Amy Carter-James

Guludo and Nema Foundation

Amy Carter-James

Amy Carter-James is the founder of Guludo Beach Lodge and the Nema Foundation, working with communities in Mozambique to relieve poverty and protect the environment. Amy works tirelessly to promote her belief that travel and tourism can be wielded as a force for good.

Amy developed Guludo with her now-husband, Neal, and together they created an eco-boutique resort with deep roots in the local community. Amy has received international acclaim and numerous awards for her innovative work in the tourism sector, and for good reason! The projects from the 24-bed property have brought together and impacted the lives of over 25,000 people.

Amy’s work stands as a brilliant example of how the tourism sector can affect positive social change when approached in a mindful, respectful manner.

Guludo - Beach

Ogunte: What is your plan to transform the tourism sector, Amy?

Amy: 1) Inspire. We want to demonstrate the profound potential within tourism to bring about positive social and environmental change.

2) Facilitate and support the forward-thinking people in the industry to scale their individual positive impact, while also helping to grow their brand.

Ogunte: How do you measure your impact?

Amy: Within our property (Guludo) and project in Mozambique (Nema), we look at a lot of numbers: how many scholarships are offered, how many children receive a meal a day, school attendance rates, how many families take part in health workshops, how many people we’ve delivered in our ambulances. These are the solid figures that we monitor and review regularly.

We help and encourage our partners to monitor their impact more efficiently, and to focus their resources on the areas they want to improve upon. For example, if they are already fantastic at water consumption, but they are not really engaging with the local community or their supply chain needs improving, we’ll look closely at those areas together.

Ogunte: Could you share an example of a time when you were disappointed or lost confidence?

Amy: I was really disappointed in the early days of starting Guludo because I thought people would stay at our lodge because you can swing in a hammock and still be doing good. I was all about the social focus, and thought that’s what would bring people in.

But when we talked to tour appraisers and were working out how to market the experience, they all said: ‘Well, that’s nice but we really just want a good product.’ So, we almost had to hide what we were doing so they would give us more credibility for the great holiday we could offer.

As time went on, however, those same people started asking us about what we were doing in the community. They started to see the good we were doing as valuable and a tool that would appeal to people.

I think working with the Mozambique government can be incredibly disappointing at times, but also very encouraging at others!

Some of our biggest confidence knocks, when we felt backed into a corner and worried we wouldn’t be able to continue our work, came from the bureaucracy and people wanting bribes. We flat-out refused to bribe anyone – what was the point of us being there if we were going to be complicit in corruption? That was really, really tough, but I think it made us resilient and even more determined!

Ogunte: How did you get passed that roadblock?

Amy: It took a hell of a lot of patience. We never had a very good network in Mozambique because no one thought we would ever achieve anything. We were young, incredibly enthusiastic, and very naive. No one thought we would last more than a year or maybe two.

We kind of just kept our heads down and kept going

A few times we did actually manage to go over the heads of a few corrupt individuals, but it’s still a huge problem, even today. Just the other day, we had a new police guy came with his guns to the lodge and said that we couldn’t distribute the food – which they call ‘matafome’ which means ‘killing hunger’ - to the children because they had had a complaint that the food had gone off and that we were going to poison the children*. He basically just wanted a bribe!

Gustavo, the manager for our charity Nema, was fantastic. He was very polite, very patient, but stuck to his guns and refused to give the man anything.

This still happens on a daily basis. Plenty of frustrations and knock-backs to deal with!

*[Matafome" is what the children chanted the very first day the Nema Foundation team started the school meals project in Guludo school. The name stuck and now the project is affectionately called Matafome and reaches almost 1,000 children in the area, every school day.]

Guludo-Nema Foundation - Children

Ogunte: How have you dealt with working across culture barriers?

Amy: It’s insanely challenging but, at the same time, the loyalty of our team is just phenomenal. Some of these people have been with us for fourteen or so years, and the sense of community just blows me away. There are so many positive aspects that teach and inspire me every day.

But there are a lot of cultural challenges, some of which stem from a lack of formal education which translates into local confusion.

For instance, several years ago, a community nearby was convinced that members of our team, who were local themselves, were turning into elephants at night and raiding their fields. We had to very respectfully but quite firmly clarify that this was not the case. The source of their problem was actually from a National Park that was set up nearby, and the increased level of animal activity from that.

