I'm happy to introduce you all to Laura Marano, the driving force behind Green-Safari, a social enterprise that offers volunteer-tourism packages in Tsavo East, Kenya. With Green-Safari, not only do you get to experience the beautiful fauna and flora of one of Kenya's largest national parks, along with a stint at the Coast for some sea and sand – you also engage with local communities and support local social enterprises which contribute to the local community infrastructure (e.g. schools, sanitation, farming practices). Furthermore, Green-Safari is working on making the beauty of our wilderness accessible to all, no matter your abilities or diverse needs.
In this interview, Laura shares how she's gotten her social business off the ground. It's an inspiring story of how you can turn a negative situation into a fulfilling career by pursuing your passions, taking initiative and believing in yourself.
What inspired you to set up Green-Safari?
I feel that Green-Safari has been the project I have been preparing for since I was a child. My father has worked in the tourism industry for most of my life. Spending all my holidays in hotels on the Kenyan coast and attending a Pan-African tourism trade-fair when I was only 10yrs old left a lasting impression on me. My academic background in International Development, partnered with my experience in community engagement, has skilled me up to the point where I feel ready to do what I always dreamed of … starting a social business driven by its impact on the environmental and local communities, not just by profit.
After being made redundant by the British Red Cross I started a social enterprise, Independent Voices for Engagement (IVE), which gave me the confidence to explore something new and bold. It gave me a taste of being self-employed and a self-starter. So I wrote a proposal to a large hotelier investment company in Kenya to develop their corporate social responsibility through ecotourism. 2 months later they offered me a flight to Mombasa where I did more research, met with key partners and developed a more thorough report.
It's almost a year since then and Green-Safari.com is now live and kicking. I’ve managed to combine my passion for community development with my skills in developing partnerships, in Kenya where I was born and grew up. In the long run, our voluntourism holidays will cater to people of all abilities and with diverse needs. We are working with our partners to expand Tsavo Buffalo Camp to include wheelchair-accessible bandas. In fact, our first customers from outside the UK will be a Danish group of with hearing impairments. The beauty and richness of Africa should not just be for the privileged and fortunate to explore but for anyone who respects diversity and values wildlife.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
Taking the leap into being a social entrepreneur without the financial security of paid employment.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
I've developed the business gradually whist working part-time. I’ve recently been accepted on a HeadStart programme at Nottingham Trent University and it's the best start to the New Year that I could have expected! Experienced business experts will be supporting me to develop marketing strategies and sales forecasts. As I don't have a business background, this new opportunity means that Green-Safari is now definitely on the path of greatness.
Talking about my business plan to anyone who is willing to listen has been really helpful. They've all been encouraging and I've discovered the breadth of the social business world. After researching the theories and debates led by Prof. Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize 2006) I was fully converted. I knew this is what I wanted to do. Then I met Liam Black by chance at a small Social Enterprises Award ceremony in Nottingham. Hearing about his background and achievements inspired me to put my fears aside and believe in my abilities.
What has your greatest achievement been?
Launching the Green-Safari website!
Where will you be in 10 years?
I’ll have run a full marathon, hopefully in Ethiopia, and developed a successful model for how small rural communities can build a sustainable livelihood. Oh, and be a proud owner of a sailboat!
How does Africa inspire you?
Africa is brimming with opportunity, innovation and ingenuity. I am inspired by the resilience and resourcefulness of my forefathers. Africa runs in my veins and beats in by heart.
Anything else you'd like to share?
"I believe that we can create a world without poverty because it is not the poor that create poverty."
— Prof. Muhammad Yunus
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
Our winter offer, to escape the blues, is still available: 8 days to relax with some volunteering built into your itinerary. Go on safari in Tsavo East National Park and then stay in a five-star resort in Malindi, by the Indian Ocean, with flights and all local transport included. All for only £939!
We also have a really exciting partnership with Inspirational Volunteer Journeys (IVJ) – an Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) accredited training provider. We’ll be offering an ILM level 3 qualification delivered in Kenya (Nairobi and Gede), with the added bonus of a Green-Safari experience, included in the training programme.
In the next month, we will be promoting our bespoke packages for Universities and Research Institutes. If you are looking for a place to do your primary research and to be the first to publish work in an under-researched part of Kenya then, this offers a perfect solution.
In the next year, we aim to be the first wheelchair-accessible safari camp in Tsavo. We promise to make reasonable adjustments and ensure our volunteering projects meet different physical abilities.
Images courtesy of Laura Marano
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