Khwai Lediba: Where Wildlife, Community, and Conservation Converge at African Bush Camps in Botswana with Beks Ndlovu

Words Emi Vilas Bôas
Date

Discover the wonders of Khwai Lediba, a luxurious tented safari camp nestled along Botswana’s Khwai River, meticulously crafted by African Bush Camps.

This remarkable destination sets the stage for awe-inspiring encounters with Africa’s majestic wildlife, inviting intrepid adventurers to venture into the expansive Moremi National Park, where untamed lions, elusive leopards, mighty elephants, and graceful giraffes roam freely amidst nature’s grandeur. Prepare for an unforgettable journey filled with thrilling game drives, captivating walking safaris, and enchanting mokoro excursions, each unveiling the secrets of this untamed wilderness shaped by African Bush Camps.

In its determined pursuit of a better future for both communities and nature, the African Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF) stands as an inspiring model for conservation and impact. Guided by a profound commitment to uplifting lives and preserving the environment, ABCF channels its efforts into education, community empowerment, and conservation within the areas surrounding their camps and national parks. Addressing fundamental challenges faced by these communities, ABCF bridges educational gaps and tackles dwindling livelihoods head-on. Their comprehensive understanding of the intricate interdependencies between education, community empowerment, and conservation fuels transformative solutions, igniting hope for a brighter tomorrow for both people and the natural world.

Reflecting on their remarkable journey, Beks Ndlovu, CEO of ABC, humbly shares, “Our ability to witness firsthand the transformation in the communities and wildlife areas that we support has been truly inspiring. It is not merely our achievements as a business that define us, but rather the pressing urgency and undeniable need we observe within the communities and wildlife areas that surround us.” Beks’s profound connection to nature, forged through his deep roots in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, has fueled a lifelong commitment to preserving wildlife and providing guests with a truly exceptional experience. Delve into Beks’s transformative vision, innovative approaches, and the profound impact of responsible tourism as you embark on an extraordinary journey that will leave an indelible mark on the natural world, shaping the future of travel with each step taken

Join us as we embark on an unforgettable week of collaboration at the highly anticipated Regenerative Retreat 2023, hosted by Khwai Lediba. Join influential leaders from the travel and hospitality industries, gathering to share insights, forge meaningful connections, and shape the future of sustainable tourism. Guided by esteemed experts such as Dr. Sue Snyman, Director of Research of the Wildlife Economy at the African Leadership University, Beks Ndlovu, the visionary founder and CEO of African Bush Camps, and Amanda Ho, accomplished CEO of Regenerative Travel, this retreat offers a unique opportunity to delve into the intersection of travel and conservation. Engage with like-minded individuals, showcasing your own work, and collectively co-create a blueprint for the future, fostering a harmonious balance between tourism and the preservation of natural wonders.

Can you walk us through the project planning process for the African Bush Camps Foundation? How do you select which issues or communities for ABC to get involved with, how do you go about identifying the project’s scopes and scales, as well as how ABC can best help the cause, and how do you determine how best to distribute the funds earned through the tourism business between each of the projects?

Our mission as ABCF is to improve the quality of life and achieve long-term conservation for the communities near our camps and the national parks where we operate. We achieve this by focusing on our three core pillars: education, community empowerment, and conservation. There is a strong correlation and connectedness to these three pillars, which allows us to tackle some of the core issues and challenges faced by communities, such as poor quality or access to education, unemployment, food scarcity, shortage of healthy farming and grazing land, and loss of livelihoods, which can contribute to the loss, poaching, and killing of wildlife or the loss of natural habitats and ecosystems.

All our foundation projects aim to tackle challenges faced by the communities near the camps where we operate. It is essential for us to give back to the communities and people near where we operate through job creation and employment opportunities in our camps, as well as addressing challenges faced in the community in the areas of education, community empowerment, and conservation.

Before embarking on a project, we conduct a project analysis and project scoping in the community to identify and understand the problem, who is impacted by it, how this problem affects those impacted by it, and what is currently being done to address the issues. Project scoping forces us to ask ourselves critical questions that help us identify if this is a problem we can or should focus on addressing and if it is in line with our three pillars, and if this allows us to collaborate and work with the community towards a sustainable and beneficial solution and what the best course of action is for us to take.

The project scope helps us break down the projects into understanding the problem, outlining the solution we plan to implement and its timelines, the outcomes of the solution, and the short, medium, and long-term impact of the actions we implement, how we will measure and track the impact, and the budget for the project.

Once we have scoped out the project, the project moves to planning and execution, where the solution is implemented in the various stages and steps outlined in the project scope, and each milestone is measured and tracked regularly against the impact and monitoring and evaluation metrics outlined for the project.

The commercial business actively supports the foundation through bed-night levies. With every night guests stay at our camps, we contribute USD 10 towards the Foundation’s operational costs, so every donation you make will go 100% towards the intended project.

Of the several impact projects African Bush Camps has been involved with, which one has meant the most to you and why? Are there any specific project success stories/milestones you can share?