On a personal note, you learn not to expect gratitude for what you do, because most people will just want more. Often, you’re not seen as an individual, as a person, instead you’re seen as potential for helping to further someone’s families’ lives.

So you have to be altruistic in the way that you operate and also firm that we are not cash cows. All our projects are about participation and relationship with the community. This means the community has to contribute to show their commitment, and they take ownership of any project they want to be involved in.

Amy and cheif- NEMA - GULUDO

As of a few months ago, our staff is now 100% local, which is amazing! Our head of operations started off as a security guard thirteen years ago and he’s slowly progressed – he’s incredible. Our charity manager is from central Mozambique, and he’s the only one who’s not actually from one of the local villages.

Ogunte: What kind of a leader are you, Amy?

Amy: I’ve always tried to lead from behind. I am quick to give autonomy and trust to people who show integrity. We’ve lived through so many challenges, so I look out for the team and make sure we all pull through together.

Amy Carter-James | Founder Guludo | Nema Foundation

Ogunte: What does self-care mean to you?

Amy: Personally, I’ve always found this difficult. It’s hard to stop when you’re so incredibly passionate about what you’re doing. You also feel that there are so many people who rely on you to do your best, that you want to just keep going and going. I was never very good at balance or taking care of myself, neither was my now-husband, Neal.

But, there was a big shift when we had a baby - we now have two little girls. Having a baby completely turns your world upside-down and forces you to get some perspective and some balance. Of course, you’re still working at 100 miles an hour, but you’re working differently! It feels healthier than living and breathing work, which we did for many years. There are a lot more laughs and giggles with the little ones!

We never burnt out but we did get very close a few times. It’s funny, the thing that would stop us in our tracks was that we got malaria quite regularly! So that would force us to take a break, and do nothing for a week!

Ogunte: What qualities do the best mentors possess?

Amy: Humility, having real, ‘boots on the ground’ experience, and wisdom. Those are the most important for me.

Our architect Richard Nightingale is an incredible human being – he has taught us so much on many levels. He’s now a trustee of the charity.

Seek the best people to help you

Ogunte: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Amy: I think it would have to be from my Dad. He always advised us to go and seek out the absolute best in the field, for whatever we were looking at. Whether it’s marketing or architecture, wherever you need help, seek the best people to help you.

I think when we started out, we were so young and enthusiastic that we kind of had the ‘Ahh’ factor! People would take pity on us and offer us great nuggets of advice and support that enabled us to build strong foundations.

Having my dad involved was so helpful. He was able to steer us in the right direction at times, and stop us from going off on tangents too often.

Ogunte: What new challenges are coming up for you in the next decade?

Amy: With Beyond Sustainability, we’re working more with organisations - hotels, groups - to help them to grow their brand through building their links with the local community, scaling their positive impact, improving their guest experience, creating more of an emotional connection with their clients through great innovations on the ground.

More and more, especially in the luxury area, people are starting to see and understand that experiential luxury is worth a lot more than towel origami and the swanky, uber-luxurious places. People are slowly but increasingly wanting more authentic experiences.

There are a few leaders in the field who are doing this really well, and the rest of the industry is starting to catch up. This is the direction the industry is going, though there are still lot of people who don’t quite get it yet and are still thinking inside the confines of traditional hospitality.

Our next big challenge is to shake the tree a bit, and to get people to see the value in doing good, and not be scared to leverage that good work for their brand.

Amy in Mashamba - NEMA - GULUDO

Ogunte: Finally, who inspires you?

Amy:

1) Laura Tenison – this woman is just phenomenal. She is the founder of JoJo Maman Bébé, a B-corp. Laura came on holiday with her family about ten years ago, and has been a trustee ever since. The amount of effort she puts in to help with our work in Mozambique is amazing. She’s had so many challenges and I think the way she’s risen above them is so inspiring. She’s a great role model for so many of us.

2) Joanne Ooi – She’s really dynamic, she was heavily involved in the Clean Air campaign in Hong Kong, and she’s now set up a very cool jewellery business.

Note on partnership: Nema Foundation is JoJo Maman Bébé's in house charity, providing Nema with fundraising, accounting and marketing support. 

Interview produced by Naomi Pyburn for Ogunte. 
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