Flourishing amidst adversity: Cicely Belle Blain, Bakau Consulting

Flourishing amidst adversity: Cicely Belle Blain, Bakau Consulting

If you’re anything like us, you are probably tired of only hearing stories of doom and gloom since the pandemic started. Without question, it’s been a hard year for so many people. However, it has not been all bad.  

Recently, we caught up with three alumni who are business owners to hear what this past year has been like for them. Each have had their fair share of struggles operating a small business in the midst of a global pandemic. However, we were delighted to learn of some unexpected opportunities and wins this past year that we are excited to share with you. 

We first caught up with Cicely Belle Blain (they/them), BA’16, of Bakau Consulting to see what this year has been like for them and to learn more about their business. Cicely’s story is the first of a three-part series, so stay tuned for the next two. 

About Bakau Consulting 

To use Cicely’s own words, “Bakau Consulting (formerly Cicely Blain Consulting) is a full-service equity, inclusion, and anti-racism consulting company based in Canada, with a global, intersectional approach. 

“At Bakau Consulting, through education, consultation, and transformation, we help our clients make meaningful change within their organization. Our work is rooted in community, social justice, and a passion for equity, which translates into tireless advocacy for systemic change. 

“Our work takes place on the stolen, unceded, and traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.” 

In their relatively short time in business, Cicely has an impressive collection of corporate, government, and public sector clients ranging from Lululemon to the United Nations. Some of their work includes coaching clients one on one, giving keynote addresses, participating in panels and other speaking engagements, and facilitating focus groups. 

Change and collective liberation — in and outside of the workplace 

A strong theme that emerged from our conversation with Cicely and our research into their consulting business was that of collective liberation, both in and outside of the workplace. Cicely was an activist with Black Lives Matter Vancouver and is passionate about building safe spaces of community. 

“As an activist with Black Lives Matter Vancouver, I learned so much about the power of collective liberation and the importance of changing spaces so that everyone can be free to be their fullest selves. One place I noticed this was lacking was in professional spaces. Many folks would find community outside of work to nourish their hearts and souls but considering we spend the majority of our lives at work, I felt it important to change these spaces, too. If we have to work to survive, we should at least be able to do it in spaces that feel safe.” 

Cicely’s work is rooted in making positive changes in organizations and in people’s lives. This past year has certainly been one of great change for many people and businesses as we learned to adapt in the ever-evolving environment of COVID. Cicely found there were some benefits to the changes they had to make at Bakau Consulting, when gathering in person was no longer an option. Like many businesses, they were forced to move everything online, which had its challenges as well as its opportunities. 

“We have moved 100% online, which is both good and bad. We miss connecting with clients in person and the exciting atmosphere of in-person workshops. But being online also makes our work more accessible to lots of different people and allows us to reach global audiences. Our online conference was a huge success with over 1000 people joining from all over the world. We had people attend from Canada, US, UK, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, and the Cayman Islands. 

“With the increased interest in anti-racism work over the past year, we have definitely grown as a business and served lots more clients in all kinds of industries. 

“I definitely miss travelling for work, attending events, speaking to large audiences (who I can see and hear clapping!), and meeting new people.” 

Surprises and growth 

Starting one’s own business is undoubtedly fraught with surprises and learning as you go. This was true for Cicely who started Bakau Consulting with little experience running a business. We asked them what surprised them about the process of opening their own business and we loved their response: “Everything!” It is possible and, in fact, necessary to learn as you go — but know that there may be some failures along the way. 

“I feel like everything has been surprising because I entered into this work with no business training or professional experience in consulting so everything has been a learning curve for me. I have done a lot of self-teaching, failing forward, and learning on the spot.” 

Even with the challenges of starting a new business and then nurturing it during a global pandemic, it still has been an incredible time of growth and expansion for Bakau Consulting. In fact, the business is thriving with Cicely having grown their team from three to twelve people in the past year! 

Taking care of oneself and looking to the future 

Self-care and prioritizing one’s needs has become an essential skill for many of us this past year. Taking time to ensure your needs are met while balancing the demands of work is more important than ever. When human resources are limited, many entrepreneurs often work round the clock, especially when a business is just starting. We were curious how Cicely manages work-life balance and if they had any tips to share. 

“It’s definitely been a struggle to get to a point where I have more balance. In the work I do, I am often speaking from personal experience and diving into challenging topics like oppression, racism, homophobia, etc. so it can be difficult to create a separation between work and self. To combat this, I try to engage in light-hearted content in my spare time. I like to read fantasy, watch sci-fi movies, scroll through TikTok, write short stories, and draw pointless pictures.” 

Having an outlet for unwinding after work is so important. Never underestimate the power and importance of rest — as well as having something to look forward to. One of the great challenges of this past year was not being able to plan for the future. We were curious what Cicely was looking forward to most for this upcoming year. 

“There are some team members who I haven’t met in person so I look forward to a time when we can connect all together and celebrate our achievements of the past year. I also hope to get some rest and see my family!” 

We hope all of us get more time to rest and see the people who are important to us this coming year.  

Keep an eye out for the next installment in this series. We talk with Sarah McWilliams (she/her), BKin’15, a Principal Designer from Taffete Designs, on how she has pivoted her event business this past year.