Immersed in the deal in East Africa

I didn't know what to expect about Kigali. When I mentioned to friends and family that I was visiting Rwanda, I didn't come across anyone who had been before. The first thing which struck me on the drive from the airport was how hilly the city was and then how green. This impression was only heightened as we walked around the city early Sunday morning, just before our training program got underway. It didn't surprise me to find out that Kigali is known as the City of a Thousand Hills. I also hadn't expected such wonderful coffee- someone whispered that Rwandan coffee is about to take the world by storm and I could see why.

On Sunday afternoon, we launched into a full week of training on international business transactions.   The workshop was designed by DLA Piper partner, Jay Finkelstein. New Perimeter, together with East African Development Bank, delivered the workshop which was attended by 40 government lawyers and law professors from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The training was unlike any I had experienced before and we soon found out that it was a novel experience for the participants themselves. The 40 lawyers were divided into eight groups and given a hypothetical set of facts: four groups were to represent a multinational pharmaceutical company anxious to purchase cassava to develop into a new product (with secondary issues such as improving its image and developing markets into Africa) and the other four groups were to represent a fictional national cassava growers association.   The groups were then paired for the negotiations to start.

Role playing can be a bit uncomfortable and it is even more difficult when the participants don't know each other so it was no surprise that the negotiations started off quite hesitantly. Accustomed to a negotiating culture where knowledge of the facts doesn't normally get in the way of a good argument, it was refreshing to see how polite, courteous and willing to understand the other side's point of view the teams were. Notwithstanding the fact that the situation was indeed fictional, the teams became more and more immersed as the week progressed. Even the quieter members of the group couldn't help but contribute as the negotiations became more complex. At the end of each session, the teams would retreat and work on their position papers. At one stage, several of the teams asked to be excused from the formal lecture part of the training so that they could continue with their negotiations. Reaching a deal was taking on a time-critical element (how like real life) as the week started drawing to a close and there were loud whoops and group photos as team after team reached a deal. Our team, despite being incredibly close, failed to close the deal on Friday afternoon, and the disappointment was real- again, replicating a real life negotiation.

The week was an incredible experience for all who participated either as a trainer or as a participant. I was struck by the enthusiasm displayed by the participants. We would start at 9 am in the morning (or even earlier) and the teams would voluntarily work into the evening refining positions and seeking out the "other side" to test out ideas. The enthusiasm that the lawyers displayed certainly reinforced how exciting our job can be. Faced with a return to the regular demands of my practice, I hope that I continue to demonstrate the same enthusiasm in my daily job.