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#135 Spiffy Project Names

February 6, 2012

submitted by Matt Greenall who also tweets: @mngreenall and blogs: epidreamiology.

Spiffy Names for Spiffy Projects! (Photo from SHOPS twitter page...)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an aid project in possession of good funding must be in want of a name.  The bigger the contract being bid for, the more multi-pronged and complex it is likely to be, and the harder it is to get across what it is trying to achieve.  Sure, Community outreach and village rehabilitation and millennium sustainability gender project including HIV/AIDS intervention covers all the bases, but it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it?

And so it is that at a critical juncture in any given tendering process someone, usually from the head office of one of the minor bid consortium partners, will copy everyone in an email with a heading like “Project name???”, explaining that something like Compass would be ideal, because a compass points us in the right direction, because our holistic project will “encompass” all of the communities needs and the technical specialities of all of the consortium partners, and best of all, because it stands for “COmmunities Mobilising for Progress in AIDS ServiceS” (sort of).  Oh, and wouldn’t “Compassion” be a perfect name for the annual report?

But the problem is, there are a finite number of words in colonial languages that have that sort of versatility.  What happens when all the words like “Engage”, “Results”, and “Empower” have already been acronymified by other international NGOs, and when the suffix “–star” has already been done to death?  Expat Aid Workers, with their ample field experience and knowledge of words in other languages have the answer: why not call your project something exotic and authentic-sounding?  Something that will allow the marketing people back home to begin every newsletter with the sentence “XXX, which means Together, we are strong! in the local language…”?  This way the pool of candidate project names becomes limitless, and what better way to be grassroots and to show commitment to local ownership?

Of course, the holy grail is a word that not only means something in a local language, but that can also be used as an acronym made up of some wonkish words that suggest to the donor that you know what you are doing: something which combines grassroots authenticity with bullshit bingo and which everyone can get behind.  Come to think of it, why not go the extra mile and arrange a participatory multi-stakeholder logo workshop?  That’s right, a PMSL workshop: no aid project should be without one.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2012 7:57 am

    Nothing like naming a project using a local language before printing project reports only in English.

  2. Jason permalink
    February 6, 2012 7:58 am

    You know you have truly mastered the acronym when your acronym has letters that are themselves acronyms.

  3. Steph permalink
    February 6, 2012 8:21 am

    So funny that this should be your topic this week! Just last week a colleague sent me a link to a handy little Acronym generator ( ).
    Unfortunately, when I typed in “Humanitarian Learning and Development Hub” looking for an exciting and catchy acronym, I didn’t exactly get one that I can use in polite company (I’ll let you discover that one for yourselves!).
    However, my colleague was particularly pleased that when he typed in “Building Adaptive Communities and Institutions”, it came up with BATMAN.
    Hours of fun.

    I also had a colleague who once spent several hours trying to come up with a malaria-based project title/acronym that would spell “MOSQUITO”. She almost managed it, got swatted down by senior management in the end…. (pun intended)

  4. Cedric permalink
    February 7, 2012 3:30 am

    And let’s not forget the the use of ‘4’ for ‘for’.

  5. Johnjoe permalink
    February 9, 2012 2:13 am

    UNCDF came up with Gender Equitable Local Development – GELD and didn’t seem to see the problem that geld (in English) is defined as ‘castrate (a male animal) – emasculate – neuter – evirate – cut. To deprive of strength or vigor; weaken’

  6. highplanedrifter permalink
    February 10, 2012 2:59 am

    Thanks for the plug, dude. SHOPS is my project! (However, we cannot take credit for the name — that came from the funder.) Acronyms — we love to hate ’em but they’re 4ever! HPD

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