Lessons Learned: ‘Competitors’ Should be Partners

A great blog post by Daniela Papi PEPY Executive Director

Lessons Learned: ‘Competitors’ Should be Partners

Those of you who have traveled with us in the past might know that for many years we have complained about the failure of libraries in rural Cambodian schools. “There are no librarians. Any training given has to do with maintaining books, not literacy education. Teachers never enter the libraries. Kids can’t read and no one is teaching them. Libraries are locked so that no one steals any books.” These are all complaints we have issued and heard echoed throughout rural Cambodia. So we complained and stamped our feet and vowed to make our library in Chanleas Dai different, but what good does that do for all of the rest of the libraries in Cambodia?

About a year ago I was reading a book called “Forces for Good.” Have you read it? If you are working in development, looking to donate funds responsibly, or are interested in effective ways to effect change, read up. In the book it talks about how “great” NGOs work on the ground and they also work in advocacy for the issues they are working to change. Another common thread among the most successful NGOs was that they often partnered with their “competitors” or sometimes even their “enemies”.

“Competitors?”, you ask? “Isn’t that a funny word to use in the NGO sector? Shouldn’t you all be working together to make this world a better place?” You would think…..

but unfortunately “competition” and “proprietary information” and other barriers to successful information sharing are common terms even in development. One of our heroes who was trying to break that down and bring light to these issues was Mickey Sampson who we have featured in a previous post and we have learned from him that, only once we all work together can we reach our common goals.

So, one year ago, we decided to try to change things on a broader scale. We learned a lesson: that complaining isn’t going to change things, but partnering and working through problems with long term goals in mind, rather than quick fixes, might. We approached Room to Read, an organization with over a million dollar per year budget in Cambodia alone, and said “Let’s do this better.” And they agreed. Their new Cambodian Country Director at the time had also gone out to do surveys of libraries in Cambodia and came to the same conclusions as us: libraries sit locked or unused, the training that does happen usually gets to the principal of the school who attends the training simply for the high per-diem he receives and does not pass on the information, and teachers never enter the libraries.  Together we decided that we would work to find a way to do this better.

Our first step was to create a concept paper around “Classroom Libraries” with the idea of bringing the books into the classroom. At PEPY, our belief is that the key to change in libraries is bringing training to the teachers, not just to the librarian. If the TEACHERS know about the books and have ideas for how those books could be used in the classroom, then perhaps the library will get more use and will actually serve as a tool to further education as it can be integrated into their classes. A side product is that the teachers will be better trained for all of their classes and, with many teachers listing training as a top need after increased pay, we know there is a demand for this.  In Cambodia, we are working with a generation of teachers who never had books in THEIR classrooms, so there is little understanding as to how to use books as learning tools.

With the support or Room to Read and additional outside funding from PEPY supporters such as the Hunter Advisors, we are installing classroom libraries in 10 schools in Siem Reap this month. We designed the classroom library unit to include shelving where students have access to books targeted at their grade level as well as levels below and above in order to challenge all students. These books should be available to students between classes and any time they are in the classroom without their teacher. The bottom portion of the shelf has a locked storage area which holds 20 copies each of a variety of titles chosen for each grade level. These books will all come with two lesson plan ideas per book and detailed instructions for the teacher as to how to integrate the lesson into their classroom. The PEPY team has reached out to educators all over Siem Reap to help create these lesson plans and ideas with the goal of creating templates which could be repeated with any number of books as the teacher gets used to the system.

The training, as I said, is what we believe will be the key to the success of this program. This is still the area we are working on and hope to complete the initial training phase for all schools by the third week of May. The final week of May we will have a training with the head of Room to Read’s programs throughout Asia to discuss this concept and the methods we have used to structure this program. Our hope is that, if this model proves successful, it will be copied in areas across Cambodia and adapted to fit the needs of neighboring countries as well.

By getting the books into the classrooms and bringing much needed training to teachers who self-describe themselves as ill-prepared to teach reading, we will make a dent in what should be our real metrics of success: increasing literacy rates not number of libraries.

CNN Covers Voluntourism (Again!)

