Introduction to the Initiative
Started by Edirisa in 2011, the Gorilla Highlands Initiative has been using tourism as a tool of economic and social development. We are marketing a region consisting of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Our mission is to successfully brand and promote this area in a manner that brings an increase in responsible, sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism. We put particular stress on tourism helping the bottom-of-the-pyramid inhabitants of the region, in terms of both income and self-respect.
We are an informal collaboration led by Gorilla Highlands Ltd, a company based in Musanze (Rwanda), and anyone with interest in the region is most welcome to join us. Numerous private and government partners have supported us by advertising in our media, sending participants to our events, providing complimentary services/discounts for fam trips, funding our activities, and more. Based on their feedback, a process of growing into the Gorilla Highlands Society is under way, on the foundation of Getting Things Done.
In 2013 we won a World Summit Award for an interactive ebook (a new edition is in the works). Our most well-known product is the Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide, a booklet published in 10,000 copies. Our main gatherings are Gorilla Highlands Silverchef, a regional cooking competition and networking event, and Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp, a canoeing activity meant to introduce junior staff of our partners to the initiative. International volunteers are at the core of what we do.
In February 2021 the Gorilla Highlands Experts project took the central stage.
Want to get behind the scenes of the initiative? Become a member of the Gorilla Highlands Experts service and gain unprecedented access.
Stay in Touch: GH News
Every month we produce Gorilla Highlands News, a one-page PDF primarily delivered over WhatsApp (you can subscribe here) but we can also email it to you — if that is your preference please enter your contact below:
photo: Abby Bluth; featured photo: Marcus Westberg
Why the Gorilla Highlands Society?
Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo are all going to be successful countries and good neighbours one day. The history of Latin America, Asia and even Europe can hint at how the development stages go; it’s mostly a matter of time and patience.
But why be patient when we don’t need to be?
… That is the thinking behind the Gorilla Highlands Society.
During our survey in 2018, nearly 75% of the respondents indicated it was time for the Gorilla Highlands Initiative to be formalised.
We are thus in the process of forming a mass organisation of people who care about the future of the Gorilla Highlands region.
The objectives of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative have been:
• to position the term “Gorilla Highlands” as a universally accepted name for the region
• to establish the region as a destination by itself (instead of a short gorilla stop-over during an East African safari)
• to expand the perception of the region beyond gorillas
• to promote the region as an essential bucket list item
• to protect the culture and wellbeing of the region’s disadvantaged people (especially the Batwa)
Working towards these objectives we emphasise the following regional attractions: hiking and dugout canoeing, unique Rift Valley landscapes (volcanoes, lakes, rainforests), rich history and cultural variety.
We have identified these target groups:
• people planning their first visit to Africa (we think we have a fantastic destination for that)
• hikers/trekkers/adventure travellers (this is a dream land for them)
• gorilla/wildlife enthusiasts (the savannah in close proximity offers the Big 5)
• expat communities in Eastern and Central Africa (always on the lookout for new things to do)
• domestic tourists (a Gorilla Highlands TV show about tourism, culture and history is in the works)
• families (yes, this indeed is a great place for children!)
• volunteers (to help the initiative in many different ways)
Bigger Than That
Our initiative has been built on marketing tourism as a source of income and pride, however, that is just a handy “export industry” we have singled out. The ambition of the Gorilla Highlands Society will be much bigger, and touch on anything that can help the region’s peace and prosperity.
We believe that economic and social development can only be built on a sound cultural foundation, and that the three countries can learn a lot from each other. We plan to promote Rwanda’s home-grown solutions, Uganda’s entrepreneurial spirit and Congo’s mentality of generosity and abundance in schools and elsewhere.
Want to become an active participant? Please read the blog entry about the Gorilla Highlands Society concept and share your opinions and ideas.
Learn more from the Gorilla Highlands Initiative presentation sheets below (2018):
photo: Marcus Westberg and Enock Luyonza; featured photo: Marcus Westberg
Building our Society with Getting Things Done
We are building the Gorilla Highlands Society on the foundation of Getting Things Done (GTD). As the name suggests, GTD is a methodology to help people and organisations achieve more — and do that with ease.
In August 2019 we used our Facebook and Twitter accounts to kick off the conversation on how to make GTD work in our region. The first series of 12 posts was about historical, educational and cultural factors that may influence its adoption. To make these posts accessible to social media skeptics, we are pasting them below (with some added links). Any feedback is most welcome.
3 August 2019
Why is it so hard to get anything done on time, or done at all? Why do people keep “forgetting”? Why do we have “talkshops”, not workshops, in our region? …
These are some of the questions we will be posing every other day (“every after one day”) and then looking for the smartest solutions. The process is needed for the success of:
– the Gorilla Highlands Society
– our professional and personal projects
– people who work with us and for us
We will be inspired by the Getting Things Done (GTD) Summit that took place in the Netherlands in June, but also go beyond. Our hashtag will be: #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done).
5 August 2019
Have you ever been inconvenienced by a receptionist? That one essential staff member that can make everything so much easier — or so much harder?
