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group of SOM students in Fiji with the Yale flag
Photos courtesy of Jon Roseman ’23

Bula! EMBA Students Experience Sustainability Practices, Cultural Immersion in Fiji

EMBA graduates Iris Chau, Joseph Johnnie, Funmi Ladigbolu, Amy Montesion, Renee Lanza, Eric Roberts, and Alyssa Strasser, all members of the Class of 2023, share their reflections on the lessons classmate Jon Roseman taught them during a visit to the resort he manages in Fiji.

When Jon Roseman ’23 invited his MBA for Executives classmates to visit Tavarua Island Resort, the exclusive private island in the South Pacific where he serves as managing director, they knew the scenery would impress, but the real story surpassed that beauty. The exceptional work Jon has been doing navigating tradition, a unique environment, and a commitment to sustainability while still moving forward is an inspiration for all of us.

Aerial shot of Tavarua Island Resort
Aerial shot of Tavarua Island Resort
Aerial shots of Tavarua Island Resort

Jon’s work begins with careful acknowledgement and incorporation of the local Fijian norms, concepts of hospitality, trust, and community. Tavarua Island Resort has a wonderful Thursday-night custom of performing a kava ceremony between their local village, resort employees (many of who are also locals of the nearby community), and guests staying on the island. This ritual is an exchange of respect for the island and each other, and it’s cemented with a drink derived from the grinds of the kava plant root mixed with water. Sharing kava teaches us to acknowledge each other, communicate about change, share advancement, and to celebrate in harmony.

In addition to the tropical sun and water, surfing and kava activities, our group toured the local school and visited the nearby village of Nabila, attending its Sunday church service and listening to its choir.  

aerial shot of people swimming
people on a boat
underwater scene

The people of Fiji are essential to the success of Tavarua, and respecting the environment is a high priority. Jon’s resort has made several environmental preservation efforts including renewable energy, giant clam-reef seeding, and establishing sea turtle protection and hatchings and marine protected areas.

Known for being an area of the world with fantastic surfing waves—specifically “Cloudbreak,” a left-handed reef-break that can generate swells up to 20 feet—Tavarua draws in water adventurers from all over in search of this remarkable surf. It also works very hard to sustain the wildlife and cleanliness and to avoid damage to the area however it can.

Through their time at Tavarua, EMBAs learned about the inherent challenges to doing business in Fiji, including the balancing of so many stakeholders needs, including those of the the native people and the Fiji government. Having a unique human resource approach is also essential to the management of the existing culture and surroundings, while carefully inspiring necessary change.  

Here are some of our reflections on the experience.

a rainbow on the beach
At left: clams

Renee Lanza ’23

Tavarua was such a special experience, and even better was sharing that experience with members of our cohort. Not only did we get to  experience firsthand some of the treasures of Fiji, like snorkeling to see hundreds of brightly colored fish, coral, and giant clams, but we also got to see what Tavarua was doing to try to make sure future generations get this same experience—that’s the definition of sustainability. You could see this all around the island, whether it was seeing the protected turtle nests or the baby giant clams that Tavarua was raising to eventually transition into the wild and help the endangered species population. I know I will be back and I hope to see more resorts follow Tavarua’s leadership in protecting their surroundings while educating their guests.

two people standing
two people on a boat

Iris Chau ’23

My family and I had an absolutely amazing trip! Jon went above and beyond by not only hosting our group, but also extending warm welcomes to our families. We were completely surrounded by nature, with stunning crystal-clear waters, rare marine life, soft sandy beaches, and plenty of wonderful friends.

During our stay, my six-year-old son learned about the intricate ecosystem of coral reefs and how giant clams play a critical role in supporting this ecosystem. As a family, we also had the opportunity to learn about the resort’s solar energy transition initiative, which has led to the island’s facilities being powered 100% by solar energy. In addition, we were able to immerse ourselves in the Fijian culture, taking part in the kava ceremony and enjoying traditional song and dance during the Fijian night. We even had the privilege of meeting the children and schoolmasters of an elementary school that Jon founded over two decades ago.

Our trip was truly life-changing, and we returned to the East Coast with a wealth of cherished memories of our time spent with family and friends.

a mother and child
people walking along a trail outsie

Joseph Johnnie ’23

The Tavarua Resort is a great example of an enterprise that aligns with the Yale School of Management’s emphasis on business and society. The resort’s original focus is on providing the global surfing community with access to one of the greatest surfing spots in the world, but the problem with a great surfing location is that without good stewardship, there can be a death spiral: As more people learn about the spot, the number of visitors increases, local pollution increases, the local ecosystem degrades, and the quality of the waves and the surfing experience gets worse. With surfing, there’s a built-in incentive to maintain a space through sustainability efforts, and the Tavarua Resort is a role model in this regard. For example, they have a project where they grow clams and bring them out to the reef. Since clams are natural water filters, their presence improves water clarity, attracts fish, and creates an amazing snorkeling/scuba experience, initiating a positive feedback loop. Over time Tavarua has expanded beyond being a surf resort to accommodating all kinds of ocean recreational activities, providing more avenues for revenue and growth. This is the opposite of the death spiral and a great example of how a business can both do good and make money.

