Open Africa

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
The Power of Small: Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies competition.


This innovation also has a Project Page where you can read more about its latest progress.
Go to Project: Open Africa.

Open Africa stimulates economic development in rural areas, done by creating and marketing routes providing locally authentic experiences for travellers.

About You

Organization: Open Africa Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name


Last Name

de Villiers

About Your Organization

Organization Name

Open Africa

Organization Website

Organization Country

South Africa, WC, Cape Town

Country where this project is creating social impact

South Africa, XX, All rural areas

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator


Is your organization a

Non‐profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Name Your Entry

Open Africa

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Scaling (the next step will be growing impact on a regional or even global scale)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?

Job creation and economic development in disadvantaged rural areas. Poverty through joblessness and consequent urbanisation is ravaging both these people and their environments, whereas they are the custodians of Africa's vast and valuable biodiversity resources, the richest and most diverse in abaundance on earth. Their fate is inextricably tied to protection of these resources and vice versa.

The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!

Tourism is often the best option for stimulating economic activity in rural areas and we leverage its potential by putting all the players in homogenous territories into collectives designated as routes, rallying them around a common vision within a network that we market via and through which the building of human capital is enabled. The growing network of 63 routes in six countries already has more than 2000 participants who employ 26 000 people.

Since the network is an ongoing entity, it produces immediate results within a framework that has unending potential for constant growth and improvement.

The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Few places in Africa are not attractive to travellers, but those that are rurally located have great difficulty connecting to markets and this so much the more so for operators in their individual capacities. What Open Africa does therefore is to assemble them into structures that are branded as destinations with collaborative plans, goals, and strategies within a dynamic monitoring and evaluation system. Each participant remains sovereign within this network yet gains the benefit of being within the embrace of an entity that combines strengths, shares success stories, encourages collaboration, develops an economic feedback chain within the local community, attracts media coverage and is more easily marketable. Proof of the latter, which in the end is the most important test of success, is that growth in referrals across the website is 37% up on last year.

The method of developing routes is manually driven and systematised, which makes it easily replicable. The process follows a series of workshops during which a fully inclusive list of all existing and potential stakeholders who can add value is drawn up; all attractions are identified; a route forum is elected; individual data, photographs, geographic coordinates, and narratives collected; route parameters and a name decided upon; goals set; and plans made for a celebratory launch, the purpose of which is to attract media coverage and build team spirit and collaboration. All the information garnered resides on the front and back-ends of the website for marketing and monitoring purposes respectively.

The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?

Our purpose is to add value and in that sense we welcome rather than resist competition. If others follow the same course then so much the better, though whereas many have adopted the route concept individually, Open Africa's lead in having developed a network is unlikely to be emulated. What has delighted us however is that for the first time a country, Namibia, recently officially adopted the model as its method of stimulating rural development. If successful, as we are sure it will be, other countries are likely follow Namibia's example.

Social Impact

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What solution(s) does your initiative address to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses grow and thrive in underserved communities? (select all applicable)

Access to financing, Access to talent, Access to supply chains, Access to technology, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

We have connected more than 2000 small rural businesses to markets from which they derive incremental business, stimulating local economies and creating additional jobs. This is being done within a framework that has many side benefits beyond the main goal of promoting trade in remote areas, by focusing on indigenous strengths that build confidence, restore pride, encourage transformation, create awareness of the financial benefits of conservation, counteract urbanisation, and celebrate culture and heritage.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

At 37% we are maintaining a growth rate way beyond the norm and in so doing are establishing a new market segment specific to out of the way places where poverty and job creation imperatives are at their greatest. Once a channel like this has been opened it is hard to predict where it may lead, but the indicators are entirely positive at this stage. We believe that human behaviour is changing in tandem with global pressures on the environment, universally causing people to become more interested in biodiversity and therefore in seeing, experiencing and conserving rurally located nature resources.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Our biggest hurdle is in raising the finance through which to sustain and grow our project, which until recently has been 100% donor dependent. To overcome this we are developing revenue streams that will steadily reduce our reliance on grant income. Meanwhile financial constraint is the only barrier to faster expansion of the program.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone

Task 1

Complete the current three projects we are presently engaged with in three South African provinces.

Task 2

Undertake exit survey research on customer experiences to sharpen our knowledge on market preferences.

Task 3

Win and then commence the previously mentioned Namibia project.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone

Task 1

Keep cooking a massive scaling program we are brewing on a back-burner designated Africa Alive.

Task 2

Complete the transition of a succession management plan started six months ago.

Task 3

Continually strengthen the relationships with our route participant and customer constituents.

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world.

In 1994 when South Africa was emancipated politically I anticipated that job creation would be the greatest threat to this succeeding in the long run and so decided to do something about it. Unfortunately this prediction has proved true and whereas the difference my intervention has made is relatively small, it is highly significant in terms of reach and potential. It is also enduring as a long-term plan specific to rural areas, which is where the needs are greatest. Governments tend to seek and even promise magic wand solutions to such problems, but there is no escaping the fact that development is a process that needs to start from the bottom up.


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Tell us about your partnerships

Being a partner-centric organisation that doesn't tread on anybody's toes, Open Africa attracts collaborations across a wide front and if anything has to be careful not to waste energy on unproductive relationships. Besides our own constituents, we work closely with other agencies with similar interests, more especially in the job creation and conservation spheres. Thus we have many strategic alliances and are as a rule completely transparent in what we do, willing to share our experiences and lessons learnt with anyone who can benefit through them.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

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127 weeks ago Open Africa has been chosen as a finalist in The Power of Small: Entrepreneurs Strengthening Local Economies.
133 weeks ago Noel de Villiers updated this Competition Entry.
133 weeks ago Noel de Villiers updated this Competition Entry.
133 weeks ago Noel de Villiers updated this Competition Entry.
134 weeks ago Noel de Villiers updated this Competition Entry.
134 weeks ago Noel de Villiers updated this Competition Entry.
134 weeks ago Noel de Villiers submitted this idea.