Empowering Rural Communities Through Ecotourism and Opportunity

Several organizations come together for CARE
Stories of Impact

Empowering Rural Communities Through Ecotourism and Opportunity

June 27, 2024 | by Nolan Galbreath

Belmont’s CARE initiative is revolutionizing economic development and sustainability in Uganda

In its mission to connect, equip and activate agents of change to tackle the world’s most complex challenges, Belmont Innovation Labs joined forces with a host of international organizations to launch the CARE Research Collaborative. Conservation and Rural Enterprise (CARE) is actively proposing a holistic approach, rooted in ecotourism, to address endemic poverty, insufficient infrastructure and degraded environment in the Bwindi and Budungo forest areas of Uganda. 

“At Innovation Labs, we had to determine in what areas we could make the biggest impact with our resources, and the three words we’re beginning to use a lot are childhoods, livelihoods and neighborhoods,” said Josh Yates, Executive Director of Belmont Innovation Labs. “CARE was established to help rural communities where lots of people live but where opportunities are limited in terms of generational poverty. This often leads to situations where the nature around them ends up suffering for various reasons.” 

According to Yates, there are a variety of situations in which the environment can suffer due to poverty in the area, such as locals selling forest land to loggers or being forced to poach animals for food. 

To aid in CARE’s endeavor, Innovation Labs partnered with the University of Surrey in England, Impact Bridges in Canada, Dr. Kim Tan of the Transformational Business Network, Templeton Religion Trust and ACLAIM Africa to create a scalable and replicable framework called the Conversation and Rural Enterprise Model. 

The model, designed by Tan, works with local communities to create a cluster of local ecotourism-centric businesses that provides jobs and economic opportunities for those in the region. However, before these business clusters can be established, CARE must first gather enough data to confidently understand the region and its inhabitants. Therefore, it will establish several social, environmental and economic factors in conservation area communities that can be observed and documented, creating a bank of qualitative data to draw on during future CARE initiatives. Real-time progress reporting will be made possible through publicly available and government-provided data, as well as high resolution satellite imagery. 

Thanks to funding from Templeton Religion Trust, the earth observation efforts via satellite imagery are spearheaded by Dr. Richard Murphy, program director of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Surrey. While earth observation it not a new concept, it has traditionally been used to measure the size of agricultural or forested areas rather than applied to socioeconomic issues — a technological revolution Murphy and his team have begun to lead in the United Kingdom. 

“The model we are developing with Belmont is scalable and something we can roll out to different settings with different applications, and we want to make these technologies available to ecologists across the world,” said Murphy. “We want to make cost effective, timely, independent, verifiable observations that prove our project is thoughtfully constructed and align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” 

At the heart of Belmont Innovation Labs lies collaboration — the belief that brilliant minds with experience and a commitment to do good can make meaningful change. CARE is seeking to not only tell a feel-good story about change but quantify its efforts with figures that make its change implementable across the world. 

“At Belmont, you will hear us talk a lot about hope,” said Yates. “With CARE, we aspire to be agents of hope to vulnerable kids and to those in areas who need help sustaining their livelihood and communities.” 

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