Roger Clulow
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Roger Clulow

Regional General Manager, Africa, Grand Circle Corporation

If anyone's life story proves that chance can shift the course of his or her future, it is Roger Clulow's. A South African of British descent (his mother was Scottish and his father was English), he grew up in the goldfields region of South Africa, about an hour's drive from Johannesburg. Except for sports—a lifelong passion—he was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. Even when he was discharged from the air force after the year of military service that was compulsory in his country, he had no idea what he wanted to study. "Tourism was the only thing that remotely appealed to me," he says. "Thankfully, in hindsight, it proved to be the right choice for me. Some 20 years later, I am still in the tourism industry."

He began his career in travel by taking a job with an airline in Johannesburg. He next began working for a private safari lodge, followed by a stint at a tour operating company. That's where chance stepped in. It was while he was at the tour operating company that he was asked to prepare an itinerary for an American family's trip to southern Africa.

That family was Alan and Harriet Lewis and their then-teenage children, Charlotte and Edward.

Not too long after that, he became one of the first two full-time employees of Grand Circle's office in Africa. Roger was attracted to the company, not only because of the Lewises themselves, but also because of its size, the fact that it was the leader in its niche market, and the fact that it offered trips all over the world under different brands. There was something else that appealed to him, too: as he puts it, "the fact that Grand Circle thinks its own way and didn't follow the rest of the industry."

And there was one other attraction. "Because my colleague and I were the first full-time employees in Africa, we had the amazing opportunity to craft the region how we wanted it," he reveals. That included the opportunity to focus on service to others.

Philanthropy: Sometimes it's in his job description …
"There are a few reasons why the company's philanthropy is important to me," he says. "First and foremost, I believe that it makes us all better human beings. Compared to millions of others on this planet, we all come from privileged backgrounds, and it is our duty and responsibility as human beings to help others who are less fortunate and who have never been given the opportunities that we have been given in life."

As Regional General Manager of Africa, Roger is in charge of sub-Saharan Africa for Grand Circle Corporation, responsible for the company's operations, quality, and profitability there. The bulk of his time is spent contracting and negotiating with vendors, making changes and enhancements to the trips themselves, and looking for new opportunities.

He is also instrumental in the sites selected for Grand Circle Foundation support in his region. "Because we are a global company and are literally active in all parts of the world, we have amazing reach; we can quickly and effectively get to grass-roots level, identify the needs of a community, engage with the local leaders, and develop a plan to make things better as quickly as possible," he points out. "It is truly an amazing experience and an amazing opportunity."

There are many Foundation sites located in Roger's region, including the Fontein Community Centre in Swaziland; the Jacob Basson School in Namibia; the Ngamo Primary School, Ngamo Secondary School, and Ziga School in Zimbabwe; the Amboseli Primary School in Kenya; and the Bashay School, Tarangire Primary School, Kambi ya Nyoka School, and Banjika Secondary School in Tanzania.

All were selected on the basis of their having significant needs, with neither the school itself, the parents, nor the government able to fulfill them adequately. "I could go on for hours about how we have helped these and other schools over the years as we have done so much," says Roger. Among the accomplishments he cites are having "literally built an entire school in Tanzania" (the Banjika Secondary School), as well as building and repairing classrooms at many schools, building dining rooms, repairing roofs, paying school fees, purchasing uniforms, donating seedlings, installing solar equipment and wells, and supplying medical equipment, textbooks, and furniture. "The list is endless!" he marvels.

Location is also a consideration in site selection, as each site must be on the path of a Grand Circle or OAT itinerary, so that travelers are able to visit them. "Our travelers are always amazed," says Roger. "Grand Circle Foundation provides them with the opportunity to give back, something which our travelers hold dear and which improves the quality of their lives. Their seeing what has been done with funds from other generous travelers always spurs them on to support and donate themselves. The wheel keeps turning."

… and sometimes it's not
Of course, being responsible for Foundation sites is all in a day's work for Roger. But, although it is encouraged, no one at Grand Circle Corporation is obligated to engage in community service. Roger, on the other hand, embraces the opportunity and goes out of his way to inspire and organize community service events. His reasoning is simple. "By giving back, we learn a lot about ourselves and hopefully become better human beings for it," he says.

He explains the process through which his team identifies and plans community service events this way. "We have a meeting, and I ask my team to come up with their ideas for what we can do. We brainstorm, and in short space of time usually have a few different possibilities which we discuss before all agreeing on one project," he explains. "Africa has many needs, so identifying a community service project is generally a pretty simple task."

The projects undertaken have been varied. One year, the group refurbished a children's "place of safety in our town," as Roger describes it. "This establishment provides counseling and trauma services to children who have been abused. We repainted the place, cleaned up their gardens, re-varnished their wooden staircases, made curtains, and donated a lot of toys. It was a fantastic event."

Another year, the African community service team took a group of young underprivileged children out for the day. "We took a bus ride to Cape Town, took the kids on a boat ride to see seals, took them to lunch, and then took them to the aquarium," says Roger. "And just last week we refurbished a school in Knysna."

In every case, the people of the community were "overjoyed and overwhelmed, especially the parents of children," says Roger. "They so much appreciate what we do, and it's wonderful to see the genuine appreciation in their eyes."

A vision for the future
Roger is not content to rest on these successes, however. He has a vision for how he would like to see Grand Circle Foundation activities evolve in Africa. "I would like to continue doing the great work that Grand Circle Foundation has done over the years," he says, "and I would like to see more projects being able to stand on their own after we have supported them, and not be entirely reliant on the Foundation."

He also would like to see more projects occurring in his own homeland, South Africa. He says further, "I would love to see us become more involved in educating the community, not just providing tangible items. The old proverb comes to mind: 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life.'"

On the community service side, Roger would like to see an expanded "workforce," with more Trip Leaders, Program Directors, and family and friends joining in, making larger projects possible.

When he's not at work or serving his community, Roger continues to enjoy sports "tremendously." He also reveals that there are "two things most people don't know about me: I still hold a world record dating back to 1987 for a particular arcade game (I played over 5 hours on one game), and I love having my feet tickled!"

That playful side of Roger is an integral part of his attitude toward life. "Have a positive attitude, and make a positive impact on those around you and whomever you come into contact with," he says. "Live for today, and don't take things too seriously—especially yourself."

But if you think that means that this gutsy leader is anything less than serious about giving back to the people of southern Africa, there's only one rejoinder: Not a chance.

Featured in our January 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.