Sophie Mills, MGC 1998 Leaver

Malvern Alumnae 100 Sophie Grant

MGC gave me confidence: the teachers, the Housemistresses, everything was geared to nurturing and to make us believe we had unlimited potential provided we were prepared to work hard. Despite this, when I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I only knew I wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives; how to do that was harder to define. My route to running my own safari business and training as a wildlife guide in Kenya was circuitous, and I hope that that fact will give many of you hope!  

I read English Literature at Cambridge which was AMAZING, and then went on to a disastrous first year in Law because I wasn’t sure what else to do. For years I thought not completing the full training in Law was my biggest failure, but now I see it as one of my biggest successes.

In 2006, an inspiring colleague, the late Jim Cogan MBE, gave me the opportunity to leave my job in Westminster fundraising, and to go to Nairobi and start up his new organisation, The Good Earth Trust. With Jim’s guidance and vision, I set myself up at a company called Makiga Engineering and launched into two fascinating years of learning.

Seeing my first pilot building go up – a home for a displaced person who had lost their family in Kenya’s 2007 election violence – was unforgettable. My time in that role gave me a tremendous respect for Kenyan people; they have a deep humility, resilience, they are not afraid of hard work and they have a natural entrepreneurial streak.

I met my husband, and by 2009 I was living on a working ranch called El Karama - his home - in one of Kenya’s most stunning wildlife regions. We wake up in the shadow of Mount Kenya and fall asleep to the sound of hyena and lions. I never, ever take this incredible world for granted and feel lucky to be able to make a contribution to it.

El Karama Lodge is my labour of love; we support 23 local Kenyans and have trained them to become the wonderful eco-tourism professionals they are now. The business is a recognised leader in eco-tourism, sustainable travel and family adventure. Preserving unique habitats and wildlife in this climate, where population expansion is exponential and wildlife is at risk, is a privilege and huge responsibility.  There are v few moments in my life when I am not thinking and breathing El Karama, it runs through my veins and powers my resolve when things get tough.

What does success look like? 

Am I interested and curious about life? Am I fit and physically able to take life here and lead people by example? Am I having fun, exploring and inspiring my children to live a good life? If the answer is yes – then that to me is success.

What is your best piece of advice?

Pick something you are passionate about, apply yourself and make a contribution where and however you can.