Great Things Happen to Good People


You often hear “bad things happen to good people.” It’s sometimes true and unfortunate, but sometimes great things happen to good people. Ange

Ange Imanishimwe

Ange Imanishimwe, a Mandela Washington Fellow and Intern.

Imanishimwe was selected to participate in the Mandela Washington Fellowships (MWF) this summer. We first met Ange when training Certified Interpretive Guides in Rwanda. Ange organized Biocoop Rwanda to defeat poverty in his region of Rwanda and to better protect the unique ecosystems in Nyungwe National Park where he guides. Their work has created more than 600 jobs for local people while improving community health, removing invasive species from the park and organizing beekeeping and milk production coops to assist local farmers.


Ange arrived in Berkeley this past weekend to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) as part of the MWF program. It starts

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

Ange (upper right) met his Rwandan and Congolese colleagues at Kigali Airport for the trip to the United States just a few days ago.

with six weeks at a major university, University of California in this case, with intensive courses in entrepreneurship, leadership training and skills building. After the six weeks, the 500 Fellows convene in Washington, D.C. for a summit with President Obama. One hundred, including Ange, will remain another six to eight weeks for internships with major businesses and organizations. Ange will deliver public lectures at Harvard and Yale Universities during his internship with The Nature Conservancy in Boston.


The U.S. State Department invests an additional 5 million dollars in grants to these YALI participants over the next three years to assist with creating or improving non-profits that benefit communities. This kind of capacity building offers opportunities to young leaders who have already shown their ability to mobilize people and resources, helping to improve their African nations.


If any of our friends or colleagues in the San Francisco Bay area or Boston would like to meet Ange and show him around the region a bit, you will find he is interested to learn all he can from his visit to the USA. He is a very talented naturalist and guide with broad interests in people and the world. Let us know if you might share some of what our country has to offer and we can make the introduction for you but it must be soon as his time in Berkeley is limited. He is there now and moves on to Boston around the first of August.


Thanks to the thoughtful contributions of Marvin and Marion Kleinau and Tom Christensen, we recently sent three more new laptops to Rwandan park guides. Ange has one of those computers to use in his work. Access to the Internet is important to stay in touch with grant opportunities and colleagues around the world.


If you wish to buy a laptop ($260) or donate a gently used one to send to a guide at a national park in Rwanda, just let us know and we will handle the logistics of getting it to the hands of a guide after loading it with free open source software. You can help make great things happen for good people.


– Tim Merriman

The Markets Game – A Mixer, Icebreaker and More

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Created at

If you are training, putting on a conference or bringing people together who do not know each other for a meeting, the markets game can be a good start. It brings people together to chat about who they are (demographics), where they are from (geographics), and what they enjoy and care about (psychographics). I first saw it at a storytellers gathering, used as a mixer for new members, and we have since adapted it to the many varied settings in which we work. We have used it with as few as ten people and as many as 200. It can be done in as little as five minutes or as long as you wish, but planning fifteen to twenty minutes usually allows plenty of time.


Here’s how it works. You invite everyone in your group to stand in a large space that allows folks to spread out a bit, indoors or outdoors. The instructions are simple. Ask questions and let people move to your left or right in response to each question. After they move, invite them to gather in groups of two or three and spend a minute getting acquainted. Each question will split them up differently so they will meet new people very quickly and learn a little about them. I prefer to start with demographic questions, and then move into geographic questions and then psychographics. Question examples:


Question 1 – If you remember where you were on the day of the Kennedy assassination, stand to the left. If you don’t remember it, stand on the right. This generally puts those over 60 years old in the “remember” group and under 60 on the other. It’s a way of asking age without asking people to identify their specific age. You can also use the 1986 Challenger accident because most folks will remember it well, even if they were children when it occurred. This would put those over 35 in one group and under 35 in the other. Any significant national or world event that occurred during the age range of your group would work.


Question 2 – If you own a car, move to the left. If you rely on public transportation or your bicycle to get where you’re going, move to the right. Some questions will put almost all of the group in one location and few or none on the other side. It tells you something about the economic background of the group.


Watching this activity you can get a sense of your group’s ages and living circumstances. I avoid questions that might make people uncomfortable such as “if you make more than $50,000 annually . . . or if you have college debt . . . or have ever been divorced?”




Question 3 – If you were born and raised west of the Mississippi River over to the left, east of the Mississippi to the right. Obviously this is a U.S. oriented landmark. If you work with an international group, you might divide the group into east/west or north/south hemispheres instead. We live in Hawaii so I might ask here if my participants were born and raised in the islands or moved here.


Question 4 – If you live in a city or suburban area, move to the left. If you live on a farm or in a small town of 5,000 or fewer, move to the right. I might also ask if they grew up in the country or in the city or went to college at a western school or an eastern school.


