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    Into Africa: Lessons on Safari (Part Two)

    By Derek Barnes–

    “Take or use only what you need” was a profound insight on my walking safari in South Africa. It was a brilliant reminder presented all around us for six days in Kruger National Park, where nature provided the best examples of this philosophy on our daily walks.

    As written in my last column, Africa has an immense abundance. You feel it in many ways. It induces a euphoric feeling and it’s not easy for people to resist the temptation to overindulge or feel superior. I discovered that the simplest activities and routines required a self-imposed reality check our first few days on safari. For example, every evening, members of our group took turns being on watch and keeping our camp’s fire lit throughout the night. This seemingly simple duty helped surface some valuable lessons.

    I led the watch rotation the first night after everyone went to sleep. Being slightly competitive, my goal was to create the largest fire possible with as much natural brush and deadwood around us. People would be awakened by a spectacular bonfire because more fire, more light, and more protection. More is more. When there’s a perceived abundance of resources around, in this case, lots of trees and deadwood, it was so tempting to burn a lot of deadwood. It’s very seductive. 

    The second night, the watch rotation began again. This time, one of the guides demonstrated his technique for sustaining the fire throughout the night. It was simple. First, select the right deadwood—harder wood, slower burn. Instead of piling the wood fuel directly onto the heart or core of the fire, slowly advance the branches around the fire into the blaze’s perimeter. This method ensures a steady and lasting burn that uses far less fuel. The more deadwood you pile onto the heart of a fire, the faster the wood burns, not to mention all the added emissions from burning more wood.

    It wasn’t until the final night we learned the true purpose of the fire we all coveted so fiercely the first four nights. We never stopped to ask why we all needed to keep the fire lit during our scheduled rotations. We assumed it was for light, some warmth, and protection. But on the fifth night, our guides challenged us even more. This time, there would be no fire to cultivate. We were all taken aback. What?! We thought no fire, no light, and no protection in the middle of Bush Country, with all the dangerous animals out at night, was nuts. Our guides assured us we didn’t need fire for protection or light. We all assumed our evening watch rotations, and we all woke up the next morning safe and sound. We shared our evening watch experiences, which were all extraordinarily profound. 

    Of course, this parable has multiple lessons for many of us, including my original supposition—take or use only what you need. My experiences while on safari also connected me to a greater awareness of personal power, intention, and accountability as a steward on Earth. Many problems we see in the world today, directly and indirectly, correlate to human intervention and our choices—cause and effect. Clearly, there’s more we can learn when examining our relationship with and perceptions of Africa.

    The continent of Africa remains vital and rich, even after being plundered and mined of its resources—land, metals, stones, minerals, wildlife, people, knowledge, and history. Africa, the cradle of civilization, has given up its precious commodities without equitable exchange, which needs to change. 

    Rampant capitalism and the extraction of resources for centuries haven’t been adequately offset by sustained investments or philanthropy to ensure a future for its people and our planet. The never-ending extraction of value is an interminable problem that humanity faces today that needs immediate correction in Africa and globally. It depletes native and natural resources and disrupts economies, governments, and the environment where local inhabitants and indigenous people are left to resolve these issues. Scarcity generates fear, desperation, migration, and hopelessness.

    The antidote to these long-standing challenges can be philanthropy. However, sometimes the best intentions can create more significant harm, as evidenced by Clean Water, White Buses, and Dry-brick programs in South Africa. Western and European-centric cultures have a strong desire to jump in to “fix” problems and correct imbalances without truly understanding the problem. The attempt to create increased stability, by throwing lots of money at a problem too quickly, may also lead to unintended consequences—producing the opposite effects of our greatest intentions.

    Why do we need this fire? What is its purpose? Who will benefit from it? Those were the questions we should have asked initially while on safari. Having the proper context and asking the right questions can clear a path to greater empathy, collaborative ideation, and more durable solutions. The results can better align with nature’s grand design while minimizing exploitation.

    Today, South African philanthropy is focused on providing essential services such as health care, education, and housing due to the country’s high levels of poverty and inequality. The South African government needs more economic resources to adequately provide these services, making philanthropy and sustainable business practices essential for prosperity.

    As I toured Cape Town and Johannesburg townships, I discovered small but incredibly effective programs from organizations like Uthando. Through their tourism program, Uthando delivers money and other resources to an array of community nonprofits that support people and families via advocacy, agriculture, technology, education, micro-lending, and the arts. It is a testament to what is possible with few resources—delivering transformative outcomes. Like fuel for fire, methodically advancing support in this way will ensure a slow but steady use of resources that will invariably have long-term impact.

    According to the Africa Philanthropy Network and Giving Compass, the total philanthropic fundraising yearly in the U.S. is approximately $428 billion. The total amount raised annually in South Africa is roughly $3.3 billion. After the end of Apartheid in 1994, philanthropic interest, capacity, and scope have steadily increased. Over time, South Africa will continue developing programs that create long-term solutions and generate investments that will address systemic issues and produce more significant economic opportunities for many more people in the country.

    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 January 26, 2022