Malaysia Travel Diary

 23 October 2016

Borneo, Malaysia. As night falls, the surrounding Borneo tropical rainforest has come alive with noise – most notably the trill of frogs and the rhythmic pulse of cicadas. I am with Indira and nine others on the Sabah study tour of the Emerging Leaders Dialogue Asia (ELDA). Yesterday, after we delivered our workshop on transformational leadership, our group flew from KL to Kota Kinabalu, where we were welcomed for dinner in the beautiful family home of Jasmine, an ELDA alumnus. We enjoyed a mini-feast of banana fritters, pomelo and langsat (a bit like lychees but more delicious), while listening to the inspiring story of Barefoot College, which trains village grandmothers to be solar engineers.

This morning we set out from the Cititel Express hotel at 5.30 am and met the management team of Forest Solutions Malaysia in Kota Marudu. After a short presentation by Li Ling and Glen of their sustainable forestry approach – which is a ‘mosaic’ model of commercial timber plantations mixed in amongst protected secondary rainforest – we were given a tour of one of their plantation conservation areas (Coupe 7 Block 7), including the Kolibambang Nursery where we are overnighting.

While it is always disturbing to see rainforest being cleared, it is not old growth, virgin forest (i.e. it has been logged numerous times before) and the hybrid approach may create the economic incentives needed to stop logging tropical hardwoods from the rainforest in favour of the higher yield commercially grown trees. Having patches of plantation in between the natural forest (they clear around 65%) also allows some migration of species and avoids large scale clear felling.

25 October 2016

This morning I am sitting in a bamboo gazebo next to the river at Camp International’s volunteer centre in the village of Bongkud. We arrived here in time for lunch yesterday and then walked up to the kindergarten that is being built and did some token volunteering – an hour or so of painting and chopping out a concrete floor. In the evening after dinner, a dozen or so local children performed traditional dances. We were then invited to try their bamboo dance, which is a bit like hopscotch between parallel bamboo poles that are being smashed together.

All of this is part of Camp International’s Borneo volunteer programme, which is extremely well organised and integrated into the village community. Two things that impressed me most were the passion and commitment of the local Borneo managers and workers, and the strong, yet humble, hands-on leadership of the village chief. I was a bit concerned about dependence on Western charity (volunteers), but it seems they do also work on building self-reliance by creating livelihoods in eco-tourism and other areas.

Last night we slept in one of the traditional bamboo long houses, which has 10 adjoining rooms raised on stilts and with open windows. It was a real treat to fall asleep to the sounds of crickets and the flowing river, although some were less impressed with the local rooster that began his wakeup call long before sunrise. Once again, I feel so privileged to be able to experience these diverse places and to meet inspiring individuals from around the world.

26 October 2016

We had a fantastic few days travelling around Sabah, meeting inspiring people and seeing beautiful places. I am now writing to the soundtrack of the rainforest: the screech of cicadas, the chorus of frogs and the roar of the river running by. We have just returned from a short walk through the forest to a thundering waterfall, where we took a refreshing dip in the natural pool and had a power shower under the waterfall. This is a stunningly beautiful place called Mahua, about 1.5 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu.

Yesterday after breakfast at Camp Bongkud, we drove to Mount Kinabalu and listened to a presentation by the director of the protected park (and World Heritage Site) about the terrible earthquake of June 2015, which killed four guides and 14 tourists, including school children. We also visited the family of one of the mountain guides who had lost his life. Indira and I would love to return and do the 2 day (overnight) hike to the summit.

28 October 2016

Yesterday we visited Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a marine conservation area around five islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. I was surprised that the islands were inhabited and developed as resorts. Unfortunately the inherent conflict between people and conservation was all too evident, with litter on the beaches and in the ocean, waste water effluent flowing into the sea and destruction of the corals by tourists. There was also a small (3m x 3m) net under one of the jetties with a dozen or so large fishes and sharks on display, supposedly for educational purposes. Unsurprisingly and sadly, the park’s tour guide said the marine park had not increased biodiversity, but rather only slowed its destruction.

On the positive side, the islands are beautiful and some attempts are being made to offer lower impact tourist activities. For example, there was an underwater glass tunnel for viewing fish in their natural habitat, and solo submarines, which look like a cross between a diving bell suit and a motorbike, from which tourists can view the corals and marine life. There are also low impact activities like a zip line from one island to another, which we had fun testing out. At one of the resorts, on Gaya Island, we heard about Inner Peace, a company that trains rural women to enter the spa tourism sector.

In the afternoon we were hosted by SWEPA (Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association) and heard a presentation about the Barefoot Solar Project, which trains village grandmothers to become solar engineers. There are so many positive aspects to this case, as it breaks barriers and stereotypes around gender, age and education (the ‘solar mamas’ are also illiterate), while introducing renewable technologies to rural areas and ensuring there are people with the necessary skills to maintain and fix the solar lights if they break down.

This morning we visited KPJ Sabah, a private hospital chain. Apart from showing that a Malaysian company can deliver world-class healthcare services for the wealthy, there was not much to be inspired by.

2 November 2016

Our study tour ended with a presentation by the Sarawak Economic Development Agency, where our group of a dozen of so was joined by HRH Princess Anne. The next day, each of the seven study tour groups delivered a 30 minute presentation of their findings to a panel which included HRH.

Our Sabah group shared our insights across five themes:

  1. Tensions in sustainable development, which I presented, together with Jereme, focusing on the cases of Forest Solutions and the Marine Conservation Park;
  2. Challenges and barriers, covering transparency, infrastructure and overdependence, with the positive case of Barefoot Solar;
  3. Education and empowerment, showcasing St Martins School, which trains pupils in vocational skills like tourism and hairdressing, Inner Peace Spa, and Mahua Rainforest Paradise;
  4. Women as sustainability leaders, referencing SWEPA and the Solar Mamas; and
  5. Leadership traits, co-presented by Indira, focusing on vision, humility, tenacity, passion and collaboration.

Our presentation was very strong, striking a balance between informing, critiquing and inspiring. I concluded with four messages, saying:

  1. We came knowing that in the West we have failed to find a sustainable path to prosperity and wellbeing;
  2. We came with many questions and found many answers that informed, challenged, entertained and even surprised us. For example, we didn’t know that Malaysia was the 3rd largest producer of solar panels in the world in 2014;
  3. We came from diverse backgrounds and countries and discovered strength in our diversity, not only in the team but also in the communities and organisations we met; and
  4. We came as emerging leaders ourselves and were delighted to find a strong crop of emerging leaders in Asia, Malaysia and Sabah.

I finished by thanking HRH, ELDA, Adrian (the chair), Kishore (the organiser) and Boon (our study tour group leader), saying that we arrived as curious students and are leaving as inspired friends.

