The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF) announced it has been awarded a US$700,000 (A$1 million) grant from the Judith Neilson Foundation, which will be used to strengthen its ‘Akashinga – Nature Protected by Women’ program in Zimbabwe. The program, which has been a catalyst for change across the region, focuses on social impact to achieve conservation at scale, with the empowerment of women central to its strategy.
The grant will be used to recruit additional women as wildlife rangers to defend the expanding wilderness portfolio under Akashinga’s mandate, including one of the largest remaining elephant populations on Earth in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley, and to develop community-based infrastructure. These projects are in partnership with local communities, where the women recruited for service reside.
Australian businesswoman Judith Neilson was born and raised in Zimbabwe. Neilson’s commitment to the Akashinga program comes as she looks to increase her philanthropic giving to social justice issues alongside her existing commitments to journalism and the arts. Her philanthropy has been recognised by her appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia and the awarding of an Honorary Doctorate by the University of New South Wales.
Sydney-based Neilson said, “Akashinga’s strong focus on supporting marginalised women in rural areas, hand in hand with delivering infrastructure upgrades for healthcare, education and clean water are vital for community led conservation having impact at scale. The women of Akashinga have proven this and I am excited to be supporting them as they expand their work in Africa.”
IAPF Founder and CEO Damien Mander said, “The IAPF team is very grateful for Judith’s generosity and trust. The commitment in honouring her Zimbabwean roots through the women of Akashinga, who are building new futures for themselves and communities while protecting the natural heritage of Zimbabwe, is indicative of the shift needed in global philanthropy. The health of the planet supersedes the health of all else, and this begins with community upliftment and empowerment. Without nature, we simply have no future.”
Mander, a former member of the Australian Army’s Special Operations unit, moved to Zimbabwe and founded the IAPF in 2009 following three years of service in Iraq. The Akashinga program
started in 2017 with a group of 16 women, all survivors of gender-based violence and abandonment, many impacted by AIDS and HIV. Their efforts had a rapid impact, dismantling local poaching syndicates and driving a downturn in wildlife crime across the region.
Six years later, the program has expanded from Zimbabwe to protect some of the largest wild landscapes left in Africa. With 3.7 million hectares (9.1m acres) of wilderness under the custodianship of more than 500 personnel, the women of Akashinga are making an increasing impact of global magnitude. The IAPF’s goal is to expand its wilderness portfolio to 12 million hectares (30m acres) by 2030, empowering hundreds of communities and thousands of women.
Nyaradzo Hoto was one of the original 16 women trained. She was recruited after being forced to drop out of high school due to financial challenges, and subsequently into a violent marriage. After divorcing her husband, she went on to become Sergeant Major of Zimbabwe’s Akashinga team and a recent recipient of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) International Ranger of the Year Award. In December she received a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation at Zimbabwe’s Chinhoyi University of Technology. Nyaradzo’s story is one of many in the Akashinga movement.
IAPF Executive Director Melody Westen said, “Judith Neilson is a visionary. Her wide-ranging focus on supporting social justice issues is a continuing legacy for us all to consider. While we can’t change the world alone, we can do it together. We hope her generosity continues to inspire others to believe in the goodness of humanity and our link with nature.”
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