With misinformation and greenwashing rife in tourism, Behind The Green takes it back to BASICS. Back to storytelling and human connection. Hear from the visionaries and teams behind the world’s leading sustainable stays. As well as inspiring experts that help us to REIMAGINE, RESET, and REINVENT tourism.
Written by Rebecca Woolford
There is no sustainability for tourism without gender equality.
As one of the sectors with the highest share of women employed and entrepreneurs, tourism of the right kind is a beautiful and effective tool to unlock their potential. A subject I’m fiercely passionate about is how tourism can bring women and girls equal opportunities in education, development, and access to resources; and as a result, reduce exploitation and discrimination.
In tourism, we need women, in all their diversity, involved at all levels. Not just in housekeeping.
Why? Because women and girls…
- … build community, preserve traditions and protect ecology.
- … experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
- … bring better outcomes for the environment when present in decision-making and planning.
Let’s look at one very specific example. Wildlife Rangers in Kenya.
The world of wildlife protection in Kenya has long been dominated by men. It is arguably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. But times are a-changing, and this is good news, not just for women. For everyone.
Borana Lodge, a rhino conservation success story in Kenya, is at the heart of the movement and I couldn’t believe my luck when Milli the general manager agreed to speak with me.
Milli, General Manager at Borana Lodge
Milli is a special woman in my eyes. She dedicated two decades of her life to working in brutal war zones and some of the harshest climates on the planet as a contractor for United Nations projects.
From Afghanistan to South Sudan, she describes these environments as ‘scorched’ in every sense of the word. The blazing sun, barren sands, bombs, and unimaginable scenes – this difficulty and brutality sparked Milli to seek a new path.
One which nurtured her soul and restored her belief in humanity. A restorative journey.
I’m pleased to share that Milli found peace in her home country, where today she finds herself as the general manager of Borana Lodge, a rhino conservation success story.
I hope you enjoy this insightful and moving interview!
When I first read your bio, Milli, I have to admit I felt a little intimidated. For someone who has seen so much, I thought to myself, Where on earth do I begin? We’re going to speak about Borana Lodge soon enough. But can we begin by acknowledging those two decades? How did it lead you to where you are today?
“Thank you, Rebecca. It’s lovely to be here talking about something that is meaningful to my life, that has impacted my life, and that continues to impact me every day.
My everyday decisions are based on those last two decades. Working in a war zone takes out of you everything you ever thought you were as a person.
It demands more out of you than you could ever fully give as a person. Every day you’re living in mortal fear. You do not know whether something is going to hit you. You’re trying to help people on the ground. Sometimes you’re helpless, and sometimes you win. It breaks your heart when you make progress and then 10 steps backward.
You’ll work in a place and help people that are suffering. Two years later, they’ve gone back to a full-scale war. You’ll put in five years of work in one location and lose it all overnight. But somebody has to do it. People need to go in there and just try and help as much as they can until you’ve emptied your stuff like I did.
The older I grew, the less I had to give. I’d been doing it for 20 years and my last location was Afghanistan and that was brutal. 50+ degrees during summer and minus 20 in the winter on top of everything else that was going on. And the breaking point for me was in 2020 during COVID. Our normal schedule is: you work in this brutal atmosphere, but then after a few weeks you go home to rejuvenate. But the lockdown meant that we were stuck for a full year in it. We couldn’t go anywhere.
My birth country is Kenya, where Borana Lodge is located. So, after those two decades of working outside my own country, I decided to return home.
After spending six months just healing – as I had a broken leg in Afghanistan – I decided to look for work in my home country. My first degree was in hospitality so when I sent out some messages that I was looking for work Borana Lodge was the first to come back to me. Since then I’ve never looked back!”
Explore Borana Lodge’s top tips, need-to-knows, and sustainability efforts all here.
That gives me goosebumps to hear that Milli. For you, coming back to Kenya and finding Borana Lodge felt like you had come home. After two challenging decades, sometimes taking 10 steps forward and then having 20 steps back – I can’t imagine that level of difficulty. So it’s extra beautiful to hear that you’ve finally found peace at Borana Lodge.
“I sometimes still can’t believe this is my job. I get paid to be somewhere that not only feels like home, but in an environment where we can see the positive, real-time impact. I sometimes just stand outside and breathe in the air.
Even today I still struggle to sit through a full meal because I’m not used to it. 20 years of eating on the go, on the run, or in a bunker, hiding somewhere from gunshots, does this to you.”
Thank you, Milli, for sharing, I appreciate it probably isn’t easy. I’d like to talk about Borana Lodge next… Kenya’s most successful rhino conservation story. Wow, what a headline. What’s the secret ingredient, the difference, that resulted in such an outcome in this part of Kenya?