There are so many impact stories that stand out as highlights for ABCF, but the biggest is the collective impact that the foundation has made and added to ABC since 2006. The foundation has enabled us to do more as a business over and above the bottom line and offer an unforgettable safari experience. It has given us a powerful vehicle for change that brings everyone along on the journey.

Our foundation projects are in the heart of local communities like Dete, Khwai, Mola, and Maunga where our camp staff come from, which allows us to not just impact the lives of our staff through creating employment opportunities for them in our camps, but we are also touching and impacting their families at home by educating their children in the schools we support, feeding their parents through community gardens, promoting and supporting their skills projects, and protecting their livestock with our boma project that mitigates human-wildlife conflict.

The success of any foundation is not just in how it implements good projects in the community, but also in how it walks that transformation journey with the communities it aims to help. Over the years, we have seen the community we support rally behind us, dig trenches with us, cook and serve meals to the children with us, clear fields and be open to learning and working with us to protect wildlife in the natural park. These are the memories and successes that continue to shape, motivate, and drive us to do more.

The tourism industry is quickly evolving with more and more businesses looking for ways to get involved in building a sustainable business that gives back and makes a lasting impact, and our foundation is playing a unique role in creating room not just for African Bush Camps but for its trade partners and other businesses that we work with to partner and collaborate with to further drive change and impact.

Can you define the ABC Way for someone who has never heard of it, including the underlying philosophy and how someone might recognize it in person?

We define the ABC Way as sharing and conserving Africa together. It involves taking true custodianship of the areas, wildlife, and people around our camps that we have been privileged enough to have under our care. This is the fundamental purpose behind the vision of our camps and our foundation, and it involves bringing others along with us on the journey.

The ABC Way is the DNA and attitude of our business. It’s how we can make a more authentic connection with our guests to enhance their stay with us, and how we can make an impact as a business in the communities near our camps and conserve the national parks where we operate.

The ABC Way is encompassed in three core pillars: our guest experience, our foundation, and our people. Through the guest experience, we aim to create “WOW moments” by making guests feel at home and a part of our family when they are staying with us, and we go out of our way to know our guests so we can tailor the experience to suit their needs and preferences. Our people are passionate and strive for excellence, quality, safety, and caring for the land and its people. Through our foundation, we educate, develop, and empower communities and conserve the land.

Are there any other, maybe less directly visible, ways the ABC Way manifests itself in either the camps or the foundation?

The ABC Way is more than just an ideal; it is our way of life as a business, and it is engrained in everything we do together for our guests, our community, and our land. The ABC Way seeks to empower our staff and enable them to take ownership of their ‘part’ in the wheel. Without each other’s support, we cannot deliver.

From our vibrant welcome songs, wild to wildly luxurious camps, the untamed wildlife, dedicated locally employed staff, and the impact we are making in the surrounding communities, the ABC Way is evident in every fiber of the guest’s experience with us. This is how we make genuine and meaningful connections with our guests, building lasting relationships and friendships along the way.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in creating meaningful impact or running an impact-focused business?

The challenge with doing what we do is that we are dealing with very remote places that are often very difficult to access, and we are generally dealing with a population that is not as educated. We are faced with the challenge of trying to make them see the bigger picture. In the areas where we operate, we have found that one of the biggest challenges that makes our job difficult is that we come after various NGOs have entered certain areas for a period of time, trying to make some kind of change and contribution to the community. Unfortunately, it is often not bottom-up and does not take into consideration what the community needs, their skillset, and their culture.

Anything that is done for the community that does not consider their needs and culture over time is a waste of funds because the community is not empowered or partnered with to look after it. In other instances, some NGOs have gone into some of these communities and made promises that were not fulfilled, and they did not consult with or work with the community. Therefore, we are now dealing with a mentality amongst the community where they do not believe that the change we are trying to bring about now will last because of the shortcomings and failures of organizations that came before us. This is why our biggest strive is to ensure that whatever we do has longevity and is sustainable so the community can benefit from it.

What is your biggest source of inspiration? 

I can’t attribute my inspiration to a single individual or an organisation, but what has been inspiring for me is to be able to see the difference we have made as an organisation in the short 18 years that we have existed. We have been seeing the transformation in the communities and wildlife areas that we support in real-time; we are not waiting for generations to see the difference; we are seeing the change unfold as we grow. It is not about what we have done and achieved as a business or what others have done before us, rather it’s being moved and stirred by the need and urgency in the communities and wildlife areas around us. I have seen how in one-year wilderness areas in some communities have disappeared and the conditions in the communities have deteriorated due to a lack of resources and custodianship. And this is why our vision and drive to be true custodians and ambassadors of the land, the wildlife and the people is so critical. 

The difference that we have made in certain wildlife spaces and communities coupled with the difference that we have seen made by other organisations in areas where we may not be active really gives me the energy and inspiration to say that “we can make a difference.” And “we” is not just ABC, it is everyone we come across that we can influence to be a part of the journey.


Join us at Retreat Botswana: Exploring Regenerative Frameworks for Conservation and embark on a transformative journey of exploration into regenerative approaches for conservation.

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