Nov 23, 2013

The People You Meet: Rotary Club of Road Town, British Virgin Islands

Bikinis, sarongs, SPF 20, 30 and 40, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses… a down jacket, spikey sharp crampons and my 8000m boots. Not quite the typical packing-list for a trip to the British Virgin Islands..! As random as the packing was, it did leave me smiling and looking forward to a week of adventures in the sunshine and alongside the crystal clear Caribbean waters. As well as a week of relaxing, there was some work to be done - my brother Ryan had invited me to present at the Road Town Rotary Club, Tortola, BVI where he is an active Rotarian.

I must confess, I was slightly apprehensive about the presentation… My mind boggled with the challenges presented by the contrast between the icy-cold slopes of the highest peaks of the Himalayas and the warm sandy beaches of the British Virgin Islands. I knew it was going to be a ‘tough sell’ to my esteemed Caribbean audience and that I’d really have to present a compelling story to ensure that my audience of Rotarians could (1) relate and (2) enjoy the presentation without thinking that I was completely crazy..! A common thread was desperately required to make this relevant...

About Rotary:
I’ve had the opportunity to work with and present to a number of Rotary clubs in Rotary’s international network and have personally benefited from Rotary’s work in the community – I attended my first ever conference through sponsorship from the Ridgetown Rotary club when I was about 11 years old. Since then I’ve met with and presented to Rotarians in Ridgetown, Malaysia, Kathmandu, Chatham, the UK and now the BVI..!

What struck me about the Road Town Rotary club, as with all other Rotary Clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, is that the Rotary is very much at the heart of the community - members are passionate about the communities in which they live and work. Members of Rotary bring about positive change in their communities locally and overseas; they support those who need help; they strive to improve lives; they stand up against injustice and wrongs within society. A perfect example of this was at the Road Town meeting where a number of initiatives were organised to help those in the Philippines affected by the typhoon which more than 5,200 people lost their lives and displacing 4.4 million people. The club committed to support a Rotary Telethon on the BVI in partnership with other Rotary clubs and looked to leverage the Rotary network to the Philippines clubs to see what other support / help they could provide.. as well as connecting to the Filipino community in the BVI itself.

The other thing that struck me about the Road Town Rotary Club is that they like to have fun. From fines to happy dollars to good food to fellowship among friends it was great to meet such a positive group of people..!

Presenting to the Rotary Club of Road Town, Tortola...

Drawing from my professional background as a management consultant, I focused on management ‘lessons learned’, drawn from my experiences in the mountains – specifically around teamwork, leadership, decision making and risk management. Through mountaineering case studies, I brought to life some of the challenges that are faced on expeditions and not dissimilar to those challenges faced by organisations around the world. For example, managing a diverse team from different backgrounds, with different levels of experience and differing goals. For some people, the primary objective is to reach ‘the top’, whilst for others, it’s to make the decision to come back in one piece with 10 fingers and 10 toes in tact, to live another day.  As a leader, how do you manage these divergent goals and work as one team, functioning effectively to minimise risk and bring out the strengths of all individuals in the team to make the team as strong as it possibly can be? What are the leadership qualities that bring out the best in individuals? Surprisingly, in spite of the contrast between the two environments, the qualities that make a good leader good and a great leader great are not dissimilar… a great leader brings out the very best in individuals, the very best in the team, and achieves the goal.

Whilst in the BVI, preparing for my presentation in the comfort of the lovely Grape Tree villas overlooking the stunning Long Bay, I was able to appreciate other similarities between the Himalayas and the BVI. The views.  The power of nature.  How they made me feel – truly alive. I’m once again reminded that there are few things in the world that are as mesmerising and hypnotic as the sheer power and beauty of nature and our natural environment – the sound of the wind whistling down an icy slope or the crashing of waves over a deserted sandy beach… there are few things that put us, as human beings, so fundamentally in our place.  I’ve sat overlooking the Western Cwm from high up the Lhotse face as the sun bounced off the ice with the shadow of Mt. Everest looming above me… and I’ve sat on the sandy white beaches of the BVI, in the shadow of palm-trees,  watching the clear-blue waves break and crash rhythmically on the shore… never missing a beat. The feeling I have in these two contrasting environments – whether wrapped up in my down suit and 8000m boots or in my bikini and sarong - are the same… so perhaps it won’t be as difficult to convince the Road Town Rotary Club of why I love this ‘vertical world’ as much as I do..! Perhaps I only need to share with them my love of life? 

Many thanks to the Road Town Rotary club of the British Virgin Islands for their hospitality, their interest and fellowship. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to share my experiences with you!


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