Over the final two days I had three opportunities to speak directly with Princess Anne and was impressed by her easy, down to earth manner, and her probing questions and comments, especially during the day of presentations.

We left Kuching having formed some wonderful new friendships with our study tour group members. We are hopeful that there may be opportunities for follow up work in Micronesia and New Zealand.

Yesterday we visited BB, a large scale clothes recycling factory, which processes about 600 tonnes of used clothes a month, mostly from Australia, which it redistributes for sale around the world. It is a good example of closing the loop, although worker conditions could be improved (70% are migrants working 12 hour shifts six days a week for minimum wages). We were told this is standard practice in Malaysia.

We return to Cambridge enriched by fresh experiences, cultural insights, new friendships and shared memories. So it goes and so we grow.

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South Africa Travel Diary

25 January 2016

As I write, I am seated at a beautiful rough wooden table, in a Bush Villa at Botlierskop in the Western Cape, some 20 km inland from Groot Brak River, just past Mossel Bay. The veranda, with two half-egg shaped, latticed swinging chairs, looks out through some trees onto a small lake (watering hole).

On the opposite bank, a herd of a dozen or so Waterbuck have been browsing, while a cormorant dries its wings, perched on a protruding branch in the middle of the water. Nearby, on the bank in front of our villa, hadedas are rooting around, and a pair of kiewiets are piep-piep-pieping. There are muddy spoor of what is most likely Cape Buffalo, and the occasional view of vervet monkeys on the tin roof of the adjacent villa.

Now, I hear the spit and crackle and hiss of the fire outside, where soon we will barbeque our dinner. Inside, the furnishings are sumptuous, with four-poster beds, veiled in white net curtains, and animal skin rugs on the floors. And yet, I realise, the real luxury is the tranquil setting; the feeling of being cocooned in nature and soothed by its lullaby sounds.

Besides the idyllic setting, it is made special by being with Indira and Dorian. For Dori, it is his first visit to South Africa and his first ‘safari’ type experience. And for Indira, it is a deepening of her connection with this land, its people and its wildlife.

Earlier, on arrival at the reception, we watched as two tame, yet free-ranging, lions walked towards us from a hill opposite. It was such a moment of pure joy that it brought tears to Indira’s eyes. Seeing her moved by nature so deeply makes me happy. Tomorrow, we will do a morning game drive and then walk with the lions, which will be a thrilling first for all of us.

27 January 2016

Yesterday, we awoke to find a rhino on the grassy bank opposite our villa. It appeared to be resting, although it got to its feet when it heard us. The immense bulk and prehistoric look of the animal makes it an impressive sight to behold. It was joined a few minutes later by two more rhinos, which had come down to the water to graze.

At 7 am we set out on our 3-hour game drive with Richard, our guide. The reserve is divided into several fenced enclosures to keep certain species and herds apart. For example, the Burchell’s zebras are kept separate from the once endangered Cape Mountain zebras, to prevent interbreeding. The lions, which all seem to be rescued or hand-raised, also have their own enclosure in which they are fed. Fortunately, all the fenced areas are large and allow the animals to roam freely.

During the morning, we saw a wonderful variety of wildlife, including impala (red and the rarer black), bontebok, lion (an impressive male called Chris and two females), elephant (a forty year old bull, with a younger male and a small calf; apparently the matriarch had died from a stroke recently), five giraffe, five rhinos, a big herd of kudu, zebras (Burchell’s and Mountain), blue wildebeest and some waterbuck.

A few new things I learned were that the white line under lions’ eyes is to help reflect light into their eyes at night, thus enhancing their nocturnal vision, while the opposite is true for waterbuck, which have a white line above their eyes to reflect light away, especially from the water surface. I didn’t know how to differentiate a Burchell’s from a Cape Mountain zebra (the former has white socks and the latter has the remnants of a dewlap, like Kudus). Also, I never watched a giraffe chew the cud, swallow it and 5 seconds later regurgitate a new cud. Because of their long necks, the whole process is more visible that with other ruminants.

After the drive and checking out, we went on a 45 minute ‘walk with lions’. Our pair were both lionesses and one was a white lion. The lions actually walked ahead, flanked by their four handlers, while we followed a safe distance behind, with our guide. One of the handlers occasionally throws some meat, to keep them incentivised. Although it was a special experience to walk with these big, beautiful cats, it felt at the same time a little contrived and unnatural, as if the lions were being made to perform for us.

After leaving Zorgfontein/Botlierskop, we headed up the Garden Route, stopping for lunch at Cocomo restaurant in the Wildernis, where we also took a dip in the nearby ocean. Next we stopped at Knysna Heads to take Dori to the viewpoint, before driving on to our chalet at Storms River Mouth. Dinner was a simple affair of eggs on toast and soon we were drifting to sleep to the lullaby of waves crashing against the rocky shore.

This morning, we walked a short loop in the forest and then to the suspension bridge and across and to the top of the opposite hill, before having an extremely brief swim – literally diving in and clambering out – in the Storms River Mouth and the bay near the restaurant. In both cases, the water was achingly cold, far more like the Atlantic than the Indian ocean. Both Indira and I lost our glasses, apparently by diving in with them on, although neither of us remembers doing so. This afternoon, we plan to do the 3 km coastal rocky walk past the cave and to the waterfall, where we will once again brave the freezing waters.

28 January 2016

Last night, we watched the sunset over the ocean, to a symphony of crashing waves. Later, after an Amarula coffee at the restaurant, we gazed in awe at the Milky Way overhead, so clear against the inky black sky. In the morning, we rose early (6.30 am) for a walk, before making our way to the Elephant Sanctuary just outside Plettenberg Bay.

Here, we had the surreal experience of walking with three elephants, each with their trunk in our hands. It is always such a privilege to be close to these gentle giants. The weight and strength of their trunks was incredible to feel, as first Thandi, and then Amarula used their prehensile trunk tips to hold the four fingers of my right hand during the walk. I must admit that I prefer seeing the elephants wild rather than tame and trained, but these hand-reared orphans seemed well treated.

Further along the N2, we stopped at the Coral Tree for coffee and pancakes, and then at Buffelsbaai (Buffalo Bay) for a swim, some excellent body surfing and lunch. Tonight, we will be back at Mountain View Swellendam, before heading into Cape Town for our final day, which will include taking the ferry to Robben Island and the cableway up tot the top of Table Mountain.

26 June 2016

After my 4 days teaching at GIBS and meetings with KPMG and Gautrain on Monday, I attended a talk by Unilever CEO Paul Polman on Tuesday morning. His knowledge and conviction easily convinced me that he is every bit the global sustainability leader that he appears to be. Indira arrived later the same morning and on Wednesday we had meetings for Migrant Entrepreneurs Network and a lovely dinner with Richard and Robyn.