According to our survey results which will be released in the next couple weeks and the abundance of recent press – voluntourism is definitely on the rise!

Below the latest story from CNN. Question: Do you really feel there is an increase in boomers volunteering? I have heard a lot of you talk about expecting a surge but not many that have actually experienced it.

More Older Americans Signing on to Volunteer Abroad

By Stephanie Chen

(CNN) — When Autumn Preble was a teenager in the 1960s, she spent hours gazing at black-and-white LIFE magazine photographs that documented the journey of Peace Corps volunteers all over the world.

George Stouter, 67, is helping build mental health programs in Saint Kitts for his Peace Corps stint.

George Stouter, 67, is helping build mental health programs in Saint Kitts for his Peace Corps stint.

Preble, of Whidbey Island, Washington, wanted to join, but after college came marriage and a child.

Now at 58, with her son off to college, she has begun her two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer working in the public health sector in Francistown, Botswana, where nearly one in four individuals are infected with HIV.

“I’m getting to experience what it’s like to live in another culture, and that has a lot of value to me,” Preble said from her simple two-bedroom bungalow in Botswana. Preble is known to natives in her community as Masego (Ma say ho), which means “many gifts.” “This is the kind of travel that I’m interested in.”

Forget the mapped-out cruises or packaged vacations to see the world. A growing number of Americans over 50 are dedicating time in their golden years to volunteering abroad. The decision is becoming more attractive with a sickly national economy sparking more layoffs and early retirement packages.

“The economic crisis is giving them an opportunity to take a break,” said Vanessa Noel, an associate director in the nonprofit department of Alliance Abroad Group. The Austin, Texas-based company offers work, teaching and volunteer programs to students and graduates in the U.S. and abroad. Noel coordinates volunteer trips abroad that typically last between two and 12 weeks.

Inquiries from eager adults over 50 have flooded her office in recent months — so much so that she is creating new programs this summer to Costa Rica and Ecuador tailored to older volunteers that will last several weeks. “Life is short, and now they can seize the opportunities out there.”

Applications for the Peace Corps from adults over 50 have spiked 44 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, driven largely by the weak economy and a campaign launched in 2007 to lure mature volunteers. All applicants to the Peace Corps — a federal program created in 1961 that puts Americans overseas in places of need — must pass background checks and a health test. Married couples are allowed to join together.

To read the full article visit:


Travelocity’s Change Ambassador Grants Offer Volunteer Vacation Opportunities

Tasha Carvell, Director of Travelocity’s Corporate Social Responsibility program, Travel for Good, was kind enough  to submit the below blog post. The Travel for Good site is alive and well – what do you think of it’s contribution to the field?–

Travelocity’s Change Ambassador Grants Offer Volunteer Vacation Opportunities

When Travelocity returned to the black in 2004 after the bleak period after 9/11, the company breathed a collective sigh of relief. Rather than bask in the glory of profitability, however, a groundswell of employees joined in a united appeal to company leadership to funnel some of those earnings into a philanthropic effort. To their credit, and thanks to a couple of particularly committed members, the executive team was quick to concur and, in the spring of 2006, a committee which included employees from all levels of the company was formed to brainstorm and come up with a concept that would be the focus of Travelocity’s corporate social responsibility program.

There was no shortage of ideas to come out of the working group, but everyone in the room quickly realized that the common denominator was a belief in the transformational power of travel, and the conviction that Travelocity had a role to play in promoting responsible tourism. That passion, combined with some internal polling which showed that many of Travelocity’s customers were interested in giving back to the communities they visited while on vacation but were unsure how to go about it, led to the establishment of the Travel For Good program and its cornerstone, Change Ambassadors.

The idea of Change Ambassadors is to help bring the idea of volunteer vacations to a broader audience. Travelocity launched a microsite to help make it easy for its customers to find volunteer opportunities through partnerships with gold-standard voluntourism providers Cross-Cultural Solutions, Earthwatch, Globe Aware, the American Hiking Society, and Take Pride in America, all of which can be accessed at http://www.travelocity.com/travelforgood or from a permanent “voluntourism” link on the Travelocity home page. In addition, travelers wanting to hear about the experiences of other everyday folks who have taken a volunteer vacation can do so at http://www.travelocity.com/volunteerstories, a site dedicated to highlighting user-generated volunteer stories.