Psychographics – I spend most of my time on these for they help me learn the most about the group’s current interests and preferences. These questions can be tailored to reflect activities common in the local area or relevant to your setting.


Question 5 – If you would rather read a good book than see a good movie, move to the left. If you prefer to see a movie over reading a book – move to the right.


Question 6 – If you prefer hiking over bicycling, to the left, bicycling over hiking to the right.


Working with interpreters and guides, I usually end with asking extroverts to move to the left and introverts to the right. Contrary to my expectations, I almost always end up with about two-thirds in the introvert group. People who are passionate about protecting the Earth learn to guide, present and overcome shyness to interpret what they value.


The Markets Game used with a large group gets people a bit acquainted and finding out what they have in common with others present. It starts conversations and breaks the ice of being in a new place with strangers. With a small group it helps you see that we segment markets differently using psychographics than with demographics and geographics. The questions can be framed a lot of different ways and some folks will go to the middle and ask if that’s okay (it is).


This activity gives the facilitator insights into who the group is and what they prefer. Most importantly it gets folks out of their chairs, moving around and chatting. The game gets people engaged and wanting to know more about each other and that’s a great start at any conference, workshop or social gathering.


  • Tim Merriman

Talking Story

I was walking back down the hill to our home in Hawaii after running, when a new neighbor smiled and said hello from her lanai just behind her house. She held a bunch of bananas and a shrink-wrapped package of macadamia nuts, gifts to a new neighbor. Flora and her husband have a family-run coffee and mac nut farm. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes to get acquainted. We were “talking story,” a Hawaiian reference to chatting and telling personal stories that reveal much about who we are, what we like, and how we live. Storytelling reflects and reveals our values, our hopes, our disappointments and our way of thinking.


Farmer's markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.

Farmer’s markets have become one of these important places to talk story in Hawaii and many other communities.

Talking story is a time-honored tradition here. I feel very much at home with the storytellers. As a young boy, I would be out with my father, a salesman, and would tug on his pants leg to go home as he chatted with farmers, neighbors, customers and anyone he met. I grew to appreciate his stories, some historical, some autobiographical, many humorous. The stories were well known in the family. I inherited them and have continued the tradition of passing them along. They express some of my beliefs and experiences with life or they just seem funny and a way to remember dad. When my son was very young he endured my long visits with friends and strangers, sharing stories, getting acquainted, talking story.


I love that the culture here has a name for this activity, but the activity itself is not unique to Hawaii. The small town where I was raised had several local cafes, which had daily coffee drinkers who gathered to “talk story,” known as the third place by city planners. These homes away from home included “regulars” and their friends or drop-ins, someone new to town or returning home for a visit. These third places are important in communities because they allow people to hang out, catch up with friends, and take time to understand each other better.


As a nature center director, I supervised building a restaurant next to the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colorado. The center had been a popular daily stop for joggers, dog walkers, fishers, birdwatchers and nature lovers. A café added food, beverages and great places to sit with friends, un-hassled. It encouraged people to meet for lunch, stop by for a drink, hold a birthday party or even a wedding or funeral. I enjoyed talking story with our “regulars” each day. The restaurant added to our attraction power for people as a third place, not work, not home. We encouraged staff to take the time to talk story with visitors. It became an important part of the workday, getting to know people well, listening to their stories.


Think about how you might encourage opportunities for storytelling beyond the traditional exhibit space or program areas. That café, coffee shop, tearoom or picnic area that serves as a “third place” at your facility may become “the” place for talking story at your site and as such, an important place for creating a sense of community.


– Tim Merriman





The Bad Guide, A Parody with a Purpose

Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.

Ace leaves his guests to catch up as they can near Lake Tahoe.

Those of you who have been to guide or trainer training with us may remember Ace Adventura, my alter-ego, the bad guide. I like portraying this rogue interpreter because he provides a chance for guides and trainers to critique guide performance with no concern for hurt feelings. Ace intends to be bad and is. And yet virtually every antic of my performance is something I have seen in practice by a guide at a natural or cultural history site.


I like to do about ten minutes as the bad guide, and then explain as Ace that I have to leave early for an obviously inappropriate rendezvous with a young lady. I take over as myself just two minutes later after improving my appearance. I then attempt to give the “good guide” thematic interpretive talk along the same trail. I always hope the contrast is extreme enough that everyone can see the difference and think about what made the difference.