On Thursday 23 June we flew to Durban where we met Mom and Dad and drove to our eco-lodge near Hluluwe. It is a nice spot nestled among the trees, with friendly staff and small splash pool. Although there is no wildlife officially on the property, warthogs and antelope (like red duiker) slip under the fence from the surrounding game reserves. There are also leopard that cross the grounds at night and vervet monkeys that move through the trees in the late afternoon.

Despite the idyllic setting, we spent the first few days coming to terms with two pieces of unwelcome news. First, I did not get the Atlanta job and second, Britain voted to exit the EU. Even so, we are starting to relax after our hectic 5-week spell of work and travel. Yesterday we went for a 7 km walk alongside the nearby lake, which has dried up, and had a very pleasant late lunch at The Fig Tree restaurant. Today we did an extended self-drive in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park and were lucky enough to see elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, impala, nyala, red duiker, wildebeest, zebra and an eagle.

29 June 2016

Yesterday was mom’s 70th birthday. After a leisurely morning around the camp, we went canoeing on Muzi Pan. We saw hippos about 20 metres away, as well as flamingos, pelicans, egrets and pied kingfishers. It was quite windy on the lake, so we go a good 2-hour workout in beautiful surroundings. Canoeing was a perfect activity, as it brought back memories for my parents of their younger days in Zimbabwe.

In the evening, we enjoyed a specially prepared dinner at the Eco-lodge, with a mushroom and potato soup for starters, salad and mixed vegetables for mains and a carrot cake (with 7 and 0 candles) for dessert. Two of the staff treated us to Zulu singing and dancing, after which we gave Mom her presents: earrings from Mexico (with pyramids and the sun and moon in Paua shell) and a Book of Jeanette, which we created online and printed.

This morning on our walk along the reserve fence line, we saw nyala and vervet monkeys. Every night, I have been woken by the cries of bush babies (aye-ayes) in the trees around the cabin. It is wonderful to sleep to the sounds of crickets and wake to the singing of birds. In these ways, the body and soul are refreshed.

2 July 2016

Flying back to a disappointing pro-Brexit UK after an adventurous break in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

One of the stories our canoe guide, Themba, told us was how the Zulu believe that a soul must always be brought home after death. He showed us a particular tree, with hooked thorns, which is used by sangomas to retrieve lost souls if a person dies somewhere other than their homestead. Little did we know that the story would very nearly apply to us (Indira and I) a few days later.

Two days ago, we went to DumaZulu cultural village for a tour of traditional living and a show of Zulu singing and dancing. Indira found it interesting and I was moved, as ever, by the powerful drums and melodies. We were also delighted to record a short birthday message from one of the young Zulu men to Khayam, as well as a song of good wishes (‘Halala’) from a group of Zulu men for the Into the Park Festival. In the afternoon, we joined a river boat cruise and were treated to numerous sightings of hippos, crocs and wildlife on the banks, as well as a classically spectacular African sunset.

Yesterday, our final day of holiday, we decided to return to Sodwana Bay, joined by Mom and Dad, who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary. As before, we swam in the waves, suntanned on the beach (despite a gusty wind) and went for a long walk along the shoreline. We decided to swim a second time before driving back to The Fig Tree near Hluhluwe for lunch. The waves were bigger than previously and the tide seemed stronger, but this only made it more fun. Indira and I were near one another and quite far out among the waves, enjoying ourselves.

Then, suddenly we noticed that we were no longer able to touch the seabed in between waves. Also the rip-tide (undertow) was dragging us further and further from the shore. I shouted to Indira that I was heading back to the shore, then quickly realised that my efforts were futile; the current was too strong. As panic set in, I saw to my dismay that Indira was also in trouble. After struggling with the tide and the waves for some time, my feet unexpectedly felt sand in between one set of waves. I could hardly support my own legs, but relief flooded my consciousness as I knew we were going to survive.

Even now, days later, we are still dealing with the trauma and trying to make sense of the swirling thoughts and emotions. We feel foolish (for underestimating the risk), humbled (by our own feeble strength), in awe (of the immense power of the ocean), grateful (for a chance to live on) and more deeply connected (knowing that we probably saved one another from a terrible fate).

Reflecting now, I don’t know how close we came to drowning, but it certainly felt dangerously close. Analysed in the cold light of day, it is clear that panic and loss of hope were the greatest threats to our life in those moments. If we had just focused on staying afloat, or swimming across the current, or even allowed ourselves to be pulled out beyond the waves by the rip-tide, we would most likely have had the strength to swim back in further along the shore, or to tread water or float while waiting to be rescued.

By battling against the current in panic, we were exhausting ourselves to such an extent that we might have been pulled under and not had enough strength to keep fighting. Similarly, by believing that the situation was hopeless – that all our efforts were in vain and we would be swept out to sea beyond rescue – we increased the likelihood of psychologically (and therefore physically) giving up.

These are powerful insights, but I never want to go through another experience like this to test whether we’ve learned the lessons well. Right now, it is enough to celebrate living. My motto will be: life is good. No matter what challenges and struggles we might face, it is good to be alive.

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South Africa Notes 2016

25 January 2016

As I write, I am seated at a beautiful rough wooden table, in a Bush Villa at Botlierskop in the Western Cape, some 20 km inland from Groot Brak River, just past Mossel Bay. The veranda, with two half-egg shaped, latticed swinging chairs, looks out through some trees onto a small lake (watering hole).

On the opposite bank, a herd of a dozen or so Waterbuck have been browsing, while a cormorant dries its wings, perched on a protruding branch in the middle of the water. Nearby, on the bank in front of our villa, hadedas are rooting around, and a pair of kiewiets are piep-piep-pieping. There are muddy spoor of what is most likely Cape Buffalo, and the occasional view of vervet monkeys on the tin roof of the adjacent villa.

Now, I hear the spit and crackle and hiss of the fire outside, where soon we will barbeque our dinner. Inside, the furnishings are sumptuous, with four-poster beds, veiled in white net curtains, and animal skin rugs on the floors. And yet, I realise, the real luxury is the tranquil setting; the feeling of being cocooned in nature and soothed by its lullaby sounds.

Besides the idyllic setting, it is made special by being with Indira and Dorian. For Dori, it is his first visit to South Africa and his first ‘safari’ type experience. And for Indira, it is a deepening of her connection with this land, its people and its wildlife.

Earlier, on arrival at the reception, we watched as two tame, yet free-ranging, lions walked towards us from a hill opposite. It was such a moment of pure joy that it brought tears to Indira’s eyes. Seeing her moved by nature so deeply makes me happy. Tomorrow, we will do a morning game drive and then walk with the lions, which will be a thrilling first for all of us.

