[excerpt]: A number of Washington lobbyists hold conferences on altruistic topics that are in fact designed to sell their access to government officials who make spending decisions. "This is a sort of cottage industry where consulting
firms try to feed off the disaster du jour," says Gary Kleiman, a consultant
on emerging capital markets.
April 17, 2003
Forum focuses on commercial opportunities
By Joshua Chaffin in Washington
Perhaps the surest sign that the campaign in Iraq has shifted from a military
to a commercial footing is a conference to be held in Washington next month.
Participants from business, government and the non-profit sector are to
gather on May 5 for the first Iraqi reconstruction conference.
"You are invited to participate in the most important reconstruction event of
the year," the invitation reads. "The Iraqi Reconstruction Conference will
provide the latest information on reconstruction programs and funding."
For $595 (€550, £380) (there is a $100 discount for early registration),
corporate executives are promised "networking opportunities with top
government officials" and an "exclusive directory" of agencies and
organisations involved in the process. Academics and relief workers can
expect to pay about half that amount.
The conference is the brainchild of William Loiry, president and founder of
Equity International. "We act as a facilitator between the corporate
community and the NGO community," Mr Loiry says.
His response to charges of profiteering is unapologetic. "There is a need to
bring all these parties together to respond to a humanitarian crisis," he
says. "It would be more devastating if we did not do this."
Mr Loiry argues that the multiple government and multilateral agencies
operating in places such as Bosnia cannot always sufficiently disentangle
themselves to organise such events.
Equity International is not the only group operating in this area. A number
of Washington lobbyists hold conferences on altruistic topics that are in
fact designed to sell their access to government officials who make spending
"This is a sort of cottage industry where consulting firms try to feed off
the disaster du jour," says Gary Kleiman, a consultant on emerging capital
Mr Loiry started in 1989 promoting trade shows focused on the former Soviet
Union, and writing guidebooks for US companies on doing business in places
such as Vietnam.
Equity International's first reconstruction conference was in 1996 on Bosnia.
Since then, the company has gone on to turn disasters both natural and
man-made into lucrative business gatherings.
There have been programmes on Turkey and Venezuela following earthquakes and
mudslides, as well as an Afghanistan conference after the Taliban were
dislodged last year. The company hosts regular briefings on homeland
security, another bumper source of government contracts.
With Iraq, however, Equity International is preparing for what could be its
biggest effort yet. Reconstruction is expected to cost up to $100bn - the
largest since the second world war.
Mr Loiry estimates up to 600 people will pay to hear details about
humanitarian aid, rebuilding the oil sector, and subcontracting
opportunities. He is hoping to lure Andrew Natsios, the head of the US Agency
for International Development, which is overseeing the initial reconstruction
process, as keynote speaker. "This is a massive endeavour, and we will have
an exceptional programme," Mr Loiry said.