Tag Archives: Barry Kolodkin

New Partners for Privatization EOI

East Europe Strategy (our company) just submitted an expression of interest to do some work for IFC related to hydropower privatization in Albania. We are in consortium with two fine partners, Montague Capital and Drakopoulos Law Firm. If you do business in that part of the world and need help in project finance, check out Montague Capital; for legal services,

Test-Taking Does Help You Learn!

I worked for 6+ years in the testing and assessment industry for Prometric and we would take all kinds of grief about evils of testing. A new study says testing does help you learn.

Click here for the New York Times article.

Evaluation of Moldovan IT, Wine and Apparel Industry Project Complete

17 December 2010

I just completed an assignment as the Team Leader for the evaluation of a USAID project in Moldova to bolster the IT, wine and apparel industries. I spent three weeks in Moldova. Overall, it was a good assignment. The company I worked with, Mendez England, was excellent and my colleagues Colin and Veaceslav were top-notch. We believe the client was pleased with the work.

Plus, I gained considerably more insight into the IT and wine industries — industry trends, good companies, marketing needs, etc. — in Moldova and am ready to take on additional commercial projects there.

The big bonus: When you evaluate the wine industry and you visit wineries, you get … free wine tasting!

The Holiday Season in Afghanistan — No … Azerbaijan? … Moldova?, 3 December 2010

Since some enjoyed my missives from Afghanistan, I have been away in places not as dangerous but nearly as exotic and thought I would write from my latest destinations. I’ll never say never but I have no plans to return to Afghanistan as things are even worse on the ground than last summer. I am currently in Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. For those of Eastern European ancestry who are Bessarabians, Bessarabia is in Moldova. Moldova was the most Western republic in the Soviet Union and is now an independent country. The country is divided in two by the Transdniester river. The Western half is a pro-Europe region that is ethnically and historically linked to Romania. The Eastern half is a pro-Russian, pro-Communist place that hosts Russian military and is a center for human trafficking.

On to the thoughts:

THE ICEMAN COMETH: My job here is to be an independent evaluator of a US Government project designed to stimulate the IT, Wine and Apparel industries. This week we decided to do some site visits outside of the capital city of Chisinau. After our site visits, we were headed to spend the night at a winery which received assistance from the project and also featured a four-star hotel. The roads in Moldova cannot be described. My Moldovan colleague says “We have roads in some places and space for roads in other places.” Entire villages have no roads only spaces between buildings that have been sufficiently trodden to create some sort of path or ersatz road. There were roads built during the Soviet days but they just end. No barrier, no sign. Just end of pavement. There was one road that ended into a ditch. My Moldovan colleague was driving and knew where he was going. I’d have driven in the ditch. The roads that are paved are filled with potholes, have few markings, etc. The roads in rural Romania seem like superhighways by comparison. Anyway, we finished our last appointment and headed toward the hotel for what was supposed to be a 90 minute ride. After 30 minutes, an ice storm started. Our colleague was being pretty careful but the road was really slick. We hit an ice patch and skidded across the road. As we were skidding, I had no fear of serious injury. Fortunately, there were no walls or trees roadside nor were there other cars near us. There was nothing hard to hit nor could we fall too far and we were driving pretty slow. But I was thinking, “Oh Lord, I hope I am not sitting roadside in 20 degree (Fahrenheit) weather with a broken leg or a concussion for six hours awaiting to go to some country hospital where I have to bribe a drunk, unqualified butcher of a doctor to treat me with medical technology from the 1940s.” Fortunately, Slava knew what to do and we eventually straightened out. We drove about 20 miles per hour the rest of the way and made it to our destination in 3 1/2 hours. Safe and sound but exhausted.

THE WINE TASTING: We had pre-arranged a tasting at the winery. After our ride, we were ready. Moldova produces some very good wines for the price but cannot compete with inexpensive wines from Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Italy. I hadn’t realized we were tasting 8 wines that evening. Needless to say, by the end of the evening, the skid was a distant memory. The fellow leading the wine tasting was leading it in a Communist style; meaning rather than leading the wine tasting as an experience to be enjoyed, it was more like a class in didactics. It was all I could do not to punch him after a long day of interviewing people and riding in the car. But after the fourth wine, my mood improved considerably. Because of the ice, we canceled our appointments for the next day and drove slowly back to Chisinau, the capital.

