With 15 years’ experience working and collaborating with people and organisations who operate in remote wilderness spaces, Malora Keevey is a key asset to the health of our organisation through the wellbeing of our people, guests and operations as a whole. Her role includes operational risk management, enhancing risk transparency among the business, health and safety functions, and safety standardisation and guidance for all business areas as well as the wellbeing of our staff.
This role has become even more crucial with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we caught up with Malora to find out more about her role and what keeps our exceptional colleague ticking.
How and when did your journey with Wilderness begin?
My journey started a few years before I became employed by Wilderness. I was working with Dr Simon King at a company called Blackplan Incident Management (now Park.Doctor), where we provided incident management services to SATIB’s clients, which included Wilderness. In 2015, Wilderness approached us to create a more tailored and internal incident management system – and so Wilderness24 was born. I headed up this process and spent much of my time at the company to get Wilderness24 integrated into the business. In 2017, I permanently joined the Wilderness family.
Tell us about your roles at Wilderness. Where did you start and what is your new/current role?
Wilderness24 and incident management were a priority focus area to start, but I soon became more involved in the operational risk management functions for the group. This included producing risk and safety reports, liaising with our insurers, health and safety integration, standardisation of risk efforts across business areas, and enhancing risk communication. Most recently, my role has increased to include that of employee wellbeing, with the aim being to enhance overall motivation and job performance of our staff through more focused support in mental and physical wellbeing initiatives.
In layman terms, what do these roles actually mean? Give us a rundown of a day in the life of Malora.
Chaos? Ha ha no, my role is rather diverse and complex in the sense that it does not involve standard day-to-day tasks, but instead requires that I keep a holistic overview on all aspects related to risk, safety and wellbeing across the Group. Much of the time I deal with issues and concerns raised, then problem-solve or troubleshoot solutions for these with the various regions or departments.
Recently, much of my time has been spent on drafting and maintaining the COVID protocols and associated tasks – which are ever-changing – to ensure we are able to get our operations back to business safely! And with the new addition to my role, I’m working with a great team to see how best we can improve our employee wellbeing, both mentally and physically, in the business. Of course, any day could be disrupted completely if there is an emergency that needs to be dealt with. No one day is the same, and I really enjoy that.
What are your plans with these roles and what gets you excited about them?
Early on in my career it became my objective to help people and businesses navigate the risks and uncertainties that are common to remote wilderness environments; to help them build resilience so that they can thrive in these unique spaces, and thereby ensure the sustainability of conserving these beautiful areas.
Although the roles I fill now straddle two different domains (Risk & HR), they do, in fact, go hand in hand. How confident our people are and how safe they feel in their working environment directly impacts how operational risks on the ground will be handled. This then has a greater knock-on effect in the business. I am very passionate about mental health and improving decision-making when faced with uncertainty or challenges. This task is a very challenging and an arguably optimistic endeavour; however, whatever positive impact I can make in the personal growth and confidence of our people living and working in our business, I’ll do my best to achieve. I’m also so excited to be able to collaborate with such a diverse set of talented people across our business again. My success is only as good as the success of all of us together.
You clearly have a number of qualifications under your belt. Tell us more?
I never took myself to be an academic; I naturally tend towards being a more practical and hands-on person. But I am very curious by nature, and a bit of a fact-finder. I’ve always been interested in how people think and feel, and what that means in terms of how they behave under stressful situations. I realised that to be able to really help people, I needed to understand the theory as well as the best-practice application, and become a professional in doing so. I actually started my academic career as a fine artist, before I focused on psychology and then risk. Although these studies seem worlds apart, they actually all enhanced how I see the world today. Creativity helps problem-solving, psychology helps one understand the way people think and behave, and risk is how we navigate uncertainty to improve success in life or business.
I am currently doing my PhD in behavioural decision-making under stress and uncertainty.
Give us a quick history of where you’re from and places you’ve lived and travelled to.
My father is a conservationist, so I had the privilege of growing up in the Kruger National Park and got to travel to some really wild places like Sierra Leone.
Following high school, I took a gap year to the Netherlands to help me fund myself at University – I ended up spending most of my savings that year to dive with orcas in Norway, which was a life-changing experience. I waitressed a lot at university – but it was worth it!
I then spent three years managing a horse-safari operation in the Tuli Block in Botswana before setting off on building my career in risk management in the ecotourism/conservation space. My work has also allowed me to see some incredible parts of Africa. Highlights for me have been Zakouma in Chad, Odzala in the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and various game reserves in Kenya and Tanzania and southern Africa. I absolutely love travelling, so most of my savings get put towards an adventure somewhere new. I’ve explored the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe, and drive my husband nuts showing him all the places I still want to go (usually far-flung and involving at least five modes of transport to get there).
