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Northland Challenge

Northland Challenge: Security, service and globalization

Systems integrator Northland Controls travels to Uganda and Rwanda for the 2014 Northland Challenge
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11/19/2014

BUGIRI, Uganda—A look of concern crosses Northland Controls CEO Pierre Trapanese’s face.

Hungry hippos: Northland Challenge Day 3

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Day 3 of the Northland Challenge is over and I’m in my tent listening to a discordant chorus of hippos barking and roaring. We’re at a campsite in a wilderness park on the shores of the Ishasha River, which is the narrow divider between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The river is loaded with hippos, which can stay underwater for 20 minutes or more, so if you see 5 or 6, there are likely at least 5 or 6 more underwater.

And they’re not exactly friendly. As one of the guards at our camp told me, “the hippos will collect your visa if you try to cross the river.”

Three armed guards carrying AK47s (vintage, I’m told) patrol the campground perimeter.

They’ve been busy. Earlier tonight a hippo strolled through the campsite coming within 30 feet of the campfire and 27 challengers. Flashlights and guns in hand, the guards escorted the enormous animal past the campfire and us.

Before we headed off to Ishasha most of us enjoyed self-guided safaris through Queen Elizabeth National Park. My partner, Guy, took off very early with Jim in search of lions, while I had a more leisurely start to the day. I had a chance to ride with Edward, a safari veteran, who suggested I open the sunroof and ride on the roof of the Rav4 to get a better view.

Some view: We spotted elephants, warthogs, water buffalos, and lots of antelope. I was a little leery of elephants after Vivian and Tim’s encounter the day before, but we stayed a safe distance from the elephants.

It was George and Eric’s turn with the elephants today. “We made a mistake and really stumbled into the herd,” George said. “So, we sat there and tried not to give them a reason to attack us.” Several minutes later the elephants moved on. It was a vivid reminder, George said, of “the difference between animals in the wild and [animals who are] contained.”

Ishasha is the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park. On our way to Ishasha, Edward and I caught up with several other teams who’d stopped by the side of the road for lunch and we joined them (Cesar and Amanda, Andre and Joseph, Jim and Guy) in what was supposed to be a two-hour drive to the campsite.

The landscape of the park is exactly what I pictured Africa to look like, a savanna dotted with green flat-topped trees.

The delays commenced with our arrival at the Ishasha park gate (chatty gate attendant) and followed by a flat tire in the savannah.

Can't find the campsite, and Jim and Edward have a flat tire.

Cesar and Amanda decide to go find the campsite while others fix the flat tire.

Fixing the flat

It wasn’t far away, but it took another two hours before we found our way to the wilderness camp.

Terrry, James K, and Paul put up a tent

Kirsten said this was her favorite night because she hadn’t slept in a tent except in her backyard. She liked the fact that Terry took over as chef of the REI-freeze-dried pasta dinner and that Rob did a backflip off of a picnic table.


Drew, James C. and Eric

“I liked being disconnected. It’s just you and everyone in the group sitting around the campfire,” she said.

The campfire overlooking the Ishasha River.

For more information about the Northland Challenge, check out these links:

The Northland Challenge: Security, service and globalization

Northland Challenge Day 1&2

Pierre Trapanese's blog

 

Northland Challenge: Days 1 & 2

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday October 20, 2014, Kasese, Uganda

I woke up the Saturday, the first day of the Northland Challenge, thinking about Huck Finn. Toyota Rav4s are our modern-day rafts and our Mississippi is the narrow roads and lush terrain of Uganda.

We traveled more than 300 kilometers on Saturday, from Entebbe to Kibale; and another 100-plus kilometers yesterday from Kibale to Kasese. 

Here’s a sampling of events from the first 48 hours: Cesar and Amanda had baboons jump on the top of their vehicle and refuse to jump off; Vivian and Tim’s car was surrounded by angry, stomping, ear flapping elephants—and after the elephants finally, thankfully, left and they were able to get on their way, another angry elephant charged them; Pierre had a close encounter with a chimp during the chimp tracking. My partner, Guy, and I have traveled “the extra mile” but not necessarily on purpose. (We started off the challenge with a multiple-kilometer detour. Then, we refused to believe a local who told us we were way off course, and detoured even farther.)

We’ve also seen emerald green hillside tea farms, banana tree plantations, very rudimentary indoor plumbing in some locations; beautiful, smiling children; women in gorgeous, brightly colored dresses with coordinated sashes and headscarfs; and we've met many kind, helpful locals.

