Vindication 2009

Dear Michael,

Over the weekend our team met with Beth to review her findings and recommendations for the Millennium Village Project in Micheweni District, and we are all confident that we have identified the best possible path forward to fully launch the MVP in Micheweni District.

First though, I want to stress that Beth did an extraordinary job on this project, bringing a depth of insight, cultural sensitivity and pragmatism to the task and earning universal praise from the government of Zanzibar, the United Nations and several of the world’s leading development experts. In fact she far exceeded our own very high expectations.

Based on Beth’s report and our experience launching projects involving multiple high-level stakeholders, we propose to move forward to establish the Ivo di Carneri Foundation’s Public Health Laboratory as the operating NGO on the ground. They will handle all the project administration and provide technical backstopping in the health sector.

The PHL’s longstanding relationship in Pemba, its experience in managing large, globally funded projects, its strong administrative organization and, most importantly, its strong reputation with both the Zanzibar government and the people of Pemba will allow us to move much more quickly to achieve our shared objectives: to help the people in the village of Kiuyu Mbuyuni begin to climb out of extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Technical backstopping and guidance will be provided by the MDG Centre in Nairobi, with operational oversight from Millennium Promise. The MDG Centre, headed by Belay Ejigu Begashaw, one of the world’s leading agronomists, is home to a team of scientists and policy experts, all of whom are Earth Institute employees.

Project governance would be handled by a high-level steering committee, comprising you; Belay Begashaw, Director of the MDG Centre; Lorenzo Savioli (founder of the PHL and the head of neglected tropical diseases at the WHO), John McArthur, CEO of Millennium Promise; and me.

The advantage to this arrangement for KPMG is that you avoid the burden and expense of managing a new NGO from New York or London; you can accomplish much more by leveraging an experienced team of administrators who know how to get things accomplished in Pemba; and you will have an infrastructure on the ground to support your people if you decide to send volunteers to help with some of the project work, such as small enterprise development.

Therefore I suggest the following next steps:

  1. We immediately develop an MoU between MP, EI and the MDG Centre, PHL/IdC and KPMG spelling out the roles and responsibilities of each party
  2. We revise the newly hired Team Leader’s contract to have him report to Belay Begashaw and Steve Wisman (director of operations for Millennium Promise) through the PHL (He should begin work on October 19th with a week-long orientation with Belay and his team in Nairobi)

I have asked Beth to continue work as a consultant on this project for at least one more month to ensure that we are able to fully capitalize on the great work she has done so far and the strong relationships she has built within Tanzania and Zanzibar.

I look forward to seeing you later this month in Barcelona and hope that by then we are able to celebrate the signing of an agreement enabling us to achieve our shared vision: working side-by-side with the people of Micheweni District to escape from extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Warm regards,


Going Corporate

Many years ago when I was a budding and impassioned young painter in junior high school art classes, a teacher found me staring morosely at a canvas on which I had just made a giant mistake. “It’s ruined,” I said. He looked at the canvas, unsure which from my young perspective comprised the offending colors or shapes, and said, “There are no mistakes in art. At every moment your canvas – your landscape – is changing. Just use what you see now.”

And therein lay a bit of wisdom I would forget and relearn many times over the next 40 years. I made many seemingly wrong turns and odd choices in my life. As my peers honed in on clearly defined goals early in their careers – becoming well-known orchestral musicians, doctors, attorneys or senior executives – I seemed to flounder. I tried many things with a modicum of success: working as a singer, a classical guitarist, an actress, a playwright, a journalist and a teacher. I volunteered at homeless shelters, launched a not-for-profit and became a leader in a Buddhist organization.

But suddenly, 18 years ago, I seemed to veer sharply off-course when a temp assignment as secretary to the chairman of a large insurance company morphed into a job as a communications consultant.

Nothing in my life had prepared me to be a communications consultant. I didn’t know how to be a consultant. I didn’t want to be a consultant; I didn’t want a day job at all – and certainly not in an insurance company. What could be duller? I browsed through the files of consultant reports from Bain, McKinsey, Mercer, and Booz Allen and found the jargon stultifying, almost incomprehensible. In fact, the entire corporate world seemed alien: rigid and grey, evoking the maddening stasis of a fogged in airport.

But there I was, the temp summoned into the chairman’s office. “You have a real future here,” he said. “Tell me what you want to do and I’ll put you anywhere in the company you want to go.”

Home to finish my novel was clearly not an option.

So I took a stab at a better answer, “I don’t know for sure what I want to do, but one thing that bugs me here is the way people write – especially to customers. It always sounds so phony – not like a human being writing to another human being. Half the time I can’t make out what anyone’s trying to say. Do you want me to fix that?”

“Yes,” he said. “In fact, we’re just about to hire a communications consultant. So fine, it’ll be you.” And there it was: the giant mistake on the canvas: my first, full-time, salaried corporate job.

What I learned there – and continued to learn as I made my trek from the insurance company to grad school for a degree in creative writing, back to corporate life as a communications manager at an acccounting firm, then on to management consulting – is that art exists first within perception. Art is in the way we hold up a frame to some aspect of life – the way we see the canvas right in front of us – and how we derive meaning and build upon that which we perceive.

But mere framing is not enough. In his critical writings (Theory of Fiction, ed. James E. Miller, Jr., p.158), the novelist Henry James discusses the art of framing, noting the difference between a mere “slice of life” and a true work of art, which emerges when one is able to find the unity within diverse bits of data or experience: “in other words…the point at which the various implications…most converge and interfuse.” That, James says, is what shapes a work of art and comprises “the very vessel of [its] beauty – the beauty, exactly, of interest, of maximum interest, which is the ultimate extract of any collocation of facts, any picture of life, and the finest aspect of any artistic work.”

Despite James’ overwrought prose, something resonates: The beauty of maximum interest. As a writer, a coach, a consultant or an artist, the challenge is the same: to help others see with maximum interest, investigate, appreciate and make the greatest possible use of what they know and what they see.