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The Hungry Man chastises NGO bureaucracy

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hungry.jpg

Written by an insider, the self-published book takes a sardonic brush to the development sector's legendary inefficiency.

In development work, it's all about the process."I was recently in a meeting where we determined the next step was a series of seminars leading to a pre-workshop," said author Oren Ginzburg, who started working in development a decade ago. "After that, we'll assess training needs."

It's this combination of stifling bureaucracy and arbitrary procedures that Ginzburg lampoons in his pseudo-children's book, The Hungry Man. Self-published last year, the book has already gained a sturdy fan base in the NGO world - selling around 2,500 copies.

"It hits on a lot of problems with international development in a funny way," said Julia Fromholz, an NGO worker who is distributing the book in Phnom Penh. "Everyone I know thinks it's very well-done."

The work of 33 pages with illustrations plays off the unattributed adage, "if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."

But, in true NGO fashion, Ginzburg's solution for the hungry man is far more convoluted. If a man is hungry, the author recommends assessing his needs, then drafting a first report, then organizing a workshop, and on it goes.

"There's this whole industry of bringing ideas, applying models, building matrices," Ginzburg said.

But it took the author some time to figure that out.

"When I was young, I imagined people in development going to faraway places to help the poor directly," he said. "I believed in this myth of development."

Ginzburg soon realized saving the world would take a lot of paperwork.

"I'd been working for an NGO in Vietnam for four years and started to confront the realities of development work," he said. "That's when I came up with The Hungry Man."

Lacking any experience in publishing, Ginzburg kept his idea filed away for years. Then a chance meeting with a publisher in 1999 encouraged him to complete another book he'd already written.

Even though he didn't have a background in art, Ginzburg decided he'd try to do the illustrations for his first book, The Accountant and the Ant. It worked.

"People say, 'I like your style,' but I'm just trying my best," he said. "I don't use watercolors as an artist would, with shading and everything - I just color inside the lines."

Ginzburg used the same approach for The Hungry Man, creating simple but effective figures. They relay the author's message.

"I got a really good response," he said. "Some people order over 50 copies to give all their friends."

"But," he continued, "the funny thing is, people always write me e-mails saying the book reminds them of their colleagues - never of themselves."

Despite the book's humorous tone, Ginzburg said he has respect for most people working in development. Even though the profession has its flaws, "things would be ten times worse without it."

That doesn't mean everyone is competent.

"There are people doing good work and people wasting time," he said. "Like the white guy in The Hungry Man - I don't know how much he's getting paid, but it's too much."

Capitalizing on The Hungry Man's popularity, Ginzburg has founded a small publishing company and held a book launch party for his latest work, There You Go, in Bangkok on March 5. Ginzburg said the new book addresses the effects of global forces on native populations and is somewhat darker than The Hungry Man.

"It's funny in the beginning, but you can only laugh so much about the fact that indigenous people are getting displaced by globalization," he said.

Both The Hungry Man and There You Go are available locally at Monument Books or can be purchased by e-mailing Julia Fromholz at jfromholz@yahoo.com.

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