Since we’re asking you to share what happened, we’ll do the same…
Whenever we deliver #GHPocketGuide to a hotel reception, asking for the booklets to be passed to the manager, it’s better we just assume that won’t happen. Life has taught us so.
Are you laughing? Are you nodding your head? Know the feeling? … Is this simply the well-known local problem of information not flowing? Are these receptions so messy that things disappear? Why are receptionists forgetting something that is core part of their job description?
If we figure this out together, we will be one step closer to the bright future of #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done)!
7 August 2019
The stories we read!
The stories we hear!
The stories we tell ourselves!
What is shaping what we know about ourselves, our people and our cultures?
Stephen W. Coutinho focuses on stories people in postcolonial societies tell themselves to make sense of the world. His book “Breaking Rank” describes how their minds are “imprisoned”, primarily because they were defined — to themselves as well — as inferior people of colour who basically CAN’T.
Now, how is somebody who feels s/he CAN’T going to achieve much? From Batwa “Pygmies” to media professionals, this is a fundamental question for #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done).
9 August 2019
“Feelings of helplessness, deference to others, and victimisation” is how Steven W. Coutinho summarises the I CAN’T problem. Too many people feel the need to be told, to have a big boss and to never accept personal responsibility for anything. Sounds familiar? How can we deal with it in the Gorilla Highlands region for the sake of #GHGTD?
Our knife example is from the Caribbean but this is universal. Most impoverished white people also feel they CAN’T because they lack the means and because the system is set up against them. We are building the Gorilla Highlands Society to shake the system up, but for the moment let’s focus on the psychological. What can we do about “I CAN’T” in our daily lives?
13 August 2019
Your school days… How many lovely moments do the memories bring up? And how much suppressed dread comes up as well?
In the second week of our journey towards #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done) we will be looking at how schooling (de)forms our people… There’s no doubt it is spectacularly unable to prepare anyone for the real world, we know it passionately kills creativity — but there are also some rarely discussed consequences… That result in human robots with outdated software.
15 August 2019
Are boarding schools damaging to the personal development and psyche of our youngsters? There’s no doubt about it — at least when #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done) is concerned…
If you have been to a boarding school, you know how excessively structured they are (how can even personal study time be scheduled?!). They leave students with far too little need for personal initiative; it’s the ROUTINE that matters. The robots they produce are then released into the challenging professional world or exposed to the almost unlimited freedom of university education. Two environments in which they are likely to crash…
17 August 2019
Who will you hire for a crucial job? A university graduate? You may need to look beyond that…
On our path to #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done) we have been asking ourselves about the impact of formal education. Yes, it gives people knowledge and a better understanding of how the society works, but then again…
Too much schooling can lead to people with papers but without any desire to work. Many degree holders want to look important but not make their hands dirty. Their heads are full of theory while life calls for practice. Finally, their education has taught them that money (parents paying school fees in time) matters more than effort.
19 August 2019
Culture will be the final topic in our analysis of why things don’t get done in the Gorilla Highlands region (our #GHGTD series). “Culture” is a wide term with many meanings — and, no, it doesn’t mean dancers in traditional robes! — but in our case it will be defined as “the knowledge and values shared by a society”.
We are often using culture as an excuse for mediocrity or failure to perform. In today’s integrated world there is a growing fusion of norms and expectations, especially in the business sphere, and if you are part of it you simply have to live by its rules.
Still, culture definitely drives our behaviour, whether we are consciously aware of it or not…
21 August 2019
At the core of culture in #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done) lies the ingrained need to please and avoid conflicts whenever possible.
It leads to too many yeses, personal promises and team commitments that will, if we are honest with ourselves, never be acted upon. Similarly, bad news doesn’t reach those who should be made aware.
However, the need to please could also be instrumental in getting things done… We don’t want to disappoint others, riiiiiiight?
24 August 2019
Today we are focusing on something purely Ugandan. … Or is it?
A professor at a major university in the Pearl of Africa once remarked that the biggest problem of his people is lack of personal responsibility. There is always somebody else to blame. Worse, if you do something wrong but nobody sees it, then it didn’t really happen.
This cultural trait has a terrible effect on #GHGTD (Gorilla Highlands with Getting Things Done). For example, if you are not used to taking personal responsibility, you will take everything personally, perceive it as a direct attack on you. Another practical manifestation is rampant theft; why feel guilty before you are caught?
… On Monday we will follow up with a purely Rwandan example. Or will it be?
26 August 2019
A Rwandan businesswoman is totally frustrated. Whenever she calls, messages or emails anybody for professional reasons, her chances of getting some response are painfully small. She wonders what is wrong with her nation.
The irony is that if you call, message or email her, you also won’t get a reply easily… It’s like phones have been reprogrammed for the local market to only work one way. Information flows are a challenge throughout our region but Rwanda seems to be in its own league.
On Wednesday we are going to step into DR Congo as we proceed with our exploration of culture and #GHGTD…
28 August 2019
Corruption can be a beautiful thing. As long as you have the money, it removes silly obstacles and speeds up awkward processes.
