Entrepreneurs are people who persevere through seemingly impossible challenges often testing their ability to overcome fear. Andrew Muir, 2011 Southern African Social Entrepreneur of the Year, performs this feat on a daily basis. In addition to having led the Wilderness Foundation for the past decade, Andrew has lived with a stutter forcing him to persevere through each and every sentence he has spoken.
On Thursday evening, he stood up in front of over 300 people in Johannesburg to receive his award from Ernst & Young and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Andrew humbly accepted the prize remarking that “the thing about asking a stutter-er to deliver a speech is that he may not be done by the end of dessert but rather by breakfast the next morning.”
Andrew`s passion and commitment to overcoming his own challenges has helped him build the Wilderness Foundation into an innovative and scalable social enterprise that is transforming communities across Africa. The Wilderness Foundation has touched thousands of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVCs), inspiring them not only to follow their dreams despite setbacks but also to care deeply about the environment and the richness of their heritage.
Across Africa, millions of OVCs become heads of households when their parents die of AIDS. For many, life revolves around daily survival: they focus on having enough to eat and being able to provide for their younger siblings. Instead of finishing secondary school, they spend their days looking for food and working for whatever money they can get. Lacking formal skills and a basic knowledge of their rights, they are often exploited and become disconnected from their cultural heritage and their relationship to the land.
The Wilderness Foundation was founded in 1972 by Dr Ian Player and the late Zulu trail guide Magqubu Ntombela on the premise that successfully protecting the environment depends on the socio-political and economic situation. Andrew is acutely aware that Africa`s historic and ongoing role as a provider of natural resources to the industrialized world, as well as its emerging position as a consumption market in its own right, poses risks and challenges for the future of sustainable growth in Africa.
Among the programmes that the Wilderness Foundation runs, I would like to highlight three:
First, the Wilderness Foundation created Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve, one of the largest protected areas of wilderness in Africa. To accomplish this, it organized community interests, met private sector leaders and worked with the government to pass legislation. UNESCO has since declared Baviaanskloof a world heritage site.
Second, the Umzi Wethu programme trains OVCs in environmental conservation and ecotourism, providing them not only with job skills as game rangers and chefs but also with a meaningful connection to their cultural and natural heritage. Through this programme, the OVCs learn how to survive in the outdoors as well as to lead lives of integrity on inner city streets and in townships of South Africa.
Third, the Green Leaf Standard, used in more than 15 countries and adopted by several of the most highly regarded hotel chains and boutique game resorts in Africa, measures a business’s environmental impact and community engagement. For certified companies to maintain the Green Leaf Standard, they must decrease their environmental footprint each and every year by 5%, making the Green Leaf Standard a dynamic tool, which promotes continual improvement.
In short, the Wilderness Foundation protects biodiversity, trains the next generation of leaders in conservation and helps the private sector to engage responsibly in the future. It is only through multifaceted approaches that address the complex problems facing the environment, the economy and the youth of Africa that we will be able to create a better world for future generations.
As we learn from Andrew`s leadership, we may encounter setbacks or it may take us longer to finish what we started, but if we persevere, we will make it to breakfast tomorrow … and for many breakfasts in the foreseeable future.
Abigail Noble, Head, Latin America and Africa, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
Photo, left to right:- Howard Arrand, Head of Core Banking Sales, Commercial Banking Division at FNB; Abigail Noble, Head of Africa and Latin America, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship; Andrew Muir, Executive Director, Wilderness Foundation; Ajen Sita, CEO Ernst & Young Africa