The conclusion upfront: The last three weeks in the Nouabalé Ndoki National Park (NNNP) in the Republic of Congo already justify my decision to get a Berkeley-Haas MBA. Working with the renowned Wildlife Conservation Society on an ecotourism strategy for the NNNP has been a truly enriching experience, albeit challenging and exhausting at times, given the fact that we worked in one of the remotest places on earth in the middle of the jungle.
First, I must admit that I have always been a big fan of Indiana Jones! Thus I was really looking forward to a real adventure. Here a snapshot of our personal “Rumble in the Jungle”: our team got charged by gorillas, ran from elephants, walked through hip-high swamps, trekked and fought through the densest imaginable rainforest, and watched lizards kill and eat tarantula spiders. What makes the NNNP so special is that it is not only home to many species of endangered large mammals, including the forest elephant, western gorilla, and chimpanzee but that it is absolutely pristine. As one much-travelled tourist put it, “NNNP is the REAL THING” whereas national parks in southern and eastern Africa are “Zoos”.
Developing a strategy for this unique place was not as easy as it may appear at first sight and required the application of the entire MBA toolkit – from finance over strategy to marketing. Not only requires a visit to the NNNP a good physical condition but also a significant amount of money and the willingness to live and travel under basic conditions. We experienced the infrastructure limitations of Congo first hand, when we had to travel across the entire country on non-existing dirt roads in a Jeep loaded with 11 people for over 14 hours after our flight got canceled twice for no obvious reason. Corruption, mismanagement, and nepotism due to extreme poverty, remain a huge issue in the country and are a burden for Congo’s tourism industry.
At the end, I must thank my teammates for coping with me. Coming back home and unpacking my smelly clothes, I realized how hard this must have been. But I guess I wasn’t the only one 😉