January 2010


During the 14th century Gutenberg’s printing press was given a major boost from a sudden surplus of rags that could be re-cycled and used to make cheaper paper to meet the growing demand for knowledge from Renaissance man. The Black Death (1348-50) had swept through Europe leaving between 25 to 40 million dead and, with their passing, heaps of unwanted clothes. Rag paper was cheaper than vellum or parchment; both of which were made from even rarer animal skins. Innovation comes from many sources and so too in Haiti after the earthquake where a whole host of markets have opened up to answer basic needs and, give hope to survivors.

Trawling the web; listening to the media and speaking to those on the ground the theme of the informal response comes over as a hugely important and much misunderstood component of the recovery effort. The response of twenty eight year old Sauveur Celestine is a case in point. Sauveur is now an unemployed accountant sleeping rough in the camps in the destroyed Presidential Palace. He lost his 3 year old son in the disaster and, these days, is re-building his life by recharging cellphones in the road using batteries from wrecked cars. He earns a few dollars a day; just enough to pay for food but, more importantly, the job keeps him focussed on his own life ahead rather than slump in despair. And yet, this job did not come from a headhunter or, from any government employment agency. It comes from a spirit of survival, vitality and ingenuity that more often than not in these situations comes from the informal economy – without which this situation would be far worse.   (more…)

In his hugely underestimated Rethinking Unionism (1996), Norman Porter took an innovative look at the Northern Ireland peace process by examining both traditions – Unionist and Republican – to break an age old deadlock. Porter concluded that a zero sum game was not productive and, a search for common ground in future perspectives was the real way forward. After weeks of vitriolic comment about the Kraft pursuit of Cadbury Porter’s insight reminds us of how the polar views of the City and shareholders versus the Business community and employees fall into the same old trap. History may give us some clues as to the future but, it is a dangerous pursuit to think of it as an iron law going forward. Let’s rephrase this – in other words, is the balance sheet based on historical performance the best way to determine value going forward in a takeover bid? (more…)

A busy weekend listening to the BBC World Service; reaction to the Post below; skype calls and dialogue about the Logistics dimension to this Haiti tragedy that is taking death to industrial proportions. The whole disaster is exposing a raw debate on how to re-invent Haiti – the need to clear away the debris and build the logistics that can feed the mess with immediate and then longer term solutions. And yet, as Professor Paul Collier made it plain on the BBC: “this is not about getting Haiti back on its feet. It has never been on its feet. The place needs a total transformation”. These notes build on the various strands of information and insight to explore what can and should happen in places like Haiti going forward. It leaves the here and now as the preside of response teams and seeks to dig deeper to root causes and, a framework for a logistics transformation that is crucial to a sustainable future.

What next?

I listened to the World Service. A woman screeched: “This country has no President; no Government; no Magistrates to deal with looters; no Police force to bring them to justice; no mayor to coordinate the answers. I have no husband; no children; no home; no food; no water … no hope.” Meanwhile, we hear that sixty miles away from the disaster cruise liners are docking and VIPs land to survey the scene for another photo shoot and soundbite. Up the shattered road at the airport, planes with vital supplies are turned away – because the airstrip is too congested. Three planes a day landed before the earthquake; 65 yesterday; 100 soon. The focus turns to solving the airport bottleneck only to find that the “pipe” (read supply chain for a nation) is not fit for purpose further down the line.   (more…)

If ever the world needed reminding of the importance of Logistics then, Haiti has been a brutal wake-up call. Media coverage of the earthquake and the after shocks has generated graphic illustrations of shattered buildings; wrecked infrastructure and, thousands of dead – though a bitter irony saw the main prison left intact save for fisures that provided easy exit for hundreds of criminals to roam free amidst the chaos.

Logistics is a vital lifeline and yet, an already creaking infrastructure has been exposed as utterly useless for any mobilisation of efforts to deliver vital rescue, food and medical supplies. Bluntly, this was a logistics nightmare waiting to happen and begs the question: when are we going to invest on disaster preparedness; kick the tyres and deal with constraints on a regular basis.

Now, in Haiti, a massive logistics effort is underway to sort out the mess. The USS Carl Vincent has been deployed as an offshore port to replace the hopelessly unfit for purpose port of Port au Prince – it is fitted with water purifying equipment capable of making 1.8 m litres of fresh water per day; Santo Domingo is being used as a staging area for inbound logistics and a second logistics platform at Barahone on the South coast of the Dominican Republic is being set up. Have a look at this overview of the seaport of Port au Prince taken by the Logistics Cluster.

What next?

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In David Lean’s classic film, the Bridge over the River Kwai, an inspired Alec Guinness plays the stubborn Captain Nicholson in his battle of wills with the Japanese World War 2 Prisoner Of War camp commander Saito. The story unfolds with the obsessive Captain delivering his engineering masterpiece despite the fact that it will help the enemy and the final scenes witness him going mad as the bridge – and all that he knows – is blown to bits. In other words, a brilliant illustration of how industries lose sight of market context and the folly of clinging to ideas that have lost relevance as consumers and technology move on. Which reminds me of the global music industry …

It just had to go ...

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