The Cattle Fatten With the Eye of the Owner

February 5, 2011

I’m going through a rough patch with Don Quixote right now.    I feel like Ed Stafford, that mad Brit who treked the length of the Amazon river over the course of 860 days — and for what?   What was he/am I trying to prove?

I suppose it was worth discovering that “timeless” books — especially ones over 1,000 pages — can have some very “untimeless” passages.    The part I just slogged through was a pointless exchange between a priest and someone referred to as a “canonigo”, which sent me fleeing to my Casell’s Dictionary (which is, uncannily, 7.5  inches thick, same as my edition of Don Quixote) to find the translation “canonist”, which sent me fleeing to my Oxford Dictionary, only to learn that, instead of being an artillery sergeant,  is someone who traffics in “sacred texts”.    The priest and the canonist kept me spellbound for 21 pages while they discussed out of print romantic novels, the kind you would find today in the checkout line of the Safeway.   

I’m sure things will pick up.

I went down to El Salvador last week, to check up on FINCA’s program there.   FINCA El Salvador is one of our remedial programs, having once  been a star in our firmament, but more recently one of our few under performers.    We have a number of important initiatives, like figuring out how to transform our NGO into a legal entity with the ability to provide more products and services to our clients, which for some reason had been stuck on spin cycle.   I learned the importance of casting a jaundiced “eye of the owner” on a program at certain key junctures in its development, which has the salubrious effect of energizing everyone to put the house in order before the boss steps off the plane.  

There were multiple problems with the program, all of them self-inflicted, I am sorry to confess.   We had made serial bad hires — people who in my book I describe as “Destroyers”, either of the “Proactive” or “Passive” kind.   A Proactive Destroyer is someone who means well but, through their incompetence, drives off all the good talent and runs the program into the ground.    A Passive Destroyer is a time server who makes an unspoken contract with the staff not to rat him out while he puts the operation on autopilot — and a gradual but steady downward trajectory.   

The program is on a more positive trajectory now, thanks to our young, energetic director, but the environment for microfinance in El Salvador has grown challenging, owing to high levels of indebtedness and a deteriorating security situation.    I went out to visit our office in Apopa, a little town outside of San Salvador, where we recently opened for business in the heart of the market place.   Every single little shop had a guard in the doorway, armed with a shotgun.   The staff told me that when they do credit analysis with our clients, many of them include a line item for “protection payments” extorted from them by the local gangs in their expense budgets.  

The security problem isn’t limited to El Salvador, of course.   A recent trend is that many of the Mexican drug lords are relocating to Central America, where they aren’t pursued by the armed forces as aggressively as in Mexico.   The attached photo was taken from one of our branch offices in Honduras.   It depicts the untimely demise at the business end of a 9 mm of a local drug lord’s son, whose nom de guerre was “Chepe Tortilla”.  

RIP Chepe Tortilla

It’s just another variable in the immensely challenging business of trying to lift up poor people in Developing Countries.   Talking to our young, enthusiastic staff, which includes four Americans,  three women and a guy, you would never know they do the impossible on a daily basis.         

Tomorrow:   The same right wing research think tank that brought us “Guns Don’t Kill People, Bananas Do”, releases another landmark study:  “Human Activity Does not Cause Global Warming”     The real culprit?   Sciurus Carolinensus.

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