There is a growing expectation of brands to exist beyond merely a profit motive: they need to display a greater purpose and ‘do good’. Doing good should include an acknowledgement of the communities in which they operate.
One brand which has long been cognisant of this need to incorporate local communities in their operations is luxury safari hospitality brand, The Thornybush Collection. Consisting of a portfolio of luxury four and five star lodges and wildlife camps situated in the 14 000-hectare game rich Thornybush Private Nature Reserve and the Sabi Sand Reserve, the Thornybush Collection established Thornybush Community Projects, a non-profit organisation, in 2005. Its objective is to nurture and uplift surrounding local communities where many of its staff members come from.
The Thornybush Community Projects currently focuses its efforts in two villages situated adjacent to its lodges: Uthla and its smaller neighbouring community, Dixie where it supports two community gardens.
Sustainable development and lasting change are the two primary pillars of all the projects supported by Thornybush Community Projects. Each project aims to empower local communities and those involved with its projects by providing them with the necessary tools and skills to lift themselves out of poverty and provide food security.
Each project is intended to be self-sustaining once the necessary funding and support have been provided.
Furthermore, it is intended that each project employs a growing number of community members in the future.
A good example of a sustainable garden project is Thousand Herbs and Vegetable Garden, situated near Hoedspruit in the village of Uthla on land adjacent to Mangangana High School. The garden grows fresh produce which is sold to safari lodges in the area as well as supplying the nearby school with fresh vegetables free of charge.
From the inception of the garden Thornybush Community Projects, along with a number of other organisations, has supported the garden with business strategy, financial and administrative support, logistics, sales and infrastructure development. Although mentorship continues to be offered, the garden is now financially sustainable. It manages all its own customer relationships as well as its daily operational functions. Critically, it has managed to bridge the gap between a community owned business and the safari lodge industry with its quality fresh produce offering, in the process becoming a flagship NGO project.
Thousand Herbs and Vegetable Garden has worked hard to ensure it maintains and continues to meet the high standards required of its clients, many of whom are five star establishments based in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. The agribusiness currently turns over close to R300 000 a year and is profitable.
The Thornybush Community Projects second garden is situated adjacent to Hananani Primary School, in the village of Dixie, located close to theSabi Sand Private Game Reserve. The school accommodates around 225 primary school children. Together with donations from Empowers Africa, DSA Pays it Forward and the Buffelshoek Trust, and the physical assistance of students from the University of Arizona, Thornybush Community Projects was able to build a fully fenced new shaded garden for the school with a submersible pump and water tank and drip irrigation.
The first plantings of spinach, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cabbages, amongst others, took place in February 2015. From the outset the garden employed two local community members to manage the planting, watering and packing of vegetables.
Today, the Hananani School Garden produces between 10 to 15 kilograms of fresh produce each week which is used to provide a daily meal to the learners. Produce grown includes peppers, carrots, onions, spinach and beetroot.
In addition to supporting the garden, Thornybush Community Projects also supports the Hananani Primary School with monthly electricity costs, wifi connectivity for the school’s media’s centre, facilitates different volunteer programmes to assist with aesthetic projects around the school, and provides potential donors who wish to help uplift the school, with appropriate access.
Thornybush Collection guests are frequent visitors to the garden and the school. One of the biggest challenges facing the school was a shortage of classrooms. In 2018 one guest felt so strongly about the problem that he formulated a solution: converting two shipping containers into new classrooms for the school.
The converted shipping containers – as well as all the materials required to complete the project – were shipped to South Africa from Seattle in March 2019 after almost a year of careful planning. The two new attractive looking classrooms have provided the school with much needed additional space to alleviate over-crowding.
A full time project manager, fully funded by The Thornybush Collection, is responsible for overseeing and project managing all projects. The current incumbent has specialised in enterprise development and has a wealth of experience working with rural community structures.