As a female leader, I know it takes enormous courage to challenge societal norms that keep women from taking their rightful place in their communities. It’s a common theme the world over and particularly in Africa where patriarchal traditions and the hangover of colonialism can seem immutable.
Yet the tide is turning, thanks in part to the collective courage of the incredible women with whom ROAR AFRICA works. We see women as central players in shifting the status quo, which is why our company mantra – “If African women rise, wildlife will thrive” – underpins every journey we create. For Africa’s wildlife and wild spaces to survive, the continent’s women and girls need to be supported and empowered so that decisions around conservation, climate change, unemployment and social upliftment come from them.
Rewriting the narrative
It was this realization that led to the creation of our inaugural Women’s Empowerment Journey in South Africa in 2019, followed by a second in Kenya and a third earlier this year in Rwanda. Next year’s journey from April 11-17, 2023 will be in Zimbabwe, and – like all our previous journeys – will be led by an all-female team of pilots, guides, trackers, conservationists, anti-poachers and hospitality teams.
On each journey, our guests (always an international group of “interested and interesting” women and all leaders in their respective fields) learn from local African women as they share their inspirational stories and unique journeys firsthand. In our experience, the power of those stories shared and the infectious energy, enthusiasm, wisdom and generosity of spirit that define us as women, never fail to act as a catalyst for positive change.
To illustrate what I mean when I talk about the power of the female spirit and transformative travel, I’d like to share some examples. On the first trip we were delighted to have a guest and her daughter from The Helen Gurley Brown Foundation (HGB), a private grant-making foundation established by the late author, publisher and businesswoman Helen Gurley Brown. HGB’s mandate to fund transformative ideas and cultivate passion and self-development in women was so ignited in our guest that she awarded not one but two Magic Grants: one to a speaker on the trip, Dr Lucy King, and another to the SA College for Tourism, a program that we visited. This is a big deal because, to date, these are the only two grants given outside of the USA.
Reducing human-elephant conflict
Dr Lucy King is a zoologist whose groundbreaking discovery of the role that bees can play as peacekeepers between elephants and humans has reduced human-elephant conflict in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park by 80%. Her Magic Grant has meant an increase in the efficacy of producing the beehive fences that safeguard local community crops whilst earning revenue from beekeeping. As a direct result of her talk on this trip, Dr King was also invited to share her story at the TEDWomen conference in 2019.
Earlier this year, we were thrilled to hear that Dr King received a further Innovation Grant from HGB, which will make the beehive-fence project sustainable. “It will go to enhance honey production, train our beekeepers, increase the number of women engaged in the project, establish a girls club for supporting vulnerable teenage girls in the community and fund five staff salaries,” she said. “It will also help to expand our program into Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania.” In addition, HGB has allocated two members of their own staff to help Dr King structure the grant management. “It’s the biggest gift imaginable and if it weren’t for ROAR AFRICA inviting me to speak on their first Women’s Empowerment Journey, this opportunity would never have happened,” says Dr King.
Empowering through skills-development
The second Magic Grant was awarded to Mariette Ferreira, the executive director of the SA College for Tourism (SACT), a game-changing women’s empowerment initiative based in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa. The Grant – which recognized Mariette’s inspiring 20-year tenure and her passion for the year-long tourism course that draws students from underprivileged backgrounds across the continent – has been used to impact a staggering 281 students, 97% of whom were female. In addition, pilot programs to broaden the skill base of students have been implemented, along with the investigation of remote-learning opportunities for students and a new website for the College.
Remaining funds will go towards the travel costs of postgraduate internship students and graduates to work at a YMCA camp in the USA.
As a company, we sponsor an annual scholarship ourselves, for a Zimbabwean female student that covers all tuition, boarding and travel costs as well as a year’s paid internship at Matetsi Lodge in Victoria Falls. This year sees our third student settled at the college and we’re currently processing applications for our scholarship next year.
Amplifying under-represented voices
Another story that exemplifies the generosity emanating from these trips is that of two phenomenal women: life coach and women’s empowerment activist Lisa Schejola Akin, and women’s health advocate and investor Cristina Ljungberg. Lisa and Cristina both attended our first trip in the Kalahari, and our one in Kenya where they met conservationist Paula Kahumbu who spoke about the NEWF Community Cinema.
Established in 2017 in response to the dearth of Black African documentary filmmakers in the nature, wildlife and conservation space, the key objectives of the Community Cinema are to transform the nature, environment and wildlife film and television industries, as well as to create a community advocating for the protection of Africa’s natural habitats and wildlife through storytelling.
Inspired by this incredible program, Lisa and Cristina funded two marine biologists from Kenya and Tanzania for a NEWF Dive Labs program that took place in Durban last year. “The continent of Africa is surrounded by just over 30 000km of coastline,” explained Paula. “In 2018, we planned to host a panel at our NEWF Congress to explore storytelling as a resource and we naively assumed that we would include a Black African underwater filmmaker on the panel.” To their shock, they could only find one filmmaker who confessed that he did not have the resources nor the experience to be considered an expert.
NEWF Dive Lab was born out of this discovery. “We loved being able to make this happen for these amazing women and were so moved by the idea that they would return to their communities and share their passion and knowledge,” says Lisa. Cristina, who is a documentary enthusiast and financier, travelled to South Africa with her son to meet the participants and attend the Lab as a mentor. “It was a magical week of diving at Sodwana Bay and we learned so much, from hanging out with the team to meeting Pippa Ehrlich, the director of Oscar-winning My Octopus Teacher,” says Cristina. “But the best part was knowing that now there are 10 new underwater-camera-wielding female dive masters in Africa who will inspire countless more in the future.”
The ripple effect
While we are eternally grateful that the direct effect of our Women’s Empowerment Journeys can be tallied up in grants, scholarships, TED talks, the funding of books and films, the creation of jobs and new career opportunities, it is the ripple effect that is even more valuable.
For it is in the forging of lifelong friendships, cross-cultural connections, the reestablishment of values and the shaping of a new collective consciousness that real change comes. Interwoven with the kind of wisdom, generosity and humility that women naturally bring to the table, journeys like this are a reminder that travel is not merely a means to move around but a way in which to be moved. Travel activates the senses and gives perspective, granting us a better understanding of ourselves and the immense power we have to effect change.