Just a few but not all of Ace’s transgressions include:

Show up late

Wears sunglasses

Toss a coffee cup on the ground

Dressed as a slob

Terse formal introduction

Does not allow questions

Walks too fast

Talks facing the resource not the audience

Leaves guests facing the sun

Too much scientific jargon

No discernible theme

Takes a personal phone call during the talk

Talks down to guests

Asks for tips

Inappropriate humor

No conclusion

Ends the guided hike early for personal reasons


As the good guide I try to:

Dress appropriately

Have a clear theme throughout

Use questioning effectively

Create conversations with guests

Invite their questions at any time

Use universals and language familiar to guests

Encourage them to think about where we are

Provoke further thought or action

Take care of guests appropriately with weather, speed, etc.


After the ten-minute good guide effort, we go back to the classroom to debrief. I first invite a critique of Ace and that’s usually fun and engaging. Guides or trainers enjoy sharing what he did wrong and there is a lot to talk about.


I also invite the class members to tell what they liked about each talk and critique the “good guide.” We are rarely perfect when doing our best work and listening to thoughtful criticism is good for all of us.


Many trainers have shared photos and stories of their personal “bad guide” character over the years. If you train guides, consider using a bad example as an opportunity to talk about the many things that do not work well. A really good guided activity is so engaging that it is often challenging to critique it. You get engrossed in the experience and forget to analyze why it is so good. A truly terrible performance will make you think about why we need to be good at this.


Happy guiding in the New Year – 2015!


– Tim Merriman


Biocoop Rwanda: Entrepreneur at Work

AngeLisa and I took our first hike at Nyungwe National Park in 2012 with Ange Imanishiwmwe. He proved to be a talented park guide and naturalist, engaging us in a discussion of the importance of forest elephants and helping us identify the birds calling in the distance.


What we also learned about Ange right away was his commitment to helping his community and his nation improve. In his words, At age 7, I made a commitment to devote my life and work to integrating poverty reduction, food security, and environmental protection in my home district, the poorest in Rwanda.

It seems a large commitment for a young man in a nation recovering from a tragic genocide in 1994, but for the last few years we’ve been watching Ange made dreams come true. In 2012, Ange was named “Top Young Innovator” by the Ministry of Youth & ICT. One year later, he had an individual meeting with Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagamé. He is proving to everyone that a boy of 7 can make a promise that will be kept by the man he becomes.


Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.02.05 PMAnge started Biocoop Rwanda, a youth cooperative, and it is making a dramatic difference in the area near Nyungwe National Park. It has already created 650 jobs for local people with an objective to create 5,000 jobs in the next five years. They have raised more than $100,000 USD in grant funds, using and other microfinance programs to gain needed equipment. Recently they acquired a 3-wheeled motorcycle to transport milk to market for local farmers participating in a milk co-op. They have workers clearing invasive species plants out of Nyungwe National Park and they work to reduce poaching. A garbage initiative turns trash into fuel, reducing dependence on charcoal.


Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.04.45 PMMore than 90% of Rwandans live as subsistence farmers though soil is very poor and acidic in the Nyungwe area. Biocoop is working to improve soils through composting and teaching better farming practices. Reducing poverty and improving food security is also good for the park, as people with few options often turn to illegal activities like poaching and cutting trees. Biocoop tries to improve their ability to make a living on their farms near the park without having to go into the forest for subsistence.


Ange earned a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Conservation and is finishing a Master’s degree in Biodiversity Conservation. He has earned the Certified Interpretive Guide credential through training we provided in Nyungwe. Through his salary he supports his wife, son, mother, two sisters and two brothers. Several other guides from Nyungwe also work with the Biocoop.


Ange w compEarlier this year Ange was the first Nyungwe guide to receive a donated laptop in support of his work. We continue to raise funds and take donated laptops in support of the many guides in Rwanda trying to improve themselves and their communities.


Ange is seeking sponsors to bring his message of how entrepreneurship can help improve local communities to the U.S. and Europe. If you know of a potential sponsored speaking opportunity, let us know and we will put you in touch with him. Biocoop Rwanda is becoming a force for conservation, training and defeating poverty. It is a challenge that will last for decades but very important to the future of the parks and people of a recovering nation. There is a world of good to do in Rwanda and beyond. If you’d like to help, contact us and we will share ideas.


