Monday, January 28, 2008

Exhibitions are chump change for Aid Orgs

I’m sitting in a dreary hotel room in Geneva. People may think it’s exotic and a great place to be, but sadly not this time around, not for me.
I’m here for a trade show – it is an exhibition designed to attract the big players in the field of Aid and Trade, otherwise known as NGOs (non-governmental organizations), otherwise known as charities.

What a joke. I hate to be so very skeptical and so early on in my post – but there comes a point when being jaded doesn’t even describe it.

Let me explain. This show is organized by a very profitable (as opposed to non-profit) events company in the UK who contacted my company months ago asking us to sponsor. The cost would be a mere $30,000. In return for this we would get a few big banners around the venue and an honourable mention in the newsletter.
We refused this great offer, but agreed to send two delegates, and set up a stand. Cost: GBP3,000.

BUT this did not include furniture. If we actually wanted to sit down at a small table and perhaps have a place to stack our brochures – that would be extra. Total bill for 2 x small chairs, one card table and a small display stand for 2 days: GBP200.
After spending the $2,000 on flights each, and paying the $200 a night hotel bill for 2 x 4 nights, we got to the actual venue. It turns out it’s outside! This is winter, in Switzerland. It looks like an airplane hangar and there are numerous organizers running around with big mitts and scarves and hot coffees acting like this is normal and worth the mega bucks we paid for a spot here, and they assume we are supposed to pretend it’s not below zero as we prepare to court potential buyers.

The icing on the iceberg came this morning when we asked where the power sockets were as we’d need to plug in our laptops. We were directed to the desk of the venue services – where we met a stern woman, dressed in a down filled coat, with a down filled vest over that, and a large scarf which almost obstructed her face from us. She was busy collecting a fax with her big red mittened paws.

She explained – with a straight face! – that to get a power socket at our stand for the two days would cost an EXTRA $300. BUT she did point out there was free Internet provided. Does anyone see the irony in this?!

Anyway we set up our stand minus power – the cheapos that we are… and we met some of the other exhibitors – which brings me to the crux of my rant.
Most of these NGO exhibitions are just money gobbling rip offs where all the head honchos from the organizations are flown around the world, paying these ridiculous rates for hotels and participation in these events - and whose money is being used to fund this? Where could this money be better allocated?!

Ask yourself!

I spoke to the rep. from Toyota, who has set up a $10,000 stand, showing off their newly released Patrol vehicle. It’s his hope that he’ll cash in at the early end of the year on the budgets of the non profits orgs, and sell FLEETS of these new ‘all bells and whistles’ cars at a price tag of $80,000 each. The thing is that this is what happens, commonly. These non-profits show up and sign on for fleets of 40 of these vehicles to be shipped to their country offices around the developing world because it’s in their budget. Meanwhile, they might not have enough ‘budget’ allocated to help when it comes down to the tasks they were originally set up to help with!!!

The more sad and pathetic aspect of this, is that the majority of these vehicles do not make it to the rural areas they are equipped to serve, but rather make their way onto the streets of the capital cities in Africa, driven by private drivers, used solely for transporting the rich children of the Country Directors of these organizations – to and from the private schools they attend at a price tag of over $10,000 per student per year. And who pays the school fees?! The non-profit organizations!!! So how much money – you must be asking yourself at this point – actually goes to the impoverished masses that these organizations were supposedly created to assist?

Keep asking.

I have been in Ghana for 11 years and the lives of the poor rural people have not been changed AT ALL. Despite over $6billion US dollars being injected via Aid agencies annually to change the lives of these people.
This SHOULD make people go “HMMM…”

Ps – Happy New Year!
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