Boosting local economies: building business skills in Namibia
Namibia stands to gain a great deal from international tourism, but there’s a fine line between empowerment and exploitation. Lacking the commercial skills and business infrastructure to profit from tourism, some Namibian communities risk missing out on opportunities for economic growth. VSO volunteer Pratap Sinha is working with outside investors and local people to guarantee sustainable development.
A journey into the unknown
After applying through iVO, VSO’s volunteering partner in India, Pratap was selected for a placement in Namibia, working with a community-based Enterprise Support Project. “It was my first journey abroad and I had dreamed of going to Africa since my university days,” he says. “The fourteen-hour flight was an experience in itself. At first sight, Namibia looked just like what I had seen on Google Earth – vast, yellow desert and not a single building in sight, even as we came in to land.”
But first impressions soon gave way to the busy routine of everyday life. Pratap’s main responsibility is to provide technical assistance to rural communal conservancies – legally defined communal areas with a proper constitution to protect the natural resources of the area and generate benefits for the community – to improve their livelihood through income-generating activities based on eco-tourism, crafts and natural products. The project aims to build capacity and transfer skills to beneficiaries and staff of partner NGOs through the work of volunteers.
An essential role
“My work covers the Erongo and South Kunene regions, which occupy almost one fifth of the total area of Namibia,” says Pratap. “My role is to develop business plans, strategies, financial support and joint ventures that will bring revenue into local communities. The main source of income in the region is joint-venture partnerships in lodges, which are arranged between conservancies and entrepreneurs or international hotel chains. Since I arrived, we have facilitated joint-venture agreements that are expected to create around 150 jobs directly, and around 500 more in supporting industries.”
“My job involves a lot of coordination, communication and facilitation,” he adds. “I have been especially interested to learn more about Namibian culture as part of an external election commission conducting democratic elections to choose committee members from the local community. Life moves in its own tempo here, which is relaxing and challenging at the same time because we’re keen to change lives and transfer skills. I feel there are so many opportunities for development here. We’re making real progress while respecting the values and traditions of the communities we work with, and we even have visitors from other countries who come to study the conservancy model and replicate it elsewhere.”
A lasting impression
“The experience has been fantastic,” concludes Pratap. “I have formed great friendships with Namibian people and with volunteers from many different organisations. This international community of friends makes life incredibly spicy and exciting. The sheer diversity of it has broadened my outlook on life, and I will be taking a new attitude with me back to India. My time here has changed my life and I will do it again.”
Lacking the commercial skills to profit from tourism, some Namibian communities risk missing out on opportunities for economic growth.
VSO volunteer Pratap Sinha applies his business expertise to ensure that local people are actively involved in crucial commercial partnerships.
Jobs are being created and investment is coming into the Erongo and South Kunene regions.