Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Barbra Bearden (Kosova Women’s Network – KWN): Barbra Bearden graduated in 2004 with a BA in Communications from Centenary College of Louisiana. She then worked in non-profit development and external communications; corporate public relations and marketing; and website design. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Louisiana Chapter), Sigma Tau Delta honors society, and the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority. At the time of her fellowship, Barbra was pursuing her Masters in International Communications at American University in Washington, DC.

Our Visitor

13 Jun

Today we had a visitor from New York City. I don’t know her name (because I don’t remember her really acknowledging my presence – despite my extended hand) but I do remember her, and not positively. She, is a public relations consultant (no official ‘job’ but she made it clear that she was an expert in public relations) and she is a member of the Kosovar Diaspora who spent a year here after college.

Now I’m getting ahead myself. First, I should explain how business is done in Kosova. All important business is done causally, with coffee and sometimes slippers. From what I can tell in my limited experience (at least at KWN) – the one who listens first is the one who is running the meeting and respect for your colleagues is of utmost importance. Kosovars in general, don’t seem to like people who say ‘I’ too much. When Ms. New York entered the KWN office, she did so with self ordained authority and no taste for Nescafe and cinnamon.

I busied myself with the brochure at the table while Ms. New York explained her plan for a BIG EVENT to bring community awareness regarding breast cancer and the need for annual mammograms. Her plan: invite doctors, Hilary Clinton, and Madeline Albright to a big rally and tell the women of Kosova to get a mammogram. The event would of course be after working hours (because all Kosova women have high powered jobs requiring their time during working hours). She wanted to bus the village women in from all over. She wanted to see hundreds of women gathered together; to talk about boobies. It was obvious to everyone, but her, that she knew very little about international healthcare development and the needs of the community.

As she talked, I could see Igo’s face grow tighter and Nexhmije growing weary. She wanted KWN to work for her on her event – and she would tell them exactly how it should be done; because she was a PR expert and no one in Kosova knew anything about PR. With this, Igo exploded. I won’t recount the whole conversation, but to say that Igo informed her that she knew what the women of Kosova would respond to and what they needed better than any PR consultant from New York.

I’ll say this. Having worked in PR myself (that’s part of the reason I am here) I see her point; to some extent. Big PR events, mass media campaigns, and world wide product launches are not common in Kosova. For her, that fact meant that Kosova people knew nothing about PR. She forgot the number one rule of PR (in more ways than one – if you know Igo you understand): know your audience, before you speak. Those campaigns are not common (especially among women’s civil society) because, unlike the US, they don’t make an impact on the target audience; everyday women.

Nor does a big launch event actually do anything to solve the problem. The problem is, access to healthcare; the problem is, an unacceptable number of people living far under the poverty line; the problem is, outsiders trying to tell Kosovars how to deal with the problems in Kosova. When asked about aftercare, follow-up, and why any village women would want to bus 3 hours for a 2 hour rally – Ms. New York said that we could discuss that later. Now, she wanted to discuss how to engage female community leaders. I thought, you just lost about 12 of them by insulting the women of KWN.

These people, who come to the table with nothing but hubris, give a bad name to those of us who are here to LEARN and TEACH. More than that, they alienate local leaders and perpetuate mistrust of the international community – making any genuine philanthropic efforts that much more difficult. As Nexhmije said, “let her do her event – it can’t hurt, but we won’t work with her. We will pick up and continue the work when she is gone.” I’m sure that she thinks she is helping (her resume), but that kind of help (the ignorant and self-interested kind), to me, is as bad as doing nothing.

Posted By Barbra Bearden (Kosovo)

Posted Jun 13th, 2006

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