When Léon and Leontine paid a visit to Ethiopia in 2004, they were filled with frustration. Despite the challenges faced by the country, they found it to be amazing and full of potential. However, they couldn’t help but feel angered by the Western world’s stereotypical portrayal of Ethiopia. They were particularly annoyed by the image of primitive huts on plains with malnourished children suffering from kwashiorkor, which was used to solicit foreign aid. They believed that Ethiopia had so much more to offer than this narrow and misleading depiction.
What stood out by Léon en Leontine were the opportunities in Ethiopia. They were impressed by the growth of large cities, the country’s natural beauty, and its rich cultural heritage. Contrary to Western stereotypes, they found Ethiopia to be far from primitive. While they recognised the need for economic development, they were most inspired by the proud people eager to improve their standard of living. As a corporate anthropologist and a real estate developer, Léon and Leontine decided that if no one else were going to seize these opportunities, they would take action themselves.
Bring Trade instead of Aid
Initially, Leontine and Léon had considered starting an NGO in Ethiopia. However, after discussions with the Ethiopian government, they realised the country already had plenty of such organisations. Moreover, developmental aid often leads to dependence and even laziness. Instead, the government suggested that the couple establish a company that could help spur economic growth. Thus, GreenDreamCompany was born, a family business focused on developing the tourism sector. It all began with the creation of a solitaire eco-resort in Ethiopia, including knowledge-sharing partnerships with Dutch universities and training programs for tourism entrepreneurs, stakeholders, and government officials in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and other emerging markets. However, Leontine and Léon aimed for a more enduring impact on tourism infrastructure. As a result, they added GreenDreamAcademy and GreenDreamWorks to support emerging markets, promote tourism diversification, and encourage the development of new initiatives.
Ubuntu as a Business Philosophy
During their early days in South Africa, the founders of GreenDreamCompany became acquainted with the Ubuntu philosophy and recognised its relevance to doing business throughout Africa.
In subsequent years, Leontine authored books, delivered keynote speeches, and organised masterclasses on Ubuntu Management. The company also integrated this philosophy into their leadership and business practices, resulting in numerous individual and corporate awards. Today, GreenDreamCompany serves as the flagship firm of the GreenDreamGroup, which upholds a business
philosophy that prioritises financial, ecological, socio-economic, and inspirational sustainability – all of which are core tenets of Ubuntu.