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Project economical crisis
Did I ever say that I was going to have at least a couple of years of guarantee salary? Well. It was wishful thinking. Suddenly I discovered that the bank account of Armadilla was empty. God! There was no more money left!
Europe Aid in fact anticipates the project money. It had arrived to Armadilla bank. The problem was that the Municipality of Rome, that was the client of the work commissioned to the other employees of Armadilla who were not working for the Eugad project, had been very late with payments. And so Armadilla had continued to pay the salary of its permanent employees with the money that EuropeAid had given for the Eugad project. Not exactly a good system of institutional administration. But Armadilla did it! And I suddenly woke up to the fact that in the eight month we had no more money left in the purse to finish the first year of activities, for which they had anticipated the funds.
And the problem was also that in order to get the advance money for the second year of work we had to show not only the results of the work done in the first year, but also the bills of the expenses incurred in the first year. And we had collected bills only for half the amount anticipated!
Now what to do?
First I thought to verify the real interest of Armadilla to continue working with the EU Commission. May be they just have a plan to let the organization go bankrupt, while saving their individual salaries as much as possible. Luckily their intention to continue to have standing collaboration with EuropeAid was still there. But it was also clear that it was the whole team that was working at Eugad that should have done the work (and present the bills) without actually being paid until the funding from EU was arriving for the following year.
Some of the team members agreed to work with participated payment of their salaries. Others did not, and left. I asked Armadilla to put their employee salaries in the payroll of the project, so that we could show expenses. And to please actually devote some of their work time to project activities, so to help me out. Some of them they did. But they did it without much enthusiasm. Also to the “old” project team members I could not ask too much, since they were actually anticipating their work and they were feeling unfairly treated by Armadilla (and they could not know where I also was actually standing).
Two things actually finally saved the project. One was the attitude of Kautilya Society: their team continued to work very well in spite of not being paid. They continued to produce and upload the videos which continued to give us visibility to the ongoing action progress. The other was the weak point of EuropeAid monitoring system, which is based on quantity and procedures, rather than quality and results. As far as you are formally within the contract, probably no officer will take the headache of challenging your work. The maximum they would do is to call your attention to some quality issues and suggest you to make more effort to improve. So I exploited that weak point and started flooding the WIKI and the YouTube channel with “outputs”, even if poorly edited and poorly connected. This worked as a strategy to get the EU approval of the next phase of the action and the delivery of the second installment of payments. But it created havoc in the production process. It took a lot of time to clean up the excess material uploaded and sort out the relevant from the irrelevant contributions.
It also further separated the “formal” from the “substantial” project, i.e. the production done just to comply with the formal contractual procedures and the production done to really produce a high quality media product that could have an impact on the public for which it was meant. And as the two aspects got further apart, that implied more work to do. If only one could get on board the EU to the substantial project! I think that more in that direction could be done. However bureaucratic the procedures may be, finally the EU is a real partner that is really interested in the quality of the outputs. So you can always try to have a sincere and transparent relationship with the officer in charge. And is she or he is intelligent and courageous, the project can be managed towards the quality minimizing procedural bottlenecks. But this would have required Armadilla to be more on board. The financial crisis in which they were in had made them more pessimistic and hesitant. They constantly pushed me to do only what was strictly necessary to do for the sake of the contract. And save as much financial resources as possible. My interest instead was to invest as much as possible in the quality of the final product. I tried many times to bring Armadilla on board of a media production vision, telling them of how much more we could have earned from the distribution of the product. But they always got back to a minimal vision of just doing the necessary. This created a sort of conflict of interest priorities which gradually estranged the project team from the Armadilla permanent employees’ team. And what was worst, when we got the Television on board instead of being with me in asking as much quality to them and believe in the value of the final output, they insisted just on formal compliance. Which was unfortunate for the quality level of what finally went on air in the television. But was very fortunate as much as it showed “on fact” what is the standard approach of television journalists in managing news video productions. So while not succeeding in getting what I wanted to get from them, really got what I needed from them. And the documentary, with all its delays and difficulties, moved steadily in the analysis of what are the determinants of the international communication climate.