Monday 4 May 2020

Karen Emanuel - Using tourism to protect and support the local community

Karen Emanuel - CEO

Karen Emanuel has been working to protect and build a sustainable community through the creation of Jicaro, an eco-lodge based on Lake Nicaragua, Central America. As one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, Jicaro has been celebrated for its commitment to the local community and the work it does to protect the surrounding habitat.

Karen’s work has strong links to UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 – to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Jicaro sign

Building community from the debris of disaster

Through a passion for sustainable travel, Karen visited Nicaragua in 2007 and fell in love with its rich biodiversity and wildlife. It was on this trip that Karen saw a sign which would spark a huge change in her life - ‘Island for sale’. A few weeks later, she made the decision to build a tourism resort on that very island. Unfortunately, later that same year, Nicaragua was left devastated by Hurricane Felix. The hurricane had a catastrophic environmental impact, gaining strength as it hit land and destroying more than one million hectares of rainforest. In response to this crisis, Karen began building Jicaro using only timber reclaimed from the trees lost during the hurricane.

A room at Jicaro

The hotel was launched in 2010 as a community-run business using local natural resources. For Karen, it was important to build a business that was rooted in the local community. “Having Jicaro makes for a great responsibility: you aren’t just giving the hotel staff jobs, you’re also providing employment and livelihoods for people who grow and provide the food.”

Local residents fishing near Jicaro

But Karen’s commitment to the community isn’t limited to the people employed by Jicaro. “We work closely with local schools to fund improved access to water, school and play facilities and so on.” This work takes the form of a local outreach programme, equipping the community with the tools it needs to ensure local children have access to a good education.


“If we want to continue our existence on our beautiful planet, we all have to act more sustainably.”

Karen Emanuel (Genetics 1986)
CEO, Key Production Group

Looking to the future

Karen believes, “If we want to continue our existence on our beautiful planet, we all have to act more sustainably.” Sustainability has many meanings for Karen, and has been informing the way she lives her life ever since her studies at Leeds. Making sustainable choices, both on a personal and business level, holds a lot of importance for her, as she believes it is the only option if we want to save the planet for future generations.

She advises that, “We need to become more aware about the ways in which we travel across the planet, and become educated in more sustainable means of transport. Changes to non-fossil fuel energy suppliers can make the biggest impact, and we can be less dependent on cars by becoming more reliant on public transport.”

Aerial shot Nicaragua

In order to help create a more sustainable future, there are several steps Karen advises individuals to take in order to decrease their environmental impact:

  • Think carefully about travelling on flights and consider alternative options
  • Balance your carbon contributions through a certified scheme
  • Be more proactive about your diet - eat less meat, and do not waste food!
  • Express your opinions to the businesses you buy from - encourage supermarkets to remove non-essential plastic from packaging
  • Try to use refill schemes for your essentials rather than buying more plastic packaging. Reusable bottles are a great start – instead of buying new bottles of plastic water, you can reduce waste by refilling
  • Look for products which use alternatives to plastic
  • Recycle more - be aware of what can and can’t be recycled and remember to clean out your containers before you recycle!
  • Don’t buy fast fashion, invest in sustainable fibres and long-lasting garments

In 2019, UN updates outlined that urgent action is required to ensure that communities around the world continue to develop in a way that is sustainable – this includes protecting local natural environments. Karen’s work to build a business that benefits and protects the local community is helping to create a future in which communities are able to grow to become safe, resilient and sustainable.