The Dublin Vanity Awards?
“Prestigious” awards given out in Dublin, but how much did the winners pay to get them? (and whose money?)
I was at a curious (and very swanky) ceremony in Dublin City Hall last week where dozens of business people and officials from developing countries got awards for things like “personal contribution to intellectual development of today’s society”, “continuous efforts to achieve high quality in accordance with the European Standard”, “maintaining traditional values of virtue, bravery and integrity” and so on. The awards were given out by Oxford-based Europe Business Assembly, a body whose purpose is the “development and management of economic, social and humanitarian collaboration”, according to its website.
Some of the winners included:
- A bank in Tajikistan was awarded “The Queen Victoria Award – international award for maintaining traditional values of virtue, bravery and integrity”. Incidentally, in 2008 the same Tajik bank got another two awards from EBA – “European Quality” and “The United Europe”.
- The director of a forest institute in Malaysia was awarded “The Name in Science” award. The institute got another EBA award last year.
- Three representatives of a rather little-known Russian construction company got the Socrates award “for personal contribution to intellectual development of today’s society”. They got one Socrates award each.
The audience was quite a mix: a folk healer from Ukraine, vice chancellor of a South African university, director of a bank in Swaziland, mayor of a Turkish municipality, vice-director of MIG, the Russian fighter aircraft manufacturer…
All this seemed strange and raised a number of questions: What brought all these people together? On what basis were the awards given out and why were their recipients (mostly) fairly obscure organisations with few if any international achievements? Why such pompous titles for the awards? And so on.
Actually the explanation is obvious – most of these prizes were vanity awards which the recipients had paid for themselves. Some of the participants of the Dublin event told me confidentially that they were offered an EBA award in return for £5000 (EBA didn’t ask that money for the award directly, but instead for the “promotion” of the company which goes with the award). It all works very simple: EBA and its partner organisations send out loads of letters to companies all over the world, but mostly in developing countries, informing them they were nominated for a “prestigious international award”. If a company expresses interest they contact them with a price list.
If you google EBA on the Russian web you’ll easily find corroboration to the story. For example, here and here a Kazakh businessman describes how his company got a letter from EBA saying it was nominated for the “Socrates International Award”. There was also a price list: the European Quality and Best Enterprise awards would cost £3800 each, while the “Queen Victoria Commemorative medal” was a little more expensive at £6200.
To be fair to EBA and the organisers of the Dublin event, the awards really look impressive and are probably worth at least some of the money: each winner was given a big medal on a colourful sash, a cool-looking gilded statuette and a diploma.
If you log onto the website of EBA’s Russian partner organisation it all turns into complete farce – it’s not just the Socrates awards “for contribution to intellectual development of today’s society” that are available, but also membership in such organisations as “International Order of Knights of St Lazarus of Jerusalem”. So how do you become a knight? You just have to fill out an application form on the website and somebody will get back to you – it’s that simple!
There’s nothing really special about this as it’s a common fact that many businesses in the developing world yearn for “recognition from the West” and for some of them it’s a matter of vanity as an “international” award from an organisation with a flashy name like Europe Business Assembly will no doubt impress everyone in their home town. (if you read Russian there is an excellent article about Russia’s “awards factories” in Ogoniok magazine).
And EBA is simply a business that satisfies that need. Although the awards are obviously pretty worthless, EBA’s activities are not a scam and are completely legit – they give people what they pay for. However, questions remain about some of the prize winners, many of whom are public bodies. How did they finance their participation in EBA’s awards ceremonies and was that “investment” of (presumably) public funds justified? For example, in 2010 one of EBA’s prizes was awarded to the Mayor of Grozny in Chechnya. It would be intriguing to see how much he paid for his participation in the ceremony and where that money came from.
What’s also interesting is the level of involvement from the Irish side. Prior to the awards ceremony there was an EBA conference in Dublin’s Trinity College which was opened by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muirí . Speakers included minister for trade and development Joe Costello and NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh, all sitting side by side to EBA’s director general John Netting.
But, of course, they may not have known (or cared enough) about EBA and simply went along to an “investment” forum to try and sell Ireland Inc. After all, if a person has a few thousand to spend on a vanity award (plus all the costs of visiting Dublin) then they might be interested in investing into Irish property or moving their funds to IFSC or just coming back to Ireland sometime for a holiday and a game of golf… Every little helps!