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How South Africans turned a remote park into an economic engine for locals

Andrew Zaloumis
iSimangaliso Rural Enterprise Accelerator Program
McNulty Prize
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Leveraging opportunities within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the Rural Enterprise Accelerator Program (REAP) was founded by Andrew Zaloumis to support local entrepreneurship. The program provides training, mentorship and seed capital, and is igniting job creation and income-generation in the high-poverty region, while also preserving the local heritage and historic wildlife and biodiversity of South Africa's first UNESCO world heritage site.

Of local population in the surrounding area is formally employed.
Of 650,000 residents surrounding the park live below the poverty line.
Of the region’s population survives on government social grants

An early anti-apartheid activist, Andrew has worked in community development & conservation since the 80s.

Appointed CEO in 2002, Andrew was critical in consolidating parceled land to found the Park, building the first national roads, eradicating malaria in the region, and gaining UNESCO status.

Andrew influenced the World Heritage Act to be the first parks legislation to mandate including local populations.

Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and other prominent South Africans have been outspoken supporters of Andrew’s development of the park, and participated in its inauguration and anti-mining campaigns.

His redevelopment efforts of the region, from species rehabilitation to infrastructure development, have led to an 89% tourism increase.

REAP has been replicated in other rural and semi-urban areas in South Africa and elsewhere.

“National parks can no longer ignore what’s been done here. Long-term sustainable gain with immediate benefits is possible, and it is happening.”

Now, REAP brings access to training, mentorship and credit to the 650,000 locals living in this historically neglected region. The 18-month program supports local black entrepreneurs to develop the skills and gain access to technology that could foster economic growth in the region, from cattle farmers and hair salon owners to tour guides, with mentorship, personal development, and business training. Importantly, entrepreneurs can apply for seed capital in a context where locals have had no access to finance, and where the legacy of apartheid continues to reinforce racial and economic inequities. The program is providing long-term means of income generation and growth to the region, and moreover, it is shifting attitudes and enabling locals to have the agency to control their lives.

The accelerator represents a virtuous cycle: by making the park an economic engine and source of income for the area, iSimangaliso gets community buy-in, funding, and an explosion of services that have allowed tourism to increase 89%.

“I said, ‘I don’t have teachers, I don’t have classrooms, I don’t have materials, how am I going to start a school?’ When I joined REAP, they taught us how to run a business.”

— Thandi Masuku, CEO, Advent Hope Christian School

10% Increase
In black-owned businesses operating in iSimangalso due to REAP
9000 Jobs
Directly generated by iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
Over $400,000
In grants to new businesses from 2013-2015.
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