Coffee Hour with The Kaizen Company

In early October a handful of SAIS students had the unique opportunity to meet with SAIS alumni Amy Watve, the Strategic Initiatives Director at The Kaizen Company, a small international development consulting firm here in Washington DC. Over coffee Amy shared her personal and The Kaizen Company’s background, gave an overview of the international development consulting industry, and offered career advice to the students.

After receiving her MA in international relations and strategic studies from SAIS, Amy went to work for McKinsey & Company where she “got paid to do an MBA.” After several years at McKinsey, she decided to move to a smaller firm where she would not only be advising, but take an important leadership role, making decisions and overseeing the growth of the firm. In her role at Kaizen, Ms. Watve oversees new business development. At this stage in the firm’s development, Kaizen mostly competes for federal business opportunities, both with other similar firms and with the larger, more established development companies like Chemonics and Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI). Although the majority of Kaizen’s projects come from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), they are planning to develop their private sector business and enhance their innovation incubator in the coming years.

Amy noted that the international development industry is by and large driven by USAID and its counterparts in the UK and Australia. Firms like Kaizen respond to requests for proposals from governments for projects that last typically 2-5 years. Kaizen works with USAID and other stakeholders to develop a plan of action to improve the organizational capacity of a specific enterprise, and then works with their in-country teams around the world to implement the project. Whether accelerating sustainable agriculture in Afghanistan, training private sector professionals in Egypt, or cultivating start-up entrepreneurship in Israel and the West Bank, the firm focuses on delivering long-term sustainable results.

Throughout the discussion, Amy shared insightful advice for students wishing to pursue a career in international development or management consulting. Take as many Gordon Bodnar classes as you can, she said. The understanding of financial processes and organizational structures that she took away from his classes equipped her with important skills for the world of consulting. There are multiple routes for getting into international development consulting, many of the small firms don’t have the capacity to train fresh graduates so often hire from the major management consulting firms. Working with government organizations or NGOs in the industry are other avenues into the field. International development consulting is an exciting field for SAIS graduates, it combines the SAIS knowledge base of economics and international relations with policy and strategy in a multicultural and dynamic environment.

Thank you to Chris Gragg for the recap!