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and Restore Nature
2021 Finalist

Pole Pole Foundation

Area of Impact:
Democratic Republic of Congo

Eastern Lowland Gorillas are critically endangered by deforestation and poaching. The Pole Pole Foundation tackles the root causes of both: poverty and hunger.

Their Story

As a child, John Kahekwa dreamed of working with the Eastern Lowland Gorillas, known by many as ‘Grauer Gorillas’ the more endangered sub species of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He became a ranger, and expert tracker in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where he saw first-hand that the plight of the gorillas, and the future of the local communities, were bound together – all under ongoing conflict and amid devastating poverty. 

In 1992, Kahekwa founded Pole Pole Foundation after asking a poacher to explain why he was doing what he was doing. The man replied, “empty stomachs have no ears”. He realised he needed to focus on the root causes of deforestation and bushmeat poaching: poverty and hunger.

Today, the Foundation runs farming projects that grow low-cost, nutritious foods. It helps former poachers gain new skills, while teaching the importance of conservation to the next generation and providing vital support to rangers working in the park. And, they have planted four million new trees to create a buffer between people and the natural world.  

Becoming an Earthshot Prize Finalist in their 30th anniversary year gave Pole Pole Foundation an incredible platform to continue protecting the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, and enhancing the livelihoods of the local community.  

The Earthshot Prize Global Alliance Member Arup has designed specifications for the John Kahekwa Community and Conservation Centre – which, when completed, will support greater food production, increase eco-tourism, and generate craft gift income. 

Their Impact So Far

Since becoming a Finalist, Pole Pole Foundation are making huge steps towards protecting more of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.


After introductions by The Earthshot Prize, the Ecological Restoration Fund provided a grant to The Pole Pole Foundation to help restore wildlife corridors.


The Pole Pole Foundation has reached over 1,800 people. 500 community members from local villages have been involved in its vital reforestation work. Through education projects it has trained 80 young locals about sustainability and fed and treated 163 malnourished youngsters with supplies of spirulina.

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Other 2021 Protect & Restore Nature Finalists

The Earthshot Prize