Open Africa is a non-profit organization that has had R30 million invested over the past 15 years from donors like the Ford Foundation. It has been 100% donor reliant, until now. Open Africa's model is premised on using tourism, the world's largest job creator and fastest growing industry, to sustain livelihoods and enhance conservation across rural Africa, by setting up self-drive travel routes in off-the-beaten-track areas. Travellers along the routes spend money with local enterprises, thereby sustaining their livelihoods. In the process, conservation is encouraged as a wealth creator, as the travel industry's demand for nature experiences increases.
To date 62 routes have been developed in six countries in Africa, supporting over 2600 participating businesses, which sustain 30 000 jobs. The routes are marketed mainly via African travel portal www.openafrica.org.
This month Open Africa launched its first revenue generation initiative, which involves listing partner tourism destinations on www.openafrica.org, with the first category being big five safari lodges. Open Africa earns a contribution from bookings referred through www.openafrica.org/safaris to these beautiful destinations.
The 16 founding partners are authentic, acclaimed destinations committed to responsible tourism and conservation in their operating areas. They include Londolozi, Mala Mala, Lion Sands, Shamwari and Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa, and Saruni Mara, Tortilis, Cottar's 1920s Camp, Saruni Samburu, Joy's Camp, Kitich Camp, Elephant Pepper, Elsa's Kopje, Lewa Safari Camp, Liosaba and Ol Pejeta Bush Camp in Kenya.
Noel de Villiers, Open Africa's founder (who started Avis car rental in South Africa), comments: "This is Open Africa's first venture into using its track record and comprehensive travel portal to develop a 'commercial business' in sync with its socio-economic objectives. To date we have been 100% dependent on donor partners, but will now start generating revenue to enable wider reach and impact to benefit rural development and job creation."
A social enterprise - defined simplistically as an organisation that generates income through a trade to address social / environmental challenges, is becoming a model of necessity for NGO's. This way Open Africa uses its assets to offer a service to luxury tourist destinations, who in turn help the organisation generate income, which then helps feed its socio-economic development and conservation activities across Africa.
Social enterprise models are emerging increasingly as the world seeks methods to integrate business and social challenges in a sustainable way. The Monitor Group estimates that social enterprise could be a $500bn a-year sector within five to 10 years. In the UK 55 000 registered social enterprises have emerged in the past five years, 3.3% of the adult population is employed in social enterprise, 35% of early stage entrepreneurs are social ones and 11.9% of entrepreneurs are starting social enterprises.
Colin Rushmere of Web Marketing International, Open Africa's social enterprise business partner, comments: "Our safari lodge partners are forward-thinking and are putting their money where their mouth is. They are living their commitment to social responsibility and conservation by supporting this new venture with Open Africa, potentially with tangible impact for rural people and nature conservation across Africa."
"There is a unique and profound extension of Open Africa's social enterprise model here, whereby well-off "responsible" tourists can book top-end destinations through the Open Africa website, and thereby support those at the bottom of the pyramid while contributing to the conservation of Africa's natural resources. By giving tourists a chance to book Africa trips through its website and thus support its aims at no additional cost to themselves, Open Africa empowers them as responsible tourists and contributors to green growth."
The safari lodge listing section www.openafrica.org/safaris showcases the commitment to conservation and community initiatives of listed partners, and will also map the incidence of conserved wildlife species across Africa. By shining a spotlight on conservation best practices and becoming a repository for wildlife conservation across the entire continent, Open Africa hopes to use the power of the internet to both attract responsible tourists, and to stimulate and expand conservation initiatives.
Guests to the safari lodges can expect close-up encounters with the big five in their natural environment, expert local rangers and trackers, stunning photo opportunities, and all the comfort of five-star suites and dining, while at the same time contributing towards community livelihoods and wildlife conservation through Open Africa.
More information about Open Africa:
Open Africa is a non-profit organisation started 15 years ago under the patronage of Nelson Mandela. Its vision is to sustain livelihoods and enhance conservation in rural areas, by connecting community-based enterprises to traveller markets through establishing off-the-beaten-track, self-drive travel routes. The journeys are life enriching for all involved - communities, travellers, partners, staff and the Earth. Open Africa collaborates with communities to:
- Establish off-the-beaten-track, self-drive travel routes in a network supported by local enterprises, linking and protecting the splendours and heritage of rural Africa. An area's travel attractions (e.g. accommodation, tour guides, local artisans) are clustered for travellers to explore and tailor their adventures to their interests, budget and time-frame.
- Market the routes through a comprehensive travel portal (www.openafrica.org) and other initiatives, connecting communities to travellers.
- Further develop enterprises around a route in the interests of job creation, so that more people can benefit.
To date, 62 routes have been developed in six countries in Africa, supporting over 2600 participant businesses which sustain 30 000 jobs. Every job potentially influences a further seven family members, and for every job created in tourism there is scope for at least 1,2 more jobs in the feedback chain. 80% of the results have been in South Africa, where two-thirds of the beneficiaries are previously disadvantaged.
Open Africa's vision has been recognised through the following awards to the founder, Noel de Villiers: Ernst and Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2009, Ashoka fellow, and Inyathelo Philanthropy award in 2010
Despite the present downturn in tourism, year on year enquiries across the Open Africa website are currently 54% up on last year.
For more information visit www.openafrica.org.