How to make money on the back of failure in the 21st century

Here’s how the war economy works. Get in the military. Learn about “terrorism”. Preach “counter-insurgency” tactics to a gullible establishment and media. Talk about understanding local cultures while at the same time backing kill/capture methods that routinely fail/murder innocents/kidnap the wrong person (hello Afghanistan, latest report here and here).

A perfect example of this person is Australian David Kilcullen.

And what is he doing now? Making a living by running a consultancy firm to leverage his supposed experience in the field. Think there’s anything wrong with that cosy little arrangement? Failure=success. War=peace.

Here’s Kilcullen telling Forbes about his deep knowledge helping people in developing countries. Seriously:

Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit about the founding and motivation behind Caerus Associates.

David Kilcullen: We founded Caerus Associates in January 2010.…  At the depth of the recession, launching a start-up with no investors, no clients and no staff, we expected a very tough time. With generous help from our partner Noetic Group, we got started and then boot-strapped the whole operation, building from one client to another, creating a snow-ball effect. Today, less than two years later, Caerus has annual revenue just under $10m, zero debt, a multi-year backlog, a permanent team of 20 people and another 50 consultants and field staff, offices in three continents, and field programs in Afghanistan and Africa.

The fact that we took such a risk in founding the company, and that it paid off so well, underlines how firmly we believe in our concept: that the world’s most difficult problems – conflict, crime, energy shortage, poverty, climate and environmental degradation, disease – overlap in mutually exacerbating ways that make it extremely difficult for any one discipline (security, say, or international development) to address them.

The need is for multi-skilled, multi-disciplinary teams that can do everything from planning and training, through design and execution, to monitoring and evaluating programs, and can work in the complex overlapping space among all these problems, from the strategic and risk analysis level right down to field execution. Most of our work focuses on applying design thinking to help government and private sector clients find innovative ways to stabilize conflict-affected and poverty-afflicted environments.

We saw a need that we knew we could meet, as we built up our rather eclectic (not to say quirky) team, attracting some incredible talent and experience from diverse backgrounds in technology start-ups, NGOs, urban design, political risk consulting, the Peace Corps, aid agencies, policing, rule of law, and the Special Forces. Our people are known for their deep background, field experience, academic background and specialized skills, but also for a certain spark and energy, an innovative and creative approach that makes Caerus an incredibly fun place to work.

We provide clients with integrative design solutions in three practice areas: Plan and Prepare, Design and Execute, and Measure and Understand. Importantly, when we say “clients” we don’t just mean governments and businesses, but also communities.

Rahim Kanani: What kinds of projects are you currently involved in?

David Kilcullen: Here are a few examples of our projects:

– we have a pilot project in southern Afghanistan, trialling whether it is possible to use locally-grown biodiesel and solar systems to produce electricity at the village level in order to improve community stability and reduce people’s dependency on expensive and volatile imported fuel

– we have a project, in partnership with a design company, to develop a crowd-sourced geographic information system for aid workers, NGOs, local communities and disaster relief workers, where people can use pen-and-paper plus a smartphone, fax or camera to upload data layers that become part of an up-to-the-minute integrated picture of the environment where they are working

– we have a research team in Afghanistan providing insight to aid agencies and the military on the effectiveness of their programs

– we have another similar team in Libya working to provide information on local humanitarian needs to NGOs and aid agencies

– we have a project, in development, to provide political risk analysis to businesses and NGOs in Africa

Overall we have seven major projects in the fields of education, technology, energy, analytics and assessments, and humanitarian assistance

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