VOLUNTEER CONSULTANT

Hans Weemaes

  • Age: 33
  • Location: UK, London
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • Professional qualifications: An MBA degree with Distinction from the London Business School, and a Master's degree from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Brief career history

I have over 10 years of work experience with a global retail and investment bank, where I have been responsible for the execution of global strategic projects and defining operational strategies. I also love helping businesses grow and succeed. I have launched startups, raised seed capital, advised government agencies and created growth strategies for established companies. I enjoy the work that goes into building a company – and loved the projects I did for my clients. I have been fortunate to work in the Netherlands, Korea, Singapore, Dominican Republic, Belgium and the UK and really hope to see more of the world throughout my career.

Key areas of expertise

My areas of expertise are in formulating business strategy, operations management, startups, new venture development and managing for innovation. And on the personal side, I love mountaineering – I have climbed Kilimanjaro and Mont Blanc and hope to climb a few more mountains in the future.

Where/how did you come across Grow Movement?

I came across Grow Movement when I heard Chris Coghlan speak at the TEDx London Business School event in 2012. I realised that I could make a real difference, by giving advice over mobile phone, to economically empower the poorest people on earth.

Why did you decide to join Grow Movement?

A few years ago I travelled in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and witnessed that there is a lot of poverty in these places, but also that the people are  working hard to provide a living. Afterwards, I always thought of myself as fortunate, and when I learned of Grow Movement I thought this was an excellent way of helping entrepreneurs and making a difference. I really liked the fact that you build up a relationship with somebody over a period of time.

About your entrepreneur

  • Name: Mirriam Chamba
  • Location: Malawi, south
  • Gender: Female
  • What does the business do: Mirriam currently runs a catering firm for events such as weddings. She is very entrepreneurial and fully of energy. I love that part of her.

What was the focus of the business?

Mirriam wanted to start up a nursery school in Malawi. Currently less than one in three children go to a pre-school nursery and as a result they miss out on much of the early child development. The schools that are there offer either i) high standard, high cost and unaffordable to most, or ii) low standard, low cost with limited focus on early child development. She wanted to offer what the parents want a good nursery which focus on child development but at an affordable price.

What was your first phone call like?

I remember the first phone call. Although I was prepared, there was a level of nervousness or anxiety from my side, and I think the same for Mirriam. Of course I had to get used to her accent, and she probably mine. However once we started to share some things about ourselves we quickly found something that we had in common. She is in the catering business just as my wife is and that really helped to break the ice. We talked a bit more about myself, my family and why we joined Grow Movement. The same for Mirriam – she told me about herself, herself and her business ideas.

What approach did you to take to identify the problems facing the business?

Our challenge in this project was how to provide the foundation for Mirriam to start up a new business. As with any business there are a lot of assumptions that are made. Our focus was to really understand these assumptions and then work together to test whether our thinking was right by interviewing potential customers and assessing the strength and weaknesses of the business models.

How many sessions did you have?

I have had approximately 10 sessions with Mirriam so far and we are close to the end. Every week we have our call, which most of the time takes around 45 minutes or so. We found that is often enough to discuss the latest developments, review our actions from the last week and decide on our next steps. We agreed in our first session that I take notes and share this by email afterwards. This is really to ensure that we understood everything correctly.

What objectives did you work on?

We decided early on that our overall objective was to really learn what it takes to start a nursery in Malawi, and document our findings in a business plan. This gave us our framework and the specific goals we worked on such as marketing approach, our business model, our operational and financial plan.

How did you manage being able to consult when you didn’t know the industry or the country?

It’s always more challenging to consult when you are not an expert – but honestly speaking how many times do we give advice where we can really say that we are an expert in a particular field? Common sense, asking questions, really listening to the answers and sharing thoughts is probably a better way to consult rather than the ‘I know it all' approach.

What cultural challenges did you face?

There were not too many cultural challenges, however I believe that you need to be understanding and have a level of flexibility. I realised that in our partnership we work towards the same goals, and there will be always challenges to overcome in a positive way.

What was the hardest thing about the project?

Probably the hardest thing is not to be overambitious and listen to the needs of your entrepreneur. You are not the executive director of their business, you are there to help them. It’s easy to think there are certain things you may be able to complete whilst in reality it’s a much harder challenge to achieve.

What professional benefits did you get out of the project?

In terms of professional benefits, I believe it further developed my interpersonal skills to build up rapport and establish a relationship based on mutual respect. Equally it was good to share my experience on strategy formulation as this way it makes you think how to apply it in an emerging market contexts.

What personal benefits did you get out of the project?

I have always enjoyed the calls with Mirriam. She is as happy to speak to me as I am to her. It provides me with a sense of joy to see things coming together.

What impact did you have?

We have completed a full business plan, and Mirriam is now finalising the research before looking at different buildings to start up the school. I hope that in the next few months, the school that we have talked about will be a reality.

What would you say to another person who was thinking about becoming a consultant for Grow Movement?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s a wonderful experience and there is so much value in sharing experiences. But make sure you can commit the time required to work with your entrepreneur.

How would you describe your experience at Grow Movement in five words?

Personal, Motivating, Heart warming, Sharing, Memorable.

  • Ashridge Business School
  • MCA
  • Cass Business School
  • Institute of Leadership and Management
  • Bull Dog Trust
  • Westminster Business School
  • UK Aid
  • Turkish Airlines
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