In 2002, our late partner Dr Jörg Meyer-Stamer asked Christian Schoen and myself (Dr Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke) to start up a consultancy firm in the field of international development cooperation.
It was the right moment for all of us to embark on something new: after a decade of research, Jörg had become interested in a more practical involvement in development. At the time, Christian had just finalised a contract coordinating an innovation management project in Indonesia and was looking for a new approach to working in development. For myself, the start-up was an opportunity to re-enter the international working environment after a five-year period of consultancy in structural change in Germany’s Ruhr area.
Initially our main product was PACA (Participatory Appraisal of Competitive Advantage). This methodology was developed and well documented by Jörg based on his advisory work in southern Brazil in 1998. The strength of PACA was and still is its pragmatic approach, translating leading management concepts (like Michael Porter’s Diamond and 5 Forces) into easy-to-use tools for development practitioners. The main intervention area was the meso level – inspired by the concept of Systemic Competitiveness – that is to say, the often-ignored area between macro-economic stability and the micro firm level. For this very reason, we called our firm “Mesopartner”.
In April 2003, we formally founded a Partnerschaftsgesellschaft (an association of partners), which is a legal form of company in Germany that helps to formalise the collaboration of freelance professionals. This organisational setting was ideal for all of us, because it gave us the possibility to continue working with a relatively high degree of personal independence and own responsibility within a solid network and company framework. The main function of the firm was to disseminate and develop consultancy products such as PACA, RALIS (Regional Appraisal for Local Innovation Systems) and later the Compass of Local Competitiveness and other methods, to learn together and to create visibility within in the international development community.
All the founding partners preferred to keep Mesopartner small and flexible. Nevertheless, the firm was able to integrate a few new partners and each of them helped shape the profile of the company.
Frank Wältring entered in 2004, bringing in both research (he was engaged with Jörg and other well-known development researchers in the so called Meso-NRW project) and project management experience (in central America).
In 2007 Shawn Cunningham – who obtained a PhD in Business Administration in 2010 – joined Mesopartner after having worked closely with us as a representative of one of our main clients in his home country, South Africa. There he pioneered market-oriented LED (Local Economic Development) and BDS (Business Development Services) approaches for the GTZ (German Technical Cooperation).
Marcus Jenal joined Mesopartner in 2015. Over the last few years Marcus has closely collaborated with Mesopartner as an associate and he played a significant role in our shift into complexity thinking. This collaboration resulted in the development of the Systemic Insight approach.
With a touch of irony, we call ourselves a multinational micro enterprise. All of us are micro-entrepreneurs by choice, appreciating the freedom and flexibility of a small firm, supporting our clients in larger organisations and contributing to development.
Mesopartner was one of the pioneers and trendsetters during the boom time of participatory approaches to Local Economic Development (LED) during the past decade. The young company was the service provider of choice for several entities of the German Technical Cooperation (today all integrated into the GIZ, the German development cooperation with South Africa) to experiment with territorial approaches to economic development. Other development agencies, NGOs (such as World Vision), development banks and consultancy firms hired Mesopartner to design, help implement and evaluate their programmes and projects in territorial development. Over the years, the firm has extended the scope of its work to related areas such as cluster and value chain promotion or regional and sectoral innovation systems. Mesopartner is even active in specialised fields such as Quality Infrastructure (QI).
Mesopartner is strongly committed to capacity building. Over the years of the firm’s existence the partners and associates have trained many hundreds of development practitioners on four continents. Our trainings methods are known for their interactive and creative learning formats. The flagship event is the Summer Academy, an international one-week intensive training and experience exchange event in Germany. Our annual Summer Academy event takes place in the first week of July.
A very sad moment in the history of our firm was the passing away of Jörg Meyer-Stamer on 1 May 2009. His unexpected death occurred only six months after we had celebrated his 50th birthday by (secretly) producing the book “Milestones in a process of innovation, change and development”. The loss of Jörg, the intellectual leader of the firm, had an enormous impact on the firm and its partners in both personal and professional terms. But in line with Jörg’s thinking, the remaining partners were brought closer together and converted the challenge into an opportunity. Committed to Jörg’s legacy, the firm moved on to innovate and contribute to economic development. Together with his academic friends, Mesopartner created the JMS Scholarship for young development researchers and practitioners in his memory and his way of combining first-class academic research with fieldwork in developing countries.
Today Mesopartner is actively involved in the debate about more systemic ways to respond to the complexity of development. The partners are familiarising themselves with upcoming concepts such as Capacity Works and the Cynefin framework, or studying and experimenting with Social Network Analysis (SNA). During this updating process, Marcus Jenal had been especially inspiring.
Our endeavour to integrate systemic thinking and complexity into development work confirms Mesopartner’s strategic intent “to be globally acknowledged as an innovator in development and partnering with strategic customers and associates through capacity building and coaching, as well as programme design, method and tool development and capture, knowledge management and problem solving.”
Read more about our journey in our Annual Reflections.