The Meanderthals


That’s: Greetings, from the land of acronyms.

Well, it’s about 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and we just had a bunch of gorgeous Oxfam America brochures dropped on our desks at work. Beautifully designed and expensively printed, they summarize (are you ready for this):

Governance of Extractive Industries in Southeast Asia

Its arrival prompted me to share a glimpse into the vernacular of chronic obfuscation by which Gabi and I find ourselves surrounded every day. The language of confusion rules in a land where Confucious meant so much, historically, in terms of imbuing the culture with a sense of clarity, honesty and meaning.

Here, today, it’s hold the history and pile on the histrionics. We have a bureaucracy to build!

Aha!, thought I, at last! a certain cure for insomnia, as I opened the tome to supercharge the food coma that had mostly worn off after lunch. If the title doesn’t wow you, the bile green color of document cement your relationship with Morpheus. And then, on pages four and five, they arrive in full spendo(u)r, a comprehensive list of acronyms that have infected Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and anyone interested in the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI); it’s the casual banter of snooty bureaucrats who belly up to the Intercontinental Hotel here on a daily basis, hoping to bump into a US embassy senior drone or secure the business card of someone slightly more impressive.

These meaningless letters roll off their tongues as easily as the cash flows from their moneyed parentages, the NGOs that spawned the specious terms in the first place, thus giving rise to talk that sounds impressive but means so very little.

As dad loved to say about things like this: “Never have so many words meant so little.”

There’s EISEI (Extractive Industry Social and Environmental Impact (Network), to which yours truly is giving a 45-minute presetation on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the end of the month (yes, this culture actually refers to that as EOM).

Or how about the OHCHR, which stands for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, none of which, apparently, has to do with the right to clear English or names of organizations that reveal what, excactly, the group does.

There’s my own NGO (Non Government Organization) CRRT, which stands for Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, and the mere concept of our name seems a lock on The Greatest Oxymoron of All Time. In mathematical circles, Cambodians under the best of circumstances will never equal transparency.

Secrecy? Hell, yeah. But transparency? Not in my lifetimes, as any good Buddhist might intone.

There are some perfectly well intended NGOs doing really good work: my employer, CRRT, of course; YRDP (Youth Resource Development Program); UNDP (United Nations Development Program(me); and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations.)

There are some truly baffling ones, too:

CODE – Consultancy on Development

CAFOD – Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (seems to me that the Church might have a few fish of its own to fry close to home, and I don’t mean solely on Friday nights). By the way, this one gets my vote for the acronym most likely to sound like a bodily function. Me: Cafod. You: God bless you.

PWYP – Publish What You Pay, which might have the worst name and acronym for a truly cool and valuable organization.

FPIC – Free, Prior and Informed Consent, which would be a helluva lot more impressive if it were Extemporaneous, Prior and Informed Consent (figure out the acronym as homework).

NGOF – NGOs Forum (of Cambodia) is, as you may have guessed, composed of NGOs
(Non Governmental Organizations) like CRRT, which is a member. Natch.

Then there’s EWMI, which is one of the more pronounceable and productive organizations (the East West Management Instititute).

Anyway, it struck me as predictably relevant yet incredibly odd that the brochure took the pains – on pages four and five, no less – to explain the identities of the players, concepts and notions contained within the mind-boggling array of acronyms well before it got to the actual subject matter at hand.

Makes me appreciate the marketing company my friend Sarath and I are interviewing tomorrow to perform media analysis and message creation. They call themselves The O Company. That’s it.

It’s mostly process over outcome, form over function here. But I have to go. I have a report to write about the brochure, and it’s due by COB (close of business.)

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