WHO IS SCOTT ABRAMS?
“ Some people never realized they were in the right place at the right time because they didn’t talk to anybody”
Scott Abrams held leadership positions at the Open Society Foundations for over a decade. As a part of the Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative, he designed and oversaw hundreds of projects around the world focused on decentralization, citizen participation, good governance and local economic development. Prior to that, he worked at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations and in the private sector.
Today, Scott advises donor agencies, private foundations, universities, chambers of commerce and non-profit organizations on strategy formulation, management, advocacy and communications. Scott studied European and African History, International Relations, and Trade and Development Policy.
You can connect with Scott here:
IN TOR 043 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The life of an international development consultant who has traveled the world and played for both sides, with donors and organizations across the whole range.
- What Scott has helped accomplish for his clients during his long career, and why you should consider working with him.
- His critical views on the development field, how early victories are necessary but cannot be relied on exclusively, and more on long term, sustainable capacity building.
- His account on the differences that make his work at the Soros Foundation exciting unlike any other large NGO, with lessons the rest may take up.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- World Bank
- George Soros and the Open Society Foundations
- United Nations
- Carlos Slim Foundation
- International development consulting
- Capacity building
- Word of mouth
- Writing skills
- Business activity within the community
- Market distortions
- Education decentralization
- Likeability, humility, personal styles
- Budapest, Hungary
- Brussels, Belgium
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
15 clients, “from World Bank types to grassroots groups in Albania and Kosovo.”
He gets called back constantly.
Helped raise close to USD 20MM, rewrote strategic plans.
“I’ve never auditioned for work.” Word of mouth. “I spend more time turning down jobs.”
Open Society and out
He left reluctantly. The program Scott was working for ended. It was about governance in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union.
Left to South America to write a fiction book. Tinkers, a former partner, invites him to join a group in Kosovo.
Had previously written a script, sold to a Spanish production company.
On writing as a passion
A family business, but wanted to travel, work around the world. The UN was his first interested. Reached out to a lady on the subway reading a brief with the blue logo on it. Six months later was an editor at the UN press room.
Went from covering General Assembly to peace building. Eventually went to grad school.
UK, U.S., George Soros
9\11 cooled down the development job market.
Unpaid internship for the Open Society Foundations (OSF) in Budapest. Edited a book, then his career started up the ranks.
Established foundations are set in their own ways, but OSF moved quickly. “Exciting.” Delayed moving back to the UN.
The OSF actively relies on local organizations and groups and insists on a cooperative agenda. Compare to how the rest of the world works in which engagement is not a real concern.
OSF does not invest in expensive international experts, rather coaches and builds local leaders from the ground up. Capacity building.
Measuring short term success: is this the right track
Creating new ways to doing business in communities. Some people see businesses as predatory entities. Others, like governments, see businesses just as sources of revenue.
A lot of work and talk, involving town halls, about the other benefits of business activity within the community.
A policy fellowship program, in which ‘budding policy entrepreneurs’ would learn about policy writing and related skills, advocacy and presentation. A student wrote an ‘innocent’ paper about EU and Ukraine trade. Years later she heads a think tank based on her paper, and then joins a Brussels think tank. The program from her paper is involved in the current Ukraine-Russia conflict.
“Aid work is complex and most of it has failed to a certain extent.” The field has a lot of issues and challenges, and it might be distorting the development of markets. “A graduate from a university in a developing country might accept a job as a driver from a UN project because it pays better.”
Within societies it happens slowly, systemically, and not because of aid money. “Nobody has patience.”
Projects can help a little. Research paper on education decentralization in Romania was shelved. 3 years later a new government is interested, it circulates. The paper went from a project failure to miracle work. “It’s a mix.”
There are too many short term fixes. Carlos Slim Foundation provides eyeglasses and bicycles to children. But what will happen when glasses break and tires become flat?
Why do people invite you on board, Scott Abrams?
“What you know, what you do, but they have to kind of like you.” Work involves facilitating teams, they have a preference of styles. Humility is important.
“I avoid expressions of the ‘what we do back home is the way.”
English skills have been a great help.
He has donors’ experience, “speaks donors’ language.” His perspective is helpful to applicants.
A Canadian organization wanted in 6 new countries. Scott could gather resources from all of those places because he is so well connected.
Works on 4 projects simultaneously to minimize downtime. Lately he is staying at home more. A son.
Consulting careers are worthwhile only after years of experience and a full address book.
“Talks to everybody. Be gregarious.”
Have an area, a topic, a subject. “Have something concrete, even if it’s made up for the time being.”
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Scott, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
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