The Green Mambas: an all-female invasive plant control team in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

Employing community women to control alien invasive plants in a wildlife corridor.

Photo of Wendy Hapgood
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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Wendy Hapgood

Initiative's representative date of birth

11 September 1977

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United States

Headquarters location: city

New York

Where are you making a difference?

South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal, Hluhluwe.

Website or social media url(s)

Date Started


Project Stage

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €10k - €50k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

Wild Tomorrow Fund was founded 5 years ago after John Steward, a creative director in a New York City advertising agency, took a wildlife volunteer trip to South Africa. He met South African Clinton Wright, a trained wildlife manager who was the volunteer guide, as together they monitored endangered species. Seeing the desperate funding & equipment needed by rangers who risked their lives every day while protecting elephants, rhinos & other threatened species from poaching, was the “Aha” moment that resulted in the creation of Wild Tomorrow Fund. Our mission is to save wildlife and their wild spaces. After initially focusing on equipping rangers, we expanded our focus to habitat protection and rewilding.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A major task in the restoration of habitat for wildlife is control of alien invasive plants. Current solutions rely on the use of toxic herbicides that damage the ecosystem & the services it provides. Our reserves are located in a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot & border a river that feeds into a UNESCO World Heritage Wetland. In such a fragile part of the world, we needed to find a solution to alien plant control that does not rely on toxic chemicals.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

That’s why we created the Green Mambas, an all woman ‘green team’ who use a combination of fire (ecological burns) & manual labor to control alien invasive plants. First a planned ecological burn is conducted on identified areas infested with alien plants. The fire damages the plants’ seeds resulting in a lower regrowth rate post-burn. Next the green mambas team cuts & removes remaining alien invasive plants by hand, & follow-up as a final step with herbicide for remaining stubborn areas. The Green Mambas pilot project began in December 2018 by selecting 14 women from the neighboring community, mostly single mothers with multiple children. They were then trained in alien plant removal & herbicide application. The pilot project was more successful than anticipated as the women cleared invasive plants more cost-effectively & with a lower environmental impact (using 95% less herbicide) than our previous year using traditional methods. Additionally, the cost of this project was direct income for the women & their dependents. Comparison Green Mambas vs Traditional herbicide-based methods: Cost US$23/acre vs $68/acre. Liters of herbicide used: 0.053 Liters/acre vs 1.122/acre.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

This is an innovative solution as currently wildlife reserves in our region rely on toxic herbicides to control alien invasive plants. Our approach, using a combination of fire (an important ecological process) followed by manual plant removal and final follow-up herbicide treatment, uses exponentially less toxic herbicide chemicals, is lower in cost, and creates employment for women in our neighboring community.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

This project promotes collaboration between wildlife reserve managers, ecologists, rangers and women in local communities. Local people in our surrounding communities are mostly removed from wildlife conservation in fenced-off wildlife reserves. This initiative brings women directly into a team working in wildlife conservation, while also providing training and employment.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Biodiversity Impacts: the removal of alien invasive plants is a prerequisite for the recovery of biodiversity in degraded areas. Benefits include: • Removal and control of alien invasive plants within a biodiversity hotspot • Improving grazing and browse for wildlife • The restoration of natural habitats • Our pilot project showed a 95% decrease in the use of herbicides that have harmful residual properties when compared to traditional methods Social Impact: by training and employing women in the community we are not only creating impact but improving lives while connecting more local people to wildlife conservation. • Direct financial impact into grass roots rural women and their families • Women’s empowerment in an unequal society • Skills, health and safety training.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

As a next step we plan to employ the Green Mambas team again this year to apply their new skills in alien plant control at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s wildlife reserves. Other wildlife reserves in the region have already begun to enquire about their services. As a next step in the growth of the program, we will seek support from neighboring partner reserves to employ the Green Mambas for alien plant control work in place of traditional herbicide-focused methods. We believe that in the longer-term 2-3 year period there will be enough demand or the Green Mamba’s alien plant fighting services, that they will be able to be employed full-time.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

The Green Mambas project creates value for society by creating employment for marginalized women in rural communities. This additional employment benefits many additional children and dependents. It also enables the women to play a critical part in the protection of their region’s incredible and threatened biodiversity. Many people living next door to reserves have not had the opportunity to see wildlife or to appreciate its beauty and value. By working and living on a wildlife reserve, this also increases their exposure and understanding of the importance of biodiversity protection and its benefits to their communities.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

In the short term, we need $13,500 EUR to employ the 14 women for 3 months full-time to manage the alien invasive plants at Wild Tomorrow Fund’s two reserves. In the medium-term, we will introduce the Green Mambas to neighboring wildlife reserves who are already interested in their services due to the proven effectiveness, lower cost and environmental impacts. In the long-term, we will seek to train and develop the women in managing a cooperative business, so that they can become fully self-managed.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Project Manager: Clinton Wright, Wild Tomorrow Fund. Clinton is a local South African who worked at several government wildlife reserves before co-founding the charity. He has a Masters Degree in Wildlife Management and a passion for habitat conservation. Green Mambas' Team Leader: two community women are the team leaders, managing the work operations and team on a daily basis. Their names are Nonhlanhla Ntanzi and Happiness Manyanga.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact
  • LinkedIn post by Ashoka

Evaluation results

8 evaluations so far


Yes, absolutely! - 37.5%

Yes/maybe - 62.5%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


5 —Absolutely! It’s crystal clear how the solution is directly contributing to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity. - 37.5%

4—Yes, it establishes a clear connection to biodiversity. - 50%

3—Somewhat, the entry speaks to biodiversity but the direct impact is not well established and/or it is focused on a single species without considering its impact on the broader ecosystem - 12.5%

2—Not really, the connection to biodiversity is weak - 0%

1—No. The entry does not reference the solution’s impact on biodiversity. - 0%

3. 3) Is this entry IMPACTFUL?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 62.5%

3- Maybe. - 12.5%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

4. 4) Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 37.5%

3- Maybe. - 37.5%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

5. 5) Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 12.5%

4- Yes, I think so. - 12.5%

3- Maybe. - 62.5%

2- Probably not. - 12.5%

1- No. - 0%


5 -Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4- Yes, I think so. - 37.5%

3- Maybe. - 12.5%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

7. 7) Does this entry value COLLABORATION WITH OTHER STAKEHOLDERS in its approach?

5- Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4- Yes, I think ko. - 37.5%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 12.5%

1- No. - 0%

8. 8) FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions - 60%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 60%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 40%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 80%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 60%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 80%

Other option - 0%

9. 9) FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 25%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 50%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 50%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

Other option - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of felix

The project is good, give more details about how the skills and technical know how will be passed on to those women.

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