Kenya & the “Big 5”

The first official stop on our honeymoon itinerary was Kenya. Having been to Nairobi and on a horseback safari by myself in 2013, I was excited to be back and this time around to be able to share the experience with both Francois and my brother who was in town for business (he is the founder and managing director of an impact investing fund, AlphaMundi Group).

During our time in Kenya – and Uganda, actually – we were lucky enough to shadow my brother at a few business meetings, assist with field surveys and the capture of photos and footage, and spend a long weekend on safari.

Our safari took place in Kenya, in the Masai Mara. We stayed at the beautiful Serena Mara Lodge, going out on game drives and even going up in a hot air balloon one morning at dawn. It was incredible. The jeeps used for the game drives have a special kind of roof that can be elevated so it protects you from the elements (rain or shine) while allowing you to stand and therefore better spot animals in the distance (see photos). There are few greater feelings of freedom than standing in such a jeep, wind in your hair and sun on your face.

We saw so many animals! Each was more stunning than the last, perfectly adapted to its environment and incredibly graceful (yes, even the hyenas!). We saw the “big 5”: lions, buffalo, elephants, a young black rhino, and ok fine, cheetahs instead of a leopard. Then there were the giraffes, antelope, feral cats, baboons… Cherry on the cake, we even got to see the first wave of the Great Migration – wildebeests by the thousands with some zebras in their midst, to the horizon and beyond. Every year they come up from the south in search of better pastures as the seasons change.

These photos give a flavor of what this was all like, but nothing can compare with seeing these animals live and in their natural habitat.

All that being said, there is another “Big 5” I want to share: key ideas and innovations impact investing is supporting and which are changing the way people live in East Africa, if not the world:

1. Sustainable agriculture

Various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and for-profit companies are teaching subsistence and small-scale farmers how to improve their yields – and their lives – by applying best practices. This often includes fertilizer use (to avoid mass “dumping” and encourage proper application of the right amounts of such chemical ag inputs) but also sustainable techniques such as crop rotation. In some cases, farmers are also being taught bee-keeping as an extra source of income and for improved pollination e.g. of banana trees.

2. Access to markets

Once farmers improve their yields, they still need to sell their produce to make money. Providing access to markets connects farmers to an existing demand, and whether we are talking about honey, fruits and vegetables, or grain, in every situation this is a natural and necessary next step for farmers to capitalize on the work they have put into their crops. Companies connecting the dots are changing not only the lives of farmers but of whole communities who no longer need to operate as “food deserts”.

3. Solar Power

Not only is “the grid” not accessible in many rural communities, but even if it is, it tends to be expensive and unreliable. Solar power systems come in various sizes, with the most innovative companies offering payment plans and accessories from TVs to fridges and even solar-powered tools for agriculture. As a starting point, individuals can charge their phones more easily which frequently allows them to create or grow their business; children can do homework after dark; and some farmers can improve their cycles by working past sunset (true story)!

 4. Access to financing

Giving someone access to financing is a game-changer. Upfront costs of agricultural inputs can be covered; children’s school fees can be paid without selling off all the goats; business ventures can be given a chance. Giving entrepreneurial individuals from the informal market just a little support through micro-finance (loans that typically range from USD 20 to 500 as a ballpark) can go a long, long way for them to improve their lives. Companies are creating their own credit ratings and evaluation processes, and repayment rates broadly range from 80-95%!

5. Conservation & eco-tourism

Poachers sometimes pay up to a few thousand dollars for a dead gorilla. To someone living on less than two dollars a day, that is a fortune… unless they know that a live gorilla can bring in tourists for say fifteen years, providing jobs for their children and putting food on their table in which case the math no longer adds up. Companies and NGOs developing eco-tourism work hand in hand with communities to create jobs, build affordable housing, and inspire the next generation to become stewards of the environment.

All in all, if I had to pick somewhere to live other than Europe, East Africa would be a top contender. Then again, this may be a recurring theme during our travels so stay tuned…