27 January 2016

Yesterday, we awoke to find a rhino on the grassy bank opposite our villa. It appeared to be resting, although it got to its feet when it heard us. The immense bulk and prehistoric look of the animal makes it an impressive sight to behold. It was joined a few minutes later by two more rhinos, which had come down to the water to graze.

At 7 am we set out on our 3-hour game drive with Richard, our guide. The reserve is divided into several fenced enclosures to keep certain species and herds apart. For example, the Burchell’s zebras are kept separate from the once endangered Cape Mountain zebras, to prevent interbreeding. The lions, which all seem to be rescued or hand-raised, also have their own enclosure in which they are fed. Fortunately, all the fenced areas are large and allow the animals to roam freely.

During the morning, we saw a wonderful variety of wildlife, including impala (red and the rarer black), bontebok, lion (an impressive male called Chris and two females), elephant (a forty year old bull, with a younger male and a small calf; apparently the matriarch had died from a stroke recently), five giraffe, five rhinos, a big herd of kudu, zebras (Burchell’s and Mountain), blue wildebeest and some waterbuck.

A few new things I learned were that the white line under lions’ eyes is to help reflect light into their eyes at night, thus enhancing their nocturnal vision, while the opposite is true for waterbuck, which have a white line above their eyes to reflect light away, especially from the water surface. I didn’t know how to differentiate a Burchell’s from a Cape Mountain zebra (the former has white socks and the latter has the remnants of a dewlap, like Kudus). Also, I never watched a giraffe chew the cud, swallow it and 5 seconds later regurgitate a new cud. Because of their long necks, the whole process is more visible that with other ruminants.

After the drive and checking out, we went on a 45 minute ‘walk with lions’. Our pair were both lionesses and one was a white lion. The lions actually walked ahead, flanked by their four handlers, while we followed a safe distance behind, with our guide. One of the handlers occasionally throws some meat, to keep them incentivised. Although it was a special experience to walk with these big, beautiful cats, it felt at the same time a little contrived and unnatural, as if the lions were being made to perform for us.

After leaving Zorgfontein/Botlierskop, we headed up the Garden Route, stopping for lunch at Cocomo restaurant in the Wildernis, where we also took a dip in the nearby ocean. Next we stopped at Knysna Heads to take Dori to the viewpoint, before driving on to our chalet at Storms River Mouth. Dinner was a simple affair of eggs on toast and soon we were drifting to sleep to the lullaby of waves crashing against the rocky shore.

This morning, we walked a short loop in the forest and then to the suspension bridge and across and to the top of the opposite hill, before having an extremely brief swim – literally diving in and clambering out – in the Storms River Mouth and the bay near the restaurant. In both cases, the water was achingly cold, far more like the Atlantic than the Indian ocean. Both Indira and I lost our glasses, apparently by diving in with them on, although neither of us remembers doing so. This afternoon, we plan to do the 3 km coastal rocky walk past the cave and to the waterfall, where we will once again brave the freezing waters.

28 January 2016

Last night, we watched the sunset over the ocean, to a symphony of crashing waves. Later, after an Amarula coffee at the restaurant, we gazed in awe at the Milky Way overhead, so clear against the inky black sky. In the morning, we rose early (6.30 am) for a walk, before making our way to the Elephant Sanctuary just outside Plettenberg Bay.

Here, we had the surreal experience of walking with three elephants, each with their trunk in our hands. It is always such a privilege to be close to these gentle giants. The weight and strength of their trunks was incredible to feel, as first Thandi, and then Amarula used their prehensile trunk tips to hold the four fingers of my right hand during the walk. I must admit that I prefer seeing the elephants wild rather than tame and trained, but these hand-reared orphans seemed well treated.

Further along the N2, we stopped at the Coral Tree for coffee and pancakes, and then at Buffelsbaai (Buffalo Bay) for a swim, some excellent body surfing and lunch. Tonight, we will be back at Mountain View Swellendam, before heading into Cape Town for our final day, which will include taking the ferry to Robben Island and the cableway up tot the top of Table Mountain.

26 June 2016

After my 4 days teaching at GIBS and meetings with KPMG and Gautrain on Monday, I attended a talk by Unilever CEO Paul Polman on Tuesday morning. His knowledge and conviction easily convinced me that he is every bit the global sustainability leader that he appears to be. Indira arrived later the same morning and on Wednesday we had meetings for Migrant Entrepreneurs Network and a lovely dinner with Richard and Robyn.

On Thursday 23 June we flew to Durban where we met Mom and Dad and drove to our eco-lodge near Hluluwe. It is a nice spot nestled among the trees, with friendly staff and small splash pool. Although there is no wildlife officially on the property, warthogs and antelope (like red duiker) slip under the fence from the surrounding game reserves. There are also leopard that cross the grounds at night and vervet monkeys that move through the trees in the late afternoon.

Despite the idyllic setting, we spent the first few days coming to terms with two pieces of unwelcome news. First, I did not get the Atlanta job and second, Britain voted to exit the EU. Even so, we are starting to relax after our hectic 5-week spell of work and travel. Yesterday we went for a 7 km walk alongside the nearby lake, which has dried up, and had a very pleasant late lunch at The Fig Tree restaurant. Today we did an extended self-drive in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park and were lucky enough to see elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo, warthog, impala, nyala, red duiker, wildebeest, zebra and an eagle.

29 June 2016

Yesterday was mom’s 70th birthday. After a leisurely morning around the camp, we went canoeing on Muzi Pan. We saw hippos about 20 metres away, as well as flamingos, pelicans, egrets and pied kingfishers. It was quite windy on the lake, so we go a good 2-hour workout in beautiful surroundings. Canoeing was a perfect activity, as it brought back memories for my parents of their younger days in Zimbabwe.

In the evening, we enjoyed a specially prepared dinner at the Eco-lodge, with a mushroom and potato soup for starters, salad and mixed vegetables for mains and a carrot cake (with 7 and 0 candles) for dessert. Two of the staff treated us to Zulu singing and dancing, after which we gave Mom her presents: earrings from Mexico (with pyramids and the sun and moon in Paua shell) and a Book of Jeanette, which we created online and printed.

This morning on our walk along the reserve fence line, we saw nyala and vervet monkeys. Every night, I have been woken by the cries of bush babies (aye-ayes) in the trees around the cabin. It is wonderful to sleep to the sounds of crickets and wake to the singing of birds. In these ways, the body and soul are refreshed.

2 July 2016

Flying back to a disappointing pro-Brexit UK after an adventurous break in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

One of the stories our canoe guide, Themba, told us was how the Zulu believe that a soul must always be brought home after death. He showed us a particular tree, with hooked thorns, which is used by sangomas to retrieve lost souls if a person dies somewhere other than their homestead. Little did we know that the story would very nearly apply to us (Indira and I) a few days later.

