Susan Liautaud

London Calling

Susan Liautaud ’89 is on a mission to help nonprofit organizations get the most out of their limited resources.

By David Nicholson

Winter 2009

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From her modest base in London’s Knightsbridge, Susan Liautaud ’89 competes against the big guns in international consulting. She stands out by proving that great ideas can be mightier than corporate muscle. But that’s not the only way she separates herself.

Liautaud doesn’t charge for her services.

Her pro bono advice helps international nonprofit organizations that range in size and represent numerous sectors of activity—from human rights to homeless issues to international aid. The work, which benefits groups like Amnesty International France, is rewarding and humbling. “It is a privilege to partner with these groups,” she notes, “and I am extremely proud of the work they do.” Liautaud’s specialties include everything from accountability to strategic planning, management, and governance issues. She is particularly adept at guiding organizations through the regulatory and voluntary accountability mechanisms that emerged in the wake of scandals such as Enron and United Way. She always focuses on the importance of people and cultural context.

Liautaud, who is also working toward a Ph.D. in social policy at the London School of Economics, founded her own firm, Imaginer, in 2005. It’s what she calls a “one-woman shop,” with high-level graduate students volunteering as interns. Although based in London, Liautaud consults for clients in France, the U.S., and, increasingly, other countries.

In return for working pro bono, Liautaud asks clients to comply with a series of ethics standards tailored to fit each organization. The results can be startling. In one example, a French NGO operating in developing countries worked closely with Liautaud on a dossier for government funding. “The Ministry of Finance said they hadn’t seen an application so focused on accountability and ethics in 20 years,” Liautaud says.

Before moving across the pond, Liautaud practiced international business law at Sullivan & Cromwell in the 1990s. She also served as associate dean for international and graduate programs and lecturer-in-law at Stanford Law School. At Imaginer, she draws on a wealth of experience to create individualized solutions for clients. At the core of her work is a passion for problem solving, something nurtured at Columbia Law School in ways that Liautaud applauds to this day. “The professors routinely gave exams without clear answers,” she recalls, “so I loved it.”

Her work with Imaginer touches on such intractable issues as child poverty and the impacts of the global downturn on nonprofits. The need for NGOs to husband their resources and act with the utmost regard to accountability and ethics will only increase along with pressures on the communities they serve, Liautaud notes. “It’s essential in this environment to guide organizations efficiently and with the aim of first-in-class accountability,” she says, “while never losing sight of the people who drive those organizations and the people they serve.”

David Nicholson is a London-based journalist and author who has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and GQ.

Photographed by Michelle Sank

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