Citizens of the World A fund-raising trip to the heart of the new South Africa becomes an incentive for the radio community.
Your group is sharing high tea at the Mount Nelson with 10 graduate students from Capetown University. Alongside you is traveling companion Christopher Lydon, host of one of your all-time favorite National Public Radio shows, "The Connection." The conversation moves easily between Nelson Mandela's legacy and foreign investment. The questions fly as the two groups learn about each other: "Why are many South African companies leaving their homeland?" "How are women treated here?" "What do you think of us?" "Has your opinion changed?"
At the end of the afternoon, you each give the students a favorite book you brought with you as a final gesture - a gift from one culture to another.
The "Citizens of the World" program, sponsored by Boston's NPR station WBUR, is far from your typical incentive. You might not call it an incentive at all, although it has some of the same characteristics, being a travel experience that, with encounters like the one above, could not be duplicated by individuals. Those who have been on the trips would most likely describe them as a shared educational experience - the listener community reaching out to the rest of the world.
How It Works WBUR started "Citizens of the World" four years ago, with the goal of raising funds and creating a unique travel experience that leads to station loyalty and volunteerism. Attendees are listeners who qualify by donating a certain underwriting fee to the station. "The goal is to inspire, to motivate the participants - not to sell, but to contribute," says organizer Roxana von Kraus, president of Quo Vadis Inc. (Quo vadis is Latin for "Where are you going?") While listeners win most radio-sponsored trips through contests, WBUR listeners pay for these tours.
Von Kraus feels her Romanian heritage has helped her to achieve WBUR's goal of offering "the soul of the country, not merely the landmarks." The first program went to Budapest and Prague, where attendees met with Vladimir Zelezny, director of the NOVA television station in Prague (the first private station in Eastern Europe), and followed the route of the 1968 Hungarian Revolution that brought Russian troops to the country. Next, in 1997, the Citizen tour went to the Baltic States and St. Petersburg, where von Kraus arranged a meeting with journalists in Riga and Tallinn and students from the University of St. Petersburg. During last year's program to South Africa, the group took a ferry to Robben Island, the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela spent 17 years at hard labor. Ahmed Kathraada, a former cellmate of Mandela's, led the tour, sharing many unforgettable stories of day-to-day life on the island. The 1999 program was so successful that WBUR decided to run it again at the same destination in March 2000.
Visiting South Africa during the final year of Nelson Mandela's presidency and again during the first year of TM Mbeki's administration, the groups were able to observe firsthand the transition of power and how the changes have affected the country.
Hosting the groups were WBUR's General Manager Jane Christo and respected NPR correspondents Christopher Lydon and Robert Siegal (host of "All Things Considered").
First-Class Service In keeping with NPR's profile, attendees were, as NPR spokesperson Mary Stohn describes them, "curious and engaged. They want to know about the world, and about the people who are involved in events that affect them."
They expected the finest treatment - and they got it. For example, the 1999 group traveled on Virgin Airlines to Capetown, with a half-day stopover in London. Von Kraus' creative approach to the stopover was to arrange for a private visit to the London headquarters of the BBC, a special treat for WBUR attendees, whose station airs BBC programming in Boston. The group then enjoyed high tea at the world-famous Savoy before returning to the airport.
Meals provided yet another opportunity for von Kraus to educate and enlighten. She seated her guests at small, intimate tables to facilitate conversation, and each table's host was a prominent member of the local government or media. For last year's farewell dinner in Capetown, the remarkable Charleyne Hunter Gault of CNN was flown in from Johannesburg for the occasion, and other hosts included the editor of an influential Capetown newspaper and a member of Parliament.
Both years, the group stayed at the Mount Nelson, a grand Victorian hotel. This year's Capetown itinerary included a visit to the region's wineries to seek out the "new guard" of Cape wines and restaurant menus, followed by lunch at Boschendal, an old-style manor house.
One can hardly visit the African continent without going on safari, and von Kraus had arranged for a visit to Kruger National Park, with three nights in the luxurious Saabi Saabi chalets. Everyone rose at 5 a.m. and boarded Land Rovers with a local driver/ranger and a local trekker. After the morning safari, the group enjoyed free time lounging by the pool during the hottest hours of the day, with a luncheon served at the watering hole. A highlight of the time at Saabi Saabi was a pre-arranged dinner in the bush - in complete darkness. One can only imagine the sounds of wild animals just beyond the circle of Land Rovers, and the realization of one's place, both in the world and on the food chain. Even von Kraus admits, "I ate very fast that night."
After the safari adventure, the group journeyed to Komati-poort, where they boarded the Rovos Rail, "The Pride of Africa." While aboard, South African reporter John Mattison interviewed Robert Siegal, followed by a group discussion about South Africa's unrest and crime, its investment potential, and its political future.
Obviously, von Kraus and her group had no desire to be mere tourists in South Africa, a country undergoing dramatic transformation. She fervently believes that "a true incentive is something that incites and stirs" - and that these programs can change people's lives.
As Christopher Lydon put it: "The whole idea is to keep them interested in both the social and the human aspect. These trips are an exhilarating mix of nature, news, culture, music, politics, and broadcasting - the works. After all, we're trying to satisfy NPR listeners, who are `citizens of the world.' "