Holly Budge, Founder of How Many Elephants, shared stories of her summiting Everest to immersing herself with the Black Mambas, an all-female anti-poaching team in South Africa.
British Airways called her “one of the UK’s most accomplished female adventurers”, who has raised over £300K for charities.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
Everest summiteer, world record adventurer, first woman to skydive Everest, expedition leader. I’m a passionate conservationist, artist and founder of award winning campaign ‘How Many Elephants’. I’m a motivational speaker, sharing tales from basecamp to the boardroom. So far, I’ve raised £300k for various charities.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No, it’s been an organic journey. I started life as an adventurer at an early age and spent a lot of my childhood in the outdoors. When I was 21, I did my first skydive whilst backpacking around New Zealand and was blown away by the experience and the fact that people were getting paid to jump out of aeroplanes for a living. My career’s advisor at school definitely hadn’t mentioned that as a possible career path! I decided there and then, that was the job I wanted. Six months later, with lots of training, dedication and hard work, I achieved my rather far-fetched goal and became the third woman to work as a freefall camerawoman in Lake Taupo. On reflection, I refer to this as the ‘boldness of youth’ as when I set myself this goal, I knew nobody in New Zealand, I knew nothing about skydiving and I knew nothing about filming but none of that mattered. I knew I could learn all the skills I needed to get the job, or I could at least try. This gave me immense confidence and self-belief that I can try and achieve whatever I set my mind too. I love the outdoors and the adventures that go with it. Being an adventurer has allowed me to travel to some of the world’s remotest and most inhospitable places. I have met some hugely inspiring individuals on the way and I really love the unknown element of adventure and travel!
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Sitting on the summit of Everest, on the North Side, for 30 minutes has to be up there. I was very fortunate with finding a small but glorious weather window to summit. My climbing partner and I had the summit to ourselves, a very rare privilege, and we experienced magnificent blue skies, with very little wind. The view was spectacular! We were conscious of time though and how quickly things can change up there, as we later experienced! On our descent, the weather changed in a heartbeat and we got caught in a storm, forcing us to spend the night at Camp 3 (8300m). I thought our tent was going to be blown off the mountain. It was terrifying. When we looked outside the following morning, most of the other tents had been blown off or shredded to pieces. The next day we descended to Advanced Basecamp which was a long day battling the winds but made it back down safely!
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Having a positive mindset. My daily mantra is ‘Think big, dream bigger’. Having the ability to push myself out of my comfort zone and being able to rationalise when my body is screaming NO but my mind is whispering “yes” has been a huge factor!
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have been mentored and I have mentored. My aim has always been to inspire others to daydream, meander, run, climb and jump into their own adventure of self-discovery, and in doing so, learn that with self-belief, determination and resilience, even the biggest of challenges can be overcome.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Role models. It is so important for younger generations to be able to identify with ‘real’ role models who show and encourage others to pursue their own journeys with passion and purpose. I am a firm believer that great role models do not have to have elite qualities of physical or mental advantage. Looking through the lens of women in adventure, it is great to see female adventurers are increasingly being recognised and acknowledged for their talents and achievements, and rightly so. I also believe women becoming increasingly more prominent in the world of adventure is making a positive contribution to gender equality in society as it is showing women breaking new ground and also showing the capability of females, often in traditional male roles.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t listen to the naysayers. At times, I’ve been told I lack direction and purpose because I don’t lead a conventional lifestyle. Being an entrepreneur is tough, there is often no road map and sometimes this is hard to convey to others. It can be lonely too. At times, I’ve felt like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall and not making any progress but a small voice inside always keeps whispering ‘keep going’. I did keep going and started gaining momentum. Now I feel like I’m making a real difference, inspiring others and receiving lots of positive recognition for my work. I’m proud of the life I lead; being entrepreneurial, being an alpha female and living an ‘unconventional’ life, rich in purpose, experience and passion.
Along with your adventures, you’ve also done an enormous amount of conservation work. Why do you think conservation is so important?
I am passionate about conservation and design. My award-winning awareness raising campaign, How Many Elephants, is giving a voice to the critical African Elephant crisis. Few people know the extent of the problem; 96 African elephants are poached each day for their ivory. At this astonishing rate they will be extinct in the wild in the next ten years. I have turned this disheartening statistic into a powerful art installation that presents a physical commentary on the devastating impact of the elephant ivory trade, to raise awareness and funds to support anti-poaching projects. I’m using design to bridge the gap between scientific information and human connection in the field of wildlife conservation.
Over 1000 school children have visited my exhibition for workshops with plenty feeling inspired. Part of the originality of this exhibition is in my approach to avoid gruesome and shocking imagery to portray the facts. To actually see this data visually is very impactful. It is not about scaring people or assigning blame, it’s about raising awareness of the enormity of the poaching crisis.
Recently I immersed myself with the Black Mambas, an all-female front line anti-poaching team in South Africa to intimately learn what drives and motivates these pioneering women to pursue their multifaceted roles as protectors, educators and beacons of hope. The Black Mambas’ work takes them away from their young families for weeks at a time, challenging the traditional status quo. Armed only with pepper spray and handcuffs, these women patrol hunting grounds of armed poachers who pose an imminent threat to the elephant species. They also strive to change attitudes towards the role of women in Africa and beyond.
You can find out ways to get involved at www.howmanyelephants.com
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Next year I will be attempting to hike 3000 miles along one of the greatest wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China.
This is about more than the gruelling adventure itself. It’s about something greater than that. I want to research how elephant ivory fits into the Chinese culture and into their deep-rooted traditions and beliefs. This adventure will be a journey of discovery into a different land and culture. It will be a journey fuelled by a passion and a thirst for new knowledge and insight. It will be an adventure of physical and mental strength and endurance. It will also raise awareness and funds for my How Many Elephants Campaign. I am looking for sponsors to come onboard.
To discover more about Holly Budge visit www.hollybudge.com or follow her on Instagram www.instagram.com/hollybudge. Her conservation focused campaign is www.howmanyelephants.com and www.instagram.com/howmanyelephants