Saturday, October 15, 2011



DXpedition articles have always interested me. Reading the experiences of OMs who go to countries and islands I will probably never be able to see, has always been fascinating to me. Even moreso when apart from the technical radio aspects, the human side is described, the dynamics and relationships among the people in the group, the encounters with the local people.
Very often in these articles, there is no trace about the real WORK that comes in preparation of the expedition. I am talking about the part that goes from the fund raising to the recruiting of the team members. This is how the idea was born of interviewing the protagonist of the most expensive DXpedition in the DX history: Ralph K0IR, co-leader of the 3Y0X activities.

Thank you Ralph for your time: implementing a DXpedition like the one to “Peter I” must involves a lot of work from a financial point of view. How do you create relationships with Foundations and DX association? And when are they really fundamental to raise funds?

DX foundations and DX associations were very important to the 3Y0X DXpedition. Without them the DXpedition to Peter I would not have happened. This is true not only for the Peter I DXpedition, but for countless other DXpeditions as well.

The support these organizations provide is financial. All DXpeditions cost something and DXpeditions to places like Peter I, Bouvet, Heard Island, or South Sandwich are especially costly because the transportation requirements are very stringent. The ship must be able to handle rough, often icy seas. It must be completely self sustaining for a month or more, and it may need to be large enough to carry a helicopter. The ship’s crew do not want to work for free and need to be paid. Fuel costs can be enormous and helicopter operations can cost thousands of dollars per hour.

Three main sources cover these costs. The contributions of the team members, contributions from individual amateur radio operators from around the world, and funding provided by DX foundations, DX associations, and DX clubs. In the case of 3Y0X, team members themselves provided the largest percentage of the needed funds. Foundations, associations, and clubs were next.

DX foundations, associations, and clubs do not have unlimited funds. They are well-run organizations who evaluate many requests each year and decide who to help and with how much. In our case, we provided these organizations with a summary of our needs, indicated how much each team member was personally contributing, and indicated an estimate of our budget and what we might expect as contributions from other sources. It is very similar to getting a loan from a bank, you have to show that you are responsible, have done your financial research, and have a good plan.

Does it work the same way for sponsors directly linked to the world of radio, like RTX producers, Antennas, Filters and Amplifiers?

Generally speaking it is much easier to get radio equipment for a DXpedition than to get money. If a manufacturer or dealer has a passion for DX and sees the DXpedition as a way to show his product to the ham radio world, they will try and help with antennas, transceivers, amplifiers, keyers, etc. Most of the time the manufacturers do not “give” the DXpedition the equipment. Rather it is loaned to the DXpedition or provided at a reduced cost.

Have you ever had experiences in fund raising for non radio linked activities? Not only PCs, net cards, technical materials but also fashion producers, TV, furniture….

This is very difficult to do. Almost anyone who sponsors an activity needs to see some benefit in return. If a furniture manufacturer does not think their sponsorship will boost their sales, they are unlikely to help.

This group also looks closely at what their market exposure will be. They might see a ham radio expedition to Peter I as reaching 100,000 people. On the other hand 10,000,000 people may follow someone skiing across Antarctica. They would be far more interested in having 10,000,000 people aware of their product or sponsorship. It is simple math.

How do you choose your team members when you start an expensive expedition? What about people who have know-how but have small economical possibilities? Do they have a chance?

Very good questions!

The most important criteria in choosing team members to go to a remote, hostile, and potentially dangerous place is what kind of person they are. Can you trust and depend on them? Do they remain calm in a crisis? Can they improvise and find solutions to problems? Are they team players? Do they get along well with people? Can they live calmly with other is a close space for a long time in a hostile environment? Do they have ordinary, good common sense? Do they respect the rights, space, and needs of others?

If the answer to any of the above questions is, “no,” then that person cannot expect to be a team member. It makes no difference how much money the individual has or will contribute or what kind of operator they may be.

It is a fact of life that we are not all equal in our resources or abilities. For example, I have essentially no musical talent and do not have the skills to be a professional athlete. I would love to be a singer on stage in front of a cheering audience or a sports hero, but it is not going to happen. I have two choices. I can be jealous and angry at the person who has the resources or talent to be a one of those things, or, I can enjoy what they are able to do and perhaps cheer them on.

