hole, and incredibly it was done.

So, the boat was stabilized, if perhaps only temporarily, the passengers slowing in their prayers and even the crew were assuming some involvement in keeping the thing afloat. The boys decided to give the captain the nod to power up slowly and by mid-afternoon a cheer broke out as something resembling land could be seen by all aboard. It didn’t take long before most were now calculating how far they might have to swim if the boat went down. The translator informed the hikers that the land they could see was a little port town named Kampong, that the captain had been informed by radio to head for and it was likely they were going to be met by the local police.

The translator further said it was likely the police would create a visible show of concern, probably because the Westerners on board the ferry during the ordeal had been in contact with every Consulate in Phnom Penh they could reach and it would be politically astute for them to show grave concern for our well being. A show of action was needed. What our hikers had now just grasped was that their mutinous action had created a loss of face for the Captain in charge.

The hikers and their new Aussie partner concluded that it may indeed be them the police may wish to spend time with and not the crew. Not to worry, our boys immediately changed the bright shirts they were wearing, assumed low key outerwear, and casually reintegrated back into the mass of passengers within the vessel.

The plan worked beautifully. The boat docked, the police hustled everyone onto the dock for assembly where they made their concern very public, and no one noticed our hikers quietly sneaking up the dock ramp headed for the little town. First things first though, as beer was quickly located along with a local taxi to load it in, and off they went by land to their final destination of Phnom Penh, feeling much like the Lone Ranger and Tonto and thankful to be alive.


These watery experiences recounted for us gave us a lot to think about in the context of the realities of the developing world. There are a lot more people than we have capacity for. Risking lives to make more money and to save face is seen as necessary and legitimate. And many people are trapped in their circumstances.

Our experience with less fortunate communities in developing economies has raised the question of what kind of aid would be most helpful if our long term interests lie in creating and developing local community economies.

The continual movement of people from small communities to urban centres is putting a stress on our individual and collective abilities to create a sustainable economy and livelihood for everyone.

Our well-meaning approach to aid tends to move communities into an aid-trap where local industry and agriculture in a community is displaced and the community becomes dependent upon the next handout. Look no further than Africa where the well meaning efforts of pop stars in particular may have solved very short term issues, at the expense of creating irreparable long term sustainable economies, – where local producers are “priced” out of production by seemingly never ending plane loads of “free” goods from donor countries.

Our focus on short term interests, the inertia of well established cultural ideas, and the limited choices available to most of the people involved create huge challenges for us in making the changes needed to improve conditions and create a better life and future for everyone.

We naturally focus on short term interests in our decision-making. Our hikers told us they knew a storm was brewing when they set out from Pender Island but decided to risk it in the interests of getting home that night instead of waiting until the next day when the storm had passed. Longer term and more important interests and the interests of others involved and affected were not thought about and considered or dismissed in the preoccupation with short term ideas and the opportunity at hand. And as they watched a much larger boat caught in the same seas, keeled over to the gunnels, it became apparent that when we all in heavy seas we are unable to come to one another’s aid. Everyone has to be able to use their best skills and effort to survive on their own.

When we are overloaded and operating beyond our capacity, as the boats on Lake Lak were, we would almost certainly capsize in the wind and chop coming up. It requires the initiative of those most sensitive to the consequences of the risk, thoughtful and considered exploration of the alternatives by those involved, and finding the ideas and resources that can contribute most to the common interests of everyone involved. This was the contribution our more heavily weighted Assistant District Commissioner made in a responsible and generous manner by offloading himself on an island.

If the people trapped inside the overloaded coffin boat on the Tonle Sap Lake had chosen to go out on the roof, the boat would have capsized immediately. The survival of every individual involved, including those already on the roof, lay clearly on people making choices to act in the common interest. In this case it required the people in the cabin to assume the higher risk of being trapped inside if disaster struck.

Saving the floating coffin from sinking became a common interest that sparked leadership initiative, engaged everyone in exploring ideas, and excited contribution from the people with the ability and expertise on board to take on roles around a common community enterprise.

Decisions with short term thinking based on self-interest and subjective judgment that do not consider our common and long term interests will sink us. And we are all in the same earth boat together.

