Are We Done Here?

After she heard about my project, a representative of the German Red Cross had reached out to me offering any advice and support she could give. The German Red Cross has been a valuable presence in aiding disaster relief in the Philippines and they had recently begun exploring the use of mapping and crowd-sourcing technologies.  During our meeting, I asked her about the current state of disaster relief operations in both her organization as well as others like the UN OCHA. She forwarded that there were many lapses in the current framework that could be well complemented by my proposed system. No one had really leveraged crowd-sourcing technology in the expansive way I was hoping for. She mentioned there was a need to  further push the integrative nature of the project and ensure that it could also enable and mobilize the relavant parties when needed. This meant that the information exchange between the government and rescue operators shouldn’t just be a capability but an established and reliable connection. If the information could not give these parties the information to mobilize, it would be utterly useless and filed neatly under all the other failed attempts to improve the status quo. I asked her if she felt that I needed to reform my project in any way given her experience working with disaster relief and her understanding of the capabilities and difficulties of the environment. She surprised me when she said there wasn’t anything she would change.  Adding to the surprise, at the end of the meeting, she asked me if I could speak about crowd-sourcing technologies at a conference. I didn’t (and still don’t) consider myself an expert in this field, and therefore was shocked that she considered me knowledgeable enough to give a presentation.

Another meeting I had was with the CheckMySchool team. I had hear about CheckMySchool working at the World Bank. It was receiving an incredible amount of publicity and praise for being a shining example of crowd-sourcing and societal involvement in the field of development. During our meeting, I explained my project concept and the team presented me with the functions, successes, and difficulties of CheckMySchool. After the introductions and explanations, we went back and forth giving insight and advice on the two endeavors on the table.  I was excited because I felt like it was a conversation that held mutual benefit since a lot of my training at the World Bank could be of value to them. On the other hand, their experiences with crowd-sourcing were tremendously helpful in establishing what exactly I needed to do to ensure that society would be moved to participate and contribute to the project. After all, the system would be nothing if people didn’t report anything to it. Publicity needed to be a major concern–one which I hadn’t given much thought until now. I asked her the same question I asked the German Red Cross and every other person I had met: did I need to change something in my project? Was I missing something? Did I need to take something out? Again, I was surprised that the answer was no.

My final meeting on my trip was with Mr. Klaas. Mr. Klaas was one of MVP’s (one of the most prominent businessmen in the Philippines, see earlier blog entries) right hand men and I was urged to contact him by MVP himself. Mr. Klaas’ secretary arranged for us to meet at a restaurant in Greenbelt and after an hour of stressing that the horrible traffic would make me late, I arrived at Chateau 1771 earlier than Mr. Klaas or her. This gave me just enough time to prepare my notes, gawk at how beautiful the restaurant, and nearly faint to see how high the prices were at this place. When Mr. Klaas and his secretary finally came in, my nerves were eased by how friendly and down to earth Mr. Klaas was.  His first question, I expected. “So tell me, how did you manage to get a meeting with MVP?” This question I was used to as I had to explain both my luck and persistence countless times before. I had sent him my project concept for review earlier and so he had come to this meeting already equipped with other more challenging questions. Thankfully, I had over a month’s worth of practice and was able to answer each question effectively (I hope.). We talked about how I was still evaluating whether to make this a non-profit or for-profit venture, the proposed business structure, the technical aspects of logistics and infrastructure, among others. After those conversations, I heard something I never heard before: “So, let’s talk about me investing in this”

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I told him I was spending this summer ensuring that the system reflects the needs and capabilities of the country. I explained how I was getting feedback from stakeholders and I asked him if he felt there was anything I should change or if he knew of anyone else I could talk to. He smiled and said “Miss, do you really think you need to? I think this is good. I think this is ready”.

In my all my meetings, I have seen the stunned look on everyone’s faces when they first meet me and see how young I am. I can hear the skepticism in their expression as they challenge the grandeur and difficulty of my endeavor. While, I have always received positive feedback about the value of my project, I have always sensed some hesitation–especially with the business people I have spoken to. But here Mr. Klaas was, one of the most respected men in the country, telling me that I should give the developer the go signal and to contact him when it was finished. Could I really be done? Could it finally be ready?