WHO IS CHRISTY STICKNEY?
“I don’t want my consulting to be driven by ambition. I want this to be a way to stay engaged, earn some money, and feel useful”
Christy Stickney is an international development consultant with over 20 years of experience designing, evaluating and documenting innovative, market-based development initiatives.
She has developed particular expertise in housing micro finance, and worked as regional Director of Housing Finance at Habitat for Humanity International, overseeing the design and implementation of innovative projects in shelter finance and construction throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
She has published over a dozen studies, manuals, and practical guides in microfinance, affordable housing, and alternative technologies for water and sanitation.
You can connect with Christy here:
IN TOR 028 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Housing, its importance as a human right, the way it is approached and understood differently by the poor, and its connection to the broader term ‘habitat.’
- Christy’s career and current priorities, her discoveries, her views on consulting, ambition and family life.
- How microfinance is affecting people in unintended ways, as experienced by Christy in several countries in Latin America, and the key factor it plays and will keep playing in satisfying housing needs for the poor.
- What Christy would consider a smart approach to management, by staying small, being selective, and nurturing relations instead of marketing.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Habitat for Humanity (HH)
- Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
- CEMEX’s Patrimonio Hoy program
- Hernando de Soto
- UN Habitat Group
- Peace Corps
- Market based development
- Social mission
- Qualitative housing deficit
- Consulting, and transition into
- Berlin, Germany
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
25 year career, 3 consulting
Focus: market based development initiatives.
Microfinance, more recently housing.
A recent study by her, funded by IADB reviews housing solutions, by level of finishing or ‘completeness of improvement.’ Financing is more critical than ever.
The initiatives she works with are often low margin. They tend not to exist because a critical mass to reach ROI is missing. Christy wants to find or develop such mass.
Christy is looking at the frameworks, studying them. They are new, they need lots of research.
Organizations she works with are for profit with a social mission. Cemex is one key partner, its Patrimonio Hoy program exists but does not grow as expected, it was supposed to extend beyond Mexico.
“The poor don’t buy homes. Home financing is of limited access.” There are also land uses.
Hernando de Soto.
There is qualitative home deficits, meaning there is more than plenty subpar homes for everyone. It becomes a habitat issue.
So, microfinance could really help in housing and habitat situations. Microfinance caters to the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ when it comes to housing, because poor people tend to progressively build their homes over time through small fixes.
UN Habitat Group. Declaration with indicators, including infrastructure, water, sanitation.
Work is starting to focus on homeowners, they should have autonomy and knowledge to make their own housing decisions.
“I think I cheated. I was raised by development workers. I picked it up by osmosis.“
“I assumed I’d end up with a stable private sector job and live a normal American life“. Then, a premature life crises. She got such life, “so what?“
Rediscovered international development, joined the Peace Corps in Nicaragua
Her finance skills proved very useful.
“The hardest decision of my life.“
Second pregnancy revealed a home life longing. Husband looking for financial options. Leaving HH was tough in that regard. Christy benefitted from her network, particularly mothers who successfully transitioned into consulting.
Christy has also interacted with a lot of consultants.
Starting, HH gave her enough work, familiar subject and people.
Then finance dwindle. She wanted to branch out, which was very hard. “Get ready for a lot of silence in return.” Eventually her network produced. Now 3 projects, one of them with HH.
“The open market has not produced a lot of success for me.” She has not marketed herself as an expert but as someone “who can hold remaining work.” She sells reliability.
Is her glamorous? Does it matter?
Operational work is about dealing with a thousand details, requires will, and it’s not highly recognized vis-à-vis producing a research or an evaluation. “But it’s a lot of learning, and an unusual activity for a consultant“. It is rewarding.
Christy enjoys the mix of high level thinking, technical writing, and the operational side, instead of having to do just one.
Christy prefers to have just a handful of projects at a time, provided by a handful of clients, once a year or with similar regularity. She prefers nurturing existing relationships than marketing.
Facing institutional culture, expectations, value
Terms of reference don’t always highlight the real interests of the organization, let alone the people representing them.
Some of her reporting has no other goal than to feed her client’s PR, and she must be aware of it to put forth information deliberately.
She’s worked with people she knows or types of organizations familiar to her. “I can transfer a lot of my understanding.“
Difficult times are often due to people looking for something additional to what the project entails and the organization’s vision.
Commitments provide flat fees or hourly work. For good projects she can give some extra time, free of charge.
Only once she recounts not wanting to follow through with additional requests. Usually she sees a benefit in her continuing work, achieving final product, and the relationship. “It’s an investment.” Plus she does not have to consider factors other than her own time
“I drew a line and walked away.” The client did not seem content, Christy felt she had spend enough time getting clarification, but probably she could have done more. She cut her losses because aside from that, she didn’t feel good rapport, and she didn’t feel the subject was going to give her a lot of new business.
Personal management strategies
“I might not want to be idle and use time to advance work.“
“I do not want to be overcommitted. I don’t want my work to be stressful.” This does not mean disconnecting herself from her career, or not caring about her financial goals.
“In the month of July I’m off.” Christy tries to be honest, turning opportunities down if need be, knowing to say no. Nurturing relationships.
Travel is a challenge, which she does not want too much of for the time being. Working at home is still challenging.
“After I left my power cord I realized how dependent I was on my laptop.” Nothing fancy though.
In the 90s, working in Microfinance, visiting an elderly woman in Barranquilla, Colombia. She had 3 micro loans. She had a rustic candy machine as livelihood. “I could see really nothing that had grown because of these loans.” She only sold what she could do herself. And it was poignant when considering the efforts that went into making the loans possible. She asked her about it, the lady took her to a room with a collection of concrete blocks, which she planned to use to expand a room. That is, housing, not business. “Micro loans have an impact that goes beyond what we see.” Years before Christy went into housing.
“You need field experience, get out there, 3 years minimum interacting with the poor, involved in project to benefit them.“
“We can do a lot of harm, if we don’t have enough right experience, and humility.“
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