Today I’m speaking to Olivia Munoru who is the founder of Life Safari, an immersive coaching and learning experience in Kenya. She speaks about the principles behind her business, the impact on the people she works with, and the importance of building a business you love.

Claudia:  Thank you, Olivia. You’re going to be interviewed by me. This is the first part of two interviews where I’ll be speaking to you and then to Emma, somebody that came on your Life Safari. We decided to have these conversations because — clients and the impact that we can have on our clients that are a huge part of the coaching life – I think, personally, the impact that we can have on people is a significant motivator for a lot of coaches, and incredible source of joy when we know that we’ve had a positive impact in people’s lives. So, I wanted to speak to you a little bit about The Life Safari, and then also about the people that you work with and the impact that you hope to have on them. I wonder if we could start off with you just telling me a little bit about The Life Safari.

Olivia:  Sure! Yeah. Gosh! It’s kind of like talking about my baby. It’s so much a part of me and who I am that it’s really difficult to kind of break down in a concise way, but I’ll try. The Life Safari was born from my own personal experiences travelling, and not just travelling, but just wherever I am in the world, wherever I am in space just connecting with people on a human level, and I found that as I’ve walked through life I’ve always found that those human connections, often not just with people that you know but with strangers, can have a really big impact on how I see my world and how I see myself.

So, there are a lot of things that led to the Life Safari being born, but this in particular was kind of the main driver, was, how can I create an experience that’s going to really help people to connect on the deepest human level with one another, and also with themselves, and with the experience? So, ultimately, I decided, “Well, travel is one of the best ways,” and anyone you know that’s been traveling recently will come back and say, “Oh gosh! I’m so changed. It’s really hard to reconnect back into the old world where I started.”

I think, it goes without saying that when you step outside your normal every-day life and you go into a different world, a different place, a different life, you get new perspectives and you get inspired often by those new perspectives and the different ways that people live, and you kind of get a chance to decompress. It’s like a space where you don’t have all the other clutter going on in your life and you can really think at a more pure level about who you are and what you are all about. So that’s what I wanted to create for people.

Throughout my career, I’ve done lots of different work, some that you’d think is seemingly unrelated, but, actually, it has always been about creating an experience for people that moves them. Everything I have done, I’ve looked back and I’ve said, “Why did I do that job? That was really strange.” It has always been creating an experience, leading people through an experience that somehow moves them from here to here at a personal level.

Claudia:  Can you tell me how long you have been coaching for?

Olivia:  That’s a really interesting question because there is no exact start date. So, I was using coaching skills and the coaching mind-set since about 2010. I suppose I have used it, sort of, at an instinctive level for a long time, but in 2010 I was introduced to coaching as a way to help communities, particularly in developing contexts, to create changes for themselves.

So, I was introduced to a global network of facilitators and coaches, I had no idea what this was about, what are the people doing, but the premise behind what they did completely took me in, and the premise was: instead of us coming in and solving problems for other people, instead of NGOs and charities coming in and prescribing solutions to communities, what if they have the solutions within themselves and it’s just a matter of mobilising them, or them mobilising themselves to take action towards a vision that they have for their future? For me, that was like a no-brainer, of course. That’s absolutely what I had believed for a long time and why I was getting so fed up with my work at the time in the NGO sector.

I was lucky I was introduced to this idea by a group of transgender sex workers in Jakarta who were using coaching in their own community to make changes, especially around being able to negotiate with patrons because they are sex workers, and around being able to protect themselves from HIV, and it was having more of an impact, and it was costing nothing – because it costs nothing to change your behaviour, and, yet, I was working with a UN agency that was pumping ridiculous amounts of money into these education programs, and no one was listening.

So, for me, that was such a no-brainer and I spent nine months with this group and they taught me not just how to facilitate change, and how to coach others so [uncertain 00:05:21], but also how to do it in your own life and what an impact that can have on your life. So, it was kind of like it became less of a profession and more of a lifestyle for me.

I did have the title of coach at some point after this. I didn’t really know about the coaching industry in the West because I was living in Indonesia. I didn’t really know about personal development and those kinds of things, although, a lot of it was going on in my life, and I had met Nick, and I was friends with Nick, I used to tell him about my work and he said, “What you are doing is like coaching. It’s just the same as what we do – at the time it was Smart School – what we teach.”

So, I was a bit sceptical and I said, “I don’t want to become one of those people like those Americans who tell you how to live your life,” and he assured me that wasn’t what it was.

So, I took on the challenge to do the Diploma, and I remember, the first weekend I was going, “Yes! Exactly! Yes!” Everything Robert said, “Yes! I totally agree,’ and II realised that there isn’t much of a difference between the coaching that was being taught at Animas and what people do in the West to help themselves and to help their clients, and what I was doing with communities in the NGO sector. It’s just a slightly different context.

