How do you say “Strategy” in Guinea-Bissauan creole? by Marcia Almeida Mendes (F’20)

by PriyankaK
Oct 28

Manera ki no pude fasi. That means “the way in which we can do [it]” in Guinea-Bissauan Creole (or Kriol), and it is the closest expression I could find to the word “strategy” in the language. The Strategic Management class with Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti at The Fletcher School made me think about the project I have been working on this summer and how we have understood strategy so far. While reading HBS cases about giant for-profits like PepsiCo and Amazon, I kept asking myself the question: what does strategy mean for a small community center in a forgotten corner of the world?

Guinea-Bissau is a small Lusophone country on the Western coast of Africa, bordering Senegal. Its population of approximately 1.5 million relies heavily on cashew nuts and fish exports and foreign aid to keep its country running. This is my second summer working with a non-profit organization there to implement the Vida Innovation Center, a community center to foster innovation and provide a space for women’s literacy, youth professional training and adult elementary education. The Center will be located near the country’s main commercial route and 50km away from the capital Bissau.

 In Kriol, instead of saying “we need to think about our strategic planning,” we need to say “we need to decide which way we can do things” which leads us to an implied continuation of the sentence: “so we can get where we want to get.”

For the Vida Innovation Center to make a difference, we had to answer these two fundamental questions:

(a) strategy – which is the way in which we are going to do things?

(b) objective – where we are hoping to get?

Both questions, as elementary as they may sound, can have the narrowest and the broadest of answers, depending on how we approach them. A broad answer for the Center would be “we will offer courses and educate the youth.” Even though that was basically all I knew at the beginning of this project in June 2020, that is not enough.

To offer courses, we need to find a way to materialize the Center. To implement the Center, we need to fundraise for the construction and find ways to be financially sustainable. To fundraise for the construction, we need to pitch the project to donors. To pitch the project, we need to make a compelling argument, with a clear mission statement, vision and… strategy.

I have been going back to lessons in NGO Management from Prof. Alnoor Ibrahim at the Fletcher School to help the team ahead of the Center to find their strategic position to tackle the government and market failures it is seeking to address. We have identified potential partners in the public and private sector.

The public sector might be a more obvious partner. The local government has conceded the land for the Center. It recognizes that the Vida Innovation Center has the potential to offer services that the public sector has traditionally failed to deliver in Guinea-Bissau: education and health. But there is an interesting partner that we are pursuing at this point in the private sector. Appealing to the positive externality of educating an illiterate population who are potential customers of communications and mobile money services, we are pursuing a partnership with MTN and Orange. Both are telecom companies with strong penetration in the country. Hopefully, with the help of these giants, the tiny Vida Innovation Center can lift its first walls and buy its first computers.

Our next and final step will be to find ways in which the Center will be financially sustainable and less dependent on donor money. My time as an Empower Fellow working on this project is coming to an end. However, this project has been a tremendous inspiration to me. This semester, for my Starting New Ventures course at Fletcher, I will devise a business plan for a possible source of revenue for the Center.