Social entrepreneur and Bain Amsterdam alum shares his NGO experience

On Fridays in Amsterdam, we frequently have training sessions. However, on Friday October 3rd we had a special kind of training, with Bain alumnus and social entrepreneur Martijn Thierry returning to the Amsterdam office to present on his current challenges as one of the founders of the NGO Safe Crossings.  Jasper Vet, the 2nd founder of the NGO, was also present. While many Bainies are actively involved in pro-bono charity work, founding a non-profit organization and devoting almost 1/2 of your work week to it is something different – and probably one of the reasons Martijn and Jasper faced a room full of Bainies interested in their story.

Safe Crossings

Safe Crossings was established in 2012 with the goal of improving road safety in low and middle income countries. The accident statistics shocked everyone in the room, with >1.3M deaths per year and around 50M people injured. The vast majority (>90%) of these deaths and injuries take place in developing countries. Safe Crossings seeks to realize its goal by making ‘interventions’ at dangerous crossings, with infrastructural adaptions and educational programs. This may sound easy, but the NGO had a problem that the consultants recognized: a lack of data. Perfect data isn’t always available and this is definitely the case with road crash data in developing countries. So, the Safe Crossings team decided to do a pilot test to assess their potential impact.  They needed a lot of primary research to choose good locations for the pilot, so they set up their own accident registration on which to base the decision. At Bain, we use the term ‘So what?’ quite a lot – referring to a focus on insights and action steps. For Martijn and Jasper the ‘So what?’ from their data collection was clear: with a total of 14 deaths and 276 people injured annually at only three crossings, improvement was definitely needed. The locations selected for the pilot were all in Bangladesh (Nama Para, Kundar Para and Nil Kuthi crossings).

According to Martijn “The right data is an asset to drive change.” In that, the similarities to consulting work are clear. Once the NGO knew which crossings to improve, the 2nd problem arose: how to convince the government of the need for improvement. Without the right data, this would have been nearly impossible. But data is not only used for decision making and convincing, it’s also an important asset to get funding; the costs per DALY (Disability-adjusted Live Year) saved by the pilot are about 1.000x less compared to the Dutch benchmark, a number funders would be very interested in hearing. With the success of the pilot, the team is now looking to scale up in other countries, to expand their activities and even to change the business model to a franchise model.

When asked about how Bain skills are applicable to social entrepreneurship, Martijn cites two different sets of skills. First, the consulting philosophy and way of working are of great value, e.g. interview skills, focus on results and linking strategy to operations. Second, the overall consulting tool set greatly helped Martijn in the business part of the NGO. Before closing the session, the team elaborated on their switch from a business environment to the NGO.  As expected, the team initially had difficulties achieving results working with governments. When you’re still used to the high pace of consulting, it is very difficult to work in an environment where governments can take months or years before a decision is made. But, they learned to work with this along the way – and the positive results certainly helped!

Martijn and Jasper deeply impressed the room of Bainies with their story, and we hope Safe Crossings will visit the office again to share an update on their progress.

– Maarten, Associate Consultant, Amsterdam

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