Although the foundation of Okavango Wilderness Safaris was laid on community impact and partnerships, it appears there may be a radical shift to maximise not only community impact but citizen empowerment as well. This sudden stance can perhaps be credited to Binns, the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Okavango Wilderness Safaris, after his appointment in June last year.
Binns is determined to transform Okavango Wilderness Safaris supplier ecosystem because he believes that the bulk of the OWS procurement budget should be spent locally to not only impact the communities but all capable local companies nationwide. Already, he says, 85 percent of OWS total costs is spent on Botswana-based companies to ensure that they benefit from the value chain created by the eco-tourism outfit.
“As an eco-tourism outfit, there is so much we procure, which could all be suppliers by the locals. This ranges from the toiletries used by our guests, the food, meat, vegetables, the towels, detergents and many other products that we use on a daily basis,” Binns told The Business Weekly & Review. “However, while we aspire to procure everything here in Botswana, wherever there is a deficit we are compelled to import. That importation is a sign to Batswana that there is an opportunity to supply OWS and make a living.”
Binns notes that OWS is open to more local companies and actively invites them to get involved as the business (and the industry) supports more in the value chain. He believes citizen participation is key here and where OWS can get involved to help grow citizen companies, It will, working with key development agencies in Botswana to that end.
OWS is already in talks with major stakeholders like the Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB), the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) and the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) to partner with it so it may provide technical and financial assistance to local companies who can in turn be OWS suppliers. This was motivated by the fact that some companies have the will and the skills but lack initial funding while some just need technical support from institutions like LEA to ensure that their produce are of international standards.
Binns says OWS must ensure that there is quality and consistency as well as more competition in that space which should lead to growth of these businesses, quality and economic prosperity. This is a PR guru with a strong history of supporting Wilderness Holdings, especially Okavango Wilderness Safaris, from a communications and reputation management perspective in recent years. He is also deeply committed to projects centred around community development, citizen empowerment and nurturing talent among the youth of Botswana to allow them to truly thrive.
Binns says around the 1980s, no one in Botswana ever imagined that the wilderness and its wildlife could be commercialised and conserved sustainability at the same time. Hunting was at the time the most common way of making money from wildlife but it was not very sustainable because wildlife like elephants were taking a hit. It also created a loophole for poaching.
Binns says as conservationists became concerned, conversations about how to preserve the wilderness and its wildlife began. Wilderness Safaris came into Botswana in 1983 and brought with it the ideology of commercialising the wilderness and its wildlife through conservation. It was the first company to do so. OWS introduced photographic safaris, as well as a promise to create a life-changing journey and experience in the Wilderness. All this is done by conserving the very nature that OWS operates in at all its camps. At Duma Tau Camp, for example, there is a solar energy plant that lights up the entire place.
OWS has invested in cutting edge technology with a Tesla efficient battery. The battery banks can store 696 KWh of energy per month, less than the average of 800KWh per month for households. Under ideal conditions, the system can produce approximately 20 880 KWh per month. The expected lifespan of the Tesla battery packs is between 10 and 15 years and are warrantied for a 10-year period. For Binns, this multi-million investment in solar energy is testimony to OWS’s to commitment to conservation and protection of the wilderness. The power plant is fully automated. Further, the Duma Tau camp draws its water from the Linyanti Swamps, which is then treated through the reverse osmosis process.
IMPACT ON COMMUNITIES
In 1995, the government had allocated concession areas NG23 and NG22 to the Okavango Community Trust (OCT). In 1996, OCT put them out to tender and Wilderness tendered but was unsuccessful when the tender went to a hunting safari company. But the company lacked the technical expertise in photographic safari. According to Sam Kavindama, Community Liaison Officer at OWS, after about two years a review was conducted by both the company and OCT and it established that a hunting safari outfit may not be a sustainable model in the long run.
Lacking the expertise in photographic safari, the company sub-leased its leases to OWS which eventually took over all the leases because of its sustainable model. “We paid and continue to pay annual rentals tatalling millions of pula to the community trust,” says Kavimdama. “We also ensured that in all the camps that are within the OCT, employment was given to residents of villages within the OCT where 200 people are employed. We also ensured that we procured locally.”
CHILDREN IN THE WILDERNESS
Children in the Wilderness is a non-profit organisation supported by Wilderness Safaris in all countries where the brand operates. In Botswana, There is Children in the Wilderness Botswana. According to Kavindama, the organisation aims to facilitate sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of children. He says insight, care and commitment are required to conserve Botswana’s pristine wilderness and wildlife areas.
In his view, if we are to ensure that these places continue to exist – in this generation and those to come – we need children in communities to understand the importance of conservation and its relevance in their lives. The Children in the Wilderness programmeis about that: an environmental and life skills educational programme for children that focuses on the next generation of decision-makers, inspiring the present generation of children to care for their natural heritage and so become custodians of these areas in the future.
This is achieved in a variety of ways – from hosting Eco Club programmes at local schools to running camps at Wilderness and partner camps for the children within the rural communities that live on the edge of the wild areas. So far 7 800 children have been hosted in annual camps since 2001. Further, 1 000 teachers and eco-mentors have been trained through this programme while 3 000 children have been reached throughout its regions through eco clubs. CITW also gives scholarships to 600 children annually.