So in the last week (and just in time for World Wildlife Day), I’ve been working hard on my most exciting adventure to date: launching a conservation-based social enterprise startup in Kenya!
We’re called Kedge, and we want to change the way you think about wildlife conservation.
The Problem: Biodiversity loss is proceeding at unprecedented rates throughout East and Southern Africa. This ecological devastation is a global problem with local roots: at its most basic level, destruction takes place when communities find greater costs than benefits in preservation.
The Explanation: This is in part because the deluge of economic benefits (e.g. increased numbers of foreign tourists visiting a region) promised by conservationists is too often tapped upstream, by large, competitive tourism conglomerates that leave few dividends to trickle down to local communities.
The Solution: Democratize the benefits of wildlife conservation. Ensure that communities living in some of the most biologically rich regions on Earth can get a larger share of the economic opportunity offered by tourism. When communities can benefit directly from their natural heritage wealth, they are more apt to preserve it.
So what do we do?
Kedge provides 6-week business training experiences to high-potential rural communities during the rainy seasons of East and Southern Africa. Communities living adjacent to protected areas have unique opportunities to benefit from biodiversity conservation, but their ability to participate in the global tourism marketplace can be limited by a lack of basic business skills. Kedge works to bridge that gap by providing small-scale ad hoc entrepreneurs (think of: roadside coconut sellers, women creating beaded necklaces) the training they need to grow to the next level of business management.
Our curriculum is built on three modules:
• Business education: fundamentals of business management, accounting, marketing, finance
• Conservation literacy: fundamentals of ecology, wildlife identification and tracking, sustainable agriculture, wilderness safety
• Action training: best practices for behavior, etiquette, and communication in the global marketplace
And, lest you think we abandon those who we love, at the end of our program, we help guide graduates into next steps for growing their business or continuing their training. We’ll help advise them on further economic and educational opportunities (i.e. African Management Institute; microloan programs such as Kiva; or industry positions), provide support for application writing and, where appropriate, send along strong letters of recommendation and make helpful introductions.
It’s not a solution to every wildlife problem in Africa, but it’s a start. Getting people to care means getting them to have some skin in the game — and entrepreneurship is a great way to do just that.
We’re raising funds now to support our first Kedge training event, a proof-of-concept set to take place in the Maasai Mara in June 2014, so visit our website, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook. Show us some love and we’ll show you some results.
With love from Kenya (almost),
“Wildlife as a Lifeline to Kenya’s Economy,” Paul Udoto, published in The George Wright Forum, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 51–58 (2012).