What do you enjoy most about working at Wilderness?
There’s not only one specific aspect I enjoy, but multiple. I am so grateful for the mentorship and guidance I’ve received from the senior (not old, to be clear!) leaders in the business over the years. I’ve absolutely loved every regional work trip I’ve made, getting to spend time with the people there and to experience the most incredible wilderness areas on the continent. And of course, getting to work with the people who make Wilderness tick – we have an incredibly diverse, highly skilled and passionate bunch of people across this business. I’ve made long-life friends here.
Out of our four values – Fun, Leadership, Respect and Dedication – which of these resonates with you the most and why?
Of course all four values are crucial, and they do all resonate fairly equally with me. But seeing as you are being so pushy for me to be picky I would say Respect and Fun are currently most topical for me.
Respect is so important, now more than ever. We have been pulled worlds apart during this pandemic as each of us is living in our isolated micro-worlds, and have/are being affected in so many different ways. Now is not the time to judge anybody, get impatient or fault people without doing some perspective-taking, showing empathy and understanding that something may be influencing their tone/behaviour/performance. They may be experiencing a loss of self or someone close to them. Respecting diversity and cultures, and celebrating the little wins we see now will go a long way to rebuilding trust and relationships as we work back out of this challenging time. The narrative of this pandemic has been so damaging – we need to stop saying ‘social distancing’, it’s ‘physical distancing’ – we are social beings and being told to isolate socially is literally torture for the mind and soul. This phrase has caused people to feel guilty about reaching out and connecting. So respect also means to not expose someone to harm, i.e. for health reasons, but we must still allow ourselves to reconnect with our colleagues, friends and families sociallym even if it’s across Zoom, shouting across a table or taking a walk together in the park, 1.5 m apart.
Fun and laughter is just such an important aspect of living a balanced life. Laughter triggers endorphins (feel-good chemicals), and decreases stress hormones while increasing immune cells and improving resistance to disease – it should be a prescribed by doctors everywhere. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and situations even if they seem so utterly bizarre. Having some fun makes sense of a world gone mad.
If you could choose to lockdown in any of our camps, which one would it be and who would you take with you?
That’s a really tough one! But I would say the either Busanga Bush Camp or Shumba in the Kafue. The remoteness, space and incredible diversity of game there would keep me content for a long time. And I would take my husband – we didn’t kill each other during lockdown, so he gets to stay!
Trail running, boxing, art, horse-riding and underwater hockey (it’s a thing, look it up), when I get round to it.
Any good pranks?
Ha ha now now, I can’t give any trade secrets away. But I would certainly say that one of the more successful pranks I have witnessed (of which I was by no way the instigator – points to my colleague Ulrich Wilgenbus), was pranking Commercial Director Derek de la Harpe whilst on an insurance trip to Vumbura. We, I mean Ulrich, strategically suspended Derek’s luggage bag high up in a leadwood tree near a waterhole, in the pouring rain. We, I mean Ulrich, arranged for the guide to make his way there for sundowners and point to a strange ‘animal’ in the tree. With his binos, Derek took a good long look and we all held our breath – his first response was ‘Ha ha ha, one of you just got pranked!’ This was potentially a career-limiting prank, but he was a good sport and we got to keep our jobs.
One thing you cannot resist?
I love travel and adventures to anywhere new, near or far. But obviously with the current travel and financial restrictions my wanderlust has been duly curbed. So I guess the best answer to this question would be – cheese.
What does your emergency “Go Bag” consist of?
I travel incredibly light, but must always have with me a good book, sketchbook, small first aid kit (yes I do), my laptop and, depending on the destination, an emergency supply of a good whiskey and coffee.
If you could swap personas with anyone in the world, just for a day, who would you choose to be, and why?
Does Calvin from Calvin & Hobbs count? Jokes… no, I actually wouldn’t mind spending a few days in the shoes of journalist and storyteller Paul Salopek, who has been walking the world since 2013, aiming to complete a 34 000 km odyssey tracing the footsteps of human kind. To emulate his statement, ‘slow down & find humility’.
What advice would you give your 20-year-old self, knowing what you know now?
You’ll make mistakes, many, but each one makes you a better more resilient you; that not everyone will like you and that’s ok; take time for yourself – it’s not about being selfish, it’s about ensuring you have enough energy to be there for others and to achieve what you want to; and the clichéd but true – don’t sweat the small stuff.
Let’s plan your next journey
When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.