It was a chance temporary employment opportunity that led to Anije Lambert taking the bull by the horns and using her small savings to start a company that now provides employment for many young people.
There are months when Project Development Consultancy (PDC), better known as PDC-Research, barely scrapes enough to pay its few fulltime staff members, but there are other months when they receive bonuses and the company has to hire temporary staff to fulfil its contracts.
PDC-Research describes itself as providing services to larger research organisations, academic institutions, small to medium sized companies, non-governmental and public sector institutions interested in research assistance across the Latin American nations.
It utilizes a pool of talented graduates and connects them with experts.
“This new innovative solution enables you to get the best out of both worlds. PDC will save you time and money, while offering you new and fresh approaches as we skillfully minimise excessive research project overheads,” the company boasts.
Lambert is 23 years old, but she has a solid foundation in the area of research having started at the age of 19; and when she speaks about it, her passion is visible. But it was not just her idea, as she quickly pointed out that she read a lot since “reading is important.”
She recalled the shock on her parents’ faces when at the age of 15 she decided that she wanted to study Sociology at the University of Guyana; they, like others, felt that particular study area was for the lazy who wanted a quick degree.
But Lambert had done her reading and was aware that the degree in sociology offered much more. “There was always a stigma attached to sociology – that lazy people go into it… But I did my research. I was 15, I didn’t know what to do and I remembered just knowing that I wanted to crunch numbers and knowing I wanted to do market research. My father was in business and I wanted to understand why people died,” the young businesswoman told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.
Because of her age she had a difficulty getting into the University of Guyana but it worked out and she has never looked back. While it is known that many study sociology to do psychology, she knew she wanted to do organisational psychology. Every assignment she was given she ensured that research was included, even when it was not requested.
The perspective of a lecturer (Andrew Hicks) on the topic really helped as he pointed out that sociology looks at society on a micro approach and for her it was the closest thing she found to market research.
Lambert’s penchant for research saw her always conducting polls for assignments and because of this, a friend recommended her to some researchers who were in the country. She was in the final year of her degree programme at the time.
She started off as a quality assurance officer – doing validation for the data – on the project. Grading herself, she said she “did a pretty okay job”. In the end she was promoted and later ended up managing the project which was under the Ministry of Health with a company called the Research Institute based in Cambridge, United Kingdom.
After the company left, they later contacted Lambert and offered her and a few other young persons some more opportunities which saw them working on projects across the Caribbean.
“I was working from my bedroom. I was employing my school friends and luckily this was just before our final year submission and they were able to pay for their thesis… things had gotten real tough because they could not work… it was final year and so we were able to employ a lot of young people, including my friends,” Lambert said.
The ability to employ others gave her the most joy coupled with working alongside experts in the field and bridging the gap between the practical and the theoretical for university students.
While she was being paid, Lambert said her real aim was to gain experience.
Following graduation Lambert continued to work with the same company but also got some other clients even though the contracts she signed “were tight” and had exclusivity.
Wanting to maximize on all that she had learnt and the opportunities that were being offered, she took her savings and in a room in one of her father’s buildings, founded PDC-Research.
Her father owns Lambert’s Electrical but is also into real estate and imports hair products for sale. According to her, they “do anything you can think about because they are business people.”
She started off with two fulltime employees. Her first project was worth US$500 and at the end of the month they worked for just about $30,000.
“It was crazy,” she admitted, but at the end of four months they had many projects and had managed to not only find jobs for young people in Guyana but also in Barbados at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus.
The project entailed research and data management and the first in-country project was provided by Grace Kennedy for data entry.
Many of the projects outsourced most of their data management to her company and in her own words, “I wouldn’t lie, we dealt with some tedious tasks such as transcription, coding, psychoanalytic… really critical things like looking at videos and documenting how many times [people] would turn their heads to a particular stimuli.”
While there was a fulltime staff of four the company also employed part-time employees who were either university students or graduates.
“I think that is what made me happy and it wasn’t about the money, the reality is that my family is fairly okay, but this venture was really independent. I graduated with a distinction and I had the opportunity to say I want to go and study in London but there was some calling that allowed me to make the decision to stay,” she said.
“I wanted to make an impact and I wanted to learn more and I felt that it was the best opportunity because it connected me with so many experts and so many consultants and so many topics and researches that were not static; it was fluid…”
Three years down the line, the Managing Director of PDC-Research said the company has expanded, has a roster of consultants and has been making money.
“Onto this day I know people might say we are crazy, but I still haven’t gone to any financial lending agencies… And we are making a living, sometimes a bit too comfortable,” she said with a laugh.
Project opportunities are garnered most times by referrals as according to Lambert she is “really a shy person” and as such does not do any wide marketing, but instead does direct marketing by approaching companies and ministries, one on one, and a lot of online marketing.
She dismissed the myth held by many who believe research is all about going into the fields armed with pen and paper and asking questions.
“Research is much larger, it is actually going in back into your systems, going into your inventory, if for example you are a retail store, and seeing the trends…,” said Lambert who was prepared to quite happily school this reporter on all aspects of research.
She pointed out that decisions made based on information gathered from research instead of “guesstimation” will lead one in the right direction.
“Research is not boring numbers and it is just not a pretty looking document with graphs, it’s about getting valuable insights from data,” she noted.
Lambert’s interest in research saw her participating in an International Market Research Conference called IIex (Innovation and Insight Exchange) in Atlanta last month where the best of the best convened to showcase and discuss new innovative approaches for market research.
It brought together new market researchers with major clients such as Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Hallmark, AT&T, Lowes, Unilever and other billion-dollar enterprises. During the course of the conference recognition with awards, one of which is the Ginny Valentine Award, were given to researchers.
Lambert, during an online panel discussion, shared her story of starting up her business in Guyana and one of the moderators nominated her for the Ginny Valentine Award and also wrote an article about Lambert which resulted in companies from other countries reaching out to her.
While Lambert was not among the six winners of the award, the judges decided to give a special honorary mention to PDC-Research and its team and the work they have done in Guyana. By the end of the conference, after hearing the company’s story, many associations reached out to Lambert and her company received an estimated US$100,000 in tokens such as year admissions to associations, conference access and books.
As to the way forward Lambert said she is “at home” with her career choice even though she sees herself as an “anomaly” since not many persons her age are interested in this career and not many women.
She and her team aim to break the ground when it comes to market research in Guyana and they are working on reestablishing links with universities directly so it would be easier to funnel into their system consultancies and part-time workers.
Lambert hopes to write a book on research methodology and get an honorary doctorate, she said the latter with a small laugh.
“We are young and we want to break free from tunnel vision. We want to experiment and we want to see what happens if we go on an alternate route. It is really and truly about changing the lens,” the enthusiastic young woman said.