The tragic events resulting from the recent Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 serve to
again highlight the fragile nature of many of the world’s communities. In each of
these locations the key tasks of treating the sick and injured, ensuring clean water
was available, or made available, providing food, accommodation, and so on was
critically important as a first step on the way to rebuilding these communities.
What further serves to highlight the magnitude of challenges facing the world as a
whole, is the fact that many other activities along the development continuum
continue to be in operation, or needed. In many cases, these are needed in the same
countries affected by this tragedy.
Adam Gilchrist of the Australian cricket team, during the telecast of the Tsunami
relief match, commented with interest that within a very short period following the
disaster, hundreds of millions of dollars became available to support the needs of
the affected communities. Yet he commented further that 15,000 people each day
die unnecessarily in Africa from disease. His point was not to devalue the Tsunami
relief contribution, but rather to highlight the need for ongoing commitment from
those who are more fortunate in assisting those most in need.
So much more is needed.
As was seen in the early stages of the relief effort, the citizens of the world are
incredibly generous and compassionate and recognize that we all can do something
– the sum of all parts can make a difference.
While each of us has different personal circumstances, which define the type of
support or involvement we can offer, there are plenty of options. These options can
be as simple as a donation or sponsoring involvement, to volunteering
internationally or domestically, or making long-term career decisions to be involved
The Australian Government has shown great leadership through activities such as the
Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development Program (AYAD)
(www.ausaid.gov.au/youtham). The program places young Australians on short- to
medium-term assignments through which they have the opportunity to employ their
skills, as well as develop a greater understanding of the development needs of our
Similarly, organizations such as Australian Volunteers International
support the recruitment, placement, preparation, and
management of volunteers for the purpose of working towards the sustainable
development of communities. (It should be noted here that the Australian
government, through AusAID, is a major fund source for these programs).
Of course, volunteering for either short- or long-term assignments is not possible
for everyone, which is fine. The astounding statistics relating to the level of
donation for the Tsunami relief effort suggest that clearly there are many of us who
have done other things, in whatever way we could, to offer support. Similarly, many
of us sponsor children through organizations such as Plan (www.plan.org.au) and
All of this helps.
What about the link between the commercial aspects of the development industry
and the benefits it is meant to deliver?
So often in conversations, I hear statements such as “consultants are getting paid
too much”, “firms are making too much profit” and so on.
Are these statements fair?
First of all, I would think it a unique situation in any industry if there were no a
difference in earnings between certain individuals and different organizations. So at
some point in all industries, “they are making too much” is going to be heard. Just
because it is said does not mean it is valid.
Secondly, there are a lot of high-quality organizations (and Australia has many) that
continue to provide quality solutions to contribute to sustainable development.
While we would all certainly hope that the need for development activities would
disappear, this is not likely in the near future. So for organizations to continue to
provide quality inputs, they also need to be sustainable.
Clearly, what is important is not that an organization makes a margin on activities to
ensure its own sustainability. What is important is the value of the involvement, and
that value relates to outcomes and impact, not input.
Granted, an interesting debate question could be “at what point does margin go
beyond organizational sustainability such that a reduction in margin could still
ensure sustainability for the implementing organization while putting more into the
activity/project/community”? But let’s not forget that many of these organizations,
and many individuals I have been fortunate enough to get to know, contribute far
beyond the technical involvement, they are contracted to provide.
In a commercial environment, how can more be done?
Certainly, in my experience of working with individuals and organizations, the
commitment to do more is alive and well. The critical aspect that must be the focus
of implementing activities, is how to create maximum value, improved outcomes, and long-term, positive impact from involvement.
Some approaches that have the potential to create improved outcomes that are
worth considering include:
• Encouraging ongoing professional development within your organization [or as
an individual]. There are a number of quality programs at some Australian
universities specifically targeting development. This professional learning can be
equally valuable for field practitioners as well as for business development
• Encouraging greater involvement from the education community. Australia is
blessed with an incredible pool of talent, and this is especially true in the higher
education and vocational education and training sectors. However, the nature of
many project activities, both in terms of timing and location, at times keep some
ideal candidates from participating – this is a shame for all concerned.
• Providing opportunities for teams in the field to keep up to date with new and
relevant information. While as professionals we each should accept the
responsibility to maintain the currency, providing new (including case-study)
information to field teams is important. A number of Australia’s quality managing
contractors publish excellent newsletters.
• Incorporating new blood into project teams. This is often challenging, as the
assessment criteria presented in many tendering activities almost appear to
preclude newer professionals from being nominated. Presenting balanced teams
remains important, both for the benefit of the activity itself and for building a
the broader base of qualified and experienced personnel for future activities.
• Looking for quality local solutions. While a project opportunity may be let by
an international organization, incorporating local individuals, institutions, and/or
organizations into project teams has the potential to create superior solutions. This
approach offers the advantage of providing some economic value, as well as
creating a strong platform for sustainability. And let’s not forget that many local
organizations are quality project managers in their own right, so being a junior
partner to them remains a very worthwhile consideration.
Needless to say, there is still much to be done; however, none of us can control the
occurrence of such tragedies as the recent Tsunami. We can, however, continue our
individual and collective commitment to contribute and participate at whatever level
we are able. And we can ensure our approach to development activities seeks to
demonstrate value and focus on outcomes and impact along the path to sustainable