Sources of Information (and Misinformation)

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Sources of Information (and Misinformation)

In this ever changing global environment, U.S. businesses find it increasingly difficult to know where to find a good location for a foreign project.

Where does one begin? There seem to be so many confusing issues and events before us that it is hard to establish priorities. There is the on-going fragmentation of nations, and one must consider which of the new entities are viable and which will turn into economic Bangledeshes or worse. The increasing ebb and flow of peoples is another contribution to instability. Will there be a Slavic flood into Western Europe, of people desperate for jobs or charity? Is Mexico a renewed opportunity or should it be viewed as a tenacious dictatorship scheduled for turmoil?

Considerable background information and opinion on a specific country or foreign situation can be accumulated without leaving the United States. Newspapers and news magazines are an obvious source of general information, but coverage is sometimes spotty and dependent on resources and the crisis of the moment. Most important, news coverage generally takes place after an event--a coup, a revolution, civil war, rioting, etc.--rather than in anticipation of it.

Specialized magazines and newsletters often provide greater depth and insight. For example, if you are considering an involvement in Singapore, go to a library that maintains the Far Eastern Economic Review or the Asian Wall Street Journal and start reading issues of the past six months. This simple exercise will provide you with the names of the players and the issues at hand, and also will tell you how effective the reporters were in evaluating events.

Be careful in approaching chambers of commerce for objective perspectives on the country they represent, since their job is to boost rather than criticize. However, some can be effective on an off-the-record basis. The Philippine-American Chamber, for example, frequently holds informal, small breakfast meetings that permit an interested executive to meet one-on-one with senior Philippine officials passing through the United States.

There also are specialized international and regional councils that provide forums on specific international issues or luncheon meetings for visiting dignitaries. Unfortunately, these gatherings sometimes are so large that a participant ends up listening to a canned speech with no opportunity to meet the guest of honor, no less hold a conversation with him or her.

Much more effective are the smaller, highly professional organizations such as the Carnegie Council or the Business Council for International Understanding, both located in New York City. The Carnegie Council holds small gatherings on specific international issues in an elegant Manhattan townhouse, which permits a participant to talk at some length with the speaker at hand. The American Management Association and other management organizations also sponsor seminars and conferences on opportunities and problems in foreign markets.

Also, do not lose sight of activist organizations that often criticize the overseas activities of the private sector. For example, the publications of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility can be quite revealing. This group, ensconced in the National Council of Churches building in New York, has taken it upon itself to function as a moral SEC. Many other church-related groups run similar operations.

WASHINGTON'S RESOURCES

Washington represents an intense concentration of current information and speculation on international developments, and a visit to the capitol is a key step in the serious evaluation of political developments in a particular country.

To many businesspeople, the U.S. Department of State is a murky repository of mismanagement and indecision, aptly described as Foggy Bottom, the informal name of the part of Washington in which it is located. …