Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chile's Climbing Philanthropist

Recently, Nepal’s Mount Everest made international headlines when several climbers descending from the summit died from various causes. Obviously, successful expeditions draw less attention than unsuccessful ones, but it’s still worth noting that, just a few days earlier, ten Chileans under the leadership of Rodrigo Jordán reached the world’s highest summit and descended successfully. This was the fifth Chilean expedition to stand atop the world’s highest summit; in 1992, Jordán headed the first.
I met Jordán, who has a PhD from Oxford, on an expedition cruise with the Chilean operator Antarctica XXI in 2004. Over the course of a week sailing the waters of the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, with plenty of time to chat on board, I learned about his consulting company Vertical, and about their leadership courses for the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School.
Startlingly, to me at least, Jordán told me that Vertical took urbane business students from around the world for a week trekking and snowshoeing on King George Island – although its airfield (pictured above) makes it the gateway to the area, ice and snow cover 90 percent of the island. As a Wharton official told me, “Instead of being in a hot and safe classroom, the student has to make decisions under harsh conditions, and ambiguous and constantly changing situations.”
Of course, Vertical does team-building courses in less extreme environments that appeal to businesses such as banks and mining companies. While researching an article on the company for Latin Trade magazine, I found out that Jordán was also a philanthropist whose non-profit Fundación Vertical does many of the same things for underprivileged children, focusing on outdoor education. It’s worth noting that he earned his Oxford doctorate with a thesis on innovation and urban poverty and, while teaching at Santiago’s Universidad Católica, he’s also president of the Fundación Nacional para la Superación de la Pobreza (Foundation to Overcome Poverty).

Despite the magnitude of his achievements, I found Jordán to be a modest individual unconcerned with bragging about his recreational, commercial, intellectual and philanthropic activities; in reality, he appears to have managed an admirable balance among them. Still, in a country that lacks a strong philanthropic tradition, with huge disparities between haves and have-nots, his stature among Chileans – if not quite equal to that of Everest among the world’s great summits - deserves greater recognition. Chilean defense minister Andrés Allamand’s recent statement that “Jordán has become without a doubt one of the greatest sportsmen in Chile” tells just a fraction of the story.

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