Claiming Karisimbi

In naming our organization we had a two part objective: first, as a local socially-motivated business, intent on demonstrating our commitment to the needs of Rwandan businesses and entrepreneurs, we wanted a name that was clearly Rwandan – unmistakable in its connection to the country; second, we wanted to communicate our mission and the value we hoped to bring to all organizations, leaders and enterprises with whom we had the privilege to engage.

Our tag line is “Guiding ventures to reach new heights”, and as Mount Karisimbi represents the highest point in Rwanda (14,800 ft), is familiar to all Rwandese, and provides a clear metaphor for growth and challenge, we felt secure in appropriating it for our organization. However….it never felt quite right that in our strategy discussions with clients, our metaphorical descriptions and comparisons of business challenges and successes to Mount Karisimbi, we had no personal experience with the great mountain itself. This changed last month with our team’s two day expedition of our namesake.

Located in northern Rwanda and bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mt. Karisimbi is an inactive volcano in the Virunga mountain range. Despite Rwanda’s stable equatorial climate, a peak of this height means conditions far different from the rest of the country, with temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit at base camp and deep mud for 90% of the trek. As one would expect, we prepared for the adventure with appropriate clothes, packs, footwear, tents, food, water, etc and secured a national park guide to lead us up. From that point on, our expectations and metaphors differed from those we had discussed “in theory” with clients over the past year and half, revealing some new and unexpected similarities to the challenge of building business and growing management capacity. Allow me to list some highlights and “business” observations from our adventure:

Focus on your strengths (e.g. don’t be afraid to outsource / hire expertise):

Dano and I were both very pleased to learn that porters would be available for hire ($8.50 per day). Neither of us had any ego associated with carrying our own 40+ lb. pack plus water up a muddy trail. Getting ourselves up and down the mountain sounded within our “skill set.” To prove the point, those heavily laden porters handily beat us both up and down the mountain. Carter and a friend decided to take the challenge of carrying their fully loaded packs on day one…arriving at base camp well after us, white faced and wobbly and ready to concede the packs for day two.

Plan for the Unexpected (e.g. allow for contingencies and protect yourself):

To our surprise, not only did we have a guide, we were assigned ten well armed soldiers to provide protection for our expedition. We hesitate to speculate why or if they were necessary, but writing this safely back at home means I have no complaints. Now that’s what I call insurance.

Keep your sense of humor (e.g. laugh at adversity):

There is a reason people refer to business as “serious”, but, despite its inherent challenges (or perhaps because of them), it is important to maintain your sense of humor and perspective. Climbing a mountain for “fun”, resigning yourself to the necessary “trudging” required to keep forward momentum through muddy trails lined by stinging nettles, camping at 12,000 ft in the cold with minimal sleep… all these things can change your attitude for the worse, but only if you let it.

Building relationships (e.g. stronger together than apart)

An obvious expectation of people taking on a challenge together is (hopefully) a strengthening of relationships and teamwork. We certainly found this to be the case on our climb, which included deepening our own partnership, getting to know our new intern, Jon Porter, and crossing cultural lines – huddled around a campfire with soldiers at night trading hymns in our respective languages – relationship building at its simplest.

Dano, Greg & Carter- true Karisimbi Partners at last

View from the top (e.g. may not be all you expect):

Sometimes achieving the goal is quite different from the expectation. We had often talked with clients about the proverbial “incredible views once you’ve achieved the summit of your potential”, but the reality for us was that our last 1000 feet of the climb was completely clouded over, resulting in near zero visibility from the top; the dominant recollection from the summit consists of cold, wind, ice and other debris. Ironically, one of the most rewarding views was at the bottom of the mountain, where the fields of pyrethrum (daisy) stretched across the landscape. This had very special significance for us given our work assisting the client whose factory these well tended fields would supply – bringing employment and security to the local farmers.

Dano, Carter & Greg after the summit

Carter thinks this should be an annual trip with clients invited, but Dano and I aren’t quite there yet. Either way, we are proud to now legitimately lay claim to our name, Karisimbi Partners.