So how does this relate to what kind of aid would be most helpful to our common long term interests and what are we learning about our current approach to delivery.

A recent experience for some of the annual hikers was the Asian tsunami. The largest pool of donations in world history was raised for relief in response to the devastation created by the 2004 tsunami. A significant portion of this was committed to Aceh, the area most affected by the disaster.

Our first hand experience in Aceh resulted in a number of observations on the tsunami recovery effort.

Vested with the responsibility to manage approximately $2 million raised for tsunami relief in 2004, we distributed approximately half the funds to mainstream agencies across four affected countries. The balance was committed to two specific village rebuilding projects in the Banda Aceh regions of Lamreh and Rumpet.

The villages are located in Sumatra’s Aceh Province outside the area controlled by BRR. BRR is the government reconstruction agency established to globally coordinate reconstruction relief efforts in the area in the north of Sumatra ravaged by the tsunami.

Our projects resulted in the construction of 300 houses, a school, women’s centres, a clinic, kindergarten, library and two marketplaces. We worked with two local groups who managed all aspects of the reconstruction and continue to work with us in the rehabilitation of the villages focused on creating sustainable sources of income.

There are numerous definitions that agencies and governments use to report their performance in delivering aid monies. The one we prefer for donor efficiency is a measure of the percentage of donor contributions that find their way to the intended beneficiaries. We also believe it is better to make a big difference in a smaller community, than to be lost in the crowd amongst the efforts of many in large communities.

The most common sense approach to measuring efficiency eliminates the disbursements that are actually “nice to have” rather than “essential”.

These particular projects in Aceh have an estimated efficiency of 92%. 92% of the money raised reached its intended beneficiaries, and was not consumed in other activities.

The three phases in recovery each require their own process to realize the greatest contribution from the resources employed.

This relief phase, immediately after the event, requires instant support to save lives. Typically this consists of first aid, medicines, water, and food. This phase is well supported and managed by established, mainstream agencies and governments, with little comment required.

We can always do things better, but the major challenge here is marshalling resources quickly, and in scale, and frequently across political and cultural borders. In Aceh this was done well, and it is what large agencies are good at.

Then comes the reconstruction challenge, to restore infrastructure, from shelter to communications, and often running for many months or years. In the case of Aceh, this phase lasted five years after the tsunami. Reconstruction is fraught with obstacles from bureaucracy and turf wars between governments and agencies and is littered with avoidable waste.

In Aceh performance varied widely from village to village. Agencies were allotted villages or projects to concentrate on in an attempt to reduce turf wars between groups.

Reconstruction in the villages where we worked was completed within 18 months, while people in some villages were still in tents five years later. Reconstruction does not appear to be an area of competency for many large agencies.

The most challenging element of any aid program is rehabilitation, to restore life to its former or better state with those affected able to develop income, resources, and self-sufficient enterprise.

This is the least understood and most poorly executed stage and the most critical as free food and water distribution programs end.

There are many signs that money is being thrown at concepts and initiatives ranging from micro credit to agricultural equipping and training with little thought attached.

Large scale mushroom growing, honey production, cow and goat breeding and fattening, training in sewing and computer use, candle making, chili farming, coffee shops, motorcycle service and repair shops, and beauty shops are some of the projects successfully initiated in the villages in Aceh where our efforts were concentrated.

High profile fund-raisers can be very successful in attracting donor attention for emergency response. But giving aid to meet short term crises is often linked to political interests, squeezes out local suppliers, and saps local economies so that when the crisis passes the loss of skills and the ability of communities to survive and sustain themselves is worse than before the crises.

Current practices do not allow for good decision making and a disciplined, business-like approach to providing relief, reconstruction assistance, and investment in developing local enterprise and resources. In Aceh, bureaucracy slowed spending at one end of the chain while agencies competed with one another at the other end to spend it. The result was an inefficient use of funds.

Our conclusion from our experience is that we need to move our focus from giving relief to improving each community’s ability to develop their own resources and create local community enterprises to sustain their own economy.

