We recently interviewed our MD for GoOverseas (http://www.gooverseas.com/african-impact-reviews) and thought we’d share this on our blog.
1. Tell us a little about African Impact and your role at the company. African Impact is a social enterprise on a mission to maximise the positive impact of voluntourism in Africa, both for volunteers and for communities and conservation efforts. To us, volunteering is a two-way thing. It’s not just about the hands-on help and skills that volunteers bring; it’s also about what this amazing continent, its people and its wildlife can give those volunteers in return. We got going in 2004 and since then we’ve hosted over 10 000 volunteers throughout Africa. I am one of the founders and directors of African Impact. It’s hard to define what I do in my role because it changes every day, but one of the best things I love about it is conceptualising a project from scratch – from logistical, operational and marketing perspectives – and then visiting those projects and actually seeing the impact they’ve made. There’s nothing better than seeing the hard work of all our volunteers, staff and the communities we work with pay off.
2. How did you get involved in the volunteer industry? In 2002 I backpacked my way down Africa, from Ethiopia to Cape Town. It was incredible. When I finally got to Cape Town, I decided to sign up for a volunteering program. The advertisement I saw said that I’d be working with lions, but when I got to the project there weren’t any lions in sight – I was monitoring swallows! Although I felt quite disillusioned about volunteering, I nevertheless ended up having a pretty good time on the project. I realised that if done the right way, voluntourism had the potential to be something really brilliant. I got in touch with the Connolly family, who run Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. They had ideas similar to mine about how volunteering should be done. Like me, they wanted to give volunteers meaningful experiences on projects that were not only ethical but rewarding and good fun too – we wanted to do it properly. We set up African Impact at Antelope Park and since then, although we’ve grown enormously, our mission hasn’t changed.
3. What makes African Impact unique? We’re African-focused and we’re African specialists. We have projects running throughout Southern and Eastern Africa and employ over 150 staff across the continent. Because we have people on the ground at every project, we’re genuinely involved with and invested in our volunteers, our projects and the communities we work with. We’re also a very holistic company in that we are directly involved in all aspects of voluntourism. We handle all of our own marketing, operations and logistics. We deal directly with our volunteers and have direct relationships with the communities we’re involved with.
4. How do you ensure your programs are sustainable and mutually beneficial for you, the community, and the volunteers? Our approach is really about these three key elements: the impact our projects make on the ground; the volunteer experience; and running the business to ensure our longevity. Finding the perfect balance between these three elements and running our projects in a way that allows us to maximise all three is an important goal of ours. We want to give our volunteers a really good time, whilst maximising the impact they make on the ground. We want our projects to be as meaningful and sustainable as possible, and we want our volunteers to have a really fulfilling and valuable experience. We believe that these two things are mutually beneficial. We want to do well on the business side of things too because that’s how we’re going to ensure that we’re able to keep running projects, paying salaries and generating the funds for projects to grow. As a social enterprise, good business is essential to sustainability. As part of our commitment to making a positive impact, we set up The Happy Africa Foundation in 2008. The charity helps to independently monitor our projects and provides tools and expertise that help to ensure our sustainability. The charity also ensures that donations given by our volunteers are managed responsibly. To ensure the sustainability of our projects, we thoroughly evaluate each potential project with a detailed scorecard before setting up a volunteering program. This involves analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a project as well as its long-term viability and impact. We then continue to monitor our projects by formally setting and reviewing yearly aims and achievements. We do this in the most transparent fashion possible. Also, every single one of our projects has a community stakeholder. We won’t run a project unless the community not only wants us there, but actually has ownership of the project. Community buy-in is essential.
5. What does the future hold for African Impact? We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what volunteering can actually achieve. The voluntourism industry isn’t doing that enough. Volunteering can be amazingly effective and it can actually make a real difference – that’s something we want to keep pushing. Again, this relates to our three-pronged approach; we want to give volunteers even better experiences, make our projects even more impactful and ensure that our business remains a solid foundation. We’re also looking at expanding to North Africa, which is something we are really excited about. At the moment we’re looking into setting up a project in Morocco. We also want to expand the voluntourism market – we want to change the perception of voluntourism as something that’s only for students and backpackers and are working on ways to tailor voluntourism so that it becomes accessible to people outside of that demographic as well. As a company, one thing that we feel we don’t do enough of is involving local African volunteers in our projects. Encouraging local people to volunteer alongside our international volunteers is something we’d really like to encourage. For instance, in Livingstone there’s a local women’s group that regularly pitches in on our farming project, and we love that. It’s about getting local people to buy into the idea of volunteering with the projects in their own communities. Our aim is to get our volunteers even more involved in the projects they visit. We don’t want them to just feel like our guests, we want them to feel like they’ve really become part of our team, because they have. The more I work in this industry, the more I see the value that volunteers can bring to a project. We need to keep coming up with new and innovative ways to harness volunteers’ full potential – the more I see this happen the more I believe in what we’re doing.
To learn more about the broad range of projects African Impact has to offer click HERE.