Charito Kruvant gets things done in the most difficult venues imaginable. She is the founder and President of Creative Associates International, which is about the take on the task of rebuilding Iraq's educational system, (please see yesterday's post on TNE Blog). This is in addition to getting Afghanistan's up and running. In a recent Washington Post interview, she calmly described her company's niche: "We work in areas where conflict is about to end and turmoil is about to begin, and we love it."
She is well-connected and a high achiever. She was last year's Women's Business Center Entrepreneurial Visionary Awardee. In 2001, Washington Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington. Other positions and awards include: The U.S. Small Business Administration's Women Business Owner of the Year; Avon's Women of Enterprise Award; The National Association of Women Business Owners' Top Women Business Owners; Chairperson of the SBA WMADO Advisory Council; and The National Association for Women in Education's Women of Distinction Award.
And there's more. Including the fact that she was born in Bolivia and raised in Argentina, and that she started CAII in 1977 in her basement.
So what's not to like? I don't know, maybe it's the fact that I have read everything I could on the CAII website and I still haven't gotten beyond wonderful sounding rhetoric and I still don't have a clue what they actually do.
Maybe it was something I read in one the inspiring Charito Kruvant thumbnail bios you can find easily on the web: "Perhaps Charito’s most exciting story is that of the time when this petite, soft-spoken, intense woman was lowered from a helicopter near the mountain retreat of Nicaraguan guerillas. She was on a US government mission to convince the Contras that it was time to put down their weapons and prepare themselves for more peaceful activities."
How the heck did she think she was going to convince the Contras of anything, and who hired her to try?
As I continued to follow leads and links around the web, I came upon another researcher who had looked around in the same areas that I was, but about 6 weeks earlier. Jan Oberg described his intuitions and partially formed ideas about CAII in an article titled Burger Philosophy to Quick Fix Iraq's Education System, dated April 24, 2003
I saw right away that we had a similarly skeptical attitude, and I decided that I didn't want to get too influenced by his efforts. I scanned his article quickly, then put it away. I would look at it again once my own perspective had taken shape.
I was encouraged, however, that someone else saw the potential for something not quite as good as it appeared in can-do Charito Kruvant and her Creative Associates International.
Part of the picture began to crystallize for me when I found the transcript of her interview on Fox's The Big Story With John Gibson, April 16, 2003. It wasn't what she said, which was the same old pablum I'd been reading everywhere:
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Where do you start?
CHARITO KRUVANT, CREATIVE ASSOCIATES INTL: We start by communicating with the Iraqi people. One of the things that we have learned in our work is that the education belongs to the people in the country.
It was the questions he asked that No One Else Was Raising, as far as I could see:
GIBSON: Sure, but explain something. Why should any outsiders be going in to help the Iraqis? They do have schools, once they get the ammunition out of the cloakroom and let them return to being schools ... Is there some problem with the Iraqis just educating kids on their own?
Good question. I guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks.
This is a good one too:
GIBSON: I think everybody supports whatever help the Iraqi schools need, but the biggest fights you can find in America today over school policy, school board elections are the most hard-fought elections in the country. I can't imagine it's much different in Iraq. What are Iraqi parents going think when see outsiders coming in saying, “OK, we're going to help you with your schools?
Her answers? The online transcript is edited, but the heart of her response to the first was: "What we're going to be doing is going to be there with them, helping them decide what comes first." And to the second, she said: "I don't think we're going to involve ourselves… we've been asked to be there with our tools."
It's not that simple.
The factoid you run into over and over about the on-going Afghanistan project is the 50 metric tons of new, revised primary textbooks.
Textbooks are not just tools, especially not revised primary ones -- more than 10 million of them all at once, distributed to schools all over the country. Textbooks always presuppose an ideology and a world view that determines what is even worth knowing. Charito Kruvalt expresses the public version of that ideology when she tells John Gibson: "What we have found in the process of democracy is that school matters, that children do matter. And for the United States through the Agency of International Development, we're going to be there helping the Iraqi people with our educational tools."
She sees herself and her company as an instrument of US policy, what is referred to as "bringing democracy to the world," but might be more appropriately described as "bringing stability and consumerism to the world."
CAII educational rebuilding is all about things. Some entity has to do the heavy lifting and supply all those things -- and that entity is another women-owned small business, headquartered in Houston and specializing in procurement and logistical services. American Manufacturers Export Group (AMEG) got all those textbooks to Afghanistan as CAII's partner. They are partnering again in Iraq. Their website is as bland and unrevealing as CAII's, but I did notice that two of the three corporate officers' thumbnail bios included phrases like, "has been involved in numerous sensitive programs worldwide," and "other turn key managerial aspects of routine and highly sensitive operational activities.
I was starting to get it.
The current administration in Washington is bent on force feeding what they call democracy everywhere. Sometimes that involves conflict and turmoil, ("we love it ..." Charito). Kids going to school is positively correlated with turmoil abatement. Who you gonna call? No, not Ghostbusters -- Creative Associates International!
It's easy to parody what CAII is attempting to accomplish, and presumably has been accomplishing in hot spots for decades. It's also easy to describe CAII's work in glowing terms that could not possibly warrant criticism.
Then why do I scratch my head when I read something like this: "Clearly, one of Kruvant's greatest assets is the ability to understand and simplify complicated political and social issues. Since 1998, she has been a leader in the Project in Search of a National Security Strategy, an effort that focuses on U.S. interests and values through the promotion of legitimate governance and economic opportunities at home and abroad. It involves the integration of concepts of democratic freedom, the rule of law, human rights, free markets, and American idealism."
[to be continued]