Two days ago, we went to DumaZulu cultural village for a tour of traditional living and a show of Zulu singing and dancing. Indira found it interesting and I was moved, as ever, by the powerful drums and melodies. We were also delighted to record a short birthday message from one of the young Zulu men to Khayam, as well as a song of good wishes (‘Halala’) from a group of Zulu men for the Into the Park Festival. In the afternoon, we joined a river boat cruise and were treated to numerous sightings of hippos, crocs and wildlife on the banks, as well as a classically spectacular African sunset.

Yesterday, our final day of holiday, we decided to return to Sodwana Bay, joined by Mom and Dad, who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary. As before, we swam in the waves, suntanned on the beach (despite a gusty wind) and went for a long walk along the shoreline. We decided to swim a second time before driving back to The Fig Tree near Hluhluwe for lunch. The waves were bigger than previously and the tide seemed stronger, but this only made it more fun. Indira and I were near one another and quite far out among the waves, enjoying ourselves.

Then, suddenly we noticed that we were no longer able to touch the seabed in between waves. Also the rip-tide (undertow) was dragging us further and further from the shore. I shouted to Indira that I was heading back to the shore, then quickly realised that my efforts were futile; the current was too strong. As panic set in, I saw to my dismay that Indira was also in trouble. After struggling with the tide and the waves for some time, my feet unexpectedly felt sand in between one set of waves. I could hardly support my own legs, but relief flooded my consciousness as I knew we were going to survive.

Even now, days later, we are still dealing with the trauma and trying to make sense of the swirling thoughts and emotions. We feel foolish (for underestimating the risk), humbled (by our own feeble strength), in awe (of the immense power of the ocean), grateful (for a chance to live on) and more deeply connected (knowing that we probably saved one another from a terrible fate).

Reflecting now, I don’t know how close we came to drowning, but it certainly felt dangerously close. Analysed in the cold light of day, it is clear that panic and loss of hope were the greatest threats to our life in those moments. If we had just focused on staying afloat, or swimming across the current, or even allowed ourselves to be pulled out beyond the waves by the rip-tide, we would most likely have had the strength to swim back in further along the shore, or to tread water or float while waiting to be rescued.

By battling against the current in panic, we were exhausting ourselves to such an extent that we might have been pulled under and not had enough strength to keep fighting. Similarly, by believing that the situation was hopeless – that all our efforts were in vain and we would be swept out to sea beyond rescue – we increased the likelihood of psychologically (and therefore physically) giving up.

These are powerful insights, but I never want to go through another experience like this to test whether we’ve learned the lessons well. Right now, it is enough to celebrate living. My motto will be: life is good. No matter what challenges and struggles we might face, it is good to be alive.

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Malaysia Notes 2016

 23 October 2016

Borneo, Malaysia. As night falls, the surrounding Borneo tropical rainforest has come alive with noise – most notably the trill of frogs and the rhythmic pulse of cicadas. I am with Indira and nine others on the Sabah study tour of the Emerging Leaders Dialogue Asia (ELDA). Yesterday, after we delivered our workshop on transformational leadership, our group flew from KL to Kota Kinabalu, where we were welcomed for dinner in the beautiful family home of Jasmine, an ELDA alumnus. We enjoyed a mini-feast of banana fritters, pomelo and langsat (a bit like lychees but more delicious), while listening to the inspiring story of Barefoot College, which trains village grandmothers to be solar engineers.

This morning we set out from the Cititel Express hotel at 5.30 am and met the management team of Forest Solutions Malaysia in Kota Marudu. After a short presentation by Li Ling and Glen of their sustainable forestry approach – which is a ‘mosaic’ model of commercial timber plantations mixed in amongst protected secondary rainforest – we were given a tour of one of their plantation conservation areas (Coupe 7 Block 7), including the Kolibambang Nursery where we are overnighting.

While it is always disturbing to see rainforest being cleared, it is not old growth, virgin forest (i.e. it has been logged numerous times before) and the hybrid approach may create the economic incentives needed to stop logging tropical hardwoods from the rainforest in favour of the higher yield commercially grown trees. Having patches of plantation in between the natural forest (they clear around 65%) also allows some migration of species and avoids large scale clear felling.

25 October 2016

This morning I am sitting in a bamboo gazebo next to the river at Camp International’s volunteer centre in the village of Bongkud. We arrived here in time for lunch yesterday and then walked up to the kindergarten that is being built and did some token volunteering – an hour or so of painting and chopping out a concrete floor. In the evening after dinner, a dozen or so local children performed traditional dances. We were then invited to try their bamboo dance, which is a bit like hopscotch between parallel bamboo poles that are being smashed together.

All of this is part of Camp International’s Borneo volunteer programme, which is extremely well organised and integrated into the village community. Two things that impressed me most were the passion and commitment of the local Borneo managers and workers, and the strong, yet humble, hands-on leadership of the village chief. I was a bit concerned about dependence on Western charity (volunteers), but it seems they do also work on building self-reliance by creating livelihoods in eco-tourism and other areas.

Last night we slept in one of the traditional bamboo long houses, which has 10 adjoining rooms raised on stilts and with open windows. It was a real treat to fall asleep to the sounds of crickets and the flowing river, although some were less impressed with the local rooster that began his wakeup call long before sunrise. Once again, I feel so privileged to be able to experience these diverse places and to meet inspiring individuals from around the world.

26 October 2016

We had a fantastic few days travelling around Sabah, meeting inspiring people and seeing beautiful places. I am now writing to the soundtrack of the rainforest: the screech of cicadas, the chorus of frogs and the roar of the river running by. We have just returned from a short walk through the forest to a thundering waterfall, where we took a refreshing dip in the natural pool and had a power shower under the waterfall. This is a stunningly beautiful place called Mahua, about 1.5 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu.

Yesterday after breakfast at Camp Bongkud, we drove to Mount Kinabalu and listened to a presentation by the director of the protected park (and World Heritage Site) about the terrible earthquake of June 2015, which killed four guides and 14 tourists, including school children. We also visited the family of one of the mountain guides who had lost his life. Indira and I would love to return and do the 2 day (overnight) hike to the summit.

28 October 2016

Yesterday we visited Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a marine conservation area around five islands off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. I was surprised that the islands were inhabited and developed as resorts. Unfortunately the inherent conflict between people and conservation was all too evident, with litter on the beaches and in the ocean, waste water effluent flowing into the sea and destruction of the corals by tourists. There was also a small (3m x 3m) net under one of the jetties with a dozen or so large fishes and sharks on display, supposedly for educational purposes. Unsurprisingly and sadly, the park’s tour guide said the marine park had not increased biodiversity, but rather only slowed its destruction.

