Open Africa

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Open Africa

Cape Town, South AfricaAll rural areas, South Africa
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

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

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

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.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please 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.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its 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.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

So far 62 routes have been established across six countries, positively influencing the lives of 35,634 rural people directly (178 170 indirectly if you consider the families of those helped), joining together 2,161 participant small businesses with 33,473 employees. The network’s website <> attracts 35,000 page views monthly, 34% up last year, and referrals across the website also up 34% from 2011. There are weekly bed night sales of nearly 600 on average. Namibia has become the first country to officially adopt this model as a method of rural development in conjunction with conservation. There are six beneficiary categories in this programme: 1. The participant operators are structured around a collaborative and common vision, with a business plan and goals, within which capacity is built through the sharing of experience, whilst collectively their ‘product’ is branded, polished, and gets marketed through the Open Africa website with a sales strategy that includes the generation of media and other publicity. 2. Job security for the personnel of these participants is improved and new jobs stimulated through growth. 3. With rural attractions being predominantly biodiversity based, instead of conservation simply being a nice idea it becomes a wealth creator. 4. Local economies are boosted via tourism’s feedback chain. 5. Aspirant travellers gain a source of reliable information hard to find anywhere else. 6. And government gets a representative body through which to deal with this sector more intelligently, whilst also getting more product to add to its national portfolio. The more referrals we generate, the greater the demand becomes for more routes. More routes in turn mean more business referrals, the one feeding off the other in what is an autocatalytic reaction. This is a sure way to get and maintain growth, which exponentially over time could reach millions of people. The potential is enormous. Africa has 54 countries, among which at least 40 are candidate participants. Job creation based on utilizing indigenous strengths, as this does, will eternally be desirable, whilst the popularity of rural travel is likely to burgeon, as it is doing. Recently this was confirmed at ITB, the world’s biggest travel show, where it was stated that the way people travel has changed significantly. “Travellers are hungering for community and want to get involved with causes larger than themselves. They want to engage in more meaningful conversations and relationships. They want to get off the bus, linger and get lost in the hearts and homes of the places they visit – enriching their lives, not with material wealth, but with meaningful experiences.” Fitting that ‘Life enriching journeys’ is the Open Africa motto.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Open Africa is donor dependent and gets its support from far-sighted institutions and corporations with an appreciation for the links between poverty, joblessness, and market (trade) isolation. These three things are at the root of most problems suffered in society and because they are not prone to instant solutions, it takes a special kind of vision, patience and perseverance to invest in remedying them. A threat to Open Africa’s sustainability is that besides the fact that donors of the above calibre are rare and hard to find, we do not have a base of regular individual donors. The reason for this is that our story takes long to tell and lacks the emotional appeal of causes like saving children, healing disease or preventing extinctions. We badly need to find a way of sourcing small amounts of regular funding from individual givers and we think we may have found the solution. Usually those who have read this far in this document grasp Open Africa’s mission sufficiently to become strongly supportive. The challenge is how to get them to spread the word without each time having to repeat this whole tract, which is too long to retain attention in today’s over-communicated world. If you believe in Open Africa we are asking you to sign up as an activist on our behalf at where it will be your friends who are supporting your cause, which is a much easier way to get them to understand Open Africa. Even if it involves no cash and initially simply means circularizing this Changemaker pitch, even that will help us enormously in this far corner of the earth, from where we are striving to reshape a whole continent.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

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.

Founding Story

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.
About You
Open Africa
About You
First Name


Last Name

de Villiers

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Open Africa

Organization Country

, WC, Cape Town

Country where this project is creating social impact

, XX, All rural areas

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Social Impact
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.

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