On Point: The State Department Confronts the Synergy Crisis


by Austin Bay
June 24, 2008

The Internet won't solve the U.S. government's "synergy crisis." However,the State Department's innovative Economic Empowerment in Strategic Regions(EESR), which leverages Internet connectivity, may well help Third Worldentrepreneurs in hard corners like Afghanistan make business contacts, getMBA-level advice and attract financing.

It is an example of the type of "connecting, communicating and profiting"economic and political initiative it takes to win the Global War on Terror.

What's the synergy crisis? It is a soundbite for a complex, long-termproblem involving bureaucratic turf battles and lack of focused leadership thatcosts America lives, time and money. America has trouble synchronizing its"tools of national power" -- synergizing its diplomatic, information, militaryand economic power to achieve a policy goal, like winning a war.

This isn't a new affliction. Arguably, the "interagency process" that theWhite House uses to coordinate and synergize the Pentagon, State, Treasury, andevery other department and agency hasn't worked well since the Eisenhoweradministration. Not only does the government fail to bring "unified"governmental power to bear, but America's private sector strengths are -- atbest -- applied haphazardly, if at all.

No strategist disputes the fact America's systemic power, the globaltsunami of its $14 trillion economy, the nonstop avalanche of cultural andtechnological creativity, gives the United States an awesome though unfocusedadvantage in any conflict, be it diplomatic, economic or military. It takestime, however, and the sustained application of American political will and itsother "power tools" for the systemic edge to defeat an opponent. Time in war ismeasured in loss of lives.

I guarantee EESR isn't a magic bullet, but it is precisely the kind ofexperimental, inter-agency initiative that eludes rigid hierarchies and finessesturf debates by leveraging the Internet's democratic capacities for lateralcommunication.

The program also recognizes that the Global War on Terror is a longstruggle, a fight over the terms of 21st century modernity, where winning theeconomic and political battles will ultimately be decisive.

"I can't tell you how many times I've spoken with people from Afghanistanand Pakistan who say to me all of this (complex war) is economics," SteveKaplitt, director of EESR, told me. "Solve the economics, and all of this willmelt away."

Neither Kaplitt nor I think it's quite that simple. But terrorist andtyrant elites certainly leverage grievances magnified by systemic poverty andcorruption.

Via the Internet, EESR provides "business development advocacy" and whatKaplitt calls "customized matchmaking" to help entrepreneurs in "targetedcountries" (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan) find business partners and resources."We solicit business proposals from entrepreneurs," Kaplitt said, "then try andmatch them with partners in the U.S. private sector, government agencies,nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic foundations."

Translation: An entrepreneur in Kabul or a nurse who wants to open aclinic in Peshawar can get support, advice and financing from around the world.

"We call these business proposals instead of business plans," Kaplittcontinued, "because some proposals will be straightforward for profit, somemight be philanthropic. Say we have a proposal for a hospital -- that might be ahybrid (i.e., attracting private, public and philanthropic interest andsupport). Our key requirement is that a proposal produce sustainableprivate-sector jobs" in areas plagued by conflict.

Kaplitt emphasized that a proposal seeking direct U.S. government fundsmust meet all current funding requirements. "We're not offering or providing anykind of mechanism to have a fast track to get around those processes. We simplysort the opportunities and the entrepreneurs with potential partners."

Kaplitt added that this is a "free market approach," where the ideasucceeds or fails based on market interest (in this case, investors and donors).The Internet, however, casts a wide net.

A proposal that meets basic criteria will be passed on to a team ofvolunteer MBA students for analysis and comment. The MBA teams work directlywith the project's principal to refine the proposals. After polishing, theproposal is posted on the EESR Website and then "actively marketed" to public-and private-sector individuals or organizations who may ultimately becomepartners, investors, sources of advice or donors.

Kaplitt credits Dan Sullivan, the State Department's assistant secretaryfor economic, energy and business affairs, for pushing EESR as a concept andprogram. Sullivan served a tour as a Marine reserve office on the CENTCOM staffand saw the critical need for this type of local talent-developing initiative.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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