It is very exciting to be here and see so many people wanting to work in conservation. As we all know there is no planet B and we have a desperate need for bright, young dynamic minds working towards conserving our wild spaces for future generations. So what a privilege to be surrounded by so many of you.
I have been asked to share a different version of what working towards conservation might look like by sharing the story of what Mulberry Mongoose is and how she came about.
Before I share what Mulberry Mongoose is, let me start by explaining how I ended up doing what we do?
Let me start by saying I was terrible at maths and science at school and so my ability to add value to conservation through gathering scientific data and analysis were sadly not a reality.
In fact, after getting a degree in French at Edinburgh, I had no idea how to find a job. I had no confidence that I was employable and I took the first job offered to me. To be honest I was amazed they hired me… I suspect they also regretted the decision! I was thrown into a world of admin. And forced to learn computer skills at a fast pace. I hated my job, found I had no purpose and had no idea how to do something that did.
However, now I look back and feel so grateful for the skills the job gave me and how it taught me to work in a professional team. I learned that, if you don’t know what you want to do, get started anyway as building skills in a professional working environment is critical.
My lucky break came in the shape of a future husband! It didn’t feel like a lucky career break at the time. My now husband proposed and moved me from London to the South Luangwa. It was a shock to the system going from the bustling streets of London into the depths of the African bush…. But surprisingly it was the beginning of my new career.
Whilst I adapted to snakes in the bedroom, scorpions scuttling across my pillow at night and a lovely bull elephant called Gilbert who slept outside our house I also evolved professionally.
My career break came in the shape of a hobby. A great friend taught me to make jewellery and gave me her little project when she left the South Luangwa. I literally inherited a box of beads and a few basic skills. But this new hobby gave me a huge buzz. I would say that, having read many books about entrepreneurs, the beginning is often about finding a passion and growing it.. so having hobbys and outside interests are so important.
At the same time a great friend told about a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. It takes you on a journey of self-discovery and helps you uncover what is really important to you. I recommend this book to anyone as they explore their career path. To know what you are truly passionate about is critical.
Through the Artists Way I was able to identify that I desperately wanted;
- To start a business that brought women together in a joyful way
- To invest in conservation through growing a commercial business
- To create a product that adds value, tells a story and makes people feel good in themselves
And so what is Mulberry Mongoose?
Based in the South Luangwa, Eastern Province, we are a group of 7 courageous ladies and 1 gentleman who reflect the grace and ruggedness of the African bush while making jewellery.
Our courageous team are hired locally, and trained carefully. 90% of our team are single or double orphans and none were given the chance of tertiary education. However, through Mulberry Mongoose they have been given a professional skill, and their hard work has been rewarded by a growing income and respect in the village for their efforts in conservation.
- Our jewellery is handmade creating essential employment and a piece of art that is unique to the wearer
- We transform brutal poachers snare wire into beautiful jewellery. Taking an ugly poaching tool out of circulation.
- Our jewellery shares an important story about the terrors of snare poaching; each wearer of Mulberry Mongoose becomes an ambassador for the need to protect our wildlife from this awful cruelty
- Our jewellery invests back into the local economy by using locally sourced materials wherever possible and by giving money to conservation with every sale.
The essence of what we stand for is in our business name? It’s important to have your north star close in business. You end up so busy that. You get lost in your many to-dos. Thus by making our name embody our values we never loose site of our priorities:
The banded mongoose is a wonderful animal found in the bush. They 'chatter' incessantly just like myself and the Mulberry Mongoose team! They also survive in the bush by being a community, one mongoose keeps watch while the others feed or babysit their young. Similarly, we grow as a business by creating invaluable employment in rural Africa and by helping to protect our wildlife.
Mulberry is a British colour and picked because I had a Mulberry tree in my garden when I grew up. We use this name to remind ourselves that we must compete globally in business not just within Zambia. That, even though its challenging running a business in a remote bush environment where elephant have knocked our workshop door down and where the internet is constantly going down for one reason or another, we still have to deliver the same level of professionalism as any other business.
This relatively simple business model has yielded such exciting results. In a world that is becoming more and more aware of the importance of what they purchase and what value it adds, Mulberry Mongoose ticks all the boxes. We have been lucky enough to:
- Make over $100,000 for anti-snare patrols in Zambia
- To be featured in British Vogue, National Geographic and Marie Claire
- To be worn by celebrities including Supermodel Doutzen Kroes, President Bill Clinton and actor Leonardo Di Caprio
Liuwi from WCP wanted me to share why Mulberry Mongoose is important. It’s a bold question to answer surrounded by so many incredible Not for Profits who work tirelessly on the front line of conservation.
But it’s also a subject I am passionate about. I believe, conservation needs to be part of our lives not something we do on the side. There is no point in having a profitable business if you don’t have a decent planet to run it from. Therefore, every commercial business needs to incorporate conservation in their business model. They must all play their part in safeguarding our planet.
I think a good question could also be ‘why is private business important to conservation?’
As mentioned I didn’t have skills in science and math’s but somehow I was able to work in sales and come up with business ideas. That was my gift. I also learnt, through every terrible job I worked, how to work in a team and adapt. I find in business these skills are so useful. Your job is to connect to your audience and inspire your team, to put huge effort into working out what makes them feel good.
As a commercial business Mulberry Mongoose works tirelessly to achieve these aims at the same time as running a profit driven functioning business; it is often overwhelming and exhausting. We always put our clients first as without them we can’t survive. But in so doing we are bringing fresh people into the conservation conversation. By discovering our work and wearing our jewellery a new audience is made aware of the brutality of snare poaching and the issues of depleting iconic wildlife. They are also becoming part of the solution and feeling empowered through that.
Working in conservation comes in different shapes and sizes and bringing in new skills to this area is so important and exciting. I hope you all find exactly what you are looking for here today and thank you for listening to our story.