Although Travelocity’s members for the most part can afford a volunteer expedition as an alternative to their traditional family vacation, Travelocity recognizes that there are also many people who could not afford to go on their own. Therefore, the company launched a second part of the Travel for Good initiative – Change Ambassador Grants. Travelocity awards two $5,000 grants per quarter to customers and one $5,000 grant per quarter to an employee to go on a volunteer vacation sponsored by any one of the Travel for Good partner organizations. Thanks to generous donations from partners like Marriott Hotels, Conde Nast, and MasterCard, additional grants have been added in past quarters. Forty grants have been awarded to date, and the number of quarterly applicants has grown by 200 percent year over year. Grant recipients have run the gamut of volunteer work along the way: building wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia, doing trail maintenance on volcanoes in Hawaii, caring for orphans in Peru, and restoring mangrove ecosystems in Kenya.

Problems like climate change and needs like disaster relief demand something from each of us, and traveling responsibly doesn’t just help the communities it touches, but also affords a deeper experience for the volunteer-a chance to see local cultures and address challenges from the inside, the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective, and to know the joy of sweat equity. Travelocity is proud to help its customers and all travelers navigate the voluntourism opportunity waters and take that transformational trip of a lifetime.

Tasha Carvell

Director, Travel for Good (Travelocity)

Tasha Carvell is the director of Travelocity’s corporate social responsibility program, Travel for Good, overseeing its non-profit and corporate partnerships, grants program, employee-engagement initiatives, online community-building activities, sustainability efforts, and marketing. She was part of a small grassroots group of employees who helped to found the program in 2006.

To learn more from Tasha regarding Travel for Good you can follow her at The Window Seat at http://windowseatblog.com

Building Bridges Coalition – New Voluntourism Industry Site

For those of you who haven’t seen it the BBC has launched a new portal for voluntourism providers to share best practices and work to facilitate the BBC’s 2010 goal.

Check it out at: http://buildingbridgescoalition.org

For those of you who don’t know much about the BBC here is a list of their goals:

1. To double the number of international volunteers sent abroad annually by 2010

— Increase public awareness of international volunteer opportunities
— Encourage organizations to commit to scaling up
— Foster partnerships among international volunteer organizations, universities & colleges, corporations, and government agencies
— Support the Public Policy Group to expand national resource commitment to international volunteering and service

2. To improve the quality of international volunteer service

— Establishing and promoting effective practices for international volunteer service
— Create a forum for interaction and information sharing for international volunteer organizations, universities & colleges, corporations, government agencies, and other stakeholders in the field of international volunteerism
— Encourage increased corporate engagement and improved social and business impact in international strategic volunteering programs

3. To maximize positive impacts of international service in communities throughout the world

— Support the Research and Impacts Group to implement the comprehensive research agenda and improve effectiveness in international volunteer service

More details can be found in the Building Bridges Strategic Plan.

Building Bridges Plan_2009.pdf

NY Times Covers Voluntourism Again

Voluntourism is going strong. The below article gives a sneak peek at what our survey is confirming, most volunteer travel operators are growing in this recession!


Getaways that are ‘Guilt Free’ – by Michelle Higgins

SURE, you’d like to take a vacation. But with layoffs hitting your best friends and your own company hinting at pay cuts, how can you justify it?

Readers’ Comments

Consider the guilt-free vacation. To counter customers’ reluctance about jetting off for conspicuous consumption during a recession, travel companies are pushing trips that emphasize service, values and personal fulfillment. The message: If there is more involved than frivolous pleasure, you don’t have to feel bad about dropping all that cash on a splashy vacation.

Abercrombie & Kent, a high-end tour operator perhaps best known for its elite safaris, is offering Philanthropic Journeys (www.abercrombiekent.com/philanthropy), a collection of luxury tours that include elements of volunteering or giving back to the visited community. On sale now is a two-week trip, Fighting Climate Change in Antarctica, from $5,697 a person if booked by June 30. Travelers see penguin colonies, visit a working scientific station and help deliver equipment designed to measure the impact of global warming in the region.

