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“I started as a boss and ended as a partner”

As manager of a 150 people department at a big Swiss company, Raphael Raetzo participated in BOOKBRIDGE’s 5th Capability Program program to Cambodia. During the program he learnt to leverage the potential of his team by trusting, not controlling them.

Raphael (left with blue polo and red 3) and his familiy visited Angtasom Learning Center one year after he helped to set it up.

Share with us 3 important facts that people should know about you. One of them should be a fun fact if you like.

  1. I’m a senior expert in the customer interface, a technology enthusiast and an entrepreneur.

  2. With my wife I have two kids – I speak German with them, my wife Italian, and together we talk in French.

  3. Every morning I take a bath – to have time for thinking.

Why did you participate in the Capability Program? What was your motivation?

There were different reasons for participating. First of all, I was looking for a new training to strengthen my professional skills and to learn something new.

Secondly, I was attracted by the program structure itself: besides theoretical modules the program contained on-site modules where the newly learnt was put into practices.

Thirdly, I had just come back from a 3-months journey across the Southeast Asia. Therefore, I was thrilled that the program would take place in Cambodia, a country a had just been travelling in.

And last but not least I felt (and still feel) lucky. I have had many chances in my life, growing up in a rich country like Switzerland, getting an excellent education and job, having a great family. I´ve donated money to non-profits before but I wanted to help with my own hands. With the CAP program I saw an opportunity to give something back by getting physically engaged in it.

Which highlight or moment in the program do you remember?

Among the highlights during the program were the first contacts with the local people in Cambodia and the opening ceremony.

After the program, highlights were the various calls with the social entrepreneur Sothika and especially my visit with my family to Cambodia.

Raphael's children met Cambodian students in person during their trip to the learning center.

Which impact did BOOKBRIDGE have on your professional life?

Thanks to the program, I started to use new techniques and approaches in my professional life. As I had made experiences with no-hierarchy project teams during the 6 months, I tried to delegate more to my employees.

Before the program, I had the responsibility for a 150-people team and many different projects. Therefore, I had to apply a tight, pre-defined structure to manage things successfully.

After the program I asked myself: what do I really need for leading a project to success? What do my employees need to lead their projects themselves successfully?

I gave it a try and found out that it worked! People started to commit themselves more than before because I showed them that I trusted them. So I started to redefine my responsibility: instead of controlling as much as possible I put trust in my employees. We are one team, we get it done if we work together was my message.

With giving the least structure possible I could gave more space to my team’s creativity and commitment.

Before the program, I led my team as boss. Today, I´m more a coach and mentor that supports the team leading projects to success. If you need me I´m there was what I communicated to my team.

The program taught me to collaborate with people across large distances and to trust them. Back home, I found out that this was also a much-needed skill for my job: I don´t have to think through everything. It is sufficient to provide a certain framework and then trusting the others that they fill this frame with their ideas and work.

Participating the program I had to deal with people very different from me with different ideas, mindsets, values. I learnt that just because others do things differently than you it doesn´t mean that they don´t get things done. They just do it in a different way.

How did your company react to your new “let it go” approach?

I got a lot of positive feedback from my team. They came to me and said: I learnt new things because I had to do something I hadn´t done before. Finally, I could show where my skills are instead of always doing my old job.

Many appreciated that they could talk to me at eye-height.

For my CEO, it was very new in the beginning. When I had to present project results to him, I decided to leave the presentation to my team members. Our CEO had to get used to the fact not having the manager in front of him but someone from one of the projects. However, he started to appreciate it when it turned out that people from the projects talk much clearer about challenges and problems in the project than the managers.

... and on your private life?

After the program I thought: it can´t be over now! I wanted the impact I´ve had to last on. And I talked to other program alumni of BOOKBRIDGE’s and we decided to found the association Friends of BOOKBRIDGE in 2017.

Friends of BOOKBRIDGE is a scholarship program collecting money for students from poor families. So far, we have granted stipends to 70 students in different BOOKBRIDGE social enterprises. We only grant long-term stipends to accompany the students on the long-term.

With the money, there are also rules to follow: for examples, students have to attend 80% of the classes to show them that we expect something back from them.

The program follows a holistic approach. We not only see the child, we try to reach out to the parents and to get them engaged for our cause. We foster your child, what can you do for us? Students receiving a stipend are more engaged than other students. They appreciate the help and are very willing to collaborate.

In Mongolia, we have started to finance an entrepreneurial training for young people lasting 3 months.

When travelling with my entire family (12 people) to Cambodia in 2017, we visited the social businesses and schools. It was an amazing experience for me and my kids. I not not only reunited with my old friends but could share my experience from 2015 with my family.

As many kids, my children sometimes struggle to find the motivation to go to school. We then always talk about these Cambodian kids that were to happy to go to school and grateful to receive education. Their experience has changed their perspective on the things they take for granted.


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