Friday, December 31, 2010

Washington, DC 1989


The $50 million micro-enterprise earmark established by the US Congress came with a requirement that the agency for international development (USAID) was to report annually to Congress on their progress in expanding the availability of micro-finance.

In their first report, the agency stated that $58 million had been allocated for micro-credit development with programs in place in dozens of countries. We were skeptical. The agency had been very reluctant to accept a congressional mandate for what we believed to be a new program; that they would have overspent in the first year did not seem credible. We needed to find out exactly what was included in that fifty eight million, and so we hired a specialist, with central American experience, to go and look at the programs on the ground, and report back on what exactly the agency was calling micro-credit.

It was essential that we obtain the list of projects that the agency had included in their calculations.

Danielle was able to discover the identity of the person tasked with assembling that list. When this person was let go by the agency, he took with him a copy of the database – which had been assembled on an already obsolete Amstrad computer, presumably to hinder our access to the data in the event of a successful FOI petition. FOI can easily take two years – we had weeks, not months, to get that project list.

Danielle Y is a very skilled and dedicated individual. She has remarkable courage, and a razor sharp intelligence. In addition, she was also traffic stopping beautiful. I hired her before I met her. We did telephone interviews, and so I can honestly say I was astonished when this ravishing beauty walked into my office, ready to undertake a mission that would involve investigative reporting, writing and traveling, by herself, through some pretty dangerous country.

Well Mr. X, formerly of USAID was also very taken with Ms. Y, and knew she needed what was on that disk in his possession. He showed up in my office one morning about eleven o clock. I think he’d already had a drink.
He handed me a five and quarter inch floppy disk, and said, “It’s an Amstrad disk. If you can read it, you can have the data on Africa, as a good faith gesture.” I took the disk from him as I sat down at one of the office PC’s. I knew already that I wouldn’t be able to read the disk, so my feigned exasperation was a theater to distract, while under his nose I made a replica, an exact copy. Bit by bit by Byte the dos diskcopy command meticulously duplicates exactly the 10110 etc., ad infinitum. If the original is unreadable by that dos computer program, then the copy is equally so. But when returned to a computer that can read the program on the original disk, the replica will work just the same. Some tidbit of knowledge I had gathered one day when flicking through a text on computing. After a few minutes of recreating my high-school acting career, I handed back the disk saying I couldn't read it.

Thus an hour later, when Danielle came into my office, having escorted Mr. X to the door after their private meeting, she said, almost in tears “We had it in our hands!” I produced the copy with a little flourish. “Yes, and now we have a copy of it in our hands. Take this to Debbie P’s house. She has an Amstrad computer. Get your self a printout and start planning your trip.”

Danielle’s report was sufficient to stir the Congress into mandating an advisory committee, and our credibility was such that we were able to have a great deal of influence in who was on that committee, and thus further our goal of microfinance for the very poorest women, and not that other stuff the agency was into in central America under President Reagan.

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