This profile was prepared when Maria Baryamujura was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Maria is combating urban migration by helping rural households and communities in Uganda to reap economic rewards from tourism. Her organization, Community-Based Tourism Initiatives (COBATI), is changing traditional perceptions of what constitutes tourism by turning various aspects of rural cultures and livelihoods into tourist attractions and creating income-generating activities for rural people. She is helping a group of households to provide tourists with services and tourism experiences beyond conventional offerings such as wildlife viewing. These household enterprises form the basis for infrastructure development and other government services, providing incentive for people to stay in rural areas. She creates a new understanding of tourism among tourists, rural communities, tour operators, and local government officials; growing perceptions beyond the traditional wild game and bird viewing in national parks and exotic hotels to include domestic tourism that focuses on people and their cultures. To tap into the increased tourist traffic that accrues from this new definition of tourism, she organizes rural communities into a network of viable and sustainable community-based tourism enterprises as competent service providers. She then turns these successful community based enterprises into role models for other households and community groups to transform their homesteads and livelihoods into income generating ventures.