Not your average day in the office.

A key element of the Northland Challenge is that we only learn our destination for the day at dinner the night before. We’re told the destination and given a map of varying degrees of detail. For example, our destination for tonight is a campsite in Ishasha, part of Queen Elizabeth State Park.

The address? “Unnamed road.”

Then there are “challenge points,” things like: take a photo of a hippo or a photo of a landmark. Yesterday one of the challenge points was a photo of yourself at the marker for the equator with a stranger. We’re given a number of options for activities (ie. do a self-guided safari; take a boat ride); some warnings (“this is not a race; don’t feed the lions; if you reach this bridge you’ve gone too far.”) We're encouraged to explore along the way.

How do the challengers react to this unstructured structure of the Challenge?  Echo told me she finds it interesting. During her travels, she said she remembers advice from her mother to think about the worst case scenario—if you can handle that, go for it. If not, it’s time to regroup.

Amanda told me she finds the lack of structure “freeing.” James C. observed that when you don’t have an exact route charted for you and a strict accompanying timeline, you worry less, he said.

Lacking very specific expectations, you’re free to discover, they say.

Mostly it’s just fun.

I’m sitting in the open air dining area of the lodge right now listening to challengers talking about the yesterday’s adventure and planning today’s.

Would you have wanted to experienced the encounter with the elephants? Who saw the black mamba snake? Will there be beer at the campsite?

Look for another blog in two days. No wifi at the campground tonight. In the meantime, check out Pierre’s blog and some great photos at www.northlandchallenge.com

The Northland Challenge: Security, service and globalization

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UPDATED: Oct. 17, 2014

Security, service and globalization. This is my last blog post from Maine for a little over a week. Tomorrow I’m boarding a bus, a plane and another plane on the way to Entebbe, Uganda, where I’ll join 27 others in the Northland Challenge—23 employees of Northland Controls and 5 others, like me, who work in the industry in other roles.

Northland Controls is a global systems integration company that I’ve written about many times. Here’s a link to their home page. And here’s a blog I wrote a while ago about successful systems integrators. Scroll down to find the part about Northland.

So what’s the Northland Challenge?

On first inspection it looks like an extreme team-building exercise. The group is broken up into teams of two. Every morning each team will be given a destination and a (paper) map, and some “challenge points”—places or points of interest—to locate during the day. Over the course of a week we’ll caravan across Southern Uganda and into Rwanda.

So, there’s definitely a team-building odyssey element to the Challenge, but at its core, the Northland Challenge is really an exercise in how to thrive as a worker and a business in today’s global economy.

Globalization is not something that’s just happening, it’s here, says Northland CEO Pierre Trapanese. If you want to be really good at doing business today, you need to take the time to understand other people’s points of view, their history, their cultures, and their infrastructure (understanding building codes and power requirements is particularly important in security.)

In essence, to go global, you need to understand the local.  

The Challenge, Trapanese says, is about “breaking down stereotypes, overcoming our fears of the unknown, and getting out of our shells to work with locals to find our way from one end of their country to the other without the use of technology.”

This year’s trip to Uganda and Rwanda is the third Northland challenge. In 2010, the group “raced across India in Tuk Tuks,” and in 2012 the challenge involved 4x4s and the Caucuses Mountains.

This year, the challenge has another, very important component: service.

“We are challenging ourselves to go a step further, to leave behind for the people we encounter an opportunity to accelerate their economic development and to thrive as individuals and as a community,” Trapanese said.

Specifically, Northland Controls is raising money to bring electricity to a part of Rwanda that has none. Working with San Francisco-based Firelight Foundation and a local installer in Rwanda, Northland is funding the installation of solar panels for 25 homes, a community center and a school.

Importantly, the solar panel project is designed to be a self-sustaining enterprise that will continue to bring electricity, jobs, and opportunity to the community.

This is the way it will work: A local provider will install the solar panels in 25 homes that currently used kerosene for power. Those families will pay the local solar provider a monthly fee equal to what they would have paid monthly for kerosene. After a certain period of time, the local provider will be able to install more panels in more homes, continuing to build an account base and recurring monthly revenue. It’s very similar to the alarm monitoring business model actually.

I’ll have more details about the solar panel projects in the next couple of days. But here’s some important information for you now.
Northland employees have raised about $35,000 and Northland has provided $10,000. You can help by donating any amount to the cause.

Here’s a link to the fund raising site .

More from the road tomorrow.