Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Project economical crisis


Project economical crisis

Did I say that I was going to have at least a couple of years of guarantee salary? Well. It was wishful thinking. Suddenly I discovered that the bank account of Armadilla was empty. God! There was no more money left!

Europe Aid in fact anticipated the project money. It had arrived to Armadilla bank. The problem was that the Municipality of Rome, that was the client of the work commissioned to the other employees of Armadilla who were not working for the Eugad project, had been very late with payments. And so Armadilla had continued to pay the salary of its permanent employees with the money that EuropeAid had given for the Eugad project. Not exactly a good system of institutional administration. But Armadilla did it! And I suddenly woke up to the fact that in the eight month we had no more money left in the purse to finish the first year of activities, for which they had anticipated the funds.

And the problem was also that in order to get the advance money for the second year of work we had to show not only the results of the work done in the first year, but also the bills of the expenses incurred in the first year. And we had collected bills only for half the amount anticipated!

Now what to do?

First I thought to verify the real interest of Armadilla to continue working with the EU Commission. May be they just have a plan to let the organization go bankrupt, while saving their individual salaries as much as possible. Luckily their intention to continue to have an operational partnership with EuropeAid was still alive. But Marco was adamant in asking that the Eugad team should have continued the work (and present the bills ad "paid") without actually receiving payments, at least until the next installment of funds from EU replenished Armadilla's coffins.

Some of the team members agreed to work for free and still declare received payment of their salaries. Others did not, and left. I asked Armadilla to put their employee salaries in the payroll of the project, so that we could show expenses done. And please actually try to have some of these employees to actually devote some time to project activities, so to help us out to show project results. Some of these employees did, but without enthusiasm. Neither I could pretend much enthusiasm from the “old” project team, since they were actually anticipating their work and they were feeling unfairly treated by Armadilla. It was a formula for disaster.

But there were two things that finally saved the project. One was the attitude of Kautilya Society: their team continued to work very well in spite of not being paid. They continued to produce and upload videos which continued to give us visibility to the ongoing action progress. The other was the weak point of EuropeAid monitoring system, which is based on quantity and procedures, rather than quality and results. As far as you are formally within the contract, probably no officer will take the headache of challenging your work. The maximum they would do is to call your attention to some quality issues and suggest you to make more effort to improve. So I exploited that weak point and started flooding the WIKI and the YouTube channel with “outputs”, even if poorly edited and poorly connected. This worked as a strategy and we got the Commission approval of the next phase of the action and the delivery of the second installment of payments. But much damage was done in the production process. It later took a lot of time to clean up the excess material uploaded both on the Wiki and on Youtube and sort out the relevant from the irrelevant contributions.

This incident also further separated the “formal” from the “substantial” sides project, i.e. the production done just to comply with the formal contractual procedures and the production done to really produce a high quality media product that could have an impact on the public for which it was meant. As the two aspects got further apart a much greater amount of work needed to be done. If only one could get on board the EU supervisors to the substantial features of managing the project! If only one could share with them the objective of quality outputs and not only the quantitate indicators! I think that really a new approach would be needed to that in International Cooperation efforts. However bureaucratic the procedures need to be, finally the EU is an institution that is sincerely interested in improving the cooperation and communication climate amongst the Nations. So you should always be able to try to have a sincere and transparent relationship with the officer in charge. And if she or he is intelligent and courageous, the project could be managed towards quality outputs, minimizing procedural bottlenecks.

I think that in spite of the existing excessive formalism of the Commission Armadilla could have tried to built a more cooperative relationship with the EuropeAid supervising office. But the financial crisis in which they fell made them even more pessimistic and hesitant than they were before. So they constantly pushed me towards doing only what was formally and strictly necessary according to the letter of the contract. They tried to do the minimum work and save as much financial resources as possible. But my interest, and my vocation, was to invest as much as possible in the quality of the final product. I tried many times to bring Armadilla on board of a media production vision, telling them of how much more we could have earned from the distribution of the product. But they always got back to a minimalistic vision of just doing the necessary. This created a sort of conflict of priorities which gradually estranged the production team from the Armadilla permanent employees’ team. And what was worst, when we finally got the Italian Television on board, instead of being with me in asking as much quality possible, they just required formal compliance. This was unfortunate for the quality of what finally went on air in the Italian television. But on the other hand it was a fortune for me who could catch "on camera" how poor was the quality requested by broadcasters, even the public ones, in managing the content of news productions. While non the one side I was not very successful in getting from them the quality I wanted, I really got what I needed for telling the story of the difficult in communicating a cooperative world. And the documentary, with all its delays and difficulties, moved steadily away from merely talking about cooperation projects to talking about the determinants of the international communication climate.

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 Behaviors that Endanger Trust
 Factors that may block the flow of information