A break in the story

footpnt2_page_0002.jpgIn this blog, a first for Open Africa in this sphere and in raising funds through the Internet, we have been telling the story about the unfolding of this initiative to counteract both joblessness and its debilitating affect on biodiversity.There is still much to tell, but first something else. 

During the last few days we received our first donations via WildlifeDirect. Pirjo I and Brenton H we do not know who you are but we do know what your contributions mean to us, not only in Dollar terms but in the enormous encouragement this gives us. We can do nearly 10 times as much with a Dollar as we can with a similar unit in our own currency, which significantly multiplies the usefulness of your contribution. But it is not just about the money. Social entrepreneurship is about combining the strengths of as many individuals as possible in effecting change on an issue of common concern. As in a swarm of honeybees, every individual effort makes a difference to accomplish in the end what is a magnificent result. By joining us you have done the same and we hope you will watch this blog to see the result. Thank you very much for your support.

Dreams need champions

Nelson MandelaAfrica has its own champion of champions, Nelson Mandela. At the time Open Africa was established he was president of South Africa and had come to be known as one of the world’s leading citizens. Reflecting on it now, our approach to him to become Open Africa’s patron was audacious, for other than passion we had little more to offer in terms of credentials that deserved the support of this great man. In the closing paragraph of a letter to him then we wrote, “Open Africa under your patronage could turn 21st Century Africa into a society at peace with itself, a relaxed society in which rest and leisure are an integral part of daily existence; a society in which people can take survival for granted, so that their efforts may be directed at achieving cultural excellence. It is our view Mr Mandela that you could inspire the sense of single-minded purpose that would make this happen.” We believed that then and we still believe it now.

Others were also pledging support, from all walks of life, some voluntarily with offers of expertise. These spontaneous subscribers to the Open Africa vision inspired the formation of Team Africa, an informal alliance of all those who want to see this dream accomplished.

Holding to a dream is one thing – turning it into reality is something else altogether

 Forest edgeProteas 

Implementing the Open Africa initiative led to the development of www.openafrica.org and then the first route, the Southern Overberg Fynbos (featured in these images). Dreamers are visionaries and according to the futurist, Joseph Okpaku, they tend to dispense with the stepping-stones in crossing the river from the known present to the unknown future. Visionaries simply conjure the picture of a Utopian end in mind, and then work backwards in trying to find a way to get there. That is exactly what we did, with the kind of idealistic verve that inevitably leads to some hard encounters with reality later on. But for now we weren’t worried by such trivialities as to where to find money, how to build relationships, what to do about capacity building and so on. Bedazzled by our own vision, we hurtled along regardless. Not regardless of some core principles however, one of which was that we would never impose anything on communities from the outside. Our role is that of a catalyst in an initiative in which the participants make all their own decisions. 

  Southern OverbergHorses 

A vision turns into an African Dream

the-dream-map.jpgFollowing the Open Africa idea, for that is all it was to begin with, a think tank was formed to come up with a plan. By 1995 the plan solidified into the vision to link the splendours of Africa in a continuous network of tourism routes from the Cape to Cairo. The next thing was to operationalize the how part of doing this. We decided from the start that the way to go was through utilising IT and the web in particular, even though it was only in its infancy at that stage. We imagined, as we ask you to imagine, a network of participants connected to Africa’s magnificent wildlife, plants, and landscapes linked across borders according to their particular features on a website that could be interrogated for information from anywhere in the world. On the one hand this would put these participants into collectives that galvanise them around a vision of common purpose, enabling collaboration and better coordination, whilst on the other it would place their wares in the global marketplace without financial or other barriers to entry. Dr Don Pinnock, a noted academic, author, magazine editor and journalist called it “an African Dream” and through his good offices compiled a map for us to illustrate what was intended.

Publication of the map in Getaway magazine (www.getaway.co.za) served as the catalyst for the formation of the Peace Parks Foundation (www.peaceparks.org) by billionaire industrialist Anton Rupert. The PPF’s aim is to facilitate the creation of a vast network of transfrontier parks, a concept that has since made great strides and one that complements the Open Africa initiative perfectly. Bigger parks not only mean better conservation but also more attractions, creating greater opportunities for the local entrepreneurs Open Africa nurtures. So we were off to a good start. 

Do dreams really work? Try this one for size and tell us what you think.

The formation of Open Africa has its roots in the lead up to the freeing of Nelson Mandela back in the early 1990’s. Worried that the euphoria surrounding the prospect of South Africa’s political emancipation was masking the other great problem, of joblessness not just here but in Africa generally, Noel N de Villiers was going around giving addresses on the seriousness of this and how it could at least be partially overcome. His line was that Africa is too far behind in the traditional sectors of the world economy to compete well enough to avoid massive poverty, but that, paradoxically, the global environmental crisis was providing an opportunity to change all this.

Africa covers one quarter of the Earth’s land surface area.  This continent is custodian of most of the world’s animal and plant species and also the birthplace of humankind. Map of Africa’s size in relation to the worldIn the scenario likely to develop where green concerns focus the attention of people everywhere more and more on nature, the rarity value of these assets could be turned into a huge attraction for tourists. The kind of tourism this attracts has to be special however. Not only to create jobs but to inspire those who are benefiting from it to conserve the resource base, for poverty is ravaging nature in the same way as it is devastating the people who inhabit it.It was thinking along these lines that started what became Open Africa.