The Filmmaker Turned Anti-Poacher
Meet Kerry David, Founder of Over & Above Africa
I never expected to live in America, build an orphanage, become a filmmaker or found an anti-poaching initiative in Africa — clearly I’m not a planner, but I have no complaints! I originally left my home in England for what was supposed to be just a two-week backpacking trip in France, but got the travel bug and ending up spending several years roaming throughout Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. I only came to the US to renew my visa, with every intention of heading right back to Oz ASAP. However, shortly after I arrived I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: to join an all-girl band and spend the next chapter of my life singing, touring, and writing songs. After that wild adventure, I joined the cast of a four-person rock play written by Rex Weiner and produced by Adam Ant and John Densmore — and decided to make LA my home.
A year and a half ago, I was invited to a “Save An Elephant” charitable fundraiser downtown. I grew up on a farm, where animals were in many ways not just my pets but my friends. Being an animal advocate is second nature to me, so I was curious to learn more about wildlife conservation efforts. During the presentation, I was shocked to discover just how dire the poaching war in Africa had become, and its catastrophic effect on wildlife populations. One hundred elephants are killed by poachers every day, a rhino is killed every 6 hours, and lions, cheetahs and leopards fare no better and could be completely extinct by 2024. Other endangered species have even less time.
As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Going into that fundraiser, I didn’t know. Coming out, I knew, and felt compelled to act. After further exploration, it seemed to me that the non-profit world needed a paradigm shift to create more transparency for the donors, and cooperation between organizations. I found myself wondering, what if we connected a global community to create our own fund from nominal monthly subscriptions, then channeled the money into proven initiatives that protect the animals on the ground?
The more I learned about human/animal conflict, the more complicated I understood the issue to be. Simply put, greed and poverty create limitless supply and demand, and both root problems must be addressed if we are to truly end the poaching epidemic.
It all comes back to community for me, so I started to formulate a plan that would draw from that energy to bridge the gap between the public and the cause that needs their support. As a filmmaker, I knew I could utilize my background to create an informative, transparent, and visually compelling process through which donors could stay connected to their contributions as the funds are put to work- literally changing how people give. Out of this concept, Over and Above Africa was born.
Our concept is very simple. Members pay a five dollar monthly subscription fee, and these funds are pooled to finance highly targeted and vetted anti-poaching programs that we know to be effective. We closely follow every initiative that receives our support, and our filmmakers, drone operators and photographers document the outcome. Then, we transmit the stories of each project directly back to our members so that they can see and experience the impact their contributions make. We call it “Affordable Philanthropy”.
Although Over and Above Africa is my first foray into wildlife preservation efforts, it’s actually not my first time launching a social business in Africa. In 2010, I accepted an offer to build an orphanage in Ghana, a task that took three years and the assistance of many talented staff in both Africa and the US to complete. It was a completely new turn in my career after years spent in film production but I enthusiastically accepted anyway, confident that producing is producing, no matter the ultimate project.
I’d already had my share of successful ventures in the movie industry, and was ready for a new challenge. I’d worked in the Business Affairs Department at Paramount Pictures, learning about the contract and negotiating side of filmmaking. I’d been Nicole Kidman’s executive assistant for three years, and traveled the world with her and Tom Cruise while they filmed Eyes Wide Shut, Mission Impossible, The Blue Room, Practical Magic, and Without Limits, to name a few. I’d formed my own production company, and started an online community for independent filmmakers to share what I’d learned from working in the industry without a film school education. I was used to starting small and scaling, building support and momentum for my endeavors as I went along. The first newsletter for my online community went out to a grand total of 10 people, but when I sold it to the Vail Film Festival some nine years later, we had a membership of over 80,000 individuals across 103 countries.
All that goes to say: I knew a few things about coordinating events, managing projects, and building new organizations from the ground up. Happily, I was able to channel those skills into successfully creating the orphanage. Now, I’m stretching my abilities even further to create a unified worldwide community that can protect the lives of Africa’s remaining animals.
If we’re able to do that, our accomplishment will be about more than just species conservation. To inspire the kind of action necessary to save Africa’s wildlife, education has to be a core part of our initiative. We aim to confront the juxtaposition of poverty and greed that is responsible for this man-made crisis. We want to encourage society to harness our communal power for the good of all creatures on the planet, and we’d love to fund more innovative solutions in Africa and around the world.
Seeing others shine and thrive is my payoff. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing you had a hand in someone else’s successful journey. With that in mind, I want to extend an open invitation to all of my fellow COMMON community members- please, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, for whatever reason! In particular, if anyone feels their company would make a great partner for us, or if you have ideas for how we could collaborate with you to promote or help one another, let’s connect! We’d also like to offer all COMMON members who sign up for our membership plan a beautiful digital e-book which includes photos from Emmy-winning filmmakers and highly awarded photographers.
We just launched on March 27th, and I would love to further engage our growing staff with the COMMON community- specifically our amazing Executive Director, Jennifer Pfister, who shares the intense passion for eradicating poaching that fuels Over and Above Africa’s agenda.
My philosophy in every situation is to find the win/win for everyone. I think from that alone, I’ve always been looking for the social in business in some way. With Over and Above Africa, and with COMMON, I feel like we have a real opportunity to change the world for the better. I’m excited to be part of and engage with this group of people who share my optimism, and I can’t wait to see the kind of impact we can make together.
Over and Above Africa is scalable to any global issue- from climate change to deforestation and clean water! Anything where media can tell a story about how funds are spent can use our model. Our tagline is Over and Above Africa: #AffordablePhilanthropy. Together we have the tools to empower the world for good.
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