On the positive side, the islands are beautiful and some attempts are being made to offer lower impact tourist activities. For example, there was an underwater glass tunnel for viewing fish in their natural habitat, and solo submarines, which look like a cross between a diving bell suit and a motorbike, from which tourists can view the corals and marine life. There are also low impact activities like a zip line from one island to another, which we had fun testing out. At one of the resorts, on Gaya Island, we heard about Inner Peace, a company that trains rural women to enter the spa tourism sector.

In the afternoon we were hosted by SWEPA (Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association) and heard a presentation about the Barefoot Solar Project, which trains village grandmothers to become solar engineers. There are so many positive aspects to this case, as it breaks barriers and stereotypes around gender, age and education (the ‘solar mamas’ are also illiterate), while introducing renewable technologies to rural areas and ensuring there are people with the necessary skills to maintain and fix the solar lights if they break down.

This morning we visited KPJ Sabah, a private hospital chain. Apart from showing that a Malaysian company can deliver world-class healthcare services for the wealthy, there was not much to be inspired by.

2 November 2016

Our study tour ended with a presentation by the Sarawak Economic Development Agency, where our group of a dozen of so was joined by HRH Princess Anne. The next day, each of the seven study tour groups delivered a 30 minute presentation of their findings to a panel which included HRH.

Our Sabah group shared our insights across five themes:

  1. Tensions in sustainable development, which I presented, together with Jereme, focusing on the cases of Forest Solutions and the Marine Conservation Park;
  2. Challenges and barriers, covering transparency, infrastructure and overdependence, with the positive case of Barefoot Solar;
  3. Education and empowerment, showcasing St Martins School, which trains pupils in vocational skills like tourism and hairdressing, Inner Peace Spa, and Mahua Rainforest Paradise;
  4. Women as sustainability leaders, referencing SWEPA and the Solar Mamas; and
  5. Leadership traits, co-presented by Indira, focusing on vision, humility, tenacity, passion and collaboration.

Our presentation was very strong, striking a balance between informing, critiquing and inspiring. I concluded with four messages, saying:

  1. We came knowing that in the West we have failed to find a sustainable path to prosperity and wellbeing;
  2. We came with many questions and found many answers that informed, challenged, entertained and even surprised us. For example, we didn’t know that Malaysia was the 3rd largest producer of solar panels in the world in 2014;
  3. We came from diverse backgrounds and countries and discovered strength in our diversity, not only in the team but also in the communities and organisations we met; and
  4. We came as emerging leaders ourselves and were delighted to find a strong crop of emerging leaders in Asia, Malaysia and Sabah.

I finished by thanking HRH, ELDA, Adrian (the chair), Kishore (the organiser) and Boon (our study tour group leader), saying that we arrived as curious students and are leaving as inspired friends.

Over the final two days I had three opportunities to speak directly with Princess Anne and was impressed by her easy, down to earth manner, and her probing questions and comments, especially during the day of presentations.

We left Kuching having formed some wonderful new friendships with our study tour group members. We are hopeful that there may be opportunities for follow up work in Micronesia and New Zealand.

Yesterday we visited BB, a large scale clothes recycling factory, which processes about 600 tonnes of used clothes a month, mostly from Australia, which it redistributes for sale around the world. It is a good example of closing the loop, although worker conditions could be improved (70% are migrants working 12 hour shifts six days a week for minimum wages). We were told this is standard practice in Malaysia.

We return to Cambridge enriched by fresh experiences, cultural insights, new friendships and shared memories. So it goes and so we grow.

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UK Notes 1992

4 August 1992

Arrived in London. To follow: Campervan Tour of UK with Kathleen, Mom and Dad – included Canterbury, Winchester, Stonehenge, Bath, Tintagel, Lake District, Findhorn, Sherwood Forest, Stratford pon Avon.

18 August 1992

By way of first impressions, Findhorn was somehow different from my expectations, although exactly what I had expected I can’t say. Nevertheless, I come away feeling impressed. Findhorn seemed to me a healthy, innovative, spiritually centred living and working community. All evidence pointed towards a creativity and openness of spirit at work, and certainly a willingness to experiment and change as the community evolved. Developments of particular interest included eco-housing projects as well as a number of business initiatives. In general, I believe the Findhorn experiment, and others like it, will be increasingly important as the search for alternative living styles begins to mushroom in the near future.

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Canada Notes 1992

26 April 1992

Started work with Royal Bank, Kingston; to be trained as Customer Service Representative, and assistant to Randy Hansuld, Area Manager for Kingston.

18 May 1992

Greetings from a spring-blessed Kingston, Canada. That’s right, we have sunshine, greening trees, and blossoming flowers (tulips and daffodils)!

Work is also looking positive. I’ve been with the Royal Bank for 3 weeks now, and getting to know the ropes has been quite a challenge. I’m basically starting out as a teller and working around from there. The people there are also very nice. Other good news is that Kingston has Unitarians! … Basically, they operate more as a contact group than a church. They don’t have a minister, only a “hired” chaplain who conducts weddings, etc., and so, instead, they have sub­committees who contribute in various ways to running the group. The community itself has about 100 people who regularly attend meetings and they range across the whole spectrum.

Kingston is very much a university town, similar in many ways to Stellenbosch – it also has the historical buildings (since it used to be the capital of Canada) and the tourism element. Anyway, since I’m just 5 minutes walk from the university, I’ve had a chance to peek in at their library, and it’s great! They have on-line access throughout the States, Canada and the UK! So, needless to say, I hope to do some preliminary work on my Masters thesis. …

I’ve only been here a month and I’ve already started up a library of my own (bookshops are definitely a weakness of mine!) Amongst others, I bought Leo Buscaglias book Love – I really enjoyed what he had to say – such common sense things, but most of us are too afraid to be honest with ourselves and others. Another which I think you should look out for if you don’t have it already is Pragmagic by Marilyn Ferguson (based on the findings of the Brain/Mind Bulletin over the last 10 years). Here are some extracts:

The practice of pragmagic is a kind of alchemy. The ancient alchemical quest was, of course, the transmutation of matter, the making of gold out of baser elements. But the alchemists were not motivated by greed. Quite to the contrary. This quest was symbolic, a metaphor for a deeper quest – the transmutation of the self into a new, golden kind of human. Where do we begin our contemporary alchemical quest? How do we discover magic in everyday life and learn to use it? Magic starts with a state of mind, a way of thinking. Before the practical tools and techniques can be of use, we each have to discover the internal sources of our own stories.

More news. I’ve decided to forfeit attending the Global Forum in Rio in June, even though I had been selected as a delegate and the Royal Bank was prepared to give me time off to attend it. I guess it’s just a case of personal priorities at this time, so I have no regrets; there will be more appropriately timed opportunities to come.

