A Nature Conservationist who plants seeds in kids’ hearts
“What we are trying to achieve is quite simple: we seek to develop and inspire a love for nature. This is what we live for,” he said.
The humble but progressive Sabelo Nature Conservationist Lindani is honest and realistic about what he does. “Career growth in the conservation industry is a long journey, it takes experience, diligence, passion and commitment to succeed.”
All of which he has in spades and has already reached more than 30 schools and exposed over 6 000 school learners and farm dwellers to the beauty of the environment.
Environment savvy Sabelo has a vision for people and the planet
It was a newspaper article about nature conservation that struck a chord deep within Sabelo Lindani’s heart and changed his life. “The talk by Game Rangers that followed opened my eyes to work possibilities in nature, which I love,” Sabelo said. Today, CHANGEMAKER Sabelo is managing director of Contour Enviro Group, an environmental consulting company based in Cape Town he set up in 2017. Sabelo specialises in accredited conservation training, environmental management for agriculture and tourism development. “I am a conservationist by profession who cares about the environment but I am also concerned about the levels of poverty in South Africa”.
Having experience in both governmental and private sector conservation, he has been opted onto various boards and commissions including the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is chairperson of Youth for the Environment. Conservation is a perfect fit for this easy-going young man who describes himself as being, “a bit introverted but I do make an effort sometimes to push myself out of that shell. I definitely prefer being outdoors.”
The seed is planted
“I grew up in Port Alfred and was surrounded by green vegetation, something we kids always appreciated and found refuge in.
“Somehow my father had a contribution to my childhood love of nature, whether knowingly or not. After payday every month, he would take us for a picnic into unmanaged nature areas.
“The calmness and peacefulness linked to these areas were amazing and good therapy for the soul. I wish the conservation authorities had made an effort to teach us about this natural heritage which we took for granted,” said Sabelo.
Until his Grade 11 teacher brought that article to school. “That was a very important moment in my life because, in Grade 11, I still had no idea what nature conservation was. “|I fell in love with the concept and its simplicity which invoked something in me and the memories of those days with my family in nature areas, rushed back. Since then, my mind was just transfixed with the idea of studying Nature Conservation and nothing else.”
“My family is poor, so it was vital I gained the marks to get a bursary. I attained a Bachelor of Technology in Nature Conservation at the Nelson Mandela University based in George, but this achievement was not without problems.
“I was awarded partial bursaries, but reached the stage where I had run out of money,” Sabelo said. Enter, who he calls, “my Good Samaritan”.
“I was doing piecemeal jobs for a company in Port Alfred during my studies. When my boss heard that I was struggling and my studies would end due to financial constraints, he paid and afterwards, I worked for him.”
A career in conservation flourishes
Sabelo then went on to be a Field Ranger at Swellendam’s Bontebok National Park and became a Conservation Trainer for a private training institution in Port Elizabeth. “I joined the City of Cape Town as a junior Reserve Manager for five years and was appointed by Cape Nature as a Conservation Manager for Hottentots Holland nature Reserve where I managed large conservation and fire management teams,” said Sabelo. Highlights included combating veld fires on the mountain slopes and protecting communities and properties as well as the ecological integrity of the fynbos.
Breaking out of the comfort zone into entrepreneurship
Sabelo cites his biggest achievement to be starting his own business, Contour Enviro Group, in 2017. “This began as an impossible dream and I had to overcome many challenges.
“I wanted my own business because, deep down, I believed I could do something even better not working within the confines of formal employment.”
One of the most obvious challenges was access to finance.
“It is still a huge challenge but I have mastered the art of running a lean business. I boot-strapped the business before I decided to do it full time in 2017. I had spent seven years developing the key processes and used my savings to buy key equipment and resources.
“Obstacles have been part of the game, though, as at some stage of the business I was homeless after having gone through a divorce. I came out of that with the support of friends and family. It was the most difficult period of my adult life. However, I try not to dwell too much on the past. It was part of my development and I take it as such.”
He considers the development and empowerment of conservation teams as one of the most rewarding aspects of his business. “We sometimes work, train and mentor people at the entry-level of conservation such as Field Rangers and Conservation Assistants.
“What we are trying to achieve is quite simple; we seek to develop and inspire a love for nature. “We develop problem-solvers, our training interventions are competence focused. We don’t do training for the sake of training. Our students are encouraged to solve existing problems at their workplaces. This is the same approach for our environmental compliance programme where we consult for private landowners including those in the agricultural sector.
“We also help farmers who export products with environmental management plans, integrated fire management plans among other exciting projects.”
Since 2017, Sabelo and his team have worked with more than 30 schools and have exposed over school learners and farm dwellers to the beauty of the environment.”
The magical quality of children
Never forgetting his childhood joy playing in nature and that there is generally a wide disconnect between conservation and neighbouring communities, Sabelo’s commitment is to children. “Communities are being left out from participating in the preservation of their natural heritage,” Sabelo said.
“I have a heart for the children and youth because that is where the magic happens. I inspire them, from a young age, to become something bigger.
“We have been exposing young kids in primary schools in the rural areas to the beauty and importance of the environment,” Sabelo said. “We take them on hiking trips and let them do activities such as river monitoring and quality assessments for them to understand the importance of where water comes from.”
He established Youth for the Environment (Y4Enviro) in 2017 as an NGO that focuses on connecting young people with nature and said nature conservation should be taught in schools.
“Nature is the source of our lives but we take it for granted. Humans tend to think that biodiversity will always be around, however, they do not understand that we have lost so much already and continue to lose and disturb some important natural ecosystems all over the world through destructive human behaviour.
The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown required Sabelo to relook at his business model. He now has 11 professional, permanent staff and 88 semi-skilled people working. He is the recipient of the SAB Foundation THOLOANA Award, which acknowledge the entrepreneurs who not only survived one of the toughest economic times in recent history but also flourished.
“I received the award on the 20 May this year. I was left speechless. But it’s confirmation that what I and my colleagues have been building is noticed in the outside world.”
Sabelo attributes his success to being able to connect well and genuinely with people. “I am generally an optimist and try to find something positive even in difficult situations. I think I have a very strong vision of the future which helps me take calculated risks and…
“You have to get your hands dirty, ”Sabelo said, and it has obviously paid off.
GET IN TOUCH WITH THIS CHANGEMAKER
“It’s easier than you think to make small changes. And those small changes can grow and grow and grow and create something really incredible!”