Thursday, April 2, 2009

Refugee Stuff --Running a Furniture Program. --communications and coordination

When writing, it is recommended that one have a theme and use unifying elements to tie various parts of an essay together. Therefore if this series of blog-posts has such unifying elements at the moment the following two seem to dominate:

1) If you do not run your refugee furniture program, and the center itself, in an efficient, intelligent manner then THIS will happen.

2) If you lack a background in management and logistics, you need to develop some awareness of the subject fast or people will suffer and one place, although not necessarily the best, to get such a background is from pre-modern Asian manuals on military strategy.

Which brings us back to the subject of running a refugee center furniture program. If you read the series of posts so far (and, yes, they do go from bottom to top. Such is the nature of blogs) then you will have read discussions of the following, very important, common sense ideas.

First, define your mission. That mission is:

"Find people who have more stuff than they need. Then encourage these people to give the excess stuff to you. Get them to give it away for nothing. Do so in such a manner that they feel so good about it they tell all their friends what a wonderful experience this was and encourage these friends to do the same thing. Then deliver this stuff in usable condition to people who desperately need it."

Second, To achieve goals in an efficient manner, you need to know both what the job is that you wish to do and you also need to know what it is that you have available to do that job.

Today we add a third lesson. And, yes, like the others before it, it is, indeed, common sense. (But, as stated elsewhere, let's face it, if we had common sense, why would we be hanging around this field? I agreed to help a refugee friend today, and, in classic fashion, he showed up to meet me, literally, in the wrong town, on the wrong side of the Hudson, and assumed that since I had a car, I wouldn't mind and, after all, since I was a smart guy, I should be able to find him there even without him knowing the address of where he was. Typical.)

Okay, here it is:

Since you know the job you wish to do, and you know how big the job is, and you now know what the elements are that you have to do this job, the next step is to take these elements and coordinate them so that they can best get the job done in the most efficient manner.

Yup, that's right. "Common sense."

Take all the parts and put them together to get the job done.

These parts consist of many things (furniture, storage, furniture donors, a vehicle, volunteers to do many tasks, keys to open doors and start vehicles, maps, addresses, landlord information, people to offer technical support and advice, etc., etc., etc.) There's nothing wrong with this. The key, however, is to use the right one's at the right time.

And to use the right tool at the right time will require coordination.

Coordination requires communication.

If your communication system sucks the parts of the process cannot and will not work together.

If the parts of the process do not work together then THIS will happen.

You do not want THIS to happen.

This place does not and did not have a good internal or external communication system. Therefore its operations are marked by inefficiency. People who donate furniture or volunteer (or even work) there, often as not find the task extremely frustrating and instead go elsewhere to donate furniture or volunteer.

And therefore, THIS happens --a shortage of furniture donations and a shortage of volunteers.

Remember, if you are going to make things work right then you need to have the parts coordinated.

To coordinate the parts and get them to do the right thing at the right time for maximum efficiency.

To do this requires a good communication system.

I have a very eclectic background which includes ambulance and volunteer fire department experience. One thing I learned working at the ambulance is that if you have a large problem or emergency and have a well coordinated response based on pre-planning and communication, then you have a rescue. If you have a disorganized, ineffective response with people working at cross-purposes then you have instead what is referred to in the ambulance field as "a cluster f*ck." That's right! ""A cluster f*ck" --it's a technical term used by ambulance people to refer to a situation where a bunch of people are running around screaming, yelling and doing stupid things that are completely ineffective or inappropriate to respond to a situation that desperately needs solving.

Avoid causing "a cluster f*ck." Instead ensure that communication and coordination will exist where it is needed. The people you are pledged to help will notice the difference.



Imagine if you will, the Mongol horde of the era of Mongol expansion riding into battle on horse back, waving signal flags and using signal horns and beating big round drums mounted on camel back. These were all communication devices and with them the Mongols destroyed all in their path.

IF Genghis Khan, a man who could not read or write, could use 13th century technology to coordinate the movements of thousands of illiterate horse nomads who lacked even a common language and turned them into a well-fed, well-clothed, highly mobile, well-coordinated masterful combat force, don't you think that you, a computer-savvy, 21st century person with access to cell phones and the internet, should be able to coordinate a small scale refugee furniture donation program?

Of course, you should be able to. Then again THESE PEOPLE couldn't, so you'd best be careful not to answer too quickly or to get too confident. You must spend time thinking about your internal and external communication systems and how to best coordinate them to achieve the results and goals which you have set for yourself.

Think about it please. Don't be like THESE PEOPLE. If you don't think about these things, then the refugees you have offered and agreed to serve will suffer needlessly.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with these lines from Sun Tzu.

All the best and peace.


there are five factors of knowing who will win:

One who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot fight, will be victorious; ?

one who knows how to use both large and small forces will be victorious; ?

one who knows how to unite upper and lower ranks in purpose will be victorious; ?

one who is prepared and waits for the unprepared will be victorious; ?

one whose general is able and is not interfered by the ruler will be victorious.

These five factors are the way to know who will win.


Remember, you can't do any of these things without coordination and you can't coordinate things without communication.

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