This requires some rethinking about the way we do things and how we structure our recovery efforts and processes to create a better outcome in our common interests as well as in the interests of the beneficiaries

There are many reasons for inefficiency in these processes. The first is the culture of relief agencies. Relief management is not the most sought after managerial role in the commercial world. It tends to attract those interested in the humanitarian aspects of relief rather than those skilled in the world of business. Once in the relief chain promotion is often a function of tenure in organizations where high turnover rates are created by staff moving on to different challenges or leaving when a particular project is completed.

Agencies are focused on alleviating human suffering. Management is typically drawn from those who are concerned with the underlying cause, rather than from the ranks of the best available managerial talent. As a result they don’t have the expertise to deal with large scale events or have the decision making skills needed to manage the investment of resources to create successful community enterprise.

They are poorly equipped to determine the needs of beneficiaries, to identify the projects that will contribute most efficiently and permanently to their needs, or to engage the community in their own development.

Performance is often measured with subjective and ideological standards rather than objective best practices and by observable and measurable contributions to the community’s immediate and long term interests

Remuneration scales reflect the quality of the management talent engaged and are self defeating in the belief that keeping managerial costs low will somehow create more a more efficient, low cost agency. The opposite is the case. There is little chance of optimal donor money management through a sub-optimally managed agency

A major source of wastefulness is often found in the administrative costs that gather around an agency. These are normally taken off first at the source for the successive layers of the organization involved in tracking, reporting, audit, and promotion of the organization’s activities

One European-based large agency reportedly takes 40% of donor contributions at source for head office administration. Brand new staff vehicles on site, the best local accommodation, up to date communication equipment, all designed to ensure staff are as comfortable as possible in their typically strange environment. The frequency with which aid workers occupy first and business class aircraft seats is legion.

While all this may be wasteful and avoidable, the less understood and greater area of waste is poor execution of the delivery on the ground, – from inexperienced staff negotiating with local contractors to ill conceived projects that would never have been attempted if they were exposed to appropriate due diligence and local needs assessment. It took one organization three attempts to begin work on housing construction, having lost their 20% of the total construction estimate deposit to unscrupulous contractors in the first two attempts.

An observation, perhaps particular to Aceh, saw agencies moving outside their areas of expertise to deploy the massive amounts of monies pledged to them. The results are readily observable, wasteful, and have the unintended effect of alienating locals who are staggered at such clumsy wastefulness.

Agencies concentrate on publicizing their work, dressed in a variety of ways depending upon the particular donor profile, and apply more energy and resources to the process of fund-raising than they do to the process of ensuring pledged monies are effectively deployed as intended. One has only to look within agencies to see the most capable staff deployed at the fundraising end rather than on the ground finding efficient ways of distributing and using the monies raised.

Agencies continue to exist beyond their original reason for being through fundraising. This reinforces the supply-side approach to disaster relief and to finding new things to spend on, especially in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.

Monies raised are typically pledged to specific regions or initiatives and if not utilized they are subject to be returned to the donors. Returning monies is not high on an agency’s interests nor is it administratively easy. It is seen as a sign the agency has failed in its delivery task. As a result waste quickly permeates in the form of “nice to have” projects, rather than locally demand-driven projects. In Aceh, their standardized and bureaucratic approach resulted in a lot of mistakes and wasted time and effort.

The political desire for central control is another. Controlling everything centrally is too slow and inevitably becomes a never ending process of seeking the perfect solution when speed and application are required.

The central coordinating body, BRR in Aceh, was assembled from a variety of staff sources creating structure around a collection of diverse interests, political and hierarchical, and not necessarily having the managerial skills to be able to map who is doing what and where things were needed that were not getting done. BRR needed a clear mandate and authority from the start which wasted several months. To date the process has been too ad hoc.

A centrally-controlled process is inefficient. Corruption aside, the delays, poorly conceived projects, clumsy treatment of agencies, and the lack of acceptance at the local level resulted in major delays in delivery, wasteful money distribution, and inevitably, a disappointing recovery performance.

The central coordinating body can also fall into the trap of becoming involved in delivery themselves. BRR, for example, is now building houses. The skills are unlikely to be there and it opens exposure to unproductive political pressures that could jeopardize the execution of the organization’s principle objective.

The central coordinating body should focus on mapping more precisely who is doing what, determining where resources and expertise are available and best employed, and facilitating connections for success.