WOOLLY BULLY: One of our site visits was to a wool collection company. Moldova has some carpet making companies. Most of the carpet wool is imported but until recently about 20% of the wool was produced locally. We visited a wool collection company. I can’t begin to describe this place. You couldn’t believe this place was Europe. I have been to nicer production facilities in East Timor. First, after our long journey, we visited the fetid outhouse which made the portajohn at Jesse and Lucy’s rugby field seem like the Plaza Hotel of “cans.” Then, when we went to talk to the Vice President of the company, he invited us into an unheated hut with an unfinished floor, a table covered in newspapers, a bed, and three chairs. There were 3 or 4 very grizzled looking workers and an intimidating dog on a chain. We talked to this gentleman and he said no one will buy the wool they collect any more. There is a plant (Curnutsi) that grows on their pasture that gets stuck on the sheep’s wool. They try to clean the wool and wash it but the plant remains stuck to the wool. They don’t have other land without this plant to raise the sheep. So, now no one buys their wool. He is trying to work as a service provider by collecting wool for a fee in Ukraine. It is difficult to go back and report that an industry is dying and there is little to be done about it. There is little other work for these people. Moldova has the second highest percentage of remittances as a percent of Gross National Product in the world. Remittances are funds sent home from working overseas. There are 3-4 million Moldovans in Moldova and 1-2 million working outside the country.

OOMPAH: Near our our hotel is Beer Platz, a German beer hall with the requisite schnitzel and sausages, waiters and waitresses in Germanic costumes (shockingly the waitresses were not in dirndls – exploitation of female pulchritude is big in these parts), beer hall style decor and a band. This part of the world had a large ethnic German community before the Second World War. When I asked if the place was founded by members of the ethnic German community, I was told that the place used to be a disco and someone just had the idea for a German beer hall. So much for history. My favorite part, besides the Weissbier on tap, was the band. Three guys who mainly played over pre-recorded music. They wore the green hats with the feathers but couldn’t be bothered to wear the rest of the outfits. The ultimate cheesy faux oompah band.
—-
Before I came to Moldova, I spent a week in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is a fascinating place. When I tell people I was in Azerbaijan, the usual reaction is “Where?” or “I never heard of it.” Azerbaijan is on the Caspian Sea and is an oil producer. So, economic times are pretty good there relative to the rest of the world. What makes the place so fascinating is that is a former Soviet republic, near Iran and Turkey and trying to link with the US and Europe. It is a blend of the exotic and the modern, the Communist and rapid capitalist expansion — a real juxtaposition of Oriental and Occidental ways.

FAME: My purpose in Azerbaijan was to give a series of lectures. The main lecture being a two-day seminar to students from the State Economic University of Baku. After the lectures, the students came up and asked if they could take pictures with me as if I were some sort of celebrity. At first, I sort of looked over my shoulder, and thought, “You mean me?” But the young folks wanted to take their pictures with me since I was a “famous” visiting lecturer. I must have taken thirty pictures. One of the students sketched a picture of me and gave it to me as a present. I was taken aback. Other than he sketched me with an enormous double chin. Great. I lectured in Azerbaijan in 2009 at a University out in the countryside. And one young man was so appreciative that a foreigner came all the way out to the sticks, he offered me his watch. I declined and told him I couldn’t take his watch. I settled for three boxes of tea that he was selling for his MBA marketing project. When I left the University in the countryside on the last visit, the Rector of the University insisted I have dinner with him. I explained I had a flight back to Baku and I was leaving for the US early the next morning. My diplomatic colleagues told me it would be a great insult if I didn’t have dinner with the Rector. The Rector is one of the most important men in this republic. So, we agreed to have a cocktail reception at 6:00 at a restaurant near the airport. I would be able to check in for my 8:00 flight with no problem. We arrive at the restaurant at 6:00 and no Rector. 6:30 … 7:00 … still no Rector. I am starting to get nervous. Finally at 7:15, I ask my Azeri colleague if we can go. He calmly explained to me that the Rector called the airport and held the plane. The plane doesn’t leave until I arrive. It’s that simple. At 7:20, the Rector calls and asks me to meet him at the airport for tea. I meet the Rector for tea at 7:30. At 7:59, I walk to the plane — no checkin, security, anything. One of the Rector’s staff handed me a boarding pass. Amazing what goes on in an isolated, autonomous Central Asian republic.

ALL THAT JAZZ. One night in Baku, the capital city, I went to a jazz club with a colleague. There was a band that played fusion music with three young guys and two older guys. As the guitarist, one of the older guys, was ripping through Santana’s Soul Sacrifice as the final number, I couldn’t help but imagine him thirty years ago being in the basement of some Communist conservatory illegally trading Miles Davis and Led Zeppelin tapes and jamming with his buddies when the party apparatchiks were away.

LEAVING AZERBAIJAN: As I was checking in for my flight, the airline staffer looked at my ticket to Newark Airport and asked if I was from New Jersey. When I replied Yes, he said his uncle was living in Freehold and he had been to New Jersey. Small world.

