Open Africa

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Open Africa

Open Africa encourages tourist trade to alleviate poverty in rural communities.

Trade is the essential element of human advancement, cooperation, collaboration, discovery and prosperity. Trading is what makes entrepreneurs, what drives the wheels of society, what creates jobs and gives people a purpose in life. Trade is where people find one another, what connects and liberates them from isolation.

Open Africa’s vision is to assist rural entrepreneurs to increase their income and potential to employ more people, by building their capacity to trade and connecting them to markets. It does this by using tourism as an economic platform to create and sustain jobs for rural communities throughout Southern Africa.

Established in 1995 under the patronage of former President, Nelson Mandela, Open Africa creates self-drive travel routes. By travelling on Open Africa’s off-the-beaten track self-drive travel routes, travellers will create and sustain much-needed jobs in local communities. Offering life-enriching experiences that at the same time support local people is why Open Africa exists.

Routes are developed in rural off-the-beaten-track places, regarded as the real Africa and in which travellers are most interested, but about which no reliable source of authentic information exists. This programme is building up toward becoming the most comprehensive information source in bringing what was known as the ‘dark continent’ into the light for aspirant visitors. Since its inception Open Africa has created 62 self-drive travel routes in six countries across Southern Africa, supporting 2 000 businesses which employ approximately 25 000 people.

Once established route entities provide a platform for all manner of intervention by partner and other support systems, multiplying positive impacts by bringing many more hands to bear on achieving advancement than Open Africa’s. In routes such agencies have a structure with principal participants and their employees through which to work, providing targeted opportunities for up-skilling and training, product enhancements, value adding, capacity building, and feedback chain opportunities for entrepreneurship. Latterly Namibia has become the first country to officially adopt the route model as a method of rural development in conjunction with conservation.

Extreme poverty, 80 percent of which occurs in rural areas, is arguably a far bigger environmental threat than carbon emissions will ever be. The way its ravages cause people to overgraze their lands, slash and burn forests, encroach on wilderness, and poach biodiversity could destroy the very asset this initiative’s trading platform is based upon. Therefore, we translate biodiversity into a wealth creator, inspiring its protection as an asset and tourist attraction.
Convincing local communities of this can be challenging but once they understand the importance of conserving this, the potential for tourism in the area and the demand for it by the aspiring entrepreneurs becomes overwhelming.

Trade induced results

By way of example and typically, a traveller visits a beadworker, remembers what she sees, later hits on the idea of having bead tokens fashioned as prizes for a contemplated award ceremony instead of the usual plaques that accompany such things, and after some negotiation R40 000 worth of orders emanate from this interaction. Thus a new product is derived, the beadworker employs more people, person-to-person mentorship training is effected, significant incremental income is earned in an otherwise isolated place, capacity is built among the indigenously skilled, a trade is transacted that has potential to lead to more, and heritage is conserved.

In a recent seminal book on progress globally, author Matt Ridley wrote, “Give local people the power to own, exploit and profit from natural resources in a sustainable way and they will usually preserve and cherish those resources.” Furthermore and interestingly, in the same book he adds: “Africa can follow the same route to prosperity that the rest of the world is following: to specialise and exchange. Once two individuals find ways to divide labour between them, both are better off. The future for Africa lies in trade.”

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