Innovation Challenge


Diversifying community livelihoods from wildlife

11 December 2020: The list of winners has now been announced! Please visit the news story for details and to see the full list.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute, the African Leadership University’s School of Wildlife Conservation and the WWF Regional Office for Africa are launching a global innovation challenge. We aim to discover and incubate new revenue models that do not depend on tourism, but still enable local communities within African countries to obtain their livelihoods from wildlife, manage their natural resources sustainably, and improve their collective wellbeing. Participants have the chance to win a place in the African Leadership University’s incubation programme and access to seed money

What is the challenge?

Many communities across Africa rely on tourism to generate income and other benefits from wildlife on their land. However, all forms of tourism, including  photographic tourism and trophy hunting, are extremely vulnerable to social, economic or political instability and changes in the international market.

In order for wildlife to survive on communal lands, communities that manage the land or live in close proximity to wildlife have to derive tangible benefits. Over the past 30 years, different forms of tourism have provided significant benefits, including revenues, to rural communities who share their land with wildlife. This income has enabled these communities to fund the operational costs of wildlife management, such as employment of community scouts to do patrols and monitor wildlife, institutional governance arrangements to ensure that the benefits are equitably used and distributed, and often other benefits like direct cash payments, school fees and community development projects. In this way, wildlife-based tourism not only funds nature conservation but also provides income and employment to a significant proportion of rural people in many African countries. 

© WWF-US James Morgan

The shock to the tourism sector caused by the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the vulnerability of a conservation model based primarily on tourism. All touristic activity was brought to an abrupt end in March 2020 when the world responded to the pandemic with an almost total global shut down of commercial passenger flights and lockdown measures. Employees in the tourism sector lost their jobs and livelihoods, with a disproportionate impact on people in remote and rural areas. Before COVID-19, wildlife tourism directly contributed US$29.3 billion in GDP to the economy in Africa and directly provided 3.6 million jobs across the continent, over one-third of all jobs in tourism (36.3%). 

With the prospect of very few tourist arrivals in the short-term, protected areas and other conserved lands have had problems paying the salaries of rangers and other staff, who must find other ways of sustaining their families. As people lose their jobs and livelihoods, there are growing fears of a surge in illegal hunting for both subsistence and to feed commercial trade due to the decreased patrolling of parks and conservation areas in an Africa that is in ‘lockdown’. While the prospects for recovery in the tourism sector are a matter of intense speculation, it is possible, and indeed likely, that it will take years to see a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity. Even when economic activity restarts, more resilient and sustainable wildlife economies are needed to diversify risks for communities, governments and the private sector. 

© GCShutter / Getty Images

Objectives of the innovation challenge

To discover and incubate new revenue models that do not depend on tourism, but still enable local communities in Africa to derive income from wildlife, manage their natural resources sustainably and improve their collective wellbeing.

What we are looking for ?

We are looking for innovative concepts, ideas, revenue or finance models that can generate sustained benefits for rural communities from wildlife conservation, beyond tourism. We are not calling for investment-ready proposals, but for ideas with high potential that might be developed during our incubation programme. 

Guiding principles
All ideas must create value for both communities and nature. We have laid out five equally important criteria that should be addressed in answering the questions in the application form.  Diversity, gender inclusivity and social equity should be guiding principles for all successful ideas.

Application Details

We are calling for submissions from anyone from any sector or background with bold and sustainable ideas for concepts, projects, businesses or products. Ideas must meet the following criteria for consideration:

  1. Generates value (economic, social and cultural) for local community(ies) in Africa from wildlife or natural resources
  2. Does not rely on tourism to generate revenue
  3. Empowers communities with decision-making power and ensures their rights, dignity and livelihoods are a priority
  4. Demonstrates to be feasible, financially sustainable and potentially scalable
  5. Aims to improve the conditions for wildlife and natural resources.

All eligible applications will be evaluated by a panel of experts from the partnering organisations based on these criteria.

We define the terms used within this challenge as follows:

  • Tourism includes every form of tourism, both consumptive and non-consumptive, both local and international, that requires the physical presence of the tourist in the destination. Common examples include photographic tourism, trophy hunting, sport fishing and ecotourism. Innovative ideas around virtual tourism and online or digital opportunities are very  welcome.
  • Wildlife encompasses both fauna and flora. Domesticated species do not fall under this definition.
  • Rural communities or communities are those managing wildlife or habitats, as well as communities living in the proximity of wildlife habitats.
  • Scalable means replicable in other locations or the potential to become a high-growth business. A high-growth business would eventually have the potential to generate returns at the scale of tourism, including trophy hunting.
  • Innovative means a new and original idea, project, business, etc. The idea can also be based on something existing, but must incorporate an important change that allows it to meet the requirements of the challenge. Examples might be an innovation that makes a business model scalable, brings financial sustainability, gives decision-making powers to communities, etc. Innovative ideas are by no means reduced to technology.

