SPOTLIGHT: 8(a) Certified Small
Business Success Story
René Lake, President & CEO
LTL Strategies: Combining
Excellence and Ethics to Grow a Small Business
LTL Strategies is an 8(a)-certified small business specializing in
Economic Growth and Competitiveness, Conflict Management, Democracy and
Governance, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Communications. LTL Strategies
holds a facility and security clearance. During a recent interview LTL
Strategies founders and principals René Lake and Hillary Thomas-Lake
shared their experiences with iNreach News.
How long have you
been working with USAID?
As a firm, LTL Strategies has been working with USAID for the past five
years. Since becoming an 8(a)-certified firm in January 2003, LTL
Strategies has won 9 Indefinite Quantity Contracts (IQCs) as a
subcontractor-partner to larger USAID implementing partners like Creative
Associates, the International Resources Group (IRG), Louis Berger
International, and Management Systems International (MSI).
In addition, LTL Strategies' principals,
experts, and advisors have extensive experience working as top USAID
executives, mission directors, and technical consultants on USAID-funded
When did you get
your first contract with USAID, as prime contractor?
Two years ago. Our first contract as a prime with USAID was a 2006-2007
mid-term evaluation of the $200 million Presidential Initiative to End
Hunger in Africa (IEHA). The purpose of the evaluation was to review the
structure of the IEHA program, review the program's activities, assess
the activities' impact in terms of IEHA's objectives of developing
greater food security and supporting business and value chain development
for small farmers, and make recommendations for improvements that could
increase the program's impact and achievement of the goal of cutting
hunger in half by 2015.
The review assessed achievements and
presented recommendations to improve the program's performance. IEHA is
an 11-country, multi-year effort designed to rapidly increase
agricultural growth and rural incomes in sub-Saharan Africa. This
initiative has aligned US support for African agricultural development
with the African-led Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Plan
Hillary Thomas-Lake is LTL Strategies Managing Director
Have you done work
with other U.S. Government agencies?
Yes, we have been fortunate to work with other US government agencies
like the Department of Interior and the National Security Agency (NSA),
in addition to providing direct technical assistance to foreign
governments, and to multilateral organizations like the United Nations,
the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We have also
developed a very proactive partnership strategy, which has allowed us to
collaborate with several small and large firms and organizations,
including Chemonics, Lockheed Martin, CHF International, Creative
Associates, the Development Gateway Foundation, the Development
Innovations Group, DevTech, Louis Berger International, The Mitchell
Group, IRG, Amex International, MSI, the National Council of Negro Women
(NCNW), SAIC, etc.
How did you come to
start your firm?
We started our firm because our work on the promotion of the African
Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) revealed that there were many private
sector companies in African and Caribbean countries that wanted to break
into doing business with the North American markets, but did not quite
You also have some
private sector experience?
Yes, LTL Strategies' founding partners have a wealth of experience
working with the public and private sectors in Africa, Europe, and the
Caribbean. At the time that we decided to start our own company, we
decided to bring our private sector development experience to bear, along
with a capacity to work in 8 different languages.
What are those 8
In addition to English, LTL Strategies has the in-house capacity to work
in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Anglophone Caribbean Creole,
Haitian Creole, and Wolof. We speak those languages at a native fluency
Were you both
No, we've just both spent lots of time working on international affairs
and living in different countries. René is a former journalist who has
written books on media development, and did his post-graduate studies in
communications and philosophy of language at the Sorbonne in Paris… And
Hillary, who is a graduate of Georgetown University, has just completed
her dissertation for her PhD in Conflict Management at SAIS (School of
Advanced International Studies), here in DC at the Johns Hopkins
Do you find USAID to
be a small-business friendly agency?
We are seeing signs that indicate that USAID is moving toward having a
more aggressive small business utilization strategy. We think that it is
important for USAID to significantly increase its use of small business
firms. We all need to remember that small businesses play a significant
role in the United States economy. They employ about half of all private
sector employees, and generate more than half of non-farm private gross
domestic product. They pay more than 45% of the total US private payroll
and, for the last 10 years, they have generated, every year, between 60%
and 80% of the net new jobs. In 2006, small businesses received $77
billion out of the $340 billion in federal government contracts. That
represents 22.8%. This rate is an indication of how much effort USAID has
to make in order to catch up with other US government agencies.
What is the most interesting
thing you've done?
Almost everything we have done so far has been really
interesting. Because of LTL's wide range of expertise, we have been
fortunate to be involved in several fascinating projects. LTL's M&E and
strategic planning capabilities have opened doors in new fields for the
firm in agriculture, public health, and education.
In 2007, LTL conducted a third party
evaluation for a Gates Foundation-funded health-reporting project
implemented by the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF). The
project was implemented in three countries (Botswana, Kenya, and Senegal)
and focused on developing key African media houses into centers of
excellence that would provide training in health reporting on HIV/AIDS,
malaria, and tuberculosis to budding African health reporters. Developing
country media is familiar territory for LTL Strategies, so it was fun to
be in contact with a variety of African media outlets, and to observe
first-hand the impact that technology is having on urban and rural-based
African journalists' abilities to report effectively on emerging health
Any other work in
the public health sector?
Yes, another interesting project has been LTL Strategies' ongoing work
with the World Bank's AIDS Campaign Team for Africa (ACTAfrica). In 2006
and 2007, LTL Strategies provided content development and workshop
moderation services for ACTAfrica's multi-donor conferences on mobilizing
the Francophone Private Sector in Africa in the Fight against HIV/AIDS.
It has been fascinating to observe the growth and development of the
private sector in Francophone Africa, despite the fact many Francophone
African countries' regulatory environments make it more challenging for
private sector development. What has been even more fascinating has been
to witness first-hand the ways in which the African private sector is
stepping up to partner with African governments in the development and
implementation of multi-sectoral national action plans to fight the
spread of HIV/AIDS.
Production factories, insurance
companies, banks, and other private sector businesses across Africa are
providing voluntary testing and treatment services, and working to link
urban-based companies with rural community associations that are trying
to provide comfort, treatment, and moral support to people and
communities living with HIV/AIDS. This is truly the emergence of African
indigenous philanthropy, and represents an important and [relatively] new
Any advice for
companies like yours?
Keep a positive attitude and maintain very high ethical standards. The
energy your positive attitude generates will help you come up with
creative strategies for winning new business and growing your company.
Also, we strongly recommend two books that can serve as ready references
for a positive energy boost when things are challenging. The two books
are Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, and Mindset: The New
Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Both books (each in its own way)
challenge us to rethink our assumptions about our ability to get things
done. Goleman's book asks us to reassess how we quantify professionalism,
by inviting us to consider-and value!--the emotional intelligence behind
someone's advanced degrees and work experience. Dweck's book challenges
us to shift from a "fixed" mindset about our limitations to a "growth"
mindset about our limitless capacities.
Finally, be true to your core company
values, which are-hopefully-- inspired by your core human values. LTL's
motto is "Excellence and Ethics Combined for Measurable Results." It
guides every aspect of our work ethic from the types of projects we
participate in, to how we deal with some of the less pleasant challenges
of being a small business in a big business-oriented field. At LTL
Strategies, we believe it is important to choose a guiding concept, and a
set of guiding principles, that will set the standard for the quality of
work you produce, and the general culture of your organization.
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