12 July 1992

Greetings once again from the Land of the Maple Leaf!

Well, I’ve been in Canada 11 weeks now and it’s been what I’m going to call a mixed experience. On the one hand, working in a foreign country, learning new things and meeting new people has been great. On the other hand, being away from home has been extremely unsettling for me. Suddenly, everything familiar is no longer there and you’re all on your own. …

Part of my experience has been that time alone has afforded me plenty of opportunity to get myself into contemplative knots regarding what should be the next step in my career path. My basic dilemma is that I know where I want to be, but I’m not quite so sure how to go about getting there. That is, I know that I want to end up writing, teaching and perhaps consulting on the “new age” (for want of a better label) business paradigm; but I’m not quite sure how to get started. Do I continue along an academic line (Masters and PhD) or do I opt for securing more work experience first? Then of course military service (which I don’t plan to make part of my life experience) and the general questions about South Africa’s future have to be figured into the decision as well. But enough about my deliberations – I’m sure life will reveal the way as I go along. …

Canada, in many ways, faces similar challenges and shares similar experiences to SA. Both have colonial histories which include disgraceful treatment of their natives; both are countries of immensely diverse cultures and backgrounds; both are in the process of building a nation (beginning with a negotiated constitution) in the face of minorities who wish to remain separate. The only difference seems to be that Canada is a lot more optimistic and positive about their process. Take culture for instance. A lot is being done here to promote the idea that diversity is strength and is something to be proud of rather than obliterated or scorned upon. We certainly could use a bit of that kind of attitude in SA at the moment. We need so much to regain our sense of self, and as a result our pride and dignity as people and as a nation. I guess where there is life there is hope … and lots of hard work to do.

A book I recently discovered is called Meditations on Business: Why Business as Usual Won’t Work Anymore by John Dalla Costa is truly inspirational. In fact, it’s everything I’ve been thinking over the past few years about the future course of business, and more. Its basic message is that the time has come for business to recognise its interconnectedness with the wider dimensions of nature and society. As such, it needs to take responsibility for its impact on the environment and on the lives of the human beings it affects. In essence, it needs to develop a firmer grounding in spiritual values. … I can’t tell you what a find this is for me! It’s the first book of its kind which directly addresses the new paradigm of my dreams and intended research. And it doesn’t end there. By synchronicity, the author is a CEO of a Canadian ad agency, and I’ve managed to contact him and arrange to meet him in Toronto in 2 weeks for lunch. I’m so excited!

25 July 1992

I found John Dalla Costa to be friendly, interesting and approachable; I felt quite “at home”, relaxed and treated with respect during our entire meeting. The most important ideas to emerge from our discussion were: 1) follow your heart, 2) don’t be in a hurry to settle into a career; enjoy opportunities to travel while you can, 3) work experience is advisable; it gives one credibility in both the academic and business communities, 4) writing is hard work and difficult to make a living out of, 5) try to infiltrate rather than confront the business community; hence, be cautious in the use of “new age” concepts and terminology. John was especially interested in my ideas on Parables for Business and Business Alchemy as the basis for books, and saw potential in the Business for a Better World journal.

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Japan Notes 1990

5 September 1990

I woke up with a gentle breeze on my face, and for a moment I was not sure where I was. My room had reed mats covering the floor and wooden panel walls painted with beautiful nature scenes. A sliding door opened onto a tiny garden with a narrow street below. Just outside the door on the step was a small pair of slipper-like shoes. I heard the strange yet vaguely familiar words: “Ohayo gozaimas” called in a woman’s voice in another room. Then I remembered that I was in Japan, halfway across the world from South Africa. It was a strange feeling.

Only three days ago I had been in Tokyo attending a five day international AIESEC conference with 200 other delegates from 50 countries. We had worked hard and partied hard together while enjoying a fantastic and successful conference (in fact, we had almost solved all the world’s problems!). Now I was in Nagoya (Japan’s third largest city) on a five day tour together with twenty of the delegates. On the night of our arrival we had been whisked off to a huge welcoming party organised by the Japanese AIESECers. We survived and went to stay with Japanese families for three days. My host family were great and spoiled me terribly.

I got up and greeted Hisako (my Japanese mother) in my best Japanese – “Ohio gozaimas, Hisako” (which means “Good morning”). She asked if I wanted to take a traditional Japanese bath. I discovered that bathing in Japan differs from Western baths. You do not wash in the bath because that’s for soaking in after your shower. Also, the baths are about one and a half times deeper than Western baths and filled to the brim with temperature regulated water and usually a sprinkling of herbs (what a pleasure!). Yesterday I had visited Nagoya castle with its spectacular seven storey tower fortress. It was built in 1612 for strategic defence, and after being almost totally destroyed in the Second World War, was rebuilt in 1959. That evening my host family dressed me in a kimono (traditional Japanese dress) and we all had a good laugh.

It will be sad to leave behind these wonderful friends, but the experiences I’ve had and the culture that I’ve grown to love will always be a part of me. This country with its charming mixture of ancient and modern I will take with me to share with others.

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Zimbabwe Notes 1990

24 April 1990

Well, here I am aboard the Trans-Karoo on my way home after 2 weeks away. I’ve been in Zimbabwe attending an AIESEC environmental conference in Harare on “Wildlife Management in Africa”. The conference was really worthwhile, although at times frustrating. Worthwhile because it brought together people from Zambia, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and SA.

Also, it made one more aware of the importance of (nay, the necessity of) conserving our environment and in particular “our” wildlife. But frustrating for me (and how!) because “conservation” seemed to involve treating wildlife as a commodity, as something which humanity “owns” and has the right to determine the destiny of. What am I talking about? I’m talking about wildlife managers (?) having the audacity to decide that the life of an elephant is worth $5000, or an impala $75 (these are the trophy fees for sporting hunters!). Even the idea of culling wildlife to me seems wrong. Indeed, the concept of “wildlife/environmental management” seems to me a contradiction in terms; an environment manages itself! Mankind’s interference is perhaps the heart of the problem … But don’t let my bitterness mislead you; the conference was a wonderful and invaluable experience.

It was really great to be back in the land of my birth – the climate, the vegetation, the type of people … It got me thinking actually: Why did I choose to be born and to spend my early childhood in that land? What were the factors which I needed to shape me for this life of mine? I didn’t come up with any clear answers (I didn’t expect to) but perhaps it has something to do with learning to appreciate nature (rather than a “big city” experience at an early age), learning to appreciate more “primitive” ways of living (and often more natural); also learning about the effects of war (something which had a direct effect on us as a family, not to mention the country as a whole); and who knows what else? It is a question which will now remain with me as I journey through life …

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Sri Lanka Notes 2015

26 April 2015

As I write from my study in Cambridge, with grey skies outside, still languishing from jetlag and a bout of flu, my reflections on the past week in Sri Lanka are sunny and positive.

