Friday, November 18, 2011

EconOff, Can You Spare a Dime?

Most definitely not me
My job, as the embassy's Economic Officer, is to watch the money in Guinea. See where it comes from, where it goes, how it moves from person to person and place to place, what goods and services are exchanged for it, and what obstacles may be impeding its flow. Having acquired this precious wisdom, I write it up and send it back to Washington, where occasionally, every so often, someone reads what I write and even more occasionally someone actually cares. My job does not generally include passing out stacks of cash to all comers from my Scrooge McDuck-style vault, though this is a VERY common misconception.

Someone asks me for money in my official capacity at least once a week. For English lessons. For office equipment. For workshops or seminars. For training programs. For development projects. For dubious business schemes thinly disguised as development projects. (I especially love those.) One day I got hit up for $750,000 over the course of several different meetings. Sometimes I get pitches that make me want to burst out laughing or slap the guy in the face. But I'm a diplomat, so I don't. Sometimes I get pitches that make me wish I really did have a swimming pool full of cash I could give away.

But I'm a diplomat, so I don't. My office has some very modest funds to cover staff travel and training, and a representational event or two. That's pretty much it. The real money (if the State Department has anything that could legitimately be called "real money") is in Washington, in assorted funds run by assorted offices for assorted purposes with assorted strings attached. Sometimes I can get some of it, though it requires the bureaucratic equivalent of identifying the quarry, tracking it through the trackless forest in the dark of night, hitting it over the head with a rock and dragging it home, all the while fighting off a pack of rival hunters who want to make my prey their own. It's long, slow, time-consuming, frustrating, exhausting work, and successful funding hunters are (rightly) famed in story and song, with tales of their daring exploits told and retold around campfires and office kitchen coffee pots the world over.

I am currently conducting two such hunts simultaneously - one for an AGOA conference, one for a wildlife conservation project - with a third money-hungry project on the back burner. But I'm new to this so my grasp of the terrain is shaky, my weapons crudely fashioned and inexpertly aimed. And this is why I sigh a little every time someone asks me for money, especially if I really want to give it to them, because I know there's another laborious funding hunt in my future.


  1. great post.
    like your new photo too! haven't visited in a while.

  2. Thanks!!...Finally I know what an econoff is and do.
    Btw. It`s fun reading your posts.

    1. Okay, so in real life it's slightly more complicated than that, but the reporting thing really is a major part of it.