/ 1 November 2013

Inroads for emerging businesses

Open Africa has created 62 self-drive tourism routes in six countries.
Open Africa has created 62 self-drive tourism routes in six countries. (supplied)

Tourism is at the heart of Open Africa’s drive to increase employment and income in rural areas.

Founded in 1995 under the patronage of Nelson Mandela, this non-profit organisation builds on rural entrepreneurs’ ability to trade and access markets, helping them to increase their income and potentially employ more people.

Open Africa was founded by Noel de Villiers, who hit upon the concept of self-drive tourism routes as a means to encourage economic development in rural areas.

Since then 62 self-drive tourism routes have been created in six countries.

These routes support at least 2 454 businesses, employing more than 28 400 people, 90% of whom are previously disadvantaged and 51% women.

On average, according to Open Africa, each route has 30 enterprises and 23% of them have an annual turnover of between R100 000 and R500 000, while 48% have an annual turnover of less than R100 000.

The organisation also assists the communities where it operates by providing market access for emerging enterprises so that they earn sufficient income to sustain themselves, their families and other employees from the community.

“At the same time it is about supporting the enterprises with capacity building and mentoring to meet the needs of customers,” says Open Africa’s marketing manager, Claire Allison.

“This is the beauty of the Open Africa model. There is a market interested in what Southern African off-the-beaten-track tourism offers – local, authentic, often nature-based, memorable experiences.

“There are local enterprises in these areas that can offer tourists relevant services, such as accommodation and tour guiding. Open Africa plays the role of helping to connect these enterprises to their market.”

The organisation’s general manager, Francois Viljoen, says the model it employs for rural development, enterprise development and job creation is unique.

“The model can be continually improved, is replicable and scalable to fit with the organisation’s vision for Africa. While the difference Open Africa’s intervention has made is relatively small, it is highly significant in terms of reach and potential as it has laid a framework that can be scaled. It is also enduring as a long-term plan specific to rural areas, which is where the needs are greatest.”

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.