– Tim Merriman








Six Approaches to Being Present

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Created at

Those of us who work or have worked in service roles know the erosive effects of seeing lots of people in a day, often asking or being asked the same questions over and over. Soon our eyes glaze over and we listen minimally just for the most basic cues needed to do business, but we must remember that every conversation is an opportunity to turn a customer into a friend, a supporter, and an advocate for our natural or cultural heritage site. It won’t happen if we are not truly present. Here are a few thoughts on training staff to be present, not just physically but with sincere focus on each and every guest. Encourage your staff to:


  1. Look at each guest as you talk and do not move your focus to other people or transactions as you chat. People in service roles often move their eyes to focus on other people or activities, which tells a guest that he or she is the lower priority. Being present requires holding focus with a guest throughout a conversation, not just intermittently. If you must change focus for a brief moment, excuse yourself before doing so and apologize when you return your focus to the guest in front of you.
  2. Have real conversations with the customers, clients or guests. “Do you have big plans for the weekend?” is intrusive and sounds artificial. Asking questions is a good start but they should be more respectful. Requesting personal information not needed in the transaction is too pushy. Asking “Have you been here before?” is usually a better starting place.
  3. Use the name of the guest or client if you have it, but be respectful. We all perk up when our name is used and pay more attention to the conversation. Ask how people would prefer to be addressed. A good rule of thumb is to start more formally when addressing people by name and switch to first names or nicknames if they invite familiarity. Although an informal approach may work in the U.S., many people from other nations expect to be addressed more formally by people they don’t know well.
  4. Listen carefully to the person’s answers. When you hear a person answer your question, build the conversation from there and repeat back what they say in a different way to confirm you heard correctly. “So you’ve been here before, but you’re looking for new things to do? Is that correct?”
  5. Be thinking how you might assist them beyond their expectations. Do they need additional information? Have you shared options they might enjoy based on what you heard? Are there things to see or do or pricing options that they might overlook if someone doesn’t point them out?
  6. Don’t close with clichés like “Have a nice day” over and over. People hear what you say to others and know when they are being “handled” but not heard. Be sincere and say what seems appropriate. It never hurts to say, “It was very nice to chat with you. Let us know if we can be of further help.”


Some of these work better if the work environment and responsibilities are supportive. A person greeting guests should not be taking phone calls during a conversation that make the guest wait. We once stood in line to rent a car and heard the guy behind us calling the clerk in front of us because he could tell phone calls took precedence over people at the desk.


Training all staff to be good hosts is a critical need when you hire people. Being present is a matter of sincere focus on the guest, not just minimally available to do business.


Call us at 970-231-0537 or visit our website at to learn more about how we can be of assistance in designing or delivering customized host training for your staff.


– Tim Merriman

Capacity Building with Computers

Dr. Beth Kaplin delivered the two laptops recently to Gilbert in Rwanda.

Dr. Beth Kaplin recently delivered two laptops to Gilbert in Rwanda. He expressed his thanks to donors.


We have made several trips to Rwanda to provide training and interpretive planning in two national parks. The dedication of the guides we have met in Rwanda is inspirational. They are deeply committed to the conservation and care of the spectacular park resources of their nation.


Last January we asked the guides we trained in Nyungwe National Park about their access to the Internet as a resource for continuing education and communication with professional colleagues. Most had some use of a computer through a park office, library or classroom but no personal access at home. The few who did have their own computer had old models without much power or software. Many of the guides are working full-time while also going to school to complete a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and supporting additional family members. Though computers can be purchased in Rwanda, they are more expensive than most park guides can afford on an annual salary of roughly $3000. Unlike the situation in the US, Internet service is very inexpensive once you have the hardware for access.


We offered to help guides obtain laptops or iPads and have spent the past nine months inviting friends and colleagues to help out, either through purchase of new models or through donation of gently used models. Within a few months, we sent three laptops and an iPad to Jules Cesar Dushimimana, Ange Imanishiwmwe, Niyigaba Protais and Kambogo Ildephonse. Donations of funds and computers were made by Nicole Deufel, Mike and MaryJane Swope, Pam and Mike Neely, CarolAnn Moorhead and Luke George, Marji Trinen, Tobias Merriman, Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman.


Prudence received his laptop and shared a photo and his thanks to donors.

Prudence received his laptop and shared a photo and his thanks to donors.

This past June Lisa and I went to Australia to do several training events with the assistance of colleagues Claire Savage and Rusty Creighton. They personally donated funds to purchase a new laptop for a guide. Claire also asked the Forum Advocating Cultural and EcoTourism (FACET) to help and they funded another laptop. Emily Jacobs was kind to donate funds to support software installation, shipping and backup flash drive costs for the new laptops.


The second round of equipment was recently delivered by Dr. Beth Kaplin of Antioch University New England to Gilbert Muhawenimana and Harudy Prudence Uwitonze, who are working on Master’s degrees. Dr. Kaplin has been doing tropical forest ecology and restoration research for many years in East Africa and travels back and forth several times a year. We are grateful for her kind assistance in transporting equipment to the guides.


Capacity building is often identified as training and advanced skills development, but we think it must also include improving access to appropriate technology. If you would like to help us purchase the next two or three laptops to donate or have a second generation or newer iPad to donate, please call me at 970-231-0537. A new laptop is $250, but a contribution of any amount helps. You can make a real difference in the professional life of a colleague in Rwanda.


– Tim Merriman