Working with a group to make change as a group is different from working with an individual to make change in their own life. It takes more coordination, and it takes more conversation and debate and dialogue, but, ultimately, the principles are much the same, and it really is about digging down and finding those existing strengths and resources that people have, and unlocking those, and then helping people to see what kind of future they want for themselves, and to actually not just think about that future, but to take action, and that’s the main premise behind what I was doing when I first discovered coaching.

Claudia:  Lovely. So, when you first discovered coaching, you were coaching in a different way?

Olivia:  Very different, yeah. After that nine months in Indonesia, I joined this network called the Constellation; amazing, incredible network of facilitators, most of whom had been through the process of change in their own communities. So we had hundreds of Congolese facilitators, Indonesians, Thais, Belgians; gosh, there were just dozens of countries represented by people who had had their own lives changed, their communities had made changes, and now they were looking to share their experience with others.

I got involved with this group, and then we started to basically consult to different NGOs around the world and UN agencies. So they would pay us: me, and there were sixty other coaches. We had a pool of sixty coaches, and they would pay us to come and train their staff and help these organisations to take these principles on board and apply coaching mind-set, and coaching skills in their organisations and the way work with communities.

Claudia:  So, I wonder if you could tell me how the Life Safari worked. You’ve sort of told me about the principles of it, and I wonder, if I were to sign up for it, what would my experience be?

Olivia:  Okay. The Life Safari… One of those communities that I got involved with when I was doing that work with the NGOs, in fact, it was one of the coaches that I was working with who told me about his village, and he said, “Oh yeah, we’ve doing this stuff for about twenty five years.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah. I’ve been mobilising my community to make changes for twenty five years. You should come and see,’ and I spoke to a bunch of other people that had been there and they said, “Yeah. You need to see this village. It’s amazing.”

This community is a little bit like visiting someone who is so advanced in their personal development that you feel in aura of that person. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone like that. Someone who is almost kind of a monk. I’m reading a book at the moment, “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,” and it talks about these monks that he visits in the foothills of the Himalayas and they are so advanced in their development, in their sense of self, and their purpose; it’s all inspiring. Well, this community is like that for me.

They are called Kasigau, and they are about four hours outside of Nairobi, in Kenya, and I decided, “Not only will I go, but why don’t I bring some people with me and create an experience? Almost like a sort of pilgrimage where we go and we learnt from these amazing people about how they have created changes in their lives, and let’s get inspired by that.”

So, ultimately, a lot of people who bring outsiders to Kenya, or to Africa, it’s often about volunteering, or about helping, and that’s a lovely idea. It comes from a great place, but it’s a bit patronising to be completely honest. Myself, I have done volunteering. So, I don’t criticise people who take that opportunity, but from the point of view of people being visited, I’ve spent a lot of time now with people who have been visited in this capacity, it’s not as encouraging when someone helps you, as it is when someone comes to appreciate what you’ve done for yourself.

When someone comes to appreciate what changes you’ve made or your community has made in their lives that is motivating. So, for you, Claudia, if you were to come on the Life Safari, firstly, there is the travel experience, we would do lots of fun things, there is the great group which I carefully selected and vetted so that it’s a good dynamic group of people, then there is the adventure of traveling in Kenya which is completely mad and unbelievable, it has its quirks, and then there is the experience in the community – which I can go into more detail about – but, ultimately, at a kind of almost spiritual level you’d be seeing humanity in just such an interesting and beautiful and inspiring way, and, my hope is that that would inspire you to just see your life differently; so see your world through fresh eyes, and to be inspired to make changes in your life using your own resources and strengths the way these people have.

Claudia:  It sounds like everyone on the Life Safari can take what is right for them from the experience.

Olivia:  Exactly, and, in fact, although, I suppose, you can use the word ‘coach’ for some of the things that I do and there are some techniques and group coaching kind of activities, and things, but, I let the experience be the coach. Ultimately, my role is to create the space and to create an experience, and it’s that which catalyses and complements their personal journey, and everyone has a different journey.

Claudia:  So it’s very much like one-on-one coaching in the sense that it would be unlikely that you go into a session with a set idea of what you are going to cover and the questions that you are going to ask, and you might have a sense of the space that you want to create for that person – that you’re led very much by the individual and the moment and what comes out of that space.

Olivia:  Yeah, and that’s a real challenge for me because I’m managing between six to eight people, plus all of the community members who are a part of the experience as much as the visitors. So there is a lot going on for me from, I guess, a coach’s point of view, but I really try, like you say, to almost have no agenda, although there is direction. So, it’s a fine balance.

So there is a sense of direction. We don’t want to miss opportunities for deep reflection, right? But we don’t want to over-engineer, or over-facilitate the experience, and that’s the fine line. I guess, that’s what I see as, maybe, my gift, or my talent, is to be able to navigate that fine line quite comfortably, but it’s hard. It’s hard sometimes.

