The structured framework provided by Matrix | 25 keeps The AridEden Project focused, embedding the project activity areas for each of the 5Cs that will be put into action over the next ten years.
Many of the project activity areas already exist and simply need to be refined or expanded. Others are completely new or not yet perfectly defined. All are interconnected and contribute to making a lasting impact for the benefit of people, planet, and profit. Wolwedans' Matrix | 25 framework is unpacked below:
The word "consciousness" – the relationship between the mind and the world – makes for an interesting new ‘C’ in the Wolwedans mix. In the context of day-to-day life at Wolwedans, consciousness is “the state of being aware of and responsive to one's surroundings – as an organisation and as individuals, including guests.” This includes what one does and why, how one lives and engages, etc.
Getting the message ‘out there’ by telling authentic stories of our sustainability journey was an opportunity missed (and lost) in the past. Without communication on various channels and platforms The AridEden Project’s primary aim of “inspiring a new way” (to bring about a change of mind and paradigm) will not be met. Going ahead, Wolwedans will drive advocacy with vigour. “Storytelling” – around the Matrix | 25 – will bring sustainability to life through virtual channels.
The “Heart & Home Tour” – a peek into the operational heart (of day-to-day operations) and home (of the people making it happen) – evolved into a thorough ‘educational experience’. Covering topics like water, power, waste, workshops (mechanical, wood, metal and canvas), laundry, stores, staff accommodation, the Desert Academy and importantly the vegetable gardens makes visitors ‘conscious’ about sustainability and self-sufficiency.
I3Lab is an ‘incubator lab’ of sorts and intends to provide an ideal environment in which to grapple with what at first glance are seemingly impossible challenges. To unlock lasting solutions means to be responsive to the complex demands of the present and the future, both at local and a global level. Such a process requires space for reflection, contemplation, and concentration. A place like Wolwedans – right in the heart of the Namib Desert.
Wolwedans is perfectly suited for retreats and will pro-actively address this growing need. Apart from the obvious choices like yoga, photography and mindfulness - the list is endless - Wolwedans’ main focus will be with developing one-week family retreats. All will be connective experiences, not short of creative, intellectual and emotional stimuli.
When it comes to activities/experiences, Wolwedans has been driving a conscious shift (even pre COVID) away from ‘passive consumption’ – a paradigm which drove tourism in the past – towards ‘active participation’. Guests should be more active (physical) and mentally stimulated (conscious). Experiences will be guided by activities that nurture the connection between head, hand and heart (balance), and grouped into ‘classic’ (traditional activities taken along from the past), ‘innovative’ and ‘experimental’ to bridge the transition towards greater balance.
Effective conservation safeguards biodiversity and the integrity of the ecosystem services it provides, which in turn support global needs. It requires the sustainable use of natural resources to maintain the integrity of the ecosphere. Conservation is at the core of Wolwedans. Related activities include sound management of energy, water and waste, habitat expansion and carbon impact reduction, among others.
Conservation levies are collected from every Wolwedans visitor on behalf of the NamibRand Nature Reserve. The latter have been ‘part of the package’ from the start and provided the reserve with a steady income over the years. Levies collected from Wolwedans guests in 25 years accumulated to the staggering amount of 27 million Namibian Dollars. A substantial contribution benefitting biodiversity maintenance and conservation of the arid wildlands of NamibRand.
To reinstate natural migration patterns of the wildlife from east to west, NamibRand has embarked on a bold mission to double the size of the reserve to some 400,000 hectares by 2030/40, creating a vast fence-free ecosphere spanning all the way from the Namib Naukluft Park into the eastern highlands (the Zaris plateau). Wolwedans intends to be part of this exciting vision in collaboration with others and by leveraging external support.
Resource use and how this use is managed at Wolwedans – think energy, water, waste – are very tangible actions in terms of ‘lived and visible’ sustainability, and another field where impact investment is needed. As the business is not in a financial position (post-COVID) to make additional investments – a situation not bound to change for at least another three years – one creative solution is to make renewable power generation a Foundation project (and business).
The Tree Project entails a large-scale indigenous tree and plant nursery as well as a large-scale tree planting project at Wolwedans (irrigated with recycled grey water) – under the theme of CO2 sequestration. At a later stage – once own needs have been met – it would also entail tree and plant sales beyond Wolwedans, generating an income for the Foundation. The Tree Project would also tie in with Horticulture Training set to start at Wolwedans in 2021.
Wolwedans is an active partner in the pursuit of conserving large landscape; in addition to the NamibRand Nature Reserve this includes the Greater Sossusvlei Namib Landscape (GSNL). The Wolwedans Foundation is also looking at landscape rehabilitation and beautification of degraded landscapes and a ranger training programme to benefit the NamibRand and beyond.
People matter; it is the right of every person to have their basic needs met and ensuring that this happens, while also enhancing the well-being of communities, is a fundamental obligation of all. Wolwedans aims to play its part by partnering with communities with whom it has a direct and indirect socio-economic relationship. Community impact interventions will address fair working conditions, local and regional relations, social ventures, social accountability, capacity building support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and ‘happiness’, among others.
The Wolwedans Foundation plans to support the Dabeb Secondary School in Maltahöhe as well as the Windhoek Waldorf School. Both will feed into the vocational training programme. Wolwedans plans to facilitate Level 2 (vocational) training at both schools, and then take on ‘hopefuls’ for Level 3 training at the Desert Academy. Wolwedans also put in place the Wolwedans Education Assistance Fund, with the aim to provide finacial support to underprivileged learners.
