As an African Wildlife Foundation Trustee, I care a lot about how wildlife and wildlands will support Africa’s development agenda.
That means considering how fulfilling and rewarding jobs for African youth can stem from enterprises linked to wildlife conservation, and how protecting our wildlife resources is part of shaping a development path that is uniquely African.
One billion people will need jobs in Africa by 2035.
Africa needs to go beyond traditional economic growth pathways to be able to meet this demand.
Well-managed wildlife and wildlands represent one of Africa’s biggest opportunities in meeting this urgent demand.
Our natural assets provide a basis and countless opportunities to tap into.
Given an opportunity, young Africans can invent business models that leverage this unique competitive advantage–our biodiversity–to drive economic development on the continent, especially in a post-COVID-19 environment where we will have to provide solutions within this new normal.
For example, Tourism in Rwanda, which is predominantly nature-based, is the leading foreign exchange earner for the country. Tourism earnings were estimated at US$ 438 million in 2017, up from US$ 390 million in 2016.
The sector was projected to grow at a rate of 25% per year from 2013 – 2018.
Globally, ecotourism has been growing at a rate of 20-34% per annum, three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole. And domestic tourism is becoming an important market for African operators, which opens the scope for new products and can help to reduce the volatility that comes with international markets.
African entrepreneurs are a growing part of the scene and are particularly well suited to capitalise on this, bringing products designed for African travellers onto the market.
AWF is investing in those African entrepreneurs, like providing capital to companies like Simien Mountains Lodge, owned and managed by two local Ethiopians who were former guides in the park, and the African Forest Lodges which design adventures targeting Kenya’s urban youth.
But it goes beyond tourism, part of the reason for making an extra effort to connect urban youth with nature is to seed ideas for enterprises that will conserve and restore our natural systems.
Young people are at the forefront of innovative companies venturing into the restoration of degraded land in Africa.
Last year, the accelerator invested Euro 3000 in 14 start-ups chosen from 335 applicants from 8 African countries. We need more of these programs and some that are focused on biodiversity entrepreneurs.
And the young African entrepreneurs are there. Programs like the Africa Leadership University’s Conservation MBA are nurturing a generation of conservation entrepreneurs who will create businesses and job opportunities that map a different – fundamentally sustainable – course for African growth and prosperity.
How can we create more platforms to develop and promote young conservation entrepreneurs and innovators and enable them to co-create ideas and ventures that would support conservation while at the same time creating resilient wealth and jobs?
I would argue that we need to work on attracting impact investment across the continent, Africa remains one of the most profitable investment destinations in the world and on top of that investors in this sector can be assured they are making a beneficial social and environmental impact alongside their financial returns.
There is nowhere in the world where you can get financial returns and have an impact as in Africa and it is time the world starts to know this.
This article was first published by African Wildlife Foundation.
AWF Trustee, Emery Rubagenga, is the CEO of ROKA Global Resources and Chairman of Sager Ganza.