25 years! It feels like yesterday that we were in a dining room with a few computers dreaming a company that would make us world class consultants competing with the best, and winning. Africans, advising the world in leadership and management. An outrageous idea. Thank goodness for outrageous ideas. Over 25 years, they are what have taken us above and beyond the wildest dreams we had in that dining room in April 1995.
In 1995 in Cameroon, management consultants were for the most part middle-aged white men, flown in at great expense from capitals far away. They came from Paris, Washington and London to help companies and development organizations strategize, plan and train their employees. So, our first outrageous idea was to believe that a company entirely run by Cameroonians, with a 30-year old CEO and consultants even younger, could compete in this market. We believed and we succeeded, by going above and beyond. From the beginning we set out to be as professional and state-of-the-art as the best international consultants, then we went beyond. Gerard Tocco gave us our first contract with a multi-national, CAMOA. We performed beyond expectations. CAMOA became one of our most important clients over the next 10 years. As STRATEGIES! we knew the Cameroonian market. We could address questions of leadership and management that foreign consultants did not know existed. Subjects of planning, structure and organization that had not been covered in schools staff graduated from. Questions of ethnicity, gender and corruption that undermined multinational companies. The real challenges teams and managers were facing in a complex environment. STRATEGIES! did not skirt around them or give superficial answers, we faced them head on and enabled managers and teams to work through and find solutions. We became organizational doctors from the very beginning, above and beyond.
In 1998 with no funding, but a group of highly enthusiastic, newly elected mayors, STRATEGIES! decided to take on local governance. From Douala I to Kumbo by way of Soa, Wum and Bot-Makak we began to conceive and help local governments implement development. Youth and women’s entrepreneurship, water catchment management, local economic development, building of roads and bridges, local tax collection and more. STRATEGIES! helped local governments develop a participatory planning system; mobilize resources locally, nationally and internationally; mobilize the local population for projects; implement and evaluate them. We went above and beyond. No mayor, no development agency and certainly not the Cameroonian government thought it was possible to accomplish so much with so few resources, in so little time. Yet with our municipal partners we did, taking municipal management to a level it had never been before. Above and beyond.
In 2005, on the “nose” of a consultant who was absolutely certain there was a market for STRATEGIES! in Tchad, we ventured international. She asked us to take a blind risk of about 2 million fcfa. An enormous amount of money for us at that time. She was our best sales consultant. Her “nose” had proved itself right on more than one occasion. We took the risk. STRATEGIES! made 13 million fcfa in Tchad that year. Our international adventure had begun. Now we were African consultants competing against western consultants in African countries that were not our own. Over and over again we had to prove that we were good enough to be in that space. We honed our skills, perfecting research, analysis and planning tools. We brought an African touch to training and facilitation, while respecting the highest international standards. STRATEGIES! made the often-grueling work of situation analysis, scenario analysis, strategic and operational planning, fun and interesting. We integrated African history and culture into leadership training even as we profiled contemporary African leaders. We were Africans bringing leadership and management skills to the world. Above and beyond our wildest dreams.
Our “German Adventure” had begun since 1995. We were doing a pro bono facilitation for women journalists when then Friedrich Ebert Foundation Director, Michael Hackenbruch discovered our facilitation style and initiated what would become a 20 plus-year partnership with the FES. One German led to another and FES, DED and INWENT all played key roles in STRATEGIES! development. In 1995 STRATEGIES! was selected by GIZ to learn ZOPP facilitation. Thus began a 25-year methodology love affair. ZOPP as a planning method has long been left behind at GIZ. At STRATEGIES! it is still at the foundation of the work we do as organizational doctors. We have tweaked the methods and adapted them, but ZOPP logic still forms the backbone of our methodological approach to most organizational challenges. STRATEGIES! took German structure and added in African flexibility and creativity. The result is key to what has enabled us to go above and beyond.
GIZ also over the years became our major client. If we have worked in 26 countries in Africa, 20 have been with GIZ. If we now have various clients in Berlin, it is thanks to the 25-year partnership with GIZ. Reimund Hoffman and Gerald Schmitt deserve particular mention for their belief in us as an African firm that could perform at international standards. They fought hard within their own organization for us to be recognized as such and opened doors that took us above and beyond.
Our American adventure began in 2007 with the first workshop STRATEGIES! facilitated for Vital Voices in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was love at first sight. Vital Voices integrated STRATEGIES! CEO, Kah Walla as one of its foremost global women leaders and retained STRATEGIES! to provide organizational support first to the Africa Department, then to the organization as a whole. Here we were, young African women, being flown to Washington D.C. to be organizational consultants for an American NGO. Amazing. The opportunities provided by Vital Voices cannot be counted. If we are a renowned international firm today with footing in the American market, it is because Vital Voices saw us as partners and advisers on equal footing, regardless of what part of the world we came from. Melysa Sperber, whom we worked with at Vital Voices left the organization to work for Humanity United. She took her management consultants with her. STRATEGIES! has been providing organizational development advice to Humanity United since 2012. Two important clients in the U.S. and several in Europe, meant we could envisage opening an office in the Western Hemisphere. In 2017, STRATEGIES! opened its Washington D.C. office and began competing with the largest consulting firms in the world for contracts. We are still just getting our foot in the door, but it has opened up a whole new business world. Here we go, above and beyond.
STRATEGIES! faced 2010 with trepidation. Could a consulting firm whose CEO had chosen to go into national politics as a presidential candidate in the opposition against an entrenched regime, survive? We tried a transition at the head of the company, it failed. Apprehension was palpable. STRATEGIES! did what it does best. We adapted. The international market became our focus and senior consultants took over most technical work. The storm came. We lost a few national clients. We had a clean tax slate, so no worries there, even though audits multiplied. In the end, a CEO with a national and international profile as a public leader is beneficial. Some clients pay for the profile of an internationally recognized public leader, others want a public speaker with such varied experience. STRATEGIES! CEO entering political waters was a personal right, but an enormous risk. Once again, STRATEGIES! rose, above and beyond.
STRATEGIES!’ fundamental value, is “We Believe in People”. If we have been able to go above and beyond, it is because of the people. Our clients, suppliers and partners have all been extraordinary in the past 25 years. At the center, have been STRATEGIES! staff. Our company has a saying “Once a Stratège, always a Stratège”. We believe in people and our people believe in us. Incredible Cameroonians have come together to build a counter-culture of African excellence; of building companies that are profitable and development organizations that are efficient while putting people at the center of decision-making; of using African culture and history to build successful modern organizations. The people of STRATEGIES! have done this. All African, over 90% trained in Africa, all demonstrating that they can see above and beyond, that they can perform above and beyond that they can do so with principles and integrity above and beyond.
25 years! Such an extraordinary journey so far. Of course, we’ve only just begun. After all, as far back as 1995 we committed to go, above and beyond. Watch us go!