First there was one. Then there were two, four, and six. Now JbD and Wild Philanthropy is run by a 16-strong team. Our most recent arrival is the wonderful Fiona Walls, Senior Sales Specialist, and someone who I have known for some time now, and whose work I have been aware of through Tim Best, for whom Fiona worked before his untimely death in 2016. I consider ourselves very lucky to have her on board.
Fiona was made to travel – literally. Her father worked for Beechems (now Glaxo Smith Kline), a work that required that he trot the globe, which is how Fiona came to be born in Hong Kong, before spending the first five years of her life in Venezuela. And if much of her later childhood was spent in Guildford, then that was just because a young person can’t just (legally) up and leave their parents and backpack around India or work in remote villages in the likes of Zambia, which is exactly what she did while studying Geography at Edinburgh University, where she worked with a charity that helped fund and build schools in rural Africa.
Indeed, Fiona’s travel experience at an age when most of us are still negotiating what it takes to board a plane alone is quite extraordinary. Soon after leaving university, she joined World Challenge Expeditions (WCE), which help empower schoolchildren through adventure, and meant that she visited and worked in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, Bolivia and Peru. After WCE came a three year stint at the redoubtable African Travel Resource (ATR), with whom she spent 8 months in Tanzania before cutting her teeth on the ATR sales desk. Finally, she joined Tim Best in 2007, and visited – well, you name it: Fiona Walls knows her stuff.
All of which explains why having the opportunity to listen to any one of her many experiences serves as a lesson to us all. I am especially interested in her experience with Tim Best, of course. JbD owes much of its character, tone and style to Tim, as it was to him that I went for advice when setting up the company. As Fiona says, he was old school, extremely detailed, and all about the adventure. He was personable, very social, and knew everyone in the business. He championed firsthand experience, insisting that anyone selling safaris needs to know the visceral quality of that which they were selling. The fact that Fiona spent so long with Tim speaks volumes.
And, to underline the importance travelling to as much of Africa as you can possibly get under your belt, do ask Fiona about her experience as a student helping fund and build a school in Petauke District, Zambia. She was in a group of 10, and remembers being exposed to – and living within – a culture that was both different and similar to her own. Different in the sense that she could never have imagined being witness to certain practices, such as the healing of an ailing village member by a bush doctor; similar in that however alien a culture may at first seem, it is still one whose hosts share many a value with its guests. More, and as she says, the experience also opened her eyes to the potential damage that can result from certain charitable endeavours, as the village’s neighbours did not receive the same support, and were understandably hostile to what they felt was unfair. ‘It’s why,’ says Fiona, ‘I really like what Wild Philanthropy is doing, enabling eco-businesses to help themselves.’
On which note, it’s time to sign off, and to thank Fiona for joining JbD, and for sharing her story. We are honoured that she’s chosen to work with us. Finally, if you have any questions for Fiona, I’m sure she would be happy to chat. Do get in touch.