Investing for Impact: Backing Africa’s Conservation Tourism Sector

The Nature Conservancy and ThirdWay Partners establish blended finance investment fund to support conservation tourism in sub-Saharan Africa

On Safari A visitor enjoys Nairobi National Park in Kenya. © Peter Ndung'u

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) – through its Africa Program and NatureVest impact investment team – and ThirdWay Partners (ThirdWay) today announced the final close of the US$70m Africa Conservation and Communities Tourism Fund1 (ACCT Fund). The ACCT Fund is an innovative collaboration that adopts an impact-first approach to demonstrate how driving sustainable investment into the conservation tourism sector can benefit some of the continent’s most ecologically important landscapes and their surrounding communities.

Launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting travel restrictions, the ACCT Fund was initially designed to provide flexible bridge financing to conservation tourism businesses to support job retention, continued payment of fees to conservation areas, and other ongoing support for conservation and community development initiatives. While tourism numbers have rebounded, the sector has not yet fully recovered, and the ACCT Fund now encompasses a more holistic focus on sustainable expansion of conservation tourism operations into high-value conservation areas, in order to catalyze incremental conservation and community impact.

All financing provided to tourism operators is tied to the expected delivery of beneficial conservation and community outcomes. The ACCT Fund has a primary focus on operators working in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. To date, 27% of the ACCT Fund’s capital has been committed to operators in Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania, with several other potential investments under development across southern and eastern Africa. The ACCT Fund’s first six loans have helped portfolio companies retain over 1,000 jobs across 35 camps, driving $1.3 million into local economies through salaries and other channels. This has also contributed to the protection of 84,000 km2 of conservation area through $4.9 million of annual payments to owners and managers of conservation landscapes.2

The blended finance transaction structure, which includes both commercial and catalytic tranches of investment capital, was designed to enable the ACCT Fund to provide tourism operators with a higher level of financial flexibility, while also including covenants designed to deliver measurable employment, conservation, and clean energy impacts. The ACCT Fund is capitalized with investments from TNC, KfW on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), ASN Biodiversity Fund, Ceniarth, clients of Align Impact, and other investors. The ACCT Fund, through ThirdWay, also received catalytic funding to spur commercial investments from Prosper Africa, a U.S. government initiative to increase two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Commenting on the thinking behind the development of the ACCT Fund, NatureVest Managing Director Lauren Ferstandig said: “Africa supports one-third of Earth’s biological diversity, and millions of people depend for their livelihoods on its forests and savannas that also play a vital role in sequestering carbon. The conservation tourism sector and the people it employs are vital stewards of largescale landscape protection in many of Africa’s highest-value ecosystems, yet much of the continent is yet to experience the benefits a thriving tourism sector can deliver for nature and people alike. Co-creating the ACCT Fund with TNC as Conservation Advisor and ThirdWay as Investment Manager gave us an opportunity to support the sector as it emerges from a very challenging time, providing it with stability while also powering positive conservation impact going forward, which is a high priority for TNC.”

Maarten Weehuizen, co-Head of Asset Management at ThirdWay added the following on the ACCT Fund objectives: “Nowhere on Earth is the connection between tourism revenues and conservation funding as clear as in Africa. Despite strong conservation progress in recent decades, the continent’s vast protected areas and the iconic species that depend on them continue to experience significant losses from threats including habitat fragmentation and illegal wildlife trade. The ACCT Fund exists to support a sustainable flow of vital funding from Africa’s growing conservation tourism sector into its protected areas and surrounding communities, delivering investor returns while also driving positive change across some of our planet’s most iconic yet imperilled ecosystems.”

TNC’s Regional Managing Director for its Africa program, Ademola Ajagbe, elaborated on TNC’s role: “The ACCT Fund represents impact investment with a truly ‘impact-first’ mentality. Our involvement enables TNC to shape the conservation and community covenants associated with the loan financing, monitoring operators’ progress against these commitments while also encouraging these businesses towards ever more positive impacts. Through our involvement in the ACCT Fund, we hope to highlight the vital importance of incorporating both environmental and social sustainability standards into conservation tourism financing – as well as demonstrating the strong potential of blended finance as an effective tool to catalyze investment into sectors historically overlooked by the financial markets.”


1 Legal name: Africa Conservation and Communities Tourism Fund, SCSP SICAV-RAIF

2 Impact data as of December 31, 2022

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.