Upon arrival in Colombo on Sunday, we were driven about 5 hours to an eco-hotel in the north called Kandalama, compliments of Aitken Spence. Set in a tropical forest and overlooking a lake, the hotel is an inspiration in sustainability. The hotel windows are literally draped with jungle vines and families of monkeys are regular visitors to the balconies. The hotel has been designed for minimal environmental impact (already achieving zero waste to landfill, for example) and maximum social benefit, working with the community and local interest groups to overcome initial resistance to the project. After sunset, as we swam in the pool sculpted out of natural rock, with bats swooping and insects warming up their nocturnal voices, it felt heavenly. This was followed by a relaxing massage before we collapsed into our beds.

As it happened, we had slept even less than normal on the 11-hour flight, as a man in the seat in front of us on the plane had some sort of seizure. Indira’s nursing instincts kicked in and she was very helpful to a doctor who was on board, as he set up an impromptu ER station and treated the man (Sam), hooking him up to a drip, oxygen and heart-rate monitor. Fortunately, by the end of the flight, he seemed to have revived fully and was extremely grateful to Indira for her quick thinking response, telling me, ‘She saved my life’.

The following day, Monday, we left around 9 am for the journey back to Colombo. En route, we visited the ancient cave temples of Dumbulla, which are adorned with Buddha sculptures large and small and paintings on the cave walls depicting the life of the Buddha. On the walk up to the caves, Indira sat with a flower vendor and learned how to fold open the lotus petals. Further up the path, a cheeky monkey then stole one of the blooms right out of her hand. The rest she left as an offering in front of the giant reclining Buddha, as a symbol that as the flowers fad and die, so our physical bodies are in an impermanent state of being.

Somehow, these ancient caves, said to date back over 2,000 years, felt far more sacred and special than the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which we visited later that day in Kandy. According to legend, the actual tooth of the Buddha is housed here; and it is ‘revealed’ daily during a religious ceremony, where hundreds queue to get a few seconds glimpse of the vessel holding the tooth. I can’t help but think that this fixation on a physical relic is completely contrary to the Buddha’s teachings about the impermanence and insignificance of the body as a vessel for the soul, and his discouragement for worshiping anyone or anything. But I guess human beings like to have something to cling to, a crutch for their beliefs, or a symbol of their aspirations.

We also stopped at a spice farm along the way to see the plants from which we get cinnamon, cloves, lemon grass, curry, pepper, vanilla and so on. One surprise was to see how the cashew nut grows, attached to the bottom of the fruit. Another was to see how curry powder is made by crushing various spices together, of which the curry plant is only one. The aroma is a sensual delight.

The next three days were taken up by the programme of CSR Sri Lanka, which had me talking to CEOs, senior government leaders, CSR managers and business teams about ‘transformative CSR’. I also spent time with the board of CSR Sri Lanka discussing their strategy, and attended Indira’s talk on social enterprise, which was extremely well received by an audience of young change-makers. The attendance and feedback from my sessions was all good and there seems to be enthusiasm to work more with both of us in the future.

On our final afternoon, Friday, we drove about 2 hours out of the city to visit the Bodyline factory, where they make almost all of Nike’s sports bras, as well as supplying Victoria’s Secret. The scale of these factories is immense, with one work area housing around 1,500 women. A few things impressed me about the operation. First, they have located the factories in rural areas, rather than centralising them in the cities. Second, they have a strong programme for supporting the opportunities of women, called Go Beyond. We spoke to two beneficiaries of this empowerment process and were encouraged by what we heard. Third, they are starting to integrate sustainability, with carbon footprinting and a sustainability index KPI, although I sensed a lack of strategic focus. Finally, they have shown that it is possible for an emerging economy facility to be world-class in their manufacturing techniques and innovation.

I am so pleased that Indira shared the trip with me. She is realising her own power to inspire, and the worldwide opportunities to work with leaders in fascinating cultural contexts. I was also glad to be addressing non-CSR specialist audiences – CEOs and government leaders – and to see more of Sri Lanka’s beautiful country and people. I foresee us being involved in making a documentary film here, perhaps centred on the story of Kandalama, or post war progress.

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Kosovo Notes 2015

8 April 2015

Monday was a long day, with a bus from Cambridge to Heathrow that left at 1 am and a flight via Vienna that left London at 6 am and arrived in Pristina at noon. From the airport we drove an hour or so to Prizren, where we spent the rest of the day and night with them. Prizren seems a fairly quaint old town, nestled beneath the snowy hills and dotted with mosques and churches and threaded with cobbled paths.

Now, I am writing from the downstairs room of Indira’s childhood home in Peja. Outside, the sun is shining and the skies are showing the first patches of blue since I arrived on Monday, two days ago. The room is cosy, heated by a wood-burning stove. Last night, we fell asleep to the crackle of the burning logs and the flicker of flames. I am happy to be here, meeting Indira’s family and discovering the place where she grew up.

Yesterday, we walked around Pristina’s central square and visited the NEW BORN sculpture, which gets painted with different colours and designs every year – such a wonderful symbol, reminding us that transformation is not a one-off event; we must be born again and again and again, constantly renewing ourselves. There a statue of Mother Theresa in downtown Pristina. Not many people know that she was Albanian.

In the evening, we had dinner at the Symphony restaurant with Indira’s niece and her husband, who is a well known musician in Kosovo. As always, I am attracted to the arts, feeling some kind of natural affinity.

I look forward to exploring Peja over the next few days, especially walking or driving in the mountains. Right now, Indira is making pancakes and I can hear a goat bleating from one of the neighbour’s yards.

10 April 2015

Yesterday, we took a drive through the spectacular gorge of the Acursed mountains of Peja. It truly is scenery to fall in love with. The previous day, we walked the 4 km path along the river, past the old Catholic nunnery. In the afternoon, we had lunch at Ujvara e Drinit. It was a wonderful family get-together in another beautiful spot in nature. After lunch, we walked up to a gushing waterfall.

Later in the evening, we watched a football match (Barcelona was playing and beat the other side 4-0). On our way out of Peja yesterday, we stopped to visit Indira’s mom’s grave, which has nice views of the mountains. In the afternoon, after arriving at Prizren, we drove into the mountains to the Sharri Hotel. The snow is still thick there and we enjoyed more spectacular views. Today, we will have breakfast in town and take a little walk before heading to the airport.

I am really pleased that I have visited Kosovo now. I look forward to coming back often; perhaps even owning a little piece of paradise in the mountains.

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