Well, that’s all. I’ll be home in about 10 days. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Xmas, and Happy New Year.

Lecturing in Azerbaijan: My Parents Would Be So Proud

In November 2010, I delivered a two-day seminar for the State Economic University of Baku in Azerbaijan and a lecture at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy on behalf of the OSCE. The seminar and lecture focused on the advantages of a good business and investment climate and the importance of economic diversification in Azerbaijan.

The Diplomatic Academy, because I was a ‘distinguished’ guest lecturer, assumed I must have a PhD and advertised me as ‘Dr. Barry Kolodkin.’ My parents can finally say that I am a Doctor.

About the Thoughts from Kabul, Afghanistan Posts

I was in Kabul, Afghanistan from May 20, 2010 to July 2, 2010. My reason for being in Kabul was a consulting assignment to create a plan increase exports by capitalizing on regional free trade agreements and to develop an international marketing concept for a fruit and vegetable processing company that could be used as a template by the Export Promotion Agency.

While I was in Kabul, I sent home periodic emails describing my work, living in a compound and observations about life in Afghanistan. The blog is an edited version of the emails. My purpose is to inform and entertain not to criticize or offend.

Day 44 – Sami’s Story and Kunduz, 2 July 2010

Not much learned from real interaction with Afghans. Just some more stories and observations. The latest …

SAMI’S STORY. Sami is our head driver. Good guy. He has worked on a number of these projects. Some of the projects in very dangerous places. He is the oldest child and bears the responsibility of supporting the family. His youngest brother is very bright. The kid graduated school and applied to be a flight attendant with Ariana Afghan Airlines. The brother was valedictorian at his school and tested so well that the airline invited him to pilot school. So, the kid is going to India to study to be a pilot. Sami sends his brother money every month to make sure this happens. Sami’s dad is my age. Sami said his father was a high-level bodyguard for important government officials, a real tough guy. Sami and his Dad bought a car together. When the Dad went to get the car, it was a hot day. He was offered some juice. He drank the juice but it was spiked. The guys who offered the juice took the car. They left Sami’s father on a pile of trash in the sun for six hours. Someone called Sami and he took a taxi to his father’s location and rushed him to the hospital. Sami’s father went into a coma for 10 hours and he was in the hospital for awhile. Sami says his father’s mind still hasn’t returned to normalcy. The father works periodically as a taxi driver and has the white hair and beard of a man of seventy. Now, Sami takes care of everyone. They still haven’t found the car.

WATER TRUCK. My last trip up the mountain coincided with my first sighting of the water truck. Since there is no running water on the mountain, they do truck up water. Kids come running with water jugs like American kids go running to the ice cream truck. The truck also sprays a jet of water on the ground to wet down the dust. It seems kind of crazy because the mountain is one giant dustball and there is one wet strip about eighteen inches wide along the side of the road. Nonetheless, the kids love it because they run in the water jet like city kids in a fire hydrant.

DONE. That’s it. I hope you enjoyed these emails.  Assuming my plane doesn’t crash and I don’t get killed on the Garden State Parkway, I survived. So, if you know of a software, professional services or consulting company that is looking for a VP/Director of International Business Development/Strategy or International Public Affairs/Government Relations, let me know. I am available.

BTW, I am in Dubai and on my way home now. Departing from Kabul was a trip. Three body searches before I entered the terminal. The body search in the terminal was pretty thorough. Everything except a direct “package grab”. There was a double back pocket squeeze. I gave the security officer my number and said I might be back.

Cheers,
Mike17 aka Barry
—–
END OF MISSION SUMMARY

WORK. Work went reasonably well.

WAS IT ENJOYABLE? No, but it was better than I expected. Frankly, I had some three-week stays in other places that seemed longer. I would classify it as “tolerable” or “not unpleasant.”

HARDEST PART. The hardest part was the confinement. I forgot my wallet in my room one day. And I had to wait for a driver to go the 3 blocks back to the house to pick it up. There was a nice shop about 40 yards from the office. If you wanted to visit, you needed a ride. There were a number of days where I just wanted to take a walk before or after dinner but couldn’t.

REGRETS. 1.) My trip to Charikar was cancelled. So I didn’t get outside of Kabul. To get the true measure of a country, you need to get away from the capital.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? Maybe. It’s not my decision alone. I definitely don’t want to come back for six weeks again. At no time did I feel unsafe. Of course, that’s because of the security bubble.

THANKS. Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing back. Hope you enjoyed. OUT! (MKA: A little Rome-y for you. BTW, I hope you’re doing OK with the Larry King departure.)