Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi: lessons from Kilimanjaro

The executive director of the Dubai Science Park tells Vision why reaching the highest summit in Africa is not unlike running a business 

When Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi came down off Mount Kilimanjaro recently, he did so a changed man. The executive director of Dubai Science Park was not quite prepared for how challenging the ascent of the highest mountain in Africa would be - like most people, he found out the hard way that it is less technically difficult than physiologically extreme: the oxygen deprivation at 5895m can become a real problem.

“It was so tough, I was actually quite angry with people who’d already done it, who had told me what a ‘nice’ experience it was,” he jokes. But the lessons he learned and later reflected upon at lower altitudes have had a huge impact on both his business and personal life.

“The mountain guides taught me a Swahili phrase, poli poli,” he explains. “It means slowly slowly. And when you see them walk, that’s how they do the climb: in very small steps. When you first try it yourself, you think you’ll never reach the top. But of course you do.

“So from a business perspective, I was really struck by this idea of consistency and perspective. We might be faced with challenges that seem impossible, tasks that we feel are bigger than we can conquer. In today’s world, these tasks will probably need to be achieved tomorrow. But the reality is that you need to see the big picture, play the long game.”

Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi 2
Climbing Kilimanjaro taught Janahi important lessons, both personal and professional

This is crucial in Janahi’s job, given that he has to oversee the day-to-day running of Dubai Science Park, as well as play a significant role in Vision 2021 - the government initiative which, among its seven aims, encourages a sustainable dynamic economy based on research, knowledge, and development. Dubai Science Park is also involved in the linked 2030 Dubai Industrial Strategy.

“An end date like 2030 can seem huge,” he admits. “But like I say, to achieve big things, you have to take baby steps. You’re still moving forward, after all. As part of that, celebrating small success stories within a bigger project is very important, and perhaps something I hadn’t been doing with my team enough before this climb. I’ve definitely changed my approach.”

Janahi climbed Kilimanjaro with seven business leaders to raise money for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Ministed of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai’s global philanthropic project, the Al Jalila Foundation. It is an organisation close to Janahi’s heart - the foundation is dedicated to transforming lives through medical education and research, and Janahi had a life-changing moment five years ago when he had a multiple sclerosis attack.

“I don’t know exactly why the attack happened, but that’s why the research on understanding disease – that foundations such as Al Jalila undertake – is so important,” he says. “In my case I was advised to follow a healthy lifestyle, eat better and do more exercise. In the end I challenged myself to see how much I could achieve - and when I saw that I could climb Kilimanjaro in support of Al Jalila it was just a perfect opportunity.

“My role at Dubai Science Park also means that I know how important research is for companies, and how an ecosystem across different disciplines can help. What Al Jalila and the Science Park do dovetails really nicely, so it meant a lot to get a message from the Al Jalila CEO Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama congratulating me on reaching the summit.”

So what’s his next challenge?

“Well, Kilimanjaro confirmed my belief that I love being close to nature,” he says. “So I’m planning another climb for next year… to Everest Base Camp.”