Underpinning A&K's itineraries is a philanthropic ethos that offers earth-conscious guests a whole new level of holiday euphoria
It all began when A&K Founder and Co-Chairman Geoffrey Kent and his family essentially invented the luxury tented photographic safari, taking guests into the African bush with a few essentials – a Bedford truck, a silver ice bucket and a chandelier (really) – to shoot Africa’s iconic species, not with a gun, but with a camera.
Involving local communities and local authorities on their land and on their terms has long been a part of A&K's ethos, and today it continues to underpin the company's tours and experiences offered in more than 30 countries.
Whether you're a guest on a group itinerary, or a travel company, travel has a noble purpose and comes with responsibility, says Sujata Raman, Regional Managing Director Abercrombie & Kent Australia / Asia Pacific. This responsibility means at the very minimum respecting the planet and its inhabitants, and where possible, improving them. The good news is, more and more travellers are embracing this mentality.
“Travel with A&K improves the lives not only of the traveller but of the people and places to which we travel. We at A&K, and many of our guests, believe that travel comes with a responsibility to make travel sustainable,” Raman says.
In 1982, Jorie Butler Kent, AKP Co-Chairman, together with A&K Founder, Chairman and CEO Geoffrey Kent, launched Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP), A&K’s philanthropic arm. Initially conceived to raise funds for conservation efforts in the Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya, today the entity has a global community of coordinators in Brazil, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Uganda, Peru, Sri Lanka, India, and Southeast Asia, working with partner communities on 46 projects across 24 countries.
AKP is 100% funded by Abercrombie & Kent globally with a donation made to AKP on behalf of every guest travelling.
AKP coordinators are responsible for facilitating the company’s commitment to the local community partners A&K tours visit, and introducing guests to the company’s philanthropic investments.
“We believe we can have the greatest impact through protecting areas of critical ecosystems and iconic species, by focusing on communities on the edges of bio-rich environments,” Raman says. “If these communities, who are the ancestral stewards, the traditional landowners, can see the tangible benefits of preserving these habitats, they are more likely to fully engage in the need to protect their rich habitats, and external assistance is more likely to lead to long-term beneficial outcomes.”
"We believe we can have the greatest impact through protecting areas of critical ecosystems and iconic species, by focusing on communities on the edges of bio-rich environments. If these communities, who are the ancestral stewards, the traditional landowners, can see the tangible benefits of preserving these habitats, they are more likely to fully engage in the need to protect their rich habitats, and external assistance is more likely to lead to long-term beneficial outcomes."
Sujata Raman, Regional Managing Director at Abercrombie & Kent Australia / Asia Pacific
A&K creates opportunities for its guests on its various itineraries to learn about and experience the company’s philanthropic investments, with opportunities to meet and engage with the communities encouraged as part of a journey to many regions.
“A good example of this is our Africa Bike Shop Program, a social enterprise supported by A&K Philanthropy which has developed into a full village experience benefitting both the community and the guest,” Raman says.
The Bike Shop Program, which consists of a total eight women-owned bike shops in Botswana, Egypt, Jordan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, employs five women per bike shop, providing them with the opportunity to support their families through earned income.
Every bike shop in Africa is established as an independent business, with a container of bikes and training offered as the ladies’ starting capital, provided by Sanctuary Retreats. The women sell the bikes, setting aside a percentage for salary, spare parts, business licenses, as well as a portion to pay for their resupply shipments. The bikes are then collected by A&K staff in the US, UK, and Australia, as well as through A&K's bike collection partner, Working Bikes.
The Chipego Bike Shop, which opened in September 2015, was the first bike shop program to launch in Africa. Over the past four years, the Chipego Bike Shop has generated an income of over USD $100,000 from the sale of over 3,000 bicycles, repair services and donations from generous visitors.
As a result of the Bike Shop Program, health care workers can see more patients, more children can make their way to school, middle- to low-income workers can afford to journey to their workplaces, and families can transport food and goods to and from home.
2019 saw a major expansion for the program in Nakatindi, with the launch of a second women-run business, Sishemo Beads, as well as continued work with an existing women’s soap-making group.
The income generated by the combined 25 enterprises’ direct beneficiaries goes on to support over 200 family members and household dependents.
