(This is going to be one of those semi-introspective blog postings, so those of you looking for exciting tales of travel or government collapse can get up and go to the fridge.)
I had an interview on Saturday afternoon with the new Chief of Party for a USAID-funded contract on local governance, and the results were not encouraging. The projects will focus on municipal revenue generation (sale of underperforming assets, fee development, etc.), spending plans, efficiency improvements, and the various legal and regulatory underpinnings all this will entail. While there may be something I can do for the contract over the next three years on at least a short-term basis, that fact that I’ve never had the title of “Revenue Manager” or “Budget Analyst” or “Staff Attorney” makes me less than ideal for these kinds of contracts. Management consulting as a generalist makes you a “smart, capable guy”, but it seems that international consulting firms need to be able to put you into one of the boxes they have to fill in order to get the work done.
Also, international consulting seems to be a chicken-and-egg game: you can’t get the job if you don’t have the international experience, but (unless you join the Peace Corp) you can’t get the experience until you get the international job. The fact that I’m able to volunteer for assignments may give me a leg up, but it also might not.
So what am I doing, then, to pass the time? The most consistent project remains the Special Friends of the National Gallery. The Friends remain largely the work of one American who is dedicated to supporting the arts, and after three years, she and the other members still have not been able to fashion the Friends into a coherent organization. There is no formal board structure, no budgeting, no strategic plan, and a continually unclear relationship with the Gallery. It’s not clear, for example, whether the Gallery has any responsibility for programming specifically for its members, or whether the majority of the staff even know why we keep showing up once a month. The lack of forward, strategic thinking is a shock; today, in response to the first questions about our ability to finance the rest of our season, I created a financial forecast that, based on some pessimistic assumptions, shows that the new artistic/social evening series is a huge money-loser. It seems that no one had thought to check that before now.
Fortunately, there are ways to even out the balance sheet, but while a small number of members (since there aren’t any official leaders) see the need for some planning, other participants are happy to leave things on an informal basis by which they bring their friends to the Gallery now and again but don’t develop financial support for either the Gallery or the organization itself. There’s no clear structure for decision-making and direction-setting, and those of us who are trying to lead and create a true Friends organization don’t always find the rest of the group following. Admittedly, this is how democracy goes, and we may just have to scale back our ambitions – and keep reaching into our own pockets as needed – as a result. Still, I’m disappointed. I’d say there’s something very “Ladies’ Sunday Auxiliary Garden Club” about this, except that those clubs are usually very well organized.