Taking a slightly different tack, Virtuoso, a network of upscale travel agents, is using the banner slogan “Return on Life” to promote trips. “It’s about spending time on what matters most to you,” says the pitch on www.virtuoso.com/returnonlife, its Web site. “Maybe it’s a personal journey to your favorite destination. Perhaps it’s creating wonderful vacation memories with family, friends or your significant other. It may be that you want to get back to nature.” The destinations include 10-night family trips to Vietnam and Cambodia from $3,605 a person or seven-day Alaskan cruises for $3,295 a person.

“Even people who have money to spend are feeling somewhat a sense of guilt in spending money when reading and hearing of difficult times for so many other people,” said Edward Piegza, president of Classic Journeys, a tour operator based in La Jolla, Calif. “But if they can see their spending is actually having a positive impact in some way, they are more able to justify to themselves that their travel is doing good.”

IN January, Jill Stanley, a retired personal assistant from Washington, took a 12-day Conservation Safari, operated by Abercrombie & Kent as part of its Philanthropic Journeys program. The trip demonstrated joint charity work the company has done with Friends of Conservation, an environmental organization that works with locals to develop sustainable ways of living in harmony with nature. “We did the safari thing,” she said, “but they also took you around to see what A & K and the F.O.C. had done to help the area.”

On the trip, which cost about $10,800 a person, Ms. Stanley visited an orphanage for children whose parents had died of AIDS and spent time with a Masai village and learned about reforestation efforts in the region. “It made me feel good that we were able to plant trees or give in our name for somebody in the Masai Mara,” she said. “It’s much more rewarding than going and sitting on the beach.”

Companies offering more affordable volunteer vacations report that bookings for do-good trips haven’t dropped as much this year as those for more traditional vacation packages. Sierra Club Outings, which offers a series of “service” trips in which volunteers can help eradicate invasive plants in Channel Islands National Park in California ($695) or maintain trails in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky ($375), said its domestic trips were down by 16 percent for the first three months of the year overall, compared with the same period last year. But service-trip bookings were down just 9 percent.

In some cases, volunteer vacations have even been growing. Projects Abroad, which runs volunteer programs overseas, said bookings were up 20 percent this February from February 2008, with some of the travelers recently laid off but others simply looking for vacations that involve service. Options range from teaching soccer in Moldova for two weeks ($1,795) to teaching English in Nepal for three months ($3,295).

For other travelers, the urge to imbue a trip with a sense of purpose is fulfilled in more personal ways.

“We are getting more requests for trips they can share with family and friends, such as celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary,” said Pamela Lassers, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie & Kent. “They want to rent a villa or a barge in Europe and then invite friends and family to join them. Or plan a private tented safari to celebrate a 50th birthday. Or host a family reunion at a ranch in Colorado.”

Virtuoso’s Return on Life campaign was created in response to a similar trend toward trips that focus on spending time with loved ones. “I really think people are putting their lives in perspective,” in light of the recession, said Kristi Jones, president of the travel agency network. “There is this need for people to feel reconnected and rejuvenated, but not in a self-indulgent way.”

For Globus, a major tour operator, bookings are down overall, said Steve Born, vice president of marketing, but religious tours, family packages and dream trips like Galápagos cruises “are stronger or on pace with last year.”

Faith-based trips, like pilgrimages to Jerusalem or other places of religious significance are resilient partly because travelers view them not just as vacations but also as “an expression of faith,” Mr. Born said. “It’s not a commitment they feel they can break.”

Globus is also offering another kind of vacation customers may find easy to justify — the fast, affordable trip. The company recently introduced 14 Guilt-Free Getaways from 4 to 10 days each, starting at around $100 a day — trips “that won’t tax pocketbooks or keep travelers away from their daily responsibilities too long,” according to its Web site, www.globusjourneys.com/Guilt-Free-Getaway-Vacations.