The satisfaction for donors appears to lie in the act of giving rather than in the long term satisfaction of the needs of recipients. Competition for donor monies is highly competitive, emotive-driven, and the underlying proposition is “now”, not “then”.

For more effective and better engaged use of donor monies, work is required to inform and assist donors in their decision-making processes, to move them from immediate gratification from the giving to the satisfaction from meeting the longer term needs and interests of recipients. This will move donors to take a more participatory and engaged role in the efficient, effective, and successful application of their donations.

There are real consequences as a result of these inefficiencies.

Recipients become enmeshed in an aid trap, dependent on the continued supply of aid for survival. Poorly designed aid programs, which include many well-intentioned African aid initiatives, are delivering untold tonnes of food and equipment to impoverished regions, but failing to sufficiently differentiate and address the three phases of recovery.

In continuing emergency aid well beyond a prudent date, local suppliers and merchants who have been unable to compete with “free” goods and services are marginalized and have accordingly cease the production and delivery of goods and services locally.

As the means of self-sufficiency deteriorate, social behaviour changes for the worst. The beneficiaries become reactive to and driven by the needs of the donors and intermediaries. As a result, life as it was is severely disrupted and possibility of life as it could be becomes increasingly difficult for the affected region.
Improving efficiency comes from bringing business experience and managerial expertise to the delivery process and from engaging the full involvement and participation of the community.

An experienced business person treats money as a scarce resource, focuses on the end purpose for the use of the resource, and dis-aggregates the steps needed to achieve that purpose. In the process he or she quickly determines that unless the intended recipient declares demand for that capital, its capital allocation will likely result in malinvestment.

A demand-driven approach means fully understood the end needs. This requires the participation of the ultimate recipients in the identification of needs and priorities, in the identification of the resources required, and in the approaches that will contribute most successfully to the satisfaction of those needs.

Human nature is quite predictable. If we get something for nothing, it does not get the same respect and appreciation as something we had to work for. And if we have not participated in the process, it is less likely the full benefit of the contribution will be realized.

Creating community enterprise with communities instead of for communities requires a decentralized approach in community reconstruction and rehabilitation. Exploring needs, ideas, and opportunities with the community and tailoring initiatives to the community’s needs, interests, and resources has the greatest possibility for success.

Engaging local involvement is more efficient and more lasting, and brings the community together so they are better prepared to address new challenges and create new opportunities.

Providing expert assistance to advise the community on ideas and on how to make the best use of the resources and opportunities available, assist them in creating systems, and facilitating long term relationships is the most valuable role contributors can play in the rehabilitation phase to assist the community in achieving independence and to ensure donor resources are applied most efficiently and successfully. A critical part of creating independence lies in the connections and relationships they are able to create with other communities.

What is needed are project managers who get things done, have business experience, people skills, resilience, drive, tenacity, and courage. BRR thought Lily and Sara, our lady project managers on the ground, were the best examples of this in Aceh where an estimated $5 billion was committed to relief spending.

Getting technical construction experts in early and getting the people in the community involved in paid or volunteer construction activity avoids rebuilding when hastily assembled buildings fall apart. Our school in Lamreh was a good example. A Dutch prefabricated school, ideal for Holland, but had to be replaced as it was not able to stand up to the climatic demands of Aceh

We took a precise approach to each village, being extremely specific on what projects are undertaken, what resources are required, and ensuring professional design, and tight project management. The process was driven by determining the specific needs of each village community, determining the type and level of assistance they truly need, prioritizing the many projects identified in a way that carries the local community’s support, and determining which agencies should deliver on what needs.

The community is involved in contributing and agreeing upon who will do what by when and everyone is engaged collaboratively in the process to synchronize delivery and ensure activities are prioritized.

The participation and contribution of people in the community is critical to efficiency. Community hours committed for no remuneration reduce costs but also contribute to tighter controls on spending and compliance to project objectives.

We engaged the local community as direct participants in project implementation, involving them in the decision-making, in policing, particularly in controlling materials theft or misappropriation, in contributing their time and resources to the work to be done, and in making contributions in kind.

In one of our communities a member donated land for the new marketplace. He recognized his contribution would bring customers to the community and enhance the value of his other holdings.

