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October 14, 2009

Sponsor a Maasai in the New York Marathon

by Brook Wilkinson

It's no shocker to see Africans running marathons--Kenyan Sammy Wanjiru just won the Chicago race convincingly this past weekend, and his medal collection also includes an Olympic gold. But next month's New York City Marathon will include three African marathon novices--Maasai warriors who work at Campi ya Kanzi, a 2008 winner of Condé Nast Traveler's World Savers Award, and its Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.

Campi ya Kanzi is the brainchild of Italian Luca Belpietro (who also will be running the grueling 26.2 miles), who made a deal with the Maasai of the Kuku Group Ranch: If they would put up the land to protect as a wildlife reserve, he would finance a luxury eco-lodge to attract travelers. The project is, by all accounts, a success. It's raised over $750,000 for conservation, education, and health care in the last year alone.

Edward Norton, who impressed all in attendance at Condé Nast Traveler's World Savers Congress a few weeks ago, is the president of the board for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Fund, and the leader of a group of 30 running the NYC Marathon to raise money for the Fund. Read after the jump to see what he has to say about this latest endeavor.

"We came up with the idea of raising funds by fielding a team of runners because the Maasai are born runners, runners as a matter of culture and heritage. The money we raise is going to enable important and inspiring work that the Maasai are engaging in to show that wilderness and wildlife and healthy ecosystems can be integral to economic prosperity and the preservation of a traditional culture."

To me, this is one of the most important causes in the world right now: Developing business models that give us a reason to protect our natural surroundings. Because if environmentalism is only about altruism, it will never survive. Ecotourism is about giving local communities a way to make money--but only if they preserve their environment. Norton's goal is both modest and ambitious: Get donations of just $20, but from 100,0000 people.

Consider making a donation. Then, on November 1, watch for the iconic red-checked cloth of the Maasai--Puma is making the team their own race shirts. Safari guide Parashi Ntanin may well be out in front; Norton thinks he can run a sub-2:30 marathon, provided his friends convince him not to hang back with them so that he doesn't get lost on his first trip to a big city.

Further reading:
* Check out our live reports from Monday's World Savers Congress, an event that brought together travel industry leaders to talk about corporate social responsibility
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference

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