More Than a Book Review: A Thousand Hills to Heaven

I’ll be featuring regular book reviews on ExpatStartup with the goal of recommending books that inspire and equip you with the skills to create and grow your own expat startup. I will share stories that speak into the expat experience and/or provide the technical and soft skills needed to effectively launch a startup. Also, there are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a tiny commission at no additional cost to you. Enjoy!

A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda
By Josh Ruxin

Ruxin’s book is a wonderful tale that not only explores the wonders and hardships of expat living, but also the challenges he and his wife face in starting a business in a cross cultural setting.

On the surface, this book looks like a tale of an aid worker’s experience in sub-saharan Africa. While this is part of Ruxin’s story, there is so much more to this book. He weaves in the entrepreneurial journey of his wife, Alissa, as she struggles to start a world-class restaurant in a developing nation. While he tells us that this isn’t a story about the Rwandan genocide, stories of the atrocities committed are sprinkled throughout and influence much of Josh and Alissa’s experience. While they are tastefully told, these stories will bring tears to your eyes and help you appreciate the resilience of the Rwandan people as they put the past behind them and move forward together. Seeing all of this through the eyes of an expat make this a perfect book for anyone wanting to start a business in a culture different from their own.

If you want to avoid spoilers, you may want to stop reading now and go pick up a copy of A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda for yourself. If you would like to know some key points before investing the time to read the book, keep reading

The Expat Experience of Starting a Business
As he describes his experience as an expat, Ruxin effectively withholds criticisms of his cross-cultural living experience. While those who have lived in Sub-Saharan Africa will find themselves chuckling and nodding in agreement with some of his experiences, all expats can relate to the challenges he and his wife face while living in a culture different from their own.

These challenges carry over and are at times amplified in Alissa’s experience of starting and running her restaurant. Miscommunication issues pop up with with suppliers of building materials and the builders themselves. She and Josh must be patient and encouraging with their staff to overcome their timid nature in order to impress customers and to take initiative when they see things that need to be fixed or improved.

While he exposes us to the challenges, he also shares with us the successes: Employees who have overcome their past and are flourishing, communities that are starting to thrive due to his push for community development initiatives to work hand in hand with businesses, and the many friendships they make along the way.

The Positive Impact of Business
Ruxin’s primary career is leading a community development initiative. Throughout this story, he shares with us his philosophy on how to do community development well. Three of his five principles are pretty straightforward: relief needs to come first, corruption shouldn’t be tolerated, and your efforts should be sustainable by the local people. However, two of his principles center around business and are less often practiced in the community development world.

The first is to demand a high quality of work from your staff in both development and in business. If you want to produce high levels of impact or the best possible service to your customers, you should expect your staff to be just as efficient and customer service oriented as the best organizations in the world. This doesn’t mean you are not kind and patient in training your staff, but that over and over again, you must encourage, demonstrate, and expect a high level of quality until it becomes a reality. This is necessary if you want to create a successful community development initiative or run a thriving business that draws locals, expats, and tourists who visit your country from around the world.

The second business-oriented principle is that business is essential for community development to be a success. This does not mean that community development should use business principles to operate more efficiently, though he does support this way of thinking. He means that these initiatives should encourage community-based businesses and investment from multinational businesses as they create jobs and help improve living conditions within the community. To ensure communities thrive on their own and do not become dependant on aid, development initiatives need to leverage commerce and the free market to build wealth among community members.

Read This Book
If you are considering moving overseas to start a business or have already started on that journey and are looking to learn from the experience of others, this is the book for you. It will not only help you learn from Josh and Alissa’s mistakes, but also give insights on some best practices when starting your adventure.

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