Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Tesha Pittenger, Prospect Research Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.
Prospects Who Invent Their Own Countries
I’m relatively new to prospect research; August will mark my two-year anniversary in the field. One of the characteristics I love best about my work is its variability – you never know where a research request will lead. I’ve learned of the myriad ways wealth can be acquired (having a lumber baron for an ancestor, producing meat products, inventing just the right thing at just the right time) and stumbled across fascinating family histories (living in Nazi-occupied Holland, being a distant relative of a famous advice columnist, having a child who represented a country in the Winter Olympics in its first ever appearance). I can safely say, though, that I never expected to research royalty, much less the royal members of a country I had never heard of.
Earlier this year, a development officer had received an inquiry from a micronation representative and asked the Research Team for more information. I volunteered for the request and thus encountered my deepest research rabbit hole: the world of micronations. Defined broadly, micronations are political and generally small or virtual entities that declare their independence but are not internationally recognized. They can range in size; the Kingdom of Lovely, created as part of the BBC show How to Start Your Own Country, had an East London flat as its official territory, while Sealand is a metal platform off the coast of England. Their motivations are equally varied. Karo Lyn started the Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia as a self-proclaimed “ridiculous project.” The Principality of Hutt River began as a dispute with the Australian government over wheat production quotas, and Giorgio Rosa created Rose Island as a symbol of freedom. Micronations have produced their own currencies, flags, governing documents, postal systems, holidays, citizen applications, and more, depending on their leaders’ ambitions and priorities. Primarily, established nations ignore them, but there are some notable exceptions – the Italian Navy seized control of Rose Island in 1968 and used explosives to dismantle it in 1969.
As it pertains to development – though an individual can claim a country, announce that they are royalty, and express interest in making a gift – they may not be a good prospect. Cryptocurrency created by a fake nation certainly isn’t worth the same as Bitcoin…at least not yet. A kingdom may be more virtual than actual real estate assets. The title of “dictator” could evoke reputational risk concerns.
Time will tell what the results of my specific research will yield; however, an assignment to delve into micronations epitomizes the kind of fun and diverse requests that a prospect researcher can encounter. I’m happy to have joined the team!