Going Solo with Bonnie Koenig of Going International

Akash Ghai

Bonnie Koenig has been an international consultant for the last twenty years and founder of “Going International” – helping NGOs with all aspects of organizational development including scaling, strategic planning and effective networking.

After completing her BA in International Relations she avoided the more popular career routes – the corporate world, government, ministry work or joining the Peace Corps – instead she opted to work directly with civil society and non-profit organisations. She travelled extensively and has always networked, which she considers to be a major part of reaching goals and creating revenue for herself.

In 1986 she became the executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors and in 1990 she became the director of Zonta International – empowering professional women through service advocacy, represented by over 30,000 members across 65 countries.

Becoming a Consultant

A desire to be more flexible and the ability to create her own structure is what led Bonnie to consulting independently.

There are two types of consulting patterns she described. The more traditional path is to do consulting with a company. The second pattern, although riskier, is more creative: go out on your own, and this is what Bonnie chose. Before contracting with a major client, a consultant can network with that potential client. Based on the knowledge, she will then know if her experience is a good match for that organization’s needs. It is good to know you have a choice, to work with a consulting company, or to freelance and find consulting engagements on your own.

Networking

Making the transition from director to consultant, she took on her first client during an extended stay in Australia. The biggest challenge she faced at the beginning was having no network in Australia and she had to work to cultivate her own connection, finding it difficult at first to gain resources in order to create work. Actively using her existing network, meeting new people, and being persistent, resulted in her first client.

Bonnie believes understanding the importance of being an effective networker to be the major factor behind her success as a consultant. She works at creating business through “information interviewing”, though the focus isn’t initially on networking for business. She educates prospective clients and stakeholders about the nature of her work. She also makes an important point on the benefit of having a strong network as a resource to support you – to understand the challenges that are being faced by organizations and individuals and for sourcing prospective clients.

Bonnie emphasizes the importance of keeping up with the times, particularly where technology has changed the way business is carried out – and it’s no exception for the field of international development. She doesn’t shy away from admitting that she is part of the generation that grew up without computers. She picked up on the advent of social media five or six years ago and knew that she needed to bridge the gap. Consultants were beginning to use social media as a means of doing business. She knows that social media is an important asset in the networking tool box, but it is one of many, that doesn’t replace meeting person to person, which she believes can often feel critical to a good consulting relationship.

3 LESSONS FROM BONNIE:

  1. LEARN FROM OTHERS SO YOU CAN DO IT YOUR WAY: This advice extends beyond the realms of consultancy, but Bonnie found that many consultants were doing things differently. Essentially she looked at the various ways in which consultants were working in her field and used this to inform her own style, one that worked best for her.
  2. MAKE REJECTION YOUR FRIEND: The most successful people in the world have tasted failure, most of them many times over. Ups and downs exist in every journey and each story has an element of sacrifice or lacking the understanding or application to execute the “right way” at the time. Learn from those moments, change your approach and go again.
  3. UNDERSTAND AND ADAPT TO THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT: International development is a multi-cultural environment where you are more likely than not working with a team of multi-nationals. Be a good listener and try your upmost to contribute. But irrespective of your field, the landscape is always changing – and more so with advancing technologies continuously creating new ways of doing things. Stay clued in on the changes so that you are prepared to act.

Find out more about Going International and connect with Bonnie on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Akash Written by:

Akash has worked with small and mid-sized NGOs and social enterprises from around the world and specializes in assessing operations and management alongside creating growth opportunities for such organizations. He established Development Three (D3) a firm that delivers on this premise. Based on his experiences with NGO/NPO founders, he conceptualized and established the Founding Stories project.

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