Eddie Bergman: Tourism as a tool for development and empowerment
For Eddie Bergman, tourism and philanthropy are naturally intertwined. The Synergos board member and Member of the Global Philanthropists Circle observes that as philanthropists increasingly choose to play a hands-on role in the global projects they support, they have helped create a niche market in the travel business.
Bergman calls it philanthropic tourism, or “voluntourism.”
“It’s not just about giving money, but about engagement. To engage in cross-continental or international projects obviously involves travel,”? Bergman said. The travel may involve site visits or hands-on work in developing countries, and it likely also includes participating in leisure activities.
“Just as philanthropy is a niche within tourism, tourism is a niche within philanthropy,” Bergman said. “The tourism industry should be looked upon as a tool for development and socio-economic empowerment. Tourism creates jobs, leaves behind currency and can support environmental preservation.”
In the case of Kenya, the tourism industry has also helped prevent violence. The industry took out ads calling for a peaceful resolution to a controversy over who would become assume political leadership, so tourists would not be scared away.
For people to travel to faraway places, they need to believe they will be safe. If a destination lacks peace and stability, tourism suffers. For example, the Arab Spring, a chain of events initially sparked by youth unemployment, led to the perception of instability in the Middle East and North Africa and a drop in tourism.
Bergman has been a leader in bringing Western tourists to Africa by focusing on creating positive perceptions through grassroots efforts and mass media. Since 2006, he has been the executive director of the New York-based Africa Travel Association (www.africatravelassociation.org), an international travel industry trade association promoting tourism to the African continent and intra-Africa travel.
“ATA focuses on marketing. ”Perception is reality’ is the main idea,” Bergman said. “If a destination is perceived as safe, it’s safe.”
Bergman, whose parents came to the United States from South Africa in the 1970s, became interested in travel and tourism at a very young age. A high school teacher sparked his interest in philanthropy, and as a freshman in college, he co-founded Miracle Corners of the World (www.mcwglobal.org), a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering youth, with a special focus on Africa.
“I found a way to merge both interests later,” Bergman said.
According to Bergman, there are multiple ways that philanthropists can get involved in tourism for development: “They can help destinations plan for tourism or help with infrastructure, such as hotels, guest houses, airports, and roads. [They can] help particular regions come up with tourism marketing materials or build public/private partnerships.”
He points out that there is room for philanthropists and venture capitalists in the field, and is convinced that the nonprofit model is not always sustainable.
The Johanssons: Conservation and sustainable local development
Anders Johansson also is concerned about sustainability. He and his wife, Agneta, both Members of the Global Philanthropists Circle, have been involved in wildlife conservation efforts in Southern Africa since 1997. A Swedish native, he now resides in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
In 2008, the Johanssons began scouting for opportunities to support social entrepreneurship based on conservation for the benefit of indigenous people. “Instead of giving money away,” Anders said, they decided to “create something sustainable on behalf of local people,” said Johansson, whose career was in commodities trading and private equity.
However, governments in Africa are not accustomed to this approach and the Johanssons’ motives have been met with suspicion. “Let’s say you come down and you want to give away $1 million to support a conservation project, that’s great no questions asked. If you come down and you want to invest $1 million by means of loans, they start questioning ”what are you up to, why are you doing this, what are you after?’ “
Johansson is also frustrated by NGOs that “won’t let go” of projects that could be commercialized because they would lose part of their reason for being.
Another problem, he said, is that some people in Southern Africa are not used to business or investing. They are used to selling their rights, Johansson said. “People in South Africa have been spoiled. They’re used to being given things. The local people have the attitude ” Why should we stand up and get involved and make this effort because if we just sit here making our voices heard, sooner or later someone will come with an open wallet."
Nevertheless, the Johanssons have demonstrated that it is possible for a tourism business to operate with local ownership. They have funded a small lodge in Namibia, working with indigenous people. They believe that it is essential to create an income stream so that the enterprise will eventually pay for itself.
Greg Carr: Helping the recovery of Gorongosa National Park
Like the Johanssons, Greg Carr was also casting about for projects when he turned his attention in 1998 away from Boston Technology, the voicemail and internet company he founded, to philanthropy. He fell in love with Gorongosa National Park (www.gorongosa.net) a wilderness at the southern end of the Africa’s Great Rift Valley in central Mozambique. It has been described as Mozambique’s greatest wonder and Africa’s lost Eden.
Gorongosa got started in 1920 as a hunting reserve. In 1940, the Portuguese colonial government took over the reserve and began turning it into a tourist destination where hunting would be banned. Portugal formally named it a national park in 1960 and over the next 20 years, even during the war for independence, Gorongosa’s tourist amenities were expanded and a number of scientific studies were initiated.
However, independence was almost immediately followed by a brutal 16-year civil war. The park closed and many of the animal populations that had previously flourished. Elephants, lions, zebras, wildebeest, hippos, and buffalo were decimated. When the civil war ended in 1992, new efforts got underway to restore Gorongosa.
Carr entered the picture in 2000, when the Mozambican ambassador invited him to visit the country after a chance meeting at a party. After the visit, Carr decided to commit himself and much of his fortune to bringing Gorongosa back to life. He set out to attract ecotourism businesses to the park, making it economically self-sufficient, while creating jobs in and around the park for local residents.
The Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation agreed to work together to rebuild the park’s infrastructure, restock animals, restore the ecosystems and try to stimulate economic development.
In 2008, after the foundation (by then known as the Gorongosa Restoration Project) had invested $10 million in the project, Carr and the government signed a 20-year agreement to restore and co-manage the park.
Since then, the park has become a tourist destination. A critical part of the project’s mission is to improve the lives of people who live nearby by creating jobs, funding schools and health clinics, and training local farmers in sustainable agriculture.
Carr has tried to balance economic development and biodiversity protection with respect for the indigenous people. About 250,000 Mozambicans live near the park, most of them very poor. As Carr told The New Yorker in a 2009 interview, “I’m a human-rights guy and a conservation guy trying to do both at the same time.”
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