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    Into Africa: Lessons on Safari (Part 1)

    By Derek Barnes–

    On a recent trip to South Africa, I was captivated by the continent’s rich history, divergent cultures, extensive resources, irrefutable beauty, and infinite wisdom of its people. It is truly the cradle of knowledge, civilization, and humanity that continues propagating treasures across the globe. 

    The continent remains vital after being plundered and mined of its resources—land, metals, stones, minerals, wildlife, people, knowledge, and history. Africa has given up its precious resources for centuries without equitable exchange with a renewed interest by the world’s current superpowers to take even more. There’s abundance in Africa. However, the rampant extraction of resources needs to be offset by sustained investments and philanthropy to ensure a future for its people. Universally speaking, rampant extraction of value is an interminable problem that humanity faces today that needs immediate correction globally.  

    Mother nature has fixes for many problems that humanity currently faces. She has already determined what works or does not for over 3.7B years of life on Earth. Things evolve and become antiquated or obsolete through a long-standing organic research and development process. Understanding this process can be the secret to our survival and thriving as humans. There is a universal order of things that is constantly interrogated. Nature produces variants and deviations routinely to respond to possible environmental threats or disruptions. These divergent responses are tested routinely to determine lasting value—the essence of biomimicry. 

    While on safari during one of many walks in Kruger National Park, I had a revelation. Despite their apparent differences and size, termites and aardvarks have a critical role in the vast biological ecosystem of Africa. Termite mounds or spires are 10 feet on average but can be over 25 feet tall and take up to 80 years to construct. They are the ventilation and cooling system for the underground colony that can extend up to 100 feet from the mound. Queens, created after birth, lead the colony. In succession, they live up to 5 years each and direct an intricate network of worker termites that cooperatively build and maintain the colony. It’s remarkable engineering and orchestration. The process of passing blueprint information from one queen to the next is extraordinary. 

    Aardvarks are larger nocturnal mammals that have powerful digging capabilities using their claws. They love feeding on termites and will burrow around the radius of the mound, looking for food. I asked one of our guides why aardvarks don’t go directly after the termite mounds for a meal bonanza. Our guide indicated that aardvarks wouldn’t fatally disrupt the colony’s heart because it would kill its food source. Of course, that makes sense. Termites help decompose dead trees to turn them back to fertile soil but are also a food source. Aardvarks are a form of termite control. Their burrowed holes, looking for food (termites and ants), create a safe shelter for other wildlife. Both contribute, but only take what is necessary to sustain balance.

    I couldn’t stop thinking about the applications when studying the symbiotic relationship between termites and aardvarks—building sustainably, energy conservation, revolutionizing agriculture, and efficient transportation. Biomimicry is the design and production of materials, structures, and systems—modeled on biological objects and processes (nature). Redesign and innovation are essential for durability and sustainability. Simply put, it’s a technological-oriented approach focused on examining life in various forms with reverence and putting nature’s wisdom into practice. By examining its biological ecosystem, Africa can teach us a lot about giving abundantly and taking only what we need. 

    Moreover, if we study and apply nature’s ecological models to advance philanthropy (love of humankind), we could inspire designs and engage solutions that solve some of humanity’s greatest problems. The approach favors choices tested by nature over time—thousands or even millions of years—to determine what works best. It’s the ultimate iterative, agile methodology. The outcomes would allow communities and human production to be more efficient, cooperative, resilient, and sustainable.

    Derek Barnes is the CEO of the East Bay Rental Housing Association ( ). He currently serves on the boards of Horizons Foundation and Homebridge CA. Follow him on Twitter @DerekBarnesSF or on Instagram at DerekBarnes.SF

    Social Philanthropreneur
    Published on December 1, 2022