An important management tool utilized by our Thai friends at the Population and Community Development Association in Thailand, known as the PDA, is that of the Bamboo Ladder. The one central idea that will contribute most to the efficient management and application of donor resources is localization.

Successful localization requires first and foremost a business approach that treats donor monies as a scarce resource, requiring an accurate determination of local needs, the focusing of resources on those needs with the greatest priority and the most highly leveraged contribution, the efficient monitoring of the delivery, and a plan and pace of reconstruction that ensures the full involvement of the community’s abilities and resources.

PDA uses the bamboo ladder approach for localization. Community representatives discuss the three states of existence for their community.

1. What was life like in the community before the disaster?
2. What is life like now?
3. What could life be like in the future to look like?

This exploration is mapped out on a bamboo ladder, with the three states spread vertically across a number of different variables.

Each variable is mapped with the contributors to each variable – individual, community, or government, – in the past, currently, and around possibilities that would contribute to the community’s interests in the future.

The community creates its own blueprint for the timing, pace, and source of community enhancements and development. The results are illuminating. The use of the bamboo ladder as the tracking tool further reinforces localization

This approach is equally applicable to man-made disasters created intentionally or inadvertently by political and economic interests where ideas, systems, and practices are imposed for political power and economic gain

We will be forever in a growing world of aid, aid everywhere, but nary a drop to live a better life with if we are not able to change the way we do things, – a costly and wasteful situation for everyone in a world of relatively diminishing resources.

As one of our hikers explained, “We can create community enterprise around our common human interests.”

It is about changing the systems, – from the people who contribute to help, – to the full recovery or betterment of the community enterprise created at the other end.

As already apparent, creating a better recovery system begins with the long-term interests of the community. These are or should be the common interests of everyone who plays a part in the chain, – from the original contributors of monies and resources, – to the contributors in the community at the other end. This is also in our common social interests as a global community.

The economic and well-being equation would be complicated, but no more than an average third year physics equation would be. The question is how well it works, and what adjustments in the variables or additional factors need to be brought into play.

Making our systems more efficient and productive is a common interest. If productivity is measured with observable outcomes then it is possible to explore every role, idea, activity, and way of doing things in terms of how they contribute to the long-term interests of our common enterprise.

The operative words here are contribution from resources employed, – the equivalent in human terms of return on investment. Neither contribution nor resources can be measured in dollar terms without subjective judgement, but contribution can be measured in observable outcomes. How do we value a child’s life, – in poverty, – and as a capable contributor? How do we value the contribution of a creative mind with an understanding and appreciation of what contributes to creating successful enterprise and entrepreneurship?

And how do we provide the environment that will enable the release of latent talent?

We have an understanding of what isn’t working. This gives us a base to start imagining a system that could work better. Imagining a new system is how we create a new system. Create for our long term interests and communicate ideas and opportunities as they appear. The disjointed grab bag of parties mixed up in the existing system can be invited to become part of the conversation.

As ideas for a better system appear they will create opportunities for people involved in the chain to work creatively with one another to build on the opportunity towards and beyond our imagined systems. The learning in the process could contribute to many other situations and interests. The international development community could be interested in participating in the conversation.

An approach being pursued by one of the hikers is Quantumideas.com. This is a creative hypothesis that we can create community enterprise around our common social interests. As a scientific hypothesis is an idea about what is that we set out to demonstrate, a creative hypothesis is an idea about what could be that we set out to create. Quantumideas.com is a creative community enterprise creating systems to make creative community enterprise possible.

The annual hike has no goal, no mission statement, nor is it intended to be a forum for anything other than a group of guys with common interests in hiking and to share that interest for a week or so each year.

But it is of little surprise when a group of males from diverse backgrounds and ages gets together over exercise and cold beer, ideas flow. And when the backdrop is emerging Asia, the issue of economic and social development is sure to be well up on the agenda.

Richard Pyvis with Roger Chilton and Ian Mansfield
from The Annual Hike 2008, Da Lat, Vietnam

Creative Connections

Creating our Recovery Systems
Creating Our Development Systems
Creating Sustainable Communities
Community Development Centre