Anton Rupert, an extraordinarily successful businessman who founded and built up a huge empire, once said that people who do not believe in dreams are not realists. Right. We agree. But you can’t achieve a dream without facing reality.
If you have been following this series of blogs you will know by now that Open Africa’s vision, dubbed an African dream, is to link the splendours of Africa in a network of tourism routes from the Cape to Cairo. This in the interests of spreading wealth (job creation) in synergy with expanding biodiversity. Finding money to do this brought us face to face with the first reality, which is that it is very difficult to raise funds for grass-roots initiatives. We know that now but didn’t in the beginning. Initially we believed that given the vast amounts of money allocated to upliftment in Africa, any plan that was effective and economical on top of that would easily attract funding. This turned out to be naïve for many reasons.
Most aid funding is channelled through governments and once caught up there is practically inaccessible to NGO’s. Funding from corporate social investment programs is available but takes a huge amount of effort to secure. It also tends to be inconsistent in that it follows whatever causes are receiving the most attention from time to time. Another thing, howsoever good social entrepreneurs may be at accomplishing their cause, this talent is seldom twinned with fundraising flair, which is a quite different skill. All we know for sure is that it is about building relationships, which is what this blog is really about. So please you tell us if we are succeeding or otherwise in striking a responsive chord with you? If not, we have a problem, and if still not after you have looked at www.openafrica.org then the problem is doubly serious.
Africa 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.
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. In 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.