The Nakatindi Community, Zambia
The Bike Shop program and bead-making and soap-making programs exemplify one AKP’s four pillars: enterprise development. AKP also supports farming enterprises, with each enterprise allowing the local people to learn new skills, generate income and support their families and the economy of the wider community.
The other three pillars of AKP include education, by providing learning programs for children and young adults across Africa, India and beyond; health care, helping over 36,000 patients so far through projects supporting clean water, sanitation, medical care in hospitals and maternity wards in partner communities; and conservation, with projects from Africa to Australia and New Zealand, protecting and supporting endangered species including the New Zealand kiwi, Antarctica’s albatross and the Sri Lankan leopard.
Still in the Nakatindi community in Zambia, the number of pupils at Nakatindi Primary School has grown from 480 to over 850 since AKP began its support in 2010.
In an effort to assist long-term education achievement, each pupil graduating from Nakatindi Primary School has also been sponsored with a bicycle from the Chipego Bike Shop, to allow them to continue their Year 10 studies in nearby Livingstone.
AKP supports healthcare in the Nakatindi cmmunity through various health-focused projects including the Nakatindi Health Clinic. The clinic sees an average of 50 patients a day from across Nakatindi and five surrounding communities, while the Nakatindi Maternity Ward, which opened in 2018, has delivered over 120 healthy babies, and provides daily Family Planning, ‘Mama Packs’ with donated newborn items such as blankets, nappies and clothes and pre- and post-natal check-ups. A staff of 20 trained health-care professionals run both the clinic and maternity ward with support from the Ministry of Health.
AKP supports maternity wards in Zambia and Uganda, and more than 20,000 people now have access to clean water through AKP’s Cambodia Clean Water Wells and Safe Water projects.
AKP has also worked on ad-hoc Conservation Education workshops at Nakatindi Primary School since 2014, and recently developed a robust Conservation Club program. Despite their proximity to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, the vast majority of pupils at the Nakatindi Community Primary School have never visited the park, and have not seen the resident rhinos, giraffe, zebra, buffalo and other wildlife. As the future guardians of Zambia’s natural heritage, young people in communities such as Nakatindi are vital to local conservation efforts.
A&K Philanthropy Programs Around the World
AKP’s newest program is in northern Laos, in the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, where the organisation has partnered with Friends-International, a well-known social enterprise working across southeast Asia that lends critical support to street kids and marginalised youth. One of their most important initiatives provides these young people with vocational restaurant training. AKP is supporting the Friends Futures Program which provides restaurant training and helps put trainees in jobs.
In the heart of Luang Prabang, A&K guests visiting the city are encouraged to stop by the Khaiphaen Restaurant, one of the training establishments, to participate in the newly designed ‘Banana Leaves for Laos’ activity.
After meeting restaurant manager, Anousin, a former trainee, and hearing about the program and the positive impact it has on these vulnerable young people, guests join the chef in preparing traditional Laos rice treats. Wrapped in banana leaves, these sweets can be offered to monks during the daily alms-giving ritual. The experience culminates in a traditional Laos lunch in the restaurant.
AKP has also been supporting Peru's ‘Children of the Rainbow’ school in the Sacred Valley since 2008. Peru is one of the world’s lowest ranked countries for reading comprehension, placed by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) at 64 out of 70 countries worldwide. At the 'Children of the Rainbow’ school, more than 220 of the most impoverished, at-risk children in the area receive meals, medical and dental care and an education as a part of the initiative.
AKP recently built a brand new library named “The Castle of Books”, made possible by the generous support of A&K guests. In addition to the library construction, the school also started a reading comprehension plan for the students, their families and the community in general. The library is now stocked with 2,000 books for various reading levels.
A&K guests visiting the Sacred Valley have the privileged opportunity of visiting the AKP supported Children of the Rainbow School, interacting with the students and family members, touring the kitchen, garden and classrooms and gaining insight from A&K’s local Philanthropy Coordinator along the way.
“In order to travel to be sustainable, it must be assessed from a holistic perspective, and balance the holistic costs – financial, environmental and social – against the benefits of tourism," says Raman. "A&K is stepping up to this challenge and working toward a better, more sustainable travel future.”