But not the one proudly Made in DR Congo… It is so total and systematic that it undermines the whole idea of getting anything done. If you are an official in the DRC, you work to be bribed and that is condoned by the powers to be.
It creates artificial poverty in a country whose mineral wealth should make it one of the richest in the world. And corruption is always, in any country, a bad thing for poor people!
With this Congolese “way of life” example — that follows a provocative story from Uganda and Rwanda — we are completing a quick analysis of how culture, education and colonisation affect #GHGTD (Getting Things Done in the Gorilla Highlands region). Our next step: practically trying out some possible solutions! You can help us by sharing your own thoughts about the problem of not getting things done: in the comments, in a message, or face-to-face.
GH Pocket Guide
Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide
The Gorilla Highlands Pocket Guide is a paper booklet printed in 10,000 copies, made by an international team of experts to promote an often underestimated region. It is free, attractive and packed with travel advice (including informative ads that finance the project) encouraging the reader to explore.
Focused on southwestern Uganda when it was first published in 2013, the booklet has gradually covered more and more territory. Rwanda was added in 2016 and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) included in 2019.
The most recent edition came out in September 2019 and presents the following places on 80 pages:
Akagera National Park (Rwanda) • Bukavu City (DRC) • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda) • Crater Lakes of the Gorilla Highlands (Rwanda/Uganda) • Echuya Forest Reserve (Uganda) • Goma City (DRC) • Gisenyi/Rubavu (Rwanda) • Kabale Town (Uganda) • Kahuzi-Biega National Park (DRC) • Kampala City (Uganda) • Kigali City (Rwanda) • Kisiizi Falls (Uganda) • Kisoro Town (Uganda) • Lake Bunyonyi (Uganda) • Lake Kivu (Rwanda/DRC) • Lake Nabugabo (Uganda) • Lwiro (DRC) • Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda) • Musanze Town (Rwanda) • Nyungwe Forest National Park (Rwanda) • Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda) • Virunga National Park (DRC) • Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)
photo: Miha Logar; featured photo: Marcus Westberg
Gorilla Highlands Silverchef 2020: The All-Star
UPDATE: As a result of the global Covid-19 situation, the next GH Silverchef will take place in 2022.
21 November 2020 the best chefs of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo will once again come together to compete — joined by challengers from the rest of Africa! This will be the sixth annual Gorilla Highlands Silverchef cooking competition and networking event, right under the Virunga volcanoes.
GH Silverchef has been taking place since 2015, inviting chefs from an ever widening geographical area. We started in Kisoro (2015) with competitors from southwestern Uganda, in Kabale (2016) we added Rwanda’s districts of Burera and Musanze, at Lake Bunyonyi (2017) everyone from Gisenyi to Queen Elizabeth National Park was invited, and in Kigali (2018) and Musanze (2019) we expanded the scope to all of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.
This has been much more than a culinary contest. The main approach of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative is to bring the private sector together to create business linkages and personal networks.
GH Silverchef is an opportunity for the invitees to meet their colleagues from the tourism, media and development fraternities while sampling excellent food. For Africa, it is a chance to showcase the quality and variety of her rich food, unearthing culinary excellence that may well surprise its visitors. To chefs, GH Silverchef means an event to challenge them creatively, help them benchmark and learn from each other. We give them unprecedented attention by providing a platform to present their skills and familiarisation trips that take them out of their kitchens.
2020 All-Star Edition
After five years of preparing an ever-growing event, the 2020 All-Star edition will be continental. The winners of quality cooking certificates from previous years will be automatically qualified and those brave enough to face them may earn their admission through preliminaries. (Interested in organising a preliminary competition in any African country/region?)
While being open to the entire continent, we will remain rooted in our home soil by having the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef All-Star at the same place as in 2019, at the Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel in Musanze!
More info: firstname.lastname@example.org • +250 783 118 421
featured photo: Marcus Westberg
Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp
While Gorilla Highlands Silverchef is an occasion to don your best clothes and mingle at one of the best hotels of our region, Gorilla Highlands Bootcamp is something completely different: you camp, canoe, hike, dance and discuss while exploring remote areas of Lake Bunyonyi.
Therefore we promote GH Silverchef as something for our partners’ senior staff and the GH Bootcamp as something for junior staff — but if you are a general manager or an investor who isn’t afraid of roughing it a little, GH Bootcamp might be just for you!
This is how it works, annually, when we are not dealing with Covid:
place: Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi
concept: a mixture of a canoe-based fam trip, lectures and debates that is open to all tourism, media, marketing, conservation and development professionals
price: free (you just need to organise yourself some transport to Lake Bunyonyi and back)
half-a-day Culture on the Crest trek, followed by an island overnight at Tom’s Homestay
motorised trip to Batwa Today in Echuya Forest
visits to Bunyonyi/Kabale accommodation providers
2-day Mama Bena’s Bonus canoe trek
NB: You can arrive before Saturday, leave before Mama Bena’s Bonus, or extend your stay past Wednesday.
photo: Paul Busomoke, Miha Logar and Isabelle Masozera; featured photo: Marcus Westberg