I helped make my world better today

‘That was a message from the Sheha [mayor] of the local village. We were to go there today, to visit the school, and give out books and crayons. She’s cancelled. The roof blew off her house earlier today, because of the storm.’

I was having coffee with Kasper Kasprzycki-Rosikon, General Manager of Zanzi Resort, one of the top-rated resorts in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Always on call, he’d excused himself mid-conversation to check his messages when his phone beeped. Since he arrived in the country more than 18 months ago, he’s been putting in the hours. His mandate was to get the place back on track, to bring it up to standard, train the staff, and give the guests everything they expected…and more.

It’s a beautiful spot on the west coast of the island, some 30 minutes from the historic Stone Town. Some of the villas have paths leading down to the ocean, all have private pools. The garden bungalows further inland have lush gardens and access to the main pool. The staff are attentive and obliging and always smiling. It’s a happy place, a beautiful, natural retreat from the mania that passes for twenty-first-century living.

Kasprzycki-Rosikon is an advocate for corporate social responsibility, CSR. Since his student days in France when he did his Master’s dissertation on the competitive advantage of CSR in the hotel industry, he has walked the talk. ‘I believe we all have a duty to take care of our surroundings, in terms of both land and people, especially people.’

In Africa, there’s a fine line between philanthropy and CSR. People’s tendency is to give money rather than time. For Kasprzycki-Rosikon, it’s important to empower people, to teach them how they can make their own lives better if they want to. It’s not about handing out money and creating an environment of dependency. And it’s not about forcing your ideas and standards on people either.

When he was working on a project in Bora Bora, one of his colleagues, a waitress in the hotel, wanted to move to front of house. He taught her how to use a computer in his spare time and she got that promotion. That’s at the essence of CSR, he said, giving people the skills and the resources they need to live their lives to the fullest.

Wherever he has worked, be it abroad or in his native Poland, Kasprzycki-Rosikon has put CSR at the heart of what he does. It’s not always easy. The owners have to buy into the idea. Some do, some more than others. Whether it was baking cakes and pastries for local homeless shelters or teaching underprivileged kids as part of the Youth Career Initiative, he quickly realised the importance of never losing sight of the bigger picture.

Pollution awareness program in Kama village school with Zanzi Resort

One of the first things he noticed when he came to Zanzi Resort was the tap outside the main gates. Anyone passing could help themselves to clean water. He was pleased to see that the owners were community-minded, as it would make it easier for him to continue what they’d started. He helped build a classroom for the local school by donating the materials they needed. He’s involved three schools in an anti-pollution programme, raising awareness in the children as to how long it takes various materials to decompose. They, in turn, might then teach their parents. In this part of Africa, people wrap their food in newspaper unaware that the lead in the ink is poisonous. It really is all about education. Pole pole. Slowly, slowly.

The resort uses refillable glass bottles for their toiletries. They buy in recycled glass from the mainland. Their straws are made of paper, and anything you see woven is done locally by a weaver who can’t see.

Blind weaver in Zanzibar

Realising that many of his staff had never been tourists in their own country, this enterprising GM organises day trips to, say, Prison Island, treating his people as guests so that they can get a feel for what their overseas visitors experience. He’s organised free English classes with a local teacher for those who want to learn the language. He sent the Chief of the Garden Department (the resort grows most of its own fruit and veg) on a course to learn about permaculture. They’re now using this and teaching others how to use it in their homes, too.

To get to Zanzi Resort, you have to drive through Kama village. The road is in a sorry state, potholed with a tendency to flood in heavy rains. The houses look as if they’re held together by a prayer but the kids seem happy and smiles are at the ready. Guests often ask what they can do to help. Many stop and hand out sweets, but the wrappers eventually end up on the ground and in the water supply. With dental treatment a luxury, sugar isn’t really the best idea. Kasprzycki-Rosikon suggests that they donate school supplies: pencils, crayons, notebooks, books, something he is happy to facilitate.

Both Kasprzycki-Rosikon and his staff take part in local events because they want to rather than to advertise their largesse. The resort’s logo doesn’t appear anywhere. They’re working with the Mayor and the only recycling company in Zanzibar to clean up the village and the nearby beaches, to get rid of all the rubbish. And when he visits the local schools, he brings different members of staff with him so they can see the difference they are making.

More than 18 months in, I was curious to know what his biggest lesson has been. ‘Patience’, he said. ‘You have to have patience. You can’t judge people by your own standards. You can’t force what you know on others. You need to have respect for the place you’re in, even if you don’t share the same values.’

His phone beeped again. He looked at the message and excused himself. As he left, phone to his ear,  I noted yet again how he navigates the space between guest and staff with an ease that belies his years. His staff call him Kasper, some call him Sir. Whatever they feel more comfortable with. There’s a mutual respect that’s tangible. Everyone knows that he, too, is a guest, one in a line of GMs who will oversee the place in the coming decades. Each will add their own flavour, their own impression. I suspect that Kasper Kasprzycki-Rosikon’s legacy will be about the importance of making a difference, of making the world a better place. He’s been there, done that, and designed the t-shirt.

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