Interview with Hystra

Shannon M May 11, 2021
customer interview

Interview with Lucie Klarsfeld

Lucie Klarsfeld, partner at Hystra

“Hello Lucie, can you introduce yourself and your company?

My name is Lucie Klarsfeld, I am 35 years old with two children, I joined Hystra in 2009 and have been a partner since 2018. When I joined Hystra, the company had just been created. There were three of us in the back room of an art gallery. Now there are around twenty of us with a few collaborators in Africa. We are a hybrid strategy or “inclusive business” consulting company. We started by working with large groups, such as Engie, Total, Danone etc.

Today we work more and more with smaller social enterprises, or social entrepreneurs who have set up their structure, or with investors who are interested in social issues and who seek to sustain their impact by working on projects. , in the time. One of our biggest clients is for example the Gates Foundation with whom we work on topics of nutrition, sanitation and women's health. We help them develop partnerships with private companies and industrialize high-impact products.

Other aspects of our business differentiate us from more traditional strategy consulting firms. We act as a bridge between actors, sectors which without us do not think or fail to collaborate.

We work between these foundations and large companies to ensure the promotion of these projects. We work to create coalitions and alliances that enable greater impact on society. For example: we helped found the Toilet Board Coalition , to help promote access to sanitation and toilets in different geographies through a mix of technical assistance and grants. The sanitation problem cannot be solved with a single actor. There is a need for many different companies and professions which each provide part of the solution. That's why we helped build this alliance.

Are your employees in France or around the world?

Normally, most are in Paris. Since Covid, our European employees have returned to their families. Some come from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland.

We have one of our consultants in Burkina Faso on secondment. For two years, we have been rotating our consultants for periods of six months to a year to bring our expertise to the Meriem project that we are leading in partnership with GRET and 6 other stakeholders.

We work with local partners, which we call Network Partners, who have their own consultancy structure. One of them, who is very active at the moment, is working on a project in India. There are others in Latin America and Africa.

We also work in partnership with other organizations that have capacity on the ground.

The Toilet Board Coalition, which Hystra helped launch, is implementing innovative initiatives to provide access to sanitation.

You are very internationally oriented, how has the situation over the past year impacted you? Have you experienced any major changes in the way you operate?

During the lockdowns, we had one or two months of hesitation. We had several launches of pilot projects, notably with the Gates Foundation. Three of them were put on hold. March and April 2020 was a time of uncertainty. Some activities were able to resume in June 2020 and even accelerated. As part of the Global Distributors Collective that we helped to set up and co-direct with Practical Action and BopInc, we held webinar series to discuss best practices for overcoming the pandemic. Most of our projects have been restarted, and we had a pretty good 2020, and 2021 seems to be good too.

How have we adapted at the process level? We were already accustomed to working across time zones, whether with the Gates Foundation, or our partners and collaborators spread across the globe. Already in normal times, we were used to working remotely over time, rather than as an integrated on-site team.

One of the things that makes us attractive to our consultants is this possibility of traveling, this international side, of being in contact with foreign entrepreneurs and clients. But that’s something we haven’t been able to do for a year.

We did like everyone else and started using Teams and Zoom. Our team switched to complete teleworking at the beginning then we alternated as a reduced team between the office and at home following the various confinements. We adapt, we have created team events, pub quiz evenings by Zoom. We tried to ensure that all our consultants were in the best possible conditions by telling them from October 2020 that we would not ask them to return to France before July 2021, in order to allow those who wished to return to their country. We also helped our consultants equip themselves to work from home by providing them with the necessary equipment to make teleworking a little less painful.

Excerpt from the interview

Are you waiting for the offices to reopen? Do you think full remote has a future?

We look forward to the possibility of reopening. We are a small structure, but there is really a very strong team spirit. Apart from my two partners who are in their fifties, there are only two of us who have children. The entire team is between 22 and 35 years old. We like to see each other and party. So just being able to see each other in the office is already good, I have no doubt that everyone will want to come back. When we reopened at mid-level in September, we had to ask some people to unsubscribe, there were too many of us who wanted to come back!

We are in a profession where there is a lot of interaction, we all learn – especially young people – by brainstorming. It is in fact more difficult to do this while remaining concentrated for seven hours in front of a screen rather than live. Despite everything, we realized that we were doing better than we thought. This is why, when things resume, we will consider giving everyone the opportunity to stay one or two days a week teleworking. We will discuss it as a team to find the best formula for everyone, taking into account the fact that young people still need to be immersed in the structure to progress and stay motivated.

With your partners, on the various projects already remotely, has it not changed that much?

What has changed is that we have certain projects that have started since the pandemic where we have not been able to meet people on the ground at all. We take more time to build relationships of trust on these new projects.

You were talking about the year 2021 which seems to be off to a good start, has there been a real change in this approach to inclusive business, to impactful business? Is this something that is really progressing? Does it work better because we're up against the wall?

There is a collective awareness of consumers and employees who are demanding more and more meaning in what they do or what they buy. On the other hand, as philanthropic resources are rare – which is even more accentuated with the pandemic and the economic consequences of the crisis which have also affected foundations and donors – there is a desire on the part of companies to bring together their philanthropic activities, corporate responsibility and their “core business” activities. It's impressive to see the number of companies that are thinking, for example, about setting up an impact fund at the moment, as the EVPA has well documented.

Do you have any recruitment forecasts for 2021?

We recruited three permanent consultants in 2020 and plan to recruit at least two, possibly three this year. We have a new European Network Partner who has joined us, based in London, who has spent most of his career in Africa, partly in consulting, partly with the NGO TechnoServe , and partly with the Barclays bank . We are looking for this kind of hybrid profile, people with fairly strong business experience, and who also have this sensitivity to social and environmental issues.

If you had any feedback or recommendation to give to someone who wanted to get into consulting and what it could bring, what would you tell them?

“Classic” strategy consulting provides very interesting methodologies and ways of thinking. It is an experience that teaches you to pose problems and make effective decisions for the best possible result. It allows you to work on a whole diversity of subjects, to constantly learn new things in new areas.

What sets us apart is the fact that we only work on models that use business to maximize social and environmental impact. This leads us to work at many levels, with very varied contacts who can range from a small farmer in India to a business manager in Madagascar to the Vice President of a CAC40 company.

Doing consulting at Hystra is well suited to people who want this kind of hybrid experience, who want to combine social impact and business environment, field visits and presentations to the boards of directors of large groups, empathy and analytical rigor. With the objective of scaling up the social and environmental innovations that our world deserves.

Thank you Lucie for all this, it was very interesting.”

Check out our other interviews, with YouMeo , Meja , and Calyans .