For some the cost of being a team member on an expedition like 3Y0X may be too great. But they can still follow the team, make some QSO’s, and virtually enjoy the DXpedition. But consider this; the cost of smoking a pack of cigarettes per day can equal a team member’s cost of DXpedition to Peter in 10 to 15 years. In general, if you want something bad enough and are willing to work hard, save, and show that you have character and what it takes, then anything is possible.

If a team member makes the expedition possible making a huge donation, is there a risk to create group dynamics that are difficult to manage? What do you do in this situations? Any suggestion?

I have been on several DXpeditions where a team member came forward and made an extra financial contribution. That person did not receive – or expect — any extra benefits or recognition. Keep in mind that we have gone through a selection process and eliminated people with big egos, who were selfish, or who were not team players. It all comes down to the type or people you select for your team.

What are the main difficulties related to logistic, custom costs, transportation, import taxes? Do you have any useful local contact, do you try to find alternative solutions? How did you manage these kind of problems?

In my experience the main difficulty a major DXpedition often faces regarding logistics, customs, and transportation is that the people and businesses you must deal with are often thousands of miles away. They often speak a different language and there may be large cultural differences.

The questions that worry those who organise Dxpeditions are, “Can I trust this person or business that I am dealing with?” “Will they take my request seriously?” “Is this a legitimate business that I am dealing with?” The rapid exchange of information with e-mail has certainly helped. Web searches about the businesses you are dealing with are helpful in establishing them as legitimate, although this is not a 100% guarantee. It is tremendously helpful to have a local contact who can do some research for you. If that person is a ham, it is much better.

We have tried to make advance personal visits to our departure points when possible. There we try to meet the people we are doing business with and inspect the ships or aircraft involved. But this costs money and takes time. For two people to fly 5,000 or 10,000 miles, spend several days doing research and then fly home again is not cheap. And, it is money that won’t be spent on the DXpedition itself.

The real moment of truth is when money must change hands. Down payments must be made on ships, fuel and supplies must be secured, and food must be ordered. When you are sending thousands of dollars to someone you may have never met and who is thousands of miles away, it makes you worry. You know in your heart that if something goes wrong, you have little chance or recovering the money you have invested in the DXpedition.

Ultimately this comes down to building a relationship of trust between you and the person or business in the far away land. It is perhaps your instinct or your quick gut reaction that tells you the most and helps to answer the question; “Can I really trust this person?”

When we meet a new person, if we listen closely and pay attention, I think each of us can hear a small voice within us that says “Friend” or “Foe.” If is says, “Foe,” it will also tell you “Fight” or “Run.” Most of the time we are so distracted by being introduced to a new person, or are giving all our attention to how we are being perceived, that we don’t hear this little voice. But if we pay attention it is there and we should listen to it.

We do all the investigation that we can. We try to get local contacts in place, and we follow our instincts. Most of the time we do well, but mistakes are possible and we sometimes judge people wrongly. We are, after all, human.

Following the political/administrative part of the expedition, do you think it would be better a specific form of society? Could it be useful to become an association, a foundation or a club ? What do you suggest?

It is often convenient to form a simple group, partnership, or business at the start of a DXpedition. This is primarily for business reasons. The bank account can be in this name. Checks can be written to and from this organisation. And, it can provide a small degree of legal protection. When the DXpedition is complete this simple organisation can dissolve. It is no longer needed.

Regarding the formation of formal, longstanding organisations: I think we have enough of these and most do a good job of supporting Dxpeditions. The good ones look at the structure of a DXpedition, its business plan, how realistic the DXpedition’s goals are, and its leadership. These organisations then decide if they will support a DXpedition financially. As I said there are many good organisations like this that already exist. I don’t think forming a new one is necessary and I don’t think it is wise to dilute the already good organisations that are in place.

I also believe that it is never an organisation that makes a successful DXpedition. It is the individual team members of a DXpedition that determine the success or failure of a DXpedition. If the DXpedition is successful, give the credit to the individual team members who worked and sacrificed to make the DXpedition happen, not to some organisation.

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