In Zambia, it’s Mosi-oa-Tunya, the “Mist that Thunders.” We call it Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural Wonders of the World near the capital city of Livingstone.
Last April, Koleen Roach, director of meetings/conference management with Securian Financial Group, parent company of Minnesota Life Insurance, organized a recognition program for 325 financial advisors. It began with four nights at Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. From there, the group flew up for three nights at The Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. DMC Dragonfly Africa handled logistics.
But it wasn’t just to go see the world’s largest waterfall.
“I asked our CEO, Bob Senkler, if there was anything in particular he wanted me to accomplish, and he said, ‘I’d like for you to find a way to give back to the community during our stay,’” says Roach. “We wanted to take it to the next level because we go to a lot of incredible locations, and some of these people have been doing these trips for over 30 years.”
Roach approached Ranji Chara, director of the Ebenezer Child Care Trust in Livingstone, which provides education and medical care for AIDS orphans ages 2-15. A new 40-bed infant ward is presently under construction.
Besides Securian making a cash donation of $25,000 to Ebenezer, attendees delivered backpacks stuffed with school supplies in a one-on-one ceremony at the airport upon arrival in Livingstone. Securian also made arrangements for its attendees to be able to volunteer their time at both the school and the orphanage where they performed painting, light construction, plumbing repair, gardening, teaching geography, reading books and helping out in the nursery.
Some attendees just answered questions such as, “What’s snow like, or what does pizza taste like?” laughs Roach. “And I tell you this, some of those kids wouldn’t take their backpacks off for anybody, even at dinner…. One little girl told me, ‘I can’t believe I own a dictionary.’”
The Securian attendees also brought “one Target bag” filled with necessities such as soap, shampoo, baby lotion, books and diapers. And many of them worked with their own children at home before the trip to prepare gift bags filled with toys and personal mementos.
“I had one father tell me he didn’t expect it, but when he gave one of the Zambian children something from his own kid, it was one of his most profound feelings ever, establishing that connection across continents…. Everyone afterwards said, ‘Don’t ever give us a room gift again.’”
“I think most people want to give but stop short of following through, because they become overwhelmed by trying to determine how to give,” says Roach. “They see the enormity of the problems out there and think, ‘If I can’t make a major impact, then why bother doing anything at all’….
“Meeting planners can accomplish a lot by presenting our guests with an opportunity to give back so they don’t have to try and figure it out on their own. That’s why these types of programs are so valuable. They really do change people’s lives and provide new directions for everyone involved.”