Innovators from around the world are welcome to apply, especially people from non-traditional backgrounds and those with strong ties to rural communities in Africa.

Who: Any individual or team with bold ideas from around the world may apply, but we are especially seeking solutions from within Africa itself, and we will look favourably at applications from within the continent. On the application form, applicants must demonstrate their strong links to the geographic context of their idea.

Age: There is no age limit for applicants. However, to be considered for the ALU incubation programme, the team lead must be at least 18 years old and teams may have a maximum of 3 members.

Language: Submissions must be in English, but we strongly encourage both native and non-native English speakers to apply. No judgements will be made on language proficiency. Please note: the ALU incubation programme offered to selectees is conducted in English. 

Sector: We strongly encourage teams composed of people from different sectors, and particularly from outside the conservation sector. Applicants do not need a history of working on conservation-related projects or ideas.

A place in the ALU’s incubation programme and access to seed money.

Up to 15 ideas will be selected. Successful applicants will win a place in the African Leadership University’s 8-month incubation programme, culminating in a public pitch to top investors. The programme commences in February 2021 and will run over eight months. It is a part-time, virtual programme. 

The African Leadership University Incubator Programme supports high-potential entrepreneurs with a drive to transform Africa through impactful and ethical ventures. The programme provides access to life-long learning and a community of peers, mentors and potential investors. At the end of the programme, all participants would be expected to successfully launch a venture with the opportunity for potential investment. For this particular cohort, the programme is focused on impactful ideas in the wildlife conservation sector, with entrepreneurs going through an 8-month experience that uses a unique model that can transform their ideas into a viable business. If you apply as a team and your team is successful, a maximum of three team members will be admitted to the programme. 

During the incubation programme, participants may receive a grant of up to US$10,000 from the organisers as early seed money.  

The programme is set to start in February 2021 and will run over eight months. It is a part-time, virtual programme. 

What kinds of innovative ideas, revenues or finance models are we looking for?

We're looking for promising options to diversify income for communities. For example, payment schemes for ecosystem services, generation of carbon, wildlife or biodiversity credits, wild product trade, sustainable agriculture and forestry, or certification schemes, to name a few. ‘Diversifying local livelihoods while sustaining wildlife’ is a useful resource with illustrative examples of emerging new initiatives. It provides a snapshot of different models for community-based conservation, mainly in southern and East Africa, and is accompanied by an inventory of more than 130 community conservation initiatives. While the review and the inventory present a good overview, these initiatives have not been analysed in detail and the innovation challenge selection criteria have not been applied to them.  

To help you prepare, below you'll find a preview of the questions contained on the application form.

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve? In which geographic area (country, region, specific site) are you trying to solve the problem? Describe the specific problem that your idea will solve, using non-expert language. Focus on setting the stage for your solution, rather than describing how you intend to solve it. (200 words or less)
  2. Describe how you intend to solve this problem and how this solution will create value (economic, social, cultural) for communities. Which community or communities are you targeting and how?  Please mention if the target community(ies) have played a role in the design of the solution. (300 words or less)
  3. How does your idea aim to improve the conditions for wildlife and natural resources? (200 words or less)
  4. What makes your idea innovative? (150 words or less)
  5. How could your idea be implemented in practice (assuming you would have the financial means)? In answering this question, think practically and describe at least one risk (eg social, environmental, economic) associated with the idea and how it might be mitigated. (200 words or less)
  6. How would your idea be sustained financially over time? (150 words or less)
  7. Is the idea scalable? Describe its potential to be replicated in other locations (globally) for the benefit of other communities or to become a high-growth, sustainable business. A high-growth business would eventually have the potential to generate returns at the scale of tourism, including trophy hunting. (200 words or less)
  8. Describe your personal or team links to the geographic, social or cultural context of your idea. How does the idea benefit from the strengths, expertise and assets of yourself and your team members? (150 words or less)

Please see the challenge FAQ for more information.


On Thursday September 10 2020, we hosted a webinar: ‘GOING BEYOND TOURISM IN AFRICA: Diversifying Community Livelihoods from Wildlife’. The webinar featured an informational session about the innovation challenge and live Q&A, as well as short inspirational talks.

The speakers:

  • Alice Ruhweza (Director, WWF Regional Office for Africa)
  • Gautam Shah (Founder, Internet of Elephants)
  • Fred Swaniker (CEO and Founder of the African Leadership Group)
  • Melissa De Kock (Community Conservation Specialist, WWF) 
  • Tolu Agunbiade (Entrepreneurship Program Manager, ALGroup)
  • Elisabeth Losasso (Beyond Tourism in Africa Project Manager, Luc Hoffmann Institute)

If you were not able to attend, you can watch the full recording below.


Please see the challenge FAQ for more information.
For specific questions about the ALU incubation programme, contact

Terms & Conditions

Read the full project Terms & Conditions.