Claudia:  How often do you run these retreats?

Olivia:  I was kind of dared to run the first one, and some lovely willing people came along, but then a few days before I went on the Life Safari, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child, and I’m now a few weeks away from giving birth. So it kind of changed my plans a little bit.

Claudia:  Yes.

Olivia:  I planned a second one in May, but it was a bit rushed to try and get that many people to sign up. People need time just to get their visas and get their inoculations and things. So, in the end, I cancelled the May one and someone decided to come anyway. So I’ve just come back, and I took a business coach From Europe. I took her as a [uncertain 00:14:02] Life Safari, basically. She provided one-on-one business coaching to local business owners in the village, some of whom are poultry farmers and some of whom run mills, they mill maize into flour – some really interesting, interesting businesses.

Claudia:  What was it like to plan the first Life Safari? How long did it take?

Olivia:  It was really thrilling. Oh gosh, I loved the buzz of building that business. So, first of all, I did the Coach Success program, which is now called the “Launchpad.” So, I was there with my twelve peers and Nick and walking through this process of, “How do I turn my person into something that’s able to sustain my family, I guess?” I tip-toed around with some safe ideas for a while; this one was sitting deep down, and I kept ignoring it because it felt a bit too big – taking people to Africa on trips in the village?

Just to give you a bit of context, it has got a real adventure element to it, so it’s really taking people out of their comfort zone into a fairly different kind of environment. Then, eventually, I got the courage to say, “This is what I really want to do,” and I didn’t really have much of a budget to get started. So I built my own website using Instapage, and I didn’t really have much to put into marketing.

So I actually just reached out to people who knew me and a lot of people who know my background, and they have always shown an interest, and I just reached out and said, “I’m looking for eight people who are game enough to come with me,” and I kept the price in an affordable place where it was still going to cover the costs and feel, I guess, worthwhile for me, and yet still be affordable for people to take that risk because I didn’t have any previous trips for them to go on, and I had no trouble finding these eight people. In fact, I had nine, then three had to pull out for various family reasons, and so, in the end, I had six, and it was just great.

But the business side of things, there is always the juggle with pricing and costs; that’s always a juggle. I got it right, but I didn’t really make any money for myself. I just covered the costs. That’s how you start. That’s okay. Then the technology stuff was just about sitting down and figuring it out, and then the rest of it really was about sharing my passion in a way that felt authentic, rather than trying some sales approach because I felt a little uncomfortable selling any other way than just saying, “Hey! This is what I’m doing.”

I remember one really good friend of mine saying, “Oh, it’s just not really my thing,” and I realised that it’s not for everyone, but if you talk to enough people, it will be for some.

Claudia:  What was the experience that you were hoping that the people that came on the Life Safari would have?

Olivia:  I wanted them to see the Kenya that I see which is quirky, difficult, beautiful, inspiring, frustrating; all of the above. I wanted them to step right away from their other world, their home, and to really open themselves up for an experience. I wanted them to embrace this idea that communities, and people – even people who are poor, relatively poor – have strengths, and don’t always need our help.

They don’t always need to be saved when they are visited by foreigners. They could just be appreciated for what they have done. I really, really wanted people to see that, and that message is quite hard sometimes for people to digest, but it didn’t seem to be in this case, and I wanted them to have great fun; to do things that they never thought they’d do, and to be pushed.

I expected there to be difficult moments when people were uncomfortable and I’m quite happy with that. I don’t find it difficult for me to have someone in an uncomfortable place because I know that there is a pot at the end of the rainbow, if that makes sense. So, I wanted them to go on a journey that was really going to have an impact, not just in the moment, but beyond the trip, and I truly believe that the trip in January far surpassed everyone’s expectations, especially mine.

Claudia:  That pot at the end of the rainbow, that impact beyond the trip, what do you imagine that might be for people?

Olivia:  For me, it just makes me cry every time because it’s just overwhelming for me to think that they had that experience. I’ll give you an example, Emma – who I know you are going to be speaking to as well, Emma Ferris – she came along with really no expectations except to be open. That was her thing – just to be open to the experience, and one of the things that touched her the most which I found really interesting was actually the connection to nature.

She’ll probably talk more about this, but the way that everything that’s eaten in that society, in that village, you’ve seen it grown on the tree, or in the ground, and there is sort of one swift movement from when it grows to when it goes to your mouth. So it doesn’t go in a truck, it doesn’t go in a fridge it doesn’t get transported – it just gets cooked and eaten, and she has now moved house and she has got her own garden, she is growing potatoes, she is growing all sorts of things, and I truly believe that she wanted to do that all along. Long before the Life Safari she had been talking about those things, but this, I think, kind of, catalysed that desire and almost cleared some of the weeds for her so that she could plant that seed and let it grow, and everyone’s feedback has been positive.

