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How Entrepreneurial Philanthropy Is Helping to Save African Elephants From Extinction

An elephant is killed is every 14 minutes; at this alarming rate, elephants will be extinct within 10 years. Elephants are an invaluable part of Africa’s ecosystems, a cherished species of our planet. They form deep family bonds, are extremely intelligent and have memories that span many years. Recent studies have shown elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground. Though almost unimaginable, losing this extraordinary species to extinction is a very real possibility due to poaching and the high demand for ivory.   

As the son of a biologist, I have always connected with animals and I grew up with an understanding of the important role they play on earth. After traveling to Africa with my dad at the age of 15, it really cemented that understanding. Many years later, I brought my own daughter to Africa to witness the continent’s magic, only to be horrified by the devastating decline in the elephant population. I knew I had to take action immediately and effectively as time is not on the side of elephants.

I have had a fortunate career as the co-founder of a successful company and because of that, I started to think about ways my acquired business knowledge could help stop the dire path to extinction these elephants face. Thus began my journey to ultimately launch Elephant Cooperation, a nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of the African elephant crisis and supporting existing NGOs that embrace this cause.

At first, I started traveling to Africa more frequently in order to spend time with non-profits that were really making a difference in the fight against poaching. One such organization, Air Shepherd, a nonprofit that uses drones to find poachers before they kill, helped me envision a path forward. I realized I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel—that I could create my own nonprofit that supported efforts of those already on the ground making a difference and effecting change.

The unique piece I am bringing to the table involves fundraising efforts to support those groups. We carefully add to our portfolio projects based on how well they meet our goals that address the elephant crisis, including supporting the protection of elephants and increasing awareness of the extinction threat across communities in Africa.

Experts have stated that charities would benefit from being run like a business, and since I've orchestrated many successful business deals, I decided to proceed with this concept.

Our first such deal involved distressed merchandise. Many companies have an overrun of goods due to rebranding, overproduction, slow sales and more. Shoes For Crews is a company in Florida that makes anti-slip footwear for workers employed at companies across the U.S. When I connected with their CEO, Stuart Jenkins, they happened to be going through a rebranding phase.

Once I informed Stuart about the plight of African elephants, he was all in, donating 400,000 pairs of shoes to our effort. Along with the head of Air Shepherd in Africa, we arranged for the shoes to be shipped to South Africa and sold—with all profits going to Elephant Cooperation projects. So far, this deal has raised $70,000 and is expected to bring in up to $800,000 next year.

This model involving distressed merchandise benefits the manufacturer by having the duty drawback covered; there are no destruction costs of the distressed merchandise; no transportation costs; and it removes the goods from the domestic market with the option of removing the brand. I like to say good business is good philanthropy.

I know most charities do not have this luxury, but it is important to me that all funds raised go directly to the non-profits on the ground in Africa. Through my business, I underwrite all administrative costs for Elephant Cooperation so that individual donors and companies know their funds are going straight to Africa.

Another area I realized I could capitalize on is my relationship with other business leaders. I cultivate such relationships and invite potential contributors to Africa to witness these extraordinary efforts first hand. Igniting someone’s passion to help fund a solution always results in a positive outcome. In turn, these individuals help spread that passion to other potential funders.

A way to share that passion is through annual fundraisers. This month, George Argyros Jr., a well-known businessman in Orange County, California, and one of our biggest supporters, hosted our gala event to fund our projects. Because George had been to Africa with Elephant Cooperation and witnessed these efforts in person, he was the perfect choice to spread that enthusiasm. The evening raised more than $900,000. There is no limit to what can be accomplished if communities come together for the greater good. 

While researching non-profits to add to the Elephant Cooperation portfolio, we also realized that we had to address peripheral issues if we were going to tackle the poaching problem and save the African elephant. This is why we also contribute to projects that help children, such as Children in the Wilderness, which provides education on conservation and supports them becoming future rangers who will help protect these magnificent creatures. Losing elephants will devastate the economy in Africa that very much relies on tourism dollars.

My hope is that other companies will be open to these types of partnerships that are a win-win for everyone involved.

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The staff of Elephant Cooperation on one of the missions to Africa. (image: Elephant Cooperation)

The public also plays an important role in giving a voice to elephants. Individuals can encourage companies they buy from to support causes that will save the species for future generations—through a percentage of sales donated promotion, direct donations, employee matching during the holidays, and business partnerships. 

For many, Africa might be on the other side of the planet but the loss of elephants will affect the entire world. If we all get a little creative and take innovative steps, companies can flourish while also benefiting the plight of our planet and its species so future generations will not have to deal with an unimaginable loss forever. My efforts will be complete when I know my daughter can take her future children and grandchildren on that magical trip to Africa.

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