Upon her eighteenth birthday, Mariam Koné left Mali. Spending six months in the US to master the English language, she studied and worked for a consultancy firm in Canada during the ten years that followed. A visit to her home country made Mariam decide her future would be in Mali. Club Africa interviewed a member who cut away from an established career and traded it for a new life as consultant back home.
“When I returned to Mali, I soon discerned the many opportunities my country offered me”, Mariam Koné says. “While the majority of North American markets have long reached saturation level, African companies are struggling to meet a demand at many times their supply. Because I gained professional experience in consultancy overseas, I decided to reinvest in my home country and start my own consultancy company ‘Koné Conseil’.” Koné Conseil is a management consultancy firm that specialises in industrial management and development. Services are twofold: Mariam helps existing industrial companies improve their operational performance, and starting companies – mostly of investors who want to set up an industrial business – map out their business plans.
Though opportunities are infinite in Mali, starting and running a consultancy firm requires dogged determination. Mariam: “In Africa, everyone calls herself a consultant. Most civil servants, for example, work as consultants. Or retirees, who offer consulting services in the sector they worked in. Such a context requires that I distinguish myself, and know how to convince prospect clients of the quality consulting Koné Conseil offers. Having worked with numerous clients since 2009, I demonstrated that the work I do evolves very professionally, and comes with precision. Such as for example when I was contracted by the Cercle de l’Entreprise et de l’Initiative Sociale, an association for Malian professionals who pursue the common goal of becoming leaders at operational management and social responsibility. For this client I developed a benchmark that is applied to assess companies’ business competitiveness, ethical conduct, and corporate social responsibility performances.”
“The biggest difference I notice between North America and Africa”, says Mariam, “is in corporate culture. In the milieus I used to work in, consultants are the bad guys. In the name of cost-cutting, downsizing and coping with competition people lost their jobs. The longer I worked, the more I became absorbed by a culture that at one point I realised conflicted with my personal values. Rather than firing others, I am interested in continuous improvement. That is, to improve operations and people’s performances so as to increase capacity, not reduce it.”
In Mali, a rather specific setback faced by entrepreneurs is the country’s recent political turmoil. “Since the military coup in 2012”, Mariam explains, “government bodies slowed down tremendously. The past two years we spent waiting. Whereas the government was an investor, a big provider of jobs.” Is there hope? “Most definitely! Last summer, presidential elections were held, at the moment parliament is putting the necessary governmental structures in place, and I expect things to start moving again by the end of this year.”