A lot of people talked about how life slowed down for them. I take their phones away. So there is no phone. It’s a digital detox for five days. It’s voluntary, but no one said, “No,” and so they really are without technology, and, I think, that has a big impact, and I know that she really loved that. She really enjoyed being just able to sit under a tree and watch the sun set.

Claudia:  Yeah, that’s interesting how the immersive experience can help to catalyse realisations of perhaps values that people hold, or ways that they might like to live.

Olivia:  Yeah, Claudia, you’re so right, and, I think, in the West, when we explore things like our passion and our purpose, I think, we often discuss it in a cognitive way. Like if you are sitting in a room one-on-one with a coach, that’s a discussion. It’s a cognitive process, but, for me, watching these people have a full sensory experience, they are feeling and they can smell it, they can feel the wind on their face; it’s all the senses getting engaged in this moment, and that, for me, is where you really tap into your meaning and your purpose as a human being, and our humanity is so much more than what we think or say. It’s so much more than that.

There is so much feeling involved, and sound, and sight, and it’s a little bit like the great moments of life: birth, and death – all these things – they are much more than just a thought or a discussion. They are bigger than that, and, I think, that’s what I really try to create with the Life Safari, is something that just fills your senses, and, yeah, I think I might have got there. I don’t know.

Claudia:  I’m wondering what coaches like me that are maybe operating predominantly in London, in a slightly less adventurous way, perhaps from the outside perspective, what we can learn from what you’ve said about this experience, this very sensory lived experience and how that can open up our thinking, or take us away from thinking into feeling?

Olivia:  Well, obviously, coming to Kenya it’s an amplified experience, but, gosh, there are so many beautiful places in the UK, and I went back recently and I was just looking out over this beautiful great meadow, and, I think, you can find these sensory experiences anywhere. I’m not really interested in art, but I know that people who love visual art, they go to an art gallery and they are moved to tears. That, to me, is just incredible that a piece of art can move you that much.

I think about symphonies that people go and listen to, there is so much, especially in London, my goodness, there is so much on offer, and, I think, it’s really about not necessarily the coach taking the coachee there, but encouraging them to tap into those beautiful passions and experiences that are all around them because a lot of us live in a cubical, don’t we?

We live in a box, and then we travel in a box to go home to look at a box, and then there is all this life to live outside of that.

Claudia:  Yeah.

Olivia:  Yeah. I don’t know. I have a two-year-old, and he just keeps me constantly seeing how amazing the world is because he’ll look at the small like stones on the ground and he’ll just be in aura of these shinning stones,” because they are so shiny, and I just find that it helps to remind me of how incredible the world is.

Claudia:  I’m wondering, just to finish up, whether there were any tips or ideas that you would like to share with people that are at the beginning of their coaching journey?

Olivia:  Oh, gosh! Okay. Well, I’d say, the things I learned from my experience with the Life Safari is that, I never get tired of working on it because it just speaks so much to who I am, and I know, of course, people say this is so much and it gets a bit boring, but if you can find that thing that makes your heart sing, it really is unlike work, and I hate to be just yet another person saying that, but, to me, it has been true.

Secondly, I’d say, start small. Like, just do your own dodgy website and invite your friends. It depends what you’re doing, I guess, but I just reached out to my personal networks, and, I think, you have to be a bit humble and a bit amateur at the beginning. There is plenty of time later on for fancy websites. Like now I’m shooting a YouTube channel which will be released soon that’s like a kind of a Life Safari travel show in Kenya, and that’s something I can invest in, and I can invest the time and energy into, but that’s because I’ve done the amateur stuff to start with, and now I feel like I’ve kind of progressed to that next stage.

Claudia:  So, start small and be okay with being amateur at first.

Olivia:  Yeah. No one is expecting a new business to have the fanciest website, and sometimes I’m suspicious of the ones that do have the fancy marketing approaches because I sort of think, “Well, have you put your hard yards in?” You kind of have to start somewhere, and play to your strengths.

The other tip is, play to your strengths. There is no point in being someone else. My strength is that I really have this passion that people find infectious and that I love creating experiences. So, it was really hard to put that into a business; to find whether that fit, but once I did it feels easy for me because it is. That’s my strength. So, find your strengths. Know what they are. Yeah.

Claudia:  Lovely. I love what you said as well, find the thing that makes your heart sing, and it doesn’t feel like you are doing work then. That’s lovely. Thank you so much for sharing with me your adventurous business idea, and that thing that makes you so passionate is lovely, lovely to hear your passion for it, and I’m really excited to see how it develops over the next few years.

I think the Life Safari is a great example of a business which doesn’t have classic one-to-one coaching at its core, but which is founded on coaching principles such as collaboration, mutuality, and the use of the immediate experience. It is worth is considering the ways in which coaching principles can enrich the things we do already, or from the foundations of unique projects like this.