Monday, July 25, 2005


The vision for The Children's Project

As the project has come into sharper focus, the strengths and weaknesses of its original vision statement have become more apparent. In particular, it risks interpretation as a (relatively) uncritical national promotion, and places little emphasis on nurturing individual capability and self-respect. “Citizenship” could be viewed as an abstract concept to be explained rather than an active spirit to be built. The term “children” is also one which, given the age range we will be targeting, needs amendment.

With these considerations in mind, a revised vision statement is being adopted:

“Through science-based, hands-on experiences we will foster in the young people of Syria a greater understanding and appreciation of themselves as individuals and the worlds of which they are a part, and empower them to contribute actively and positively in building the future.”

This (albeit longer) version contains a number of flavours which the earlier version lacked:

• “science-based” underlines the project’s commitment to an objective, rational approach
• “young people” embraces our age range of 6 to 16
• “understanding” reflects a commitment to providing knowledge as well as enjoyment
• “appreciation” includes the emphasis on growing individual self-belief and creativity
• “contribute” covers the project’s aim of prompting action and involvement


Monday, July 18, 2005


Momentum - my project priority

The longer I work here the more abandoned hulks of initiatives and projects I see scattered around the landscape. The culture here is one in which projects - however worthy - get bogged down very quickly and find themselves expending energy going through the motions but making no progress. Then people lose interest, get resigned to failure, and another project comes in to claim attention, blazing brightly in the sky for a while before it too burns out. This has created a high degree of self-fulfilling cynicism amongst people at large; they don't expect the grand claims and big promises ever to be fulfilled. The "system" here is ludicrously complex and designed to create employment for officials through innumerable petty obstacles, rather than to get things done. It's a model of how to make things inefficient. It would be nice to think that a project for the First Lady could cut through all of this crap, but perversely she is committed to do things by the book. I can see her point, but sadly the book is part of the problem. In fact it is the problem.

So my overriding management emphasis, and the mantra with while I plan to drive the is project is: we don't stop, ever. Momentum, forward movement, is everything, because as soon as we stop we will get bogged down and fade away. we will all have jobs but we will be doing nothing. Results, not promises, are what matter, so we must continually look for quick wins to demonstrate that we are making a difference and providing value. This resolution means that if necessary we will cut corners and bend the rules if it means the difference between keeping going and coming to a halt. But don't tell the client!




It's interesting to consider how Mrs Assad forms an accurate view of things, how she determines what is real rather than what people want her to see, or what they believe she wants to see. Because, to be blunt, everyone here is first and foremost trying to please her. Given the nature of the system here, that is not a surprise - getting on the right side of the powerful is a mechanism for survival at worst and preferment at best. But it is at the same time why systems like this cannot truly succeed. It means that too often those in charge have no real idea of what is happening in the real world. They get told what they are expected to want to hear rather than what really is the case. No-one wants to be the bearer of bad news. And as a result, problems get swept under the carpet when they could be dealt with, and only become apparent when it is much too late. If a problem is raised it is usually accompanied by the (highly partial) nomination of a scapegoat, and a lively blame game begins which again gets no nearer to sorting the problem out.

My advantage here is that I don't have a personal stake in the Syrian system. I don't have children here to find good jobs for, or expectations of a future for me here beyond the life of this project. So I am in the fortunate position of having nothing to lose by telling it like it is to the First Lady. If we have problems, I tell her. If we've cocked things up, I tell her what we've learned and what will be different next time. She gets the good news and the bad with equal honesty. And so far I think she has welcomed this, and it has built a climate of trust between us. Certainly I am now being asked to advise her on people and stuff well outside the remit of the project,because, I hope, she knows I will always tell her what I think. Long may it last.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005


A Day In The Life

I drew up this document illustrating what a discovery centre did and how it operated quite early in the process in order to give some shape to the discussions we were having with various stakeholders, inlcuding the Governorate, for whom this was a completely new concept. Ignore the auto-updating date at the bottom of each page; it dates from August 2005.

A Day in the Life

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