Written by: Sarah Hardin White
I’ll never forget the first question Basecamp Explorer and Basecamp Explorer Foundation Founder Svein Wilhelmsen asked me via skype as I sat nervously in a quiet study room overlooking New York City’s Washington Square Park:
“I reviewed your CV. This role is yours if you want it, but why do you?”
Instantly relaxing due to his Norwegian bluntness and welcoming demeanor, I scrapped the more professional answer I’d prepared and gave the truth. After almost two years in business school, reading one corporate sustainability & international development case study after another, I was bored.
I didn’t know exactly why I’d applied for a 10-month impact fellowship with Basecamp Explorer Foundation’s partner Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association – particularly since I’d never stepped foot in Sub-Saharan Africa and my knowledge of large mammals came exclusively from David Attenborough – but I was craving the opportunity to see that work unfold in real life.
Luckily, that was all he needed to hear. 4 ½ years later, I am still discovering the Maasai Mara. The intricate relationship between the precious wildlife and the vibrant local community provides an endless platform for learning, adventure, and meaningful contribution.
Our new Education Safari was born out of the experience and feedback from thousands of guests, partners, and me, who kept returning for more. It has been sketched on the back of a dinner napkin, edited on long-haul flights, re-conceptualized virtually across three continents, and fine-tuned huddling in the back row during a windy game drive. We envisioned the experience through the eyes of a 14-year-old, a solo female adult, a first-time (and repeat) visitor, a retired couple, a University Professor…you get the idea.
As I write, I am waiting to board my flight back to the US following an overdue trip to finalize this program and its interconnected components. Throughout it, I saw firsthand that when Covid-19 brought international tourism to a halt, progress in the Mara continued unfazed, thanks in large part to Basecamp Explorer and Basecamp Explorer Foundation. Roads and bridges were vastly improved, and fences that once kept wildlife out were brought down allowing animals to roam freely and populations to flourish. Natural springs and dams were restored to give communities access to safe drinking water, and there were noticeable reductions in trash accumulating in settlements due to expanded recycling programs. New tourism offerings were under development, and morale for the future was high among guides, camp staff, and women and men of all ages.
Most critically, the livelihood improvement projects envisioned weren’t delayed. In fact, they became reality. On August 27th, over 1,000 community members joined together to bless the initial opening of the Wildlife Tourism College of Maasai Mara, a key solution for vital job creation in the region.
On an academic level, the activities I’ve just outlined touch on almost all of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including climate action, life on land, clean water, gender equality, responsible consumption, education, and decent work.
On a human one, they are generation-changing.
This immersive six-day program is designed to showcase, expose, highlight contrasts, and present development failures alongside successes with full transparency. To see more about the trip click here
If you spend time after awe-inspiring sunset and farm-to-table dinner writing down critical questions to ask your dedicated host the next morning, we have succeeded.
Best put: The Education Safari invites guests into their own impact fellowship.
Just as Svein demonstrated to me years ago, creating lasting change in the Mara is not answering if you could, it is finding a truthful answer to why you want to.
I can’t wait to hear your answers.