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ImageDeveloping Managers the Eco-Tourism Way: Team building in Kenya’s Rift Valley

Building effective teams and developing management confidence should be high on the agenda of companies looking to maximise their talent. For companies struggling to devise a challenging and socially responsible programme, a visit to Malewa River Lodge in Kenya can make all the difference, as Vincent Owen of Interims for Development recently discovered.

I first visited Malewa River Lodge nearly three years ago when I took part in a fund-raising trek in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The Lodge is situated in the Kigio Wildlife Conservancy which is home to a range of wildlife including rhino, buffalo, several species of antelope and a breeding herd of the endangered Rothschild giraffe. The environment is spectacular and I was fortunate to meet Chris Campbell Clause, the Managing Director during this visit.  I offered to help the Conservancy if I could and I knew, even after my first short visit, that I would return there.

The following year I contacted Chris and he invited me to spend a few days with him and his team looking at their marketing approach and to see whether I could offer any guidance on their business management practices. This assignment I willingly undertook.  On a recent short holiday in Kenya, I was keen to visit the Conservancy again and Chris took the opportunity to show me his latest development, a number of “outward bound” constructions, together with another large building.

Building Confidence and thinking ‘outside the box’

Image“The large building (‘Bush School or ‘Eco centre’’) is to be multi purpose,” Chris explained. “It will provide a venue for environmental education to rural children, where we will have an LCD projection unit to show documentaries on environmental issues, and host a library for environmental education. It will also be a building to host schools and corporate companies who wish to come for team building, and for partnership programmes with the local schools and conservation projects.”

The development also includes a high ropes challenge course which has been purpose built to US safety standard requirements.  “We want to offer individuals from the corporate world and from schools the opportunity to come to a wilderness setting to challenge themselves,” said Chris. “The aim of which is to build confidence in the participants and to help them attain goals in life that they may previously have felt were beyond their reach. It is also about making people think ‘out of the box’, and hopefully, by the time they leave, we will have instilled a little bit of ‘eco management’ ethics into their way of thinking.”

Malewa River Lodge also intends to set up an IT centre to offer local children the opportunity of learning such skills and gaining access to the internet to expand the limits of their learning opportunities.

Conservation is a ‘rich man’s privilege’

ImageChris was inspired to create this development after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  “9/11 taught us not to rely on overseas tourism alone, so we needed to diversify our investments in a way that was harmonious with eco tourism management so that we could insure that we were not totally dependant on the tourist dollar,” he explained.

“Secondly, from a realisation that conservation of the environment is a difficult challenge in a poor country. I wanted people from comfortable homes, in comfortable countries, to come and meet children form poor families, and understand the challenges faced in an environment where people cut down trees on a daily basis because they cannot afford alternative fuels for cooking a hot meal. It is important to understand that conservation is a ‘rich man’s privilege’ and that Global, Corporate Social and Environmental responsibility should be the 'buzz'.”

Chris has an undeniable passion for what he does and he is now looking to the corporate world to get involved in the Lodge’s projects as part of their Corporate Social Investment commitments. 

“We hope to provide a platform so that these wealthy businesses can assist our country to look after our natural resources,” he says. “Initially this will come about through education, hence our partnership programmes between local and overseas schools and the intention to offer IT facilities. Perhaps we could start with each corporate company donating a second hand computer that would otherwise end up in a skip.” 

Building Ethically

Designed by Chris, the development was constructed by local artisans using local materials, disproving any pre-conceptions that imported materials are better than those found locally, as he pointed out.  “Building with local materials using local unskilled labour is very effective and more ethical. It helps Kenyan’s become proud of who they are, and what they have, and above all, it provides local employment.”

The facility has begun to attract interest from international corporate companies, insurance companies, banks and even government bodies including the Hotel and Catering Levee Trustees, as well as schools.

“Our first clients were Old Mutual Insurance Company,” says Chris.   “They brought their entire team of 160 people from their Nairobi office over a period of six weeks, split into groups of 24.”

Image Currently, the facility can accommodate up to 50 delegates and Chris hopes to provide for larger numbers in the future.  “The new building is phase one of our construction and is suitable for day trips from Nairobi”, he explains. “This provides a lounge and dining room with kitchen and washing facilities and is ideal for briefings and classroom ‘brainstorming’ before or after being put to the test on the challenges outside!”

Along with excellent catering for all group sizes, accommodation options are available in the Malewa River Lodge, the Ranch house, and the Kigio Porini Camp, which is under construction.

“These can provide for 36 guests in great comfort (if people do not mind sharing) in 3 beautiful locations on the banks of the Malewa River and still within Kigio Wildlife Conservancy,” says Chris.

“Depending on the client’s budget, we can organise ‘luxury camping’ in spacious tents with all amenities including flush toilets, or two man tents and an African camping experience! We have hosted 100 employees from the British Embassy staff.”  Chris plans, in due course, to build accommodation adjacent to the Challenge course, but for the meantime guests can share team building with African wildlife!

An African Experience with an Ecological Edge

Malewa River Lodge also offers an ideal venue for corporate off-site meetings, along with opportunities for Corporate Social Investment and Partnership opportunities with the Malewa Trust to develop and work with micro enterprises, rural schools and conservation projects.

ImageOutdoor development can be a powerful way of developing interpersonal skills and building teams. Set within a 3,500 acre wildlife conservation area with accommodation in the Malewa River Lodge and Ranch House, the new facility offers both activities and beautiful scenery. For companies looking for a new way to foster team building skills, the Malewa River Lodge offers an African venue with an ecological edge. 

Whether to provide senior management with a venue for uninterrupted meetings or to offer an incentive, employees can view wildlife in a private conservancy and enjoy the added activities of walking with wildlife, hand feeding a giraffe, horse riding, abseiling, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking and trout fishing!

Or simply have somewhere to get away from the office and do ‘nothing’!

 For further details, contact www.malewariverlodge.com

Vincent Owen is a Senior Consultant for the Human Resources and Training company, Interims for Development.  Vince has developed and run a range of Human Resources and Management Training programmes across Africa.

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