FRONTLINE: 60 Seconds

AGS Design’s Alan Jacobson

AGS Design’s Alan Jacobson

Along with becoming president of his own company, AGS Design in Exton, Alan Jacobson can cross climbing the tallest mountain in the world off his to-do list. Combining his business acumen with a desire to help others, Jacobson recently conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, raising $10,000 for sanitation systems in the Rwandan village of Rugerero.

MLT: How did you get involved with the efforts in Rwanda?
AJ: I was chair of a design conference in Philadelphia and had the opportunity to chose my own theme, which I decided would be “The Power of the Individual.” At the conference, I began a relationship with Lily Yeh, founder of Barefoot Artists Volunteer Group. She had the opportunity to start a community arts project for the genocide survivors in Rwanda and asked me to help.

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MLT: How did you get the idea to raise money by climbing a mountain?
AJ: While teaching and helping the villagers, we developed a strong friendship and also became very aware of their level of poverty. We took notice of the conditions in which they lived and the fact that they couldn’t leave. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro had always been a personal goal of mine, and when I started advertising it and realized how enormous the talk surrounding it was becoming, I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to raise money for sanitation technology.

MLT: What was the process behind raising the money. How did you get the word out?
AJ: I spoke at conferences; I called, e-mailed and basically used all my networking skills. Once people started responding, I asked for a penny a foot, and the climb was expected to be about 20,000 feet.

MLT: What did you do to prepare, and how long did the actual climb take?
AJ: In order to physically prepare myself, I trained by climbing local trails. I strapped 35 pounds on my back and spent hours climbing with that. The hike was 60 miles—90 percent of it uphill. The climb lasted six days and six nights.

MLT: What was the most difficult part of the hike?
AJ: I was sick for three days, and it was torture. The altitude was 16,000 feet, and although it’s magnificent, the body is just not geared for that. The last part of the climb, we hiked for 27 hours with only three hours sleep—and that was also extremely difficult.

MLT: How has your involvement with such an important cause affected your work as a businessman?
AJ: My work with Rwanda has really helped clarify what is important. I don’t really separate my personal and corporate life now; I’ve learned to create a blend between the two and apply my knowledge in broader ways. I think we all live in one big community, and we work in order to serve this idea of just being a good citizen. I’m much more selective with my choices because I realize how valuable we can be. I want to be sure I’m being applied where I’m needed.

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