Global Reach: Past Grantees

Wilderness Foundation


It is one of South Africa’s paradoxes that there exists great demand for skilled customer service workers on the one hand and massive unemployment on the other. The unemployment rate among the country’s youth is 51% - more than twice the national unemployment rate. In the Eastern Cape, South Africa’s poorest province and home to 20% of the country’s AIDS orphans, overall unemployment stands at 25%, and 36% among youth. Tourism has become one of the most important sectors in South Africa, creating almost a million jobs since 1994 and overtaking gold exports as an earner of foreign currency. It is projected to grow by an annual 2% until 2020.The Eastern Cape Government has committed to creating 220,000 job by 2020.


The Wilderness Foundation (WF) was established in 1972 to encourage, plan and protect South Africa’s wilderness and create an environmental ethos among current and future leaders. Its founder, the conservation pioneer Dr Ian Player, died in November 2014 and was succeeded in the leadership of the organisation by well-known environmentalist Dr Andrew Muir who has been Managing Director for a number of years. Recognizing that the sustainability of South Africa’s natural reserves is intrinsically dependent on its social and economic sustainability, in 2006, WF developed the Umzi Wethu Vocational Training Academy – an intensive, yearlong boarding program providing at-risk youth with the chance to access livelihood opportunities in nature-based tourism and related industries. The program has demonstrated significant success since its inception, with graduates becoming skilled, employable young adults with secure, well-paying jobs yielding benefits to their families and communities. In order to broaden Umzi Wethu’s successful impact and in response to the lack of motivation and poor literacy among academy applicants, the WF, with EMpower support, established the Siyazenzela Livelihoods Program in September 2011 to specifically address general employment amongst unemployed youth. Since January 2018, Umzi Wethu and Siyazenzela Plus have been combined making the overall programme more targeted and cost effective. Tania Plakonouris who has substantial experience in the conservation and hospitality industries run the Foundation’s Youth Development programme.

Current Grant:

EMpower’s 5TH grant to Wilderness Foundation will support 240 youth (168 women and 72 men) to increase their job readiness and strengthen their resilience and life skills. The grant will also support 150 of the 240 to undertake vocational training in skills that are in high demand in the hospitality and tourism industry. Finally the grant will support a full time counsellor to provide emotional support and counselling as well as review and strengthen the resilience component of the curriculum and develop resilience-specific indicator for the program’s M+E.

Where is Wilderness Foundation?

Primary Location: Port Elizabeth


Funded Since: 2012

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