Dreamcatcher founders’ work in sustainable tourism and environmental solutions for local benefit is Globally recognised

Three decades ago, from humble beginnings, in a partisan and divided South Africa where a fiercely protective tourism industry was not ready to change a ‘model they felt aint broken’, one tenacious white woman in South Africa broke the mould to lay the foundations and champion the cause of a more inclusive, fair and responsible tourism dispensation for South Africa. Her commitment to develop and trial a business model which would channel tourists and its benefits into the heartland country of her country of birth, finally rendered results.

Working in townships across South Africa among diverse cultures, where poverty and unemployment was rife, Anthea set about developing new experiences and products, re-imagining new travel routes and put tourism to work as an important catalyst and force to grow tourism and a new generation of business people in the tourism supply chain of South Africa. Her vision and drive to make it work, became the voice for the empowerment of women and unemployed youth in tourism in Townships across South Africa and the world. Not finding support locally, (and now changing rapidly), her testing ground was the Netherlands where the CBI, supporting this initiative provided the platform and springboard at its tourism marketing events. Anthea would later go on to co-found the Global Community Tourist Network under the auspices of the CBI, Netherlands and, un-staged activities at local community level, (now called ‘experiential tourism’), now a significant new trend and growth sector.

Way back, Anthea Rossouw believed that local engagement experiences where visitors could escape the bus window to walk and talk among the local people, was a worthy and important experience to share with the world. That the now legally branded experiences of CookUp -and Homestay Kamammas, she developed with the women in the communities, would become a force in South Africa and an empowering window of opportunity to self-sufficiency at local level. She believed that engagement between people was as important as gazing at a lion. That it should not be one against the other. Rather that both nature and the people in it was the miracle of what is South Africa and collectively would create sustainable tourism for all to access equitably. Little did she know that one day her goal of sustainable poverty relief would be endorsed by the UN declared Sustainable Development Goals and her models offering solutions with the potential to address global challenges. She just wanted to make it work where she lived.

This vision, complimented by copious amounts of courage to pioneer a new ‘tourism way’ in a fiercely competitive and complex, yet lucrative industry, has now taken centre stage and is a feather in the cap for South Africa. Hailed a blueprint for sustainable development and social innovation on a Global Platform at the World CSR Conference in India, the United Kingdom and beyond, Anthea’s vision and work spanning decades to effect sustainable socio-economic development, is inspiring new ways.

‘The Dreamcatcher” as Anthea is known is now recognised as one of the most inspiring women in the world, enabling significant local impact using tourism and travel as a force for poverty relief and she is now called one of the top Social Innovators in the World. Her tourism and community growth models, developed with women and youth in communities across South Africa who own them completely, has firmly placed local people engagement and encounters on a level footing with the mainstream packaged tours comprising the sea, safari, stunning mountains and wine. The recently re-instated National Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom told a jam-packed gathering at a JAMMS event in Cape Town in September recently, that Dreamcatchers laudable, pioneering work was ’25 years ahead of its time in the tourism industry’.

Says Anthea: “At Dreamcatcher we believe that the quality of tourism experiences and the ethos of a country should be purposefully linked to improved quality of life in local communities. Local people are ultimately the custodians of the environment where they live. Their future and the future of the environment are inter-dependent.

When recently asked Anthea at the event in India, as to how she knew what to do and where to start to get where she was today, in the face of many barriers and challenges. Anthea’s answered: “Raised by two incredible individuals who taught me to live and act by the rule that all people are equal, I simply check if something is right, fair or wrong. In this regard it was access and sharing in the benefits of tourism as one of the most lucrative industries in South Africa, even back then. It wasn’t right. So the answer or path appeared on what we had to do.To be honest it has been a fun-filled, educational adventure I would not trade for anything and willingly share. The potential for growth at local engagement and entrepreneurship level, is huge”.

Anthea shares equal work time between South Africa, the United Kingdom and beyond where she delivers key note addresses and tutors on various platforms and engages projects to share her pluralistic approach and expertise in sustainable socio-economic development.With her specific approach to tasks, even those viewed difficult, Rossouw views problems, to be the solutions which define direction. Anthea also works in sustainable solutions to address food poverty, local waste -and environmental management in – and outside South Africa, where she conceptualised and implemented a ground breaking waste -and environmental management project for the National Department for the Environment in the UK (DEFRA), across multiple counties in the South – and South West of England, earning her the coveted Gatwick Green Diamond Award in the UK at its conclusion.

Anthea’s involvement with Dreamcatcher South Africa as a non-profit is on a voluntary basis to this day, Why we ask? “How could I take money from people with a dream to earn their own, where there was none? To whom would I sell my ideas when they were seen as crazy? Against which industry/career would I measure myself? There was none! I have gotten used to not earning a salary at Dreamcatcher. Anything earned on behalf of Dreamcatcher, is imploded back into the projects”, says Rossouw.