This month, we welcomed our latest group of participants on our Unearthed Community Leaders Program. The unearthed community leaders program is a funded program undertaken in partnership with the Wilderness Leadership School and our partners in the Netherlands, the Kenchaan Foundation. The program aims to alleviate conservation challenges around protected natural areas by dealing with important social challenges such as poverty and unemployment. The Unearthed Community Leaders Program takes young, talented people from rural communities adjacent to protected areas and nature reserves and helps them craft a new future for themselves as social entrepreneurs. Creating their own livelihoods and supporting their communities. What we have learned from this program is nothing short of amazing. 

Our seven candidates recently returned from a five-day wilderness trail with the Wilderness Leadership School followed by their first business training sessions where we got to explore the great ideas, dreams and ambitions of our new group .....we were not disappointed. When you meet a group of young people like this, you quickly realise how much untapped potential is sitting, waiting to be unearthed in some of our communities. 

Meet our latest Unearthed Community Leaders

Masakhane Hlatshwayo lives just next door Mkhuze Game Reserve (part of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site) and has an amazing business idea around starting a "Micro-Cinema" where she can not only provide light-hearted entertainment for people living in nearby areas but more importantly, a tool for exposing children to all sorts of new concepts through screening of documentaries and educational films. 

"After the trail experience, I'm a different person, I realised I'm actually quite fearless and ready to take on the world. I have skills I can use, I want to be an inspiration for people in my community" 

Qiniso Ngobese is a young man with a lot of passion. Qiniso's primary business idea revolves around addressing food security in his community but also has great ambitions to start a non-profit organisation that helps teenage boys develop into well rounded young men, addressing the need for positive male role models in families without a father figure. 

"Ultimately, I want to be able to provide for my family, but also want to be an ambassador, someone people can look up to, a role model" 

Gcinile Mhlongo is a bead worker, but no ordinary bead worker, her crafts are carefully designed and used by young women in some of the most high profile Zulu ceremonies, including the annual Mkhosi woMhlanga or the Zulu reed dance, which is a centuries-old tradition held at the eNyokeni Royal Palace in Zululand. 

"I want to grow my business but my real passion for beadwork comes from showcasing my culture, as a young Zulu princess, It's important for people to know where we came from, keep our culture and heritage alive."

Sphesihle Ncube comes across as a very quiet shy person until she lights up the entire room with her huge smile and passion. Sphe has a small hairdressing business and aims to expand her business into a safe place for women in her community to "just feel pampered" for a change (not something easily available in rural communities) but like so many of our other participants, Sphe is passionate about being a positive role model and inspiring others. 

"I loved every mile of the trail experience, it helped me get my head around what I need to do to manage my business, but also showed me the sacredness of nature for the first time" 

Slindile Mthembu is one of those people you would bet on after knowing her for five minutes. Slindile runs a small fashion design business and oozes enthusiasm and passion for her craft, and she's good at what she does! The fashion industry is a huge contributor to climate change and Slindile wants to explore ways to expand her fashion range using more sustainable materials and up-cycling old clothing. 

"I want people to see that they can make their own success, you do not need to wait for someone to offer you a job" 

Pinky Mlambo is a natural entrepreneur and wants to help grow her family restaurant business which focuses on traditional Zulu food. As a going concern, Pinky is keen to take the business to the next level and inspire young women! 

"Learning about business, finance and handling the numbers is something I need to learn to grow my family business" 

Bonisiwe Mdletshe literally admits to waking up in the morning thinking about her next great cake creation. Bonisiwe is not just a baker, but an artist. Her cake and baking business supports a range of community projects including providing bread for free to a local orphanage and training other young women in the art of baking. You have to see her work to believe it! 

"I gained so much knowledge on the trail, I have learned to communicate with nature, use it for inspiration, I feel like I'm a new person"