Small enterprise development will be an integral objective of the planned Entrepreneur & Creativity Centre, providing people an opportunity to become part of the Desert Based Economy, discover their hidden talents and establish a second (personal) leg to stand on. Enterprise development is not limited to the production of goods / produce, it can and will be expanded to include service delivery too.
The Wolwedans Desert Academy and NICE (the Namibian Institute of Culinary Arts, located in Windhoek), have been actively engaged in hospitality training since 2007, the qualifications being ‘Food & Beverage Service’ as well as ‘Commercial Cookery’ (Chef training). Some 350 trainees have graduated to date through the Wolwedans Foundation with a national Level 3 Qualification.
2021 saw the introduction of a new course - in Horticulture - which is currently being piloted and pursuing accreditation.
Going ahead, Wolwedans plans to expand the vocational training offering even further to include Facility Maintenance and perhaps even convert Wolwedans Village into a Training Campus one day.
RuralRevive is a medium- to long-term development and community revitalisation project to take shape in Maltahöhe. This small town situated some 180 kms East of Wolwedans is on Wolwedans' weekly supply route and constitutes the closest community to Wolwedans and NamibRand. Phase one will be a Village Laundry providing services to Wolwedans, followed by Horticulture (production and training) and more.
Tying in with a conscious ‘work | life balance’, providing decent board and lodging facilities as well as recreation and sport opportunities play an important role at Wolwedans. These bring happiness, create a fun environment, and facilitate the celebration of cultural diversity.
Conducted in a holistic and 'conscious' way, commercial trade can be a positive contributor to a more sustainable world. Within this dimension Wolwedans addresses issues that impact our financial sustainability and our capacity to provide a source of income for people who depend on it, as well as our ability to reinvest back into initiatives in the other 5Cs. It also includes commercial activities that can be launched from our base, and those developed in partnership in the surrounding area.
What started with four Igloo tents pitched atop a dune plateau in 1995 has grown to become ‘The Wolwedans Collection’, comprising three camps, a Suite and private Villa. 56 beds (and growing with the introduction of StarBeds in 2021) as well as a wide range of guest activities and services provide work and a sustainable income for some 100+ staff.
Delivering a quality hospitality experince through our lodges and camps forms the core of our business; it is the commercial engine which keeps this ‘micro economy’ going. This also requires a diverse supply chain to 'feed' it, including services, activity offering, production, maintenance and manufacturing. The Desert Based Economy (DBE) will unpack this big parcel of needs (both at Wolwedans and beyond) into its individual components, creating small goods and service delivery enterprises that flourish independently.
Village stays at Wolwedans Village will include a small hotel and guesthouse, which will serve as “living classroom” training facilities (with primary focus on housekeeping) and provide adequate accommodation for a new market segment of tourists (extended stays at lower budget). The separate complex would be positioned on the periphery of the village and comprise of six en-suite rooms of reasonable standard (say 3-4 star).
Growing vegetables locally and in close proximity to where they are consumed reduces the carbon footprint related to food miles and is a concept in need of scaling up. Helping others to engage in Horticulture through training and knowledge transfer is hence a primary aim. Apart from training at various locations and developing organic gardeners, the main impact lies with advocating and replicating the idea. Food security, economic activity, carbon reduction, and a heightened sense of consciousness makes Horticulture an ideal 5C intervention.
Wolwedans needs a third commercial (for profit) leg to stand on, so when tourists don’t arrive (COVID, Ebola and other ‘disruptions’), the commercial wheels can keep spinning. The Wolwedans Clothing Company – registered 15 years ago – will be developed over time to offer said ‘third leg’ through merchandise production, including uniforms, accessories, and leisure wear.
Celebrating commonality within a world of cultural diversity is what nurtures mutual understanding; this understanding coupled with respecting our uniqueness and differences is crucial to humanity’s future. Drawing on our uniqueness we enrich each other and contribute to a greater common good. Wolwedans strives to strengthen inter-cultural relationships through understanding and honours Namibia’s cultural heritage while raising awareness of and celebrating the beauty of cultural diversity.
The Wolwedans Way is our “Corporate Soul”. It encompasses our organisational purpose, culture, identity, language, and values while connecting our history – reminding us where we come from – with the future mission of where we want to go. Led with a human focus, it energises collective motivation, aspiration, and ownership.
Visual arts will be an integral part of Wolwedans: the Arts & Crafts Centre will be ‘home’ to an art studio and gallery; ‘Artists in residence’ will see local and international artists spending time at Wolwedans; and art classes will be introduced for aspiring creatives and the team to discover hidden talents and allow creative expression to come to life.
In addition to the choir and drumming that already firmly established at Wolwedans, we plan to introduce new genres like spoken word, theatre and whatever by whomever wants to be performed. Performing arts unlock creative imagination, touch the heart, and connect people without using words like no other medium can.
Wolwedans hosts an annual Cultural Festival, which although an 'internal affair' in the past, will be open for guests to enjoy as well going forward. The event coincides with the Winter Games – where all can join in sports, games, and a whole range of fun activities – as well as the Winter Cup, bringing together soccer teams from the surrounding area. The Festival has grown in popularity such that it may well be ‘the’ annual Wolwedans event!
Heritage entails the preservation and rehabilitation of built and natural heritage, such as the restoration of historic buildings / structures in the area. It also includes recognising cultural heritage whereby we honour the traditional customs of Namibia's people.