A Look at the Role of Business in Conservation in Chile

The pre-trip coursework for GIP Patagonia included an article about the conservation of 10 million acres in Chile, the result of a public-private partnership between the founder of the North Face brand, Douglas Tompkins, and the Chilean government. Mr. Tompkins’s conservation organization donated 1 million acres that he acquired over two decades; the Chilean government donated the remaining 9 million. The land forms the Patagonia National Park system, which is “more than three times the size of the Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined,” and “expands Chile’s national parklands by nearly 40 percent.” The park is now untouchable by mining interests, as well as the logging industry and ranchers, who want to capitalize on the country’s natural resources. This endeavor highlights a unique example of “doing well by doing good;” instead of bulldozing forward and achieving his vision on his terms, Mr. Tompkins struck a compromise and partnered with the Chilean government, to their mutual benefit.

Wilderness worth preserving

A couple of details make this story remarkable: first, the deal rose out of a desire for social and environmental good, as opposed to a pressing business need. A growing field of study at CBS is how businesses can profit from social impact. In this case, Tompkins’s brand prospered, and then he leveraged his personal wealth to benefit a place he loved. The upshot is a lasting legacy for Mr. Tompkins and Chile, as well as indirect benefit to North Face’s brand.

Second, so many companies want to exert change on their own terms- tax incentives in exchange for bringing business to cities; funding projects in exchange for branding and publicity. Communities often question what motivates corporations to bankroll change. The more land Mr. Tompkins purchased, the more backlash he received: he was stifling the economy (the business community); he was putting Chilean sovereignty at risk (military officials/ politicians); he was attempting to exert foreign control over the country (leftists, nationalists); etc.

Many Chazen trips focus on change and innovation- how countries are developing to meet new challenges and improve the lives of their citizens. What often goes unexamined is whether certain cultural aspects deserve to be preserved. Is all change positive, or is the issue more complex? Chile is still grappling to balance economic progress and environmental preservation. While we were hiking, our NOLS instructors told us that just outside of the park, a mining company is looking to buy up huge tracts of land. The local community is divided about the prospect- some feel it would bring more jobs to the region, while others feel it could damage tourism, which is currently a huge economic force.  Questions like this will continue to arise in Chile and should be an integral part of the GIP Patagonia coursework.

Reflections on our expedition in Patagonia

On our way to the peak of a mountain.

My goal on this expedition was to learn more about myself, and the impact I have on others as a leader. I was also looking forward to a challenging adventure and to getting to know some of my classmates better. Though it has been nearly three weeks since we finished our expedition in Patagonia, it is still difficult to distill all the lessons I learned from my instructors, peers and the mountains. We were encouraged to reflect on what we could take away from the experience and how we could translate these lessons to the “front country.” Here is my best attempt:

Highlight: The views! And the final group debrief where I heard how the experience personally impacted everyone in a different way.

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Lowlight: Having to do several steep descents on loose rocks. Not only did this terrain make me extremely uncomfortable and slow, it made me feel like I was slowing the group down. Other students also found the terrain surprisingly challenging.

“It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  I had no idea we would be crossing thigh-deep rivers, bushwhacking, or hiking the ridges and edges of rocky mountains with some seemingly treacherous terrain.  I had to be much more focused and totally in the moment more than I could ever have imagined and at times I got a taste of survival mode.” Lindsey Pete ’14

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Biggest relief: As the student organizer, I was worried about everyone’s health the entire trip, so it was a major relief to me that there were no injuries or major accidents, on either team!

Biggest disappointment: Though I was anxious about inclement weather, I am (a little) disappointed that we didn’t have to face this additional challenge (aka opportunity for growth).

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Biggest insight: As much as I have learned about myself from this experience and my time at CBS, I still have so much to learn about my strengths and weaknesses.

Biggest challenge: Trying to motivate my team when I was leading them to an unknown destination, an unknown distance away, that may or may not be camp-able.

Biggest surprise: Discovering what motivates, irritates, or scares the other members of my team.

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Lessons from my instructors: Each of our three instructors brought a unique perspective to the experience. After a particularly challenging section of bushwhacking through dense, thorny forest, one of my instructors told me he loved bushwhacking because it reminded him that “there is always a way,” both in the wilderness and in life. Another instructor, in explaining how happy she was with her simple yet fulfilling life, reminded me how little I need to be happy, and how important it is to make time in my life for opportunities like this expedition that allow for adventure and reflection. My third instructor read The Station by Robert J. Hastings to us, which was a reminder to me to enjoy the journey in life without worrying so much about the destination.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all.  The true joy of life is the trip.  The station is only a dream.  It constantly outdistances us. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad.  Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.  Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today. So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough.

-Excerpt from The Station, by Robert J. Hastings

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Lessons from my peers: Kim Issa ‘14, who called this a “once in a lifetime experience,” noted that “you become very close to the 12 people in your group, the type of closeness it takes years to build in a normal setting. The feedback they give you will be honest and new to you, which is constructive and refreshing.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

From our daily debriefings, I learned that, among other things, I’m not as clear a communicator as I had thought I was. I often assume information is shared when it is not, or project my feelings and motivations onto others. I knew I was indecisive, but wasn’t fully aware of how to manage this, or that I even could manage it, until talking to my peers. I learned that I should trust my team, ask them for help, and then delegate roles more quickly to explore options. I also learned to accept that decisions can only be judged as good or bad once action is taken, but to be confident in my decisions once they are made.

