We told you buying local would work
NOTE: I try to avoid this blog focusing too often on PDT specifically, but I think this is noteworthy enough to be forgiven by our regular readers.
About ten years ago, a group of aid workers and UN staff sat around a legendary bar called the Dili Club (it’s gone now, alas) and complained. Our gripes were many, but one rant was recurrent. We could not understand why everything from toilet paper to water to barbed wire was being bought in Darwin and flown in (at great expense) to Timor Leste. Granted, the country was still reeling from the damage inflicted by the Indonesian military, but there were local merchants who could provide a lot of the stuff that was being offloaded from all those Hercs.
We believed that:
a) Very little aid money being spent on Timor Leste was being spent in Timor Leste.
b) This could be changed not by increasing aid spending, but simply by spending more of it locally.
c) And “buying local” wasn’t nearly as difficult as many mission leaders and procurement officers claimed it would be.
Being a persistent lot, we took this line of reasoning with us to New York, and Kabul, and Port au Prince, and several places in between. Those who would listen to us fell neatly into two camps. The larger camp, some 90%, thought it was not possible and would ominously point to the weighty UN procurement rules and regs in the binder behind their desk. The other 10% thought it was possible but figured the other 90% would make sure it never happened.
Now, I’m not one to say “I told you so” (That’s a bald faced lie. I am one to do that. I’m always saying this any chance I get.) but after 4 years of running the Peace Dividend Marketplace projects, which are designed to create a path of least resistance between the laziest procurement officers and local entrepreneurs, we have tallied some impressive results. In Afghanistan, the project has now redirected over $465 million into the local economy. In Timor, the number is smaller but almost exactly proportional to the size of their economy.
I think we can rest our case.