It's become unfortunately apparent that the big bucks the US government is shoveling into Iraq aren't making the impact on the real people which those of us paying the bills might have hoped. Somewhere, Bechtel or their like are working on the power system, the oil refineries and the waterworks, but your average Iraqi is a lot more likely to run into a checkpoint or be the target of a search than to see that work or its benefits firsthand. I wish it were otherwise, but it comes through even in the blogs, comments, and e-mails from those Iraqis of unquestioned goodwill.
Anyone in the VC line of things has the need to frequently recall Napoleon's adage: "Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence." I think that's what's going on here, and it is not meant to disparage any of the contractors or even the CPA. There's a kind of inherent incompetence of large, bureaucratic organizations when it comes to dealing with needs on an individual and small scale. There are intrinsic problems of bigness that give us all fits dealing with government bureaus and contracting regulations here. Now take that institutional logic, plop it down in the middle of Baghdad, and bugger its improvised plans with a mix of terror and outright thievery. Watch the poor elephant try to dance.
Too bad it's not just a B-school case study. Hell, too bad it's not just one of my companies. Unfortunately, it's a part of the thing that may matter most in the world today: To find out whether American and Arab can hope to shake hands and live and prosper together, or whether it's going to be war to the knife. And things aren't looking all that great.
It's part of the peculiar spirit of both America and Silicon Valley that people take things into their own hands when the management fails us. We've come to one of those times. If you've been following the plot line around here, you know what I'm about to pitch, so here goes:
There's a grassroots effort called Spirit of America, that is organizing to connect ordinary American citizens as contributors to small scale projects that benefit ordinary Iraqis. It started collecting Frisbees and school and medical supplies to send to Iraq with the Marines. Then they tried an effort to provide video equipment to start up Iraqi TV stations in the Sunni triangle. Which got noted by the Wall Street Journal, and suddenly a $100k ask turned into a $1.5m raise. Talk about an oversubscribed round! Based on that, the folks behind the original effort are trying to take this to a national level, that is sustainable for as long as it takes.
My friend Marc Danziger has taken on the role of COO at Spirit of America. Part of that scaling up is the audacious goal of staging a major media campaign beginning in mid-June, with the further goal of involving a million Americans in some way by the 4th of July. I've volunteered to help. We're still figuring out what that means, largely by jumping in and seeing what happens.
I've already hustled a few of my blogging friends for posts and links to SoA - thank you!! We are trying to create a baseline public awareness through blogs, in preparation for the bigger launch. If you're a VC who's in my Palm, you are hereby warned that I will be trying to 'raise a round' for these guys in the very near future.
Since I know this blog (or its RSS) gets around to some part of the technical community, I'll also put out this ask: SoA is going to need some further serious help on building a backend system to match their goals. Big pipe hosting, content management, project tracking, contributor and project matching - you get the picture. If you've got real chops in these areas, and have suggestions, recommendations of good people and companies, or even better the desire to pitch in, my e-mail address is over there to the left. We're not expecting free, but we really need fast and flexible, and discounts wouldn't hurt. I'll collate any inputs and funnel them to the folks already working the tech beat, so they aren't swamped any more than already.
If you don't fit any of those categories, we still need you! Just click on this banner (the first one that has ever turned up on Due Diligence), and it'll take you over to Spirit of America:
Still here? So let me tell you what we're asking for over there. The simplest ask is just to join the SoA mailing list. They've already got my name from an earlier contribution, and never violated trust - it's not going to be a spamfest. This will let SoA keep you up to date on the programs that are getting ready to launch (OK, are being figured out as I write).
Secondly, you could drop some bucks. There are some worthy projects already underway that could use your support. Just look down the left sidebar for your fave, and hit the Paypal button.
You could also volunteer to help. Since the needs are - dynamic, let us say - just go on over there to see the latest list.
Lastly, it should be noted that is an explicitly NON-partisan effort. You don't have to be an R or a D or anything else to believe that the Iraqis have been crapped on by both their and our governments, and deserve our help, for all our sakes. I'll borrow the words of former Dean campaign manager Britt Blaser:
"...there's no part of the SoA project that any of us can find fault with. If you're a bleeding heart liberal, you want to demonstrate that people who hate the war can reach out to the people hurt by our government's illegitimate war. Rabid war supporters see a chance to demonstrate that the war can be won because the greatest American force is the innate goodness of the American GI, and that it's worth going to war to connect our terrific GI's with Arab kids. I can walk both sides of that street. "
That's perhaps the most optimistic cynical post I've ever read. I believe I'll have some of that too.
So what do we want, folks? Mano a mano, or hand in hand, there and here? No guarantees of success whatsoever, but what would you rather be working towards?