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Lessons from the mountains: This experience was yet another reminder to me that most of my worries are futile. I was worried about blisters, joint pain, being cold and wet, and being the slowest team member. Either I didn’t have control over these circumstances (weather), and therefore they weren’t worth worrying about, or they weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. I can’t believe I wasted so much mental energy worrying about how I would feel when my boots inevitably got wet. When they finally did get wet, my feet were neither uncomfortable nor cold.

 One student put it perfectly:

“It is remarkable how petty stresses of everyday life (e.g., “Will I get a call back from that company?”) can trouble our sleep, cloud our judgment and paralyze our decision-making. Yet, when facing a much more real danger (e.g., “Will I tumble down the mountain if I slip on the next rock?”), we find the strength to set unproductive worrying aside and focus on the next step. If we can face real dangers with calm and resolve, why can’t we do the same for the fabricated ones?” – Anton Chtcherbakov ‘14

Overall, as one would assume, this was a truly amazing adventure and learning experience. I am so grateful that Columbia Business School offers opportunities like this for us to work on our leadership skills.  I am thrilled that I had the opportunity and ability to participate. Not only did I make new friends and learn about myself, but I got to do so in one of the most remote and beautiful regions in the world!

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The adventure begins!

I knew I was anxious about the next ten days when our plane’s engine didn’t start in New York and I was actually relieved, quietly wishing that our flight would be cancelled, and thus the whole adventureTo my dismay, the engine finally started, 4 hours later, and we were off for a ten-day expedition in Patagonia. Fifteen hours of flying and an hour’s bus ride later, we had arrived at our destination: Coyhaique, Chile, albeit short three students and several pieces of luggage.

Patagonia, Chile
Patagonia, Chile

One day later we were reunited with our classmates and belongings, finally ready for our adventure to begin.  Our NOLS instructors divided the 25 CBS students into two teams and we spent the rest of the day getting set up with gear, eating, learning how to set up our tents, pack and navigate, eating some more, and finally discussing our personal goals for the next several days.

Getting advice from a NOLS instructor on what to pack
Advay Jhunjhunwala getting advice from a NOLS instructor on what to pack

Before we knew it, we put on our 50-60lb backpacks and set off for the mountains, overwhelmed with the thought of walking hours on end with so much weight on our backs. We crossed our first river (very carefully and slowly), bushwhacked (timidly and slowly), cooked our first dinner (rather poorly and again, slowly), and set up our tents (you guessed it, slowly).

Hunter McDonald at one of our first 'river' crossings.
Hunter McDonald at one of our first ‘river’ crossings.

Exhausted from all the travel and anticipation, I excitedly jumped in to my tent, and suddenly it dawned on me that I’d be sleeping shoulder to shoulder with three others for the next 9 nights, with no opportunity to shower or change our clothes.

Carlo Dubini cooks a delicious pasta dinner for his tent team.
Carlo Dubini cooks a delicious pasta dinner for his tent team.

The next days were filled with rough and varied terrain, playing in the snow, strained backs, breathtaking views, blisters, revealing feedback sessions, cold fingers, glacier lakes, knot-tying lessons, sore knees, and (almost) always, lots of laughter.

Miles Yourman takes a break from hiking to repair his feet.
Miles Yourman takes a break from hiking to repair his feet.

Our breakfasts progressed from indigestible porridge to pancakes with dulce de leche. Meanwhile, our lunches degraded from trail mix and chocolate bars to spoonfuls of peanut butter as rationing proved too difficult for MBAs from New York accustomed to Seamless. We acquired a taste for mate, and got used to putting on wet socks and boots every morning. I even almost managed to get used to the smell of the socks and boots of my tent-mates (mine smelled brand-new to the end).

Dan Rossi tends to the (finally) boiling water.
Dan Rossi tends to the (finally) boiling water.

I expected to be self-sufficient, but didn’t expect to literally spend half of my time packing, unpacking, fetching water, boiling that water, cooking and adjusting my layers to keep myself warm. I expected day after day of rain, but was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with sunshine nearly every morning.

Another beautiful day in the mountains.
Another beautiful day in the mountains.

I expected long, strenuous days, but didn’t expect that sometimes these days would end at a location that was un-campable, forcing us to gather the energy to push on until we could find a location that was.

Kim Issa, Kevin Clark, and Jessica Basham check the map to make sure they're heading in the right direction.
Kim Issa, Kevin Clark, and Jessica Basham check the map to make sure they’re heading in the right direction.

I expected our instructors to be experts in the outdoors, but didn’t expect them to also be experts in communication, leadership and personal development. All of these surprises enriched my experience and made this a trip and class that I will never forget.

Jennifer Dyck-Sprout taking a break from hiking.
Me taking a break from hiking.

Nearly 40 miles (it felt like 100), and 8,500 feet in elevation later, we reached our destination. It’s amazing to see how much changed in only nine days. We were much tougher mentally, stronger physically, and more efficient with our time. Not to mention the transformation in our culinary skills. More importantly though, we gained insight into our strengths and weaknesses and our preferred leadership and communication styles. And perhaps most impressively, we survived more than a week without our iPhones.

Post submitted by: Jennifer Dyck-Sprout ’14

Adrien De Bontin and Jessica Basham on their way to the peak.
Adrien De Bontin and Jessica Basham on their way to the peak.