Meet our Members: Basecamp Explorer Expands Positive Impact in Kenya
Basecamp Explorer and Saruni join forces to expand conservation and community mission in Kenya.
Thanks to this significant coming together, Basecamp Explorer Kenya will expand its reach to Samburu in Northern Kenya, adding to its existing circuit of eco-luxury safari camps in Naboisho Conservancy and the Masai Mara National Reserve. Importantly, it will also become a member of Lemek Conservancy, Mara North Conservancy, Kalama Conservancy and Sera Conservancy, thus increasing its direct financial support to tens of thousands more members of local communities.
Here we speak to Jeremiah Mutisya, CEO Basecamp Explorer & Saruni camps, about aims and aspirations in the 4Cs — Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce — considering this exciting move.
How would you describe the Basecamp Explorer ethos? How does coming together with Saruni fit in with this?
This partnership has been possible because, since the beginning of both businesses, the values have been the same. We’re both founded on what matters, which is sustainability. It’s about how people operate with the environment; how to protect the environment while empowering communities. We have previously spoken about People, Planet, Profit; now, since becoming a member of The Long Run, we talk about the 4Cs — Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce.
At Basecamp Explorer, we’ve always thought of our community and landowners as partners. Right from the beginning, people have been our priority. Visitors come to see wildlife, but that wildlife cannot exist without the support of those that live next to and among it. If we didn’t do anything other than getting tourists in and out to see wildlife, there would be no environment left in the future. Our role is to facilitate coexistence.
Together, Basecamp and Saruni have the potential to expand positive impact. We now have nine camps throughout Kenya and employ 250 people.
What are you most looking forward to from this partnership with Saruni?
It’s exciting to continue the good news and story of both businesses but this time together so we can make the impact stronger. Basecamp Explorer is very well established in the Mara and Saruni’s camps in the north, the conserved land in Samburu, adds variety to the portfolio. The region is almost ten times greater than that of the Mara. There are fewer people, and challenges are very different. In the Mara, the challenge is human-wildlife conflict and coexistence. In the north, it’s about facilitating the protection of the abundant landscape and diversifying income streams for local communities.
The last couple of years has been incredibly hard on the tourism industry, communities, and nature conservation in countries like Kenya. How have you adapted to ensure resilience for people and wildlife?
One thing we’ve realised is the value of a broad partner network. Through these solid networks with like-minded people, whether other businesses or former guests, we have been able to weather Covid-19. We need to continually build these networks to have a support base to lean on when needed.
Another critical learning has been the importance of our close relationship with communities. When you build trusting two-way relationships with thousands of landowners, you sit around the table to work things out together when crisis strikes. Where there is trust, there are solutions, and through that, crisis can be averted. The community conservancy model must be flexible to be resilient, but it can only be flexible if you have solid relationships and trust.
Innovation is another vital part of resilience. It’s important to always look beyond your main income stream to see other opportunities. The Basecamp Maasai Brand, a community-based handicraft workshop empowering disadvantaged women, using their talent and skill, is an excellent example of this. It could continue to raise funds for communities while tourism paused.
Basecamp Explorer will now be a member of Lemek Conservancy, Mara North Conservancy, Kalama Conservancy and Sera Conservancy. What are some of the conservation/ biodiversity highlights of these conservancies?
Our reach in terms of land conserved grows from the current 100,000 acres of conserved land (Naboisho and Pardamat) to 300,000 acres (additional for Lemek, Mara North, Sera and Kalama conservancies), the latter being where Saruni currently operates.
Kalama and Sera Conservancy are in Samburu, Northern Kenya’s leading safari destination, home to several unique species not found in other national reserves in Kenya. Some of the distinctive wildlife species found in Samburu include black rhino, Reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, Grevy’s Zebra, Gerenuk and Oryx (the last five being the special northern five).
Building trust with local communities has always been at the heart of Basecamp Explorer. Can you explain what this means and why it’s so integral to your mission? Will this be hard to pick up in areas you haven’t worked before?
Building trust is so important; it’s the fibre of everything. Only when you have trust, when you believe in the community, and the community believes in you, do you have a sustainable business model. Our local communities are also the experts — they have the know-how, local knowledge, and solutions. Working with new communities will not be hard because it is so integral to what we do, but of course, it will be a new learning curve, and it’s never simple.
Saruni and Basecamp share a similar philosophy about hiring female guides and rangers and providing career advancement. Can you tell us why this is a priority?
Across all our camps, about 70 per cent of management are (local) women. Through the Maasai Brand Project, we work with 160 women at the in-camp beading workshop. We’ve realised that empowering women is critical. The more you empower women, the more stable a family unit is and the better cared for that family unit, or community are. It also means that the whole community is fully aware of what’s happening in the local area, rather than relying on men only to relay the news.
An impressive 90 per cent of Saruni and Basecamp employees in lodges and camps come from the local communities. What advice would you give to other lodge owners looking to achieve high local employment rates?
First, you must believe it’s possible. It’s easy to give excuses but find case studies of others that have done it and draw hope and inspiration from them.
It’s also essential to make working with locals part of your vision and business model. It will make you stronger, not weaker, and this imperative must come from the top.
How has working closely with communities changed during the pandemic?
We’ve grown closer together because openness has been fundamental to overcoming challenges. We’ve become more aware of each other, our strengths and weaknesses, and there’s greater understanding through that.
A significant focus of the Basecamp Explorer Foundation is the Pardamat Community Conservation Area. Could you tell us what this is and the plans?
Pardamat is the only Mara Conservancy premised on a dual use model, which means the community members do not have to leave their land and re-locate elsewhere to create space for tourism and wildlife. Over 850 community landowners have legally registered their 26,000 hectares of land as a wildlife area while remaining to live and work on it. This dual usage is unique but critical if the Mara will be a working ecosystem for both people and wildlife in the future.
Soon, Koiyaki guiding school will have a new home in Pardamat, renamed The Wildlife Tourism College of Maasai Mara (WTC). In addition to responsible safari guiding skills and management certification, it will offer diploma in camp and hospitality management, diploma in wildlife management, and diploma in environmental management — the latest high-level training needed for future employment.
In 2020, Basecamp Explorer joined The Long Run; how has this helped your holistic vision and journey so far?
Being part of The Long Run provides us with a more global perspective. It helps us become more open-minded and hear first-hand what like-minded colleagues are doing worldwide.
We’re early in our Long Run journey, but we aim for Global Ecosphere Retreat certification. Technical support from The Long Run team has helped push our reporting to the next level. This makes us aware of where we are and where we could go. It also allows us to communicate what we’re doing internally. Employee training has been a huge benefit, too. Now everyone in the organisation understands what sustainability means and has targets to work towards.
See HERE to find out more about Leopard Hill, Basecamp Explorer’s Long Run Fellow Member.