“What made Borana such a conservation success story goes way beyond counting rhinos. It’s the policies in place, it’s the practices, and our core operations that are based on the Long Run’s 4Cs.
You cannot just work on conservation and totally disregard everything else around it. It will not be a success story. You will have a weak link.
You have to involve the community, the local communities within that location, because that’s who’s posing the danger to those animals in the first place.
Borana has invested not only in conservation, but it has also invested in the local communities.
It has gone out of its way to empower the local communities so that they never have to think of rhino poaching as a way of making a living.
The visionaries of Borana put their all into preserving these animals that were fast going extinct. They put their very souls into this landscape to make sure that the rhinos were protected from poachers. And the technology, infrastructure, training, and resources that have been put in place have created this success story.
Each rhino is treated as an individual, counted every day by our wildlife rangers. Each one of them is looked after individually as if it was a child in kindergarten. Borana always ensures there is food for them, and that nobody will harm them.
The poaching of rhinos is solely for the horn, used in Chinese medicine. It is such a sophisticated international syndicate that these poachers are still, in some parts of Africa, better armed than the rangers, better armed than any security.
These poachers are savvy, often with better technology, they are able to find the rhinos or elephants before you even know they were there. So, another piece of the puzzle is that Borana Lodge has heavily invested in the security, tracking, and protection of these endangered animals to the point where the poachers just leave them alone.”
Rates to stay at Borana Lodge, the need-to-knows, and guest reviews can all be found here.
Rangers at Borana Lodge, Kenya
It’s heartwarming to hear how much Borana Lodge has invested in not just money, but time, in order to protect these rhinos. I hope this shows people that not all safari lodges are equal. I also read that Borana trained and empowered 13 female rangers, who are now the first line of defense.
Research shows us that women’s leadership and participation in projects at any level result in better outcomes for both the climate and nature. Yet women are still significantly under-represented. What’s your perspective and experience on this topic?
“Women play a very important role at the grassroots level and upwards. Women have always been tied to the home and this is where sustainability starts from.
They see and experience first-hand the impacts of not having enough food because the land is ravaged.
The women understand better…
- … what it is like to look for clean drinking water in this part of the world.
- … the effects of not having wholesome natural food for their children to eat.
- … what it is like to have drains and pipes clogged with plastic waste.
- … the impact of chemicals that pollute the soils and water.
From my own experience, women react better, learn better, and practice better. And because they understand how interconnected everything is, they also explain it better to others. As a female leader for the last 20 years, in various management roles, I have always had my best results with women. Not because I’m biased, but because they listen better, they understand better.
Change is coming, gradually. Here in Kenya employers have actually realised that having more women on board brings in better, more immediate, longer-lasting results.
Once a girl is in charge of the department, she will get the respect that people would not normally give to women. And it starts to change the perspective that actually, if my boss is a woman and she can do this, then women are not as stupid as they think they are; they can be productive, they can be put in charge. And yes, we will listen to them.”
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Whether it’s the wilderness or the community initiatives, or the riding wild experience, which sounds incredible, what kind of impact does Borana have on its guests? What have you personally witnessed?
“I stand here truly proud to be able to say that when people choose to come to Borana Lodge, it’s not just for a luxury experience. They come eager to be participants, to be contributors and keen learners.
For example, guests love to visit the environmental center that educates the local communities and school children about the importance of conserving the environment.
The longer guests stay here, the more we share with them, the more they want to learn, and the more they want to see and take it forward. It just doesn’t end when the invoice is paid and they’ve checked out. It’s something they want to continue to learn about.
I would like to add Borana’s impact goes beyond the guests, due to the close interaction we have with local communities around us. We, especially at this lodge, are invested in the women.
We invest in marginalised women by supporting the local artisanal items which they can sell to our guests, to raise money for them, but also teaching them about the negative impacts of using chemicals, and why the natural alternative is so much better to use.
We show them what we are using to clean and wash at the lodge and they go back home and integrate it into their home and then community. Instead of using this bright green toxic cleaning product, they use the natural eucalyptus that we use on the ground or the green tea extract. It’s gentler on the soil, it’s more adapted to the water. It doesn’t leave residue in the ground and poison the rivers.”
What’s next for Borana Lodge? Where does one of the best sustainable stays go from here?
“I would say that as much as Borana Lodge has already achieved, the trajectory is straight up.
We are not on a platform where we are saying, we have achieved this much, let’s relax. Every day we are looking for new ideas. A better way to improve the livelihoods of the local communities. A better way to sustain the animals when we’re hit by a crippling drought. A better way to revive the environment.
Sharing knowledge with more communities on how to be better custodians of the land, for example not overgrazing, so that their animals are not left starving. And like this, it’s a continuous, ever-evolving process.”