group of kids outdoors

Funmi Ladigbolu ’23

In January, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Fiji, and the memories I made there will stay with me forever. During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage with the locals, which proved to be a meaningful and enlightening experience. Among the many highlights of my trip was our visit to a village school where the children welcomed us with traditional Fijian songs, a demonstration of the warmth and hospitality of the Fijian people. This visit provided an opportunity to observe firsthand the cultural practices of the indigenous Fijians and gain insight into their way of life. Additionally, we attended a Methodist church service, where we were warmly embraced by the congregation, making us feel like a part of their community. It was clear that music played a vital role in the lives of Fijians, as evidenced by the soulful music that was an integral part of the service. All in all, my trip to Fiji was an extraordinary adventure, and I eagerly look forward to returning to this beautiful country to explore more of its captivating culture.

in a classroom
in a classroom
in a classroom

Alyssa Strasser ’23

It’s easy to dream about a tropical vacation—flying far, far away to a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to sip on piña coladas and lay out on the beach, returning home with memories of sunny days and colorful reef fish. And that’s exactly what we expected when we traveled to Tavarua!

While we did return home with a tan and some amazing photos of an incredibly healthy coral reef, we could never have imagined what the strongest, longest lasting memories would actually be. Yes, Tavarua may be the most beautiful place in the world. Yes, Tavarua is surrounded by epic aqua-blue surfing waves. Yes, the food and drinks were great. Yet those are not the memories that come to mind first when we think about our trip to Tavarua.

Instead what we think about are the Fijian people. Some of the nicest, kindest, happiest, most caring people we have ever met—anywhere.

Fijians have a “spark,” an “energy,” that is unique. When they smile at you or share a story, it’s from the heart. They are a people who care about their family, their community, and their guests, and we have never felt more at home away from home than in Fiji, and at Tavarua specifically.

Instead of simply recreating the “artificial resort experience” that is so frequently prevalent elsewhere, Jon and his partners are doing something simple in concept—just letting the real Fijian culture shine through at Tavarua. Fijians live to live, to share their stories, to share their love. Going to Tavarua does not feel like any other vacation; it feels like a lesson in a different way to live altogether: That you can live in harmony with others around you, with the environment, with the ocean. Jon should be commended for the work he is doing at Tavarua, and if you have a chance to visit do it—it will be life changing.

Eric Roberts ’23

Tavarua was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only was it a chance opportunity to spend a week connecting with the cohort outside of the usual grind of classes, but it was also an incredible firsthand view into what integration of business and society looks like from a global perspective. From learning about the coral reefs to visiting a local school, we were welcomed and introduced to Fijian culture by its people and through the guidance of our classmate Jon.

Jon not only showed us what it was like to be a global eco-entrepreneur. but also reinforced the importance of having the utmost appreciation for the communities that we inhabit. While many of us work for corporations, we were reminded of what life looks like on a small scale (and even smaller island!) and how important it is to give back more than you take from both nature and from others.

Aside from a very few of life’s moments I can’t think of many things I’ll remember more than the opportunity to take this trip. Vinaka to the people of Fiji and to Jon for allowing us all to spend a week on your islands and for reminding us that ecosystems are fragile and it takes all of our efforts to protect them for current, and future, generations.

Amy Montesion ’23

Jon Roseman’s Tavarua Island Resort fully embodies the mission of Yale School of Management to pursue the integration of the goals of both business and society.  Jon ensures preservation of the island’s beauty through safeguarding the customs and culture of the Fijian people. Everyone was so welcoming, remembering names, making thoughtful overtures, and even teaching us how to surf! Hospitality is by far a major strong suit.

The Tavarua Resort staff demonstrated for us a ceremonial welcoming ritual of drinking kava root together as well as a night of Fijian songs and dancing. Jon works hard to bring in modern elements to his rustic paradise escape such as implementing the use of Tesla solar batteries for energy, while also maintaining a careful pace in determining when change is right.  The landscape and weather were absolutely perfection, but witnessing Jon, who is not originally from Fiji, manage an environment where an overuse could destroy it and tourism can generate irreparable disruption was truly an inspiration. As we near graduation and contemplate our business paths to this point and beyond it was an important lesson to be sure to embrace, admire, and fully learn about the society around us that we impact.

Jon Roseman ’23

One of the highlights of my two years at Yale SOM was being able to share my Fiji life with my cohort. Words can’t describe what an amazing group of people they are, and we have really bonded during our time at Yale together. With everyone’s distinct backgrounds both personally and professionally, and through the lens of the different focus areas in the EMBA program at SOM, I feel that Tavarua Island provided a truly unique experience for them beyond that of a regular tourist. While it was an ambitious trip to make between class weekends, we took advantage of every opportunity to engage in cultural experiences, learn about stakeholder sustainability practices, explore challenges to doing business in a developing country, and immerse ourselves in a raw tropical environment. Of course, there was lots of surfing, diving, fishing, kayaking, and exploring as well. Everyone came back with a Fiji sun glow and memories of rainbows and Fijian smiles!