For families limited by school and activity schedules, Mr. Born said, the timing of vacations is pretty much predetermined, and even this year “it’s just a matter of where and how.” And given the stress of the economy, many people may feel they need a vacation now more than ever.

“I think people need things to look forward to in this economy,” said Jill Walsh, a mother of three from San Diego, who along with her in-laws has been planning a summer family trip to celebrate her husband’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. “What do you work hard for and save for if it’s not something to have memories?”

To keep costs down, the family plans to rent a house in Glacier National Park in Montana. “Four to five special days just with the family — who knows if that opportunity with Grandpa going on 82 will happen again?” she said. “It’s an investment in memories for a lifetime.”

Last Chance to Join Voluntourism Survey!

Alrighty, for all you folks who have been thinking about filling this voluntourism survey out but haven’t gotten around to it here is your chance! We’ve had a ton of great replies so far and Christina and I’d really love to make this a survey truly indicative of the whole market.

Some of the brave companies who have replies so far are:

World Teach
Projects Abroad
Global Citizens.org
Volunteers for Peace
Heritage Conservation Network
Ambassadors for Children
Globe Aware

We're also running a consumer side of the survey with GeckoGo to see if the destination
and activities companies are offering are matching with the traveler's interests.

So go on, fill out the survey and send it back to me by the end of the
week - it's good for ya. =)



Why Discounting Won’t Work to Survive this Recession

Great article by Anna at Tourism Internet Marketing – what are your thoughts on discounting? Have you tried it? What were the results?

The tourism industry has often boasted of its resilience and ability to rebound after drops in demand caused by such negative factors as 9/11, SARS or natural disasters. The adaptive response most frequently deployed is generic discounting. But does this serve the individual business or the tourism community well and will it work this time?  I believe the answer is NO and for the following reasons:

1.       We’re not looking at a temporary blip in demand. Life and business, as experienced between 2003 and Q3 2008 will not return to normal. The growth in demand for discretionary services was fuelled by cheap credit, cheap energy (until 2007), and asset inflation – all unsustainable illusions based on a denial of environmental realities. Expansion in capacity (airline seats, condominiums and ocean view apartments, whether sold in wholes or fractional units, hotels and restaurants) was all based on an over estimation of demand by suppliers and consumers alike. Now only the airlines have the option to remove excess capacity from circulation by parking their vehicles in the desert. As identified by Time Magazine in February 2009 , consumers shop very differently today. As indicated by McKinsey as far back as 2007[i], boomers won’t be spending as freely after seeing their assets (first homes, second homes, pensions and equities) plummet in value; and the kids, who were supposed to be filling a major labor shortage due to retirement of the boomer workforce, will face tough competition from people old enough to be their grandparents.

2.       We are looking at fundamental changes in the nature of demand; the way consumers make decisions and respond to brand messages and the way suppliers gain their attention. Not only do consumers regularly turn their backs on advertising, they worry more about the opinions of peers or society. Sean Gregory’s article in Time identified three kinds of consumer in terms of their willingness to spend right now. In short:

  • Those that can’t (they’ve lost their job or income)
  • Those that might but won’t (they fear they might lose their job or income or are simply being prudent/cautious)
  • Those that could but still won’t (because they don’t want to send the wrong signal to peers)

3.       We are looking at deep and major changes in the source of travel demand and businesses must be more granular and refined in their approach. In their 2006 article, McKinsey showed how price sensitivity varied by a factor of 13 across regional markets and even by a factor of 3 across zip codes in the same cities. In other words, consumer behaviour cannot be predicted by macro demographics, psychographics and post code but by individual circumstance, perception and attitude. Individual consumers are demonstrating their individuality. Destinations that continue to rely on macro economic models to prioritize top ten performing countries will miss out big time. This is the time for more in-depth research into customer perceptions and motivations not less.

4.       We are also looking at fundamental shifts in the way consumers spend their free time (internet usage now exceeds TV watching for many) and the way customers are reached and influenced. Furthermore, the relative cost and ROI of various distribution channels can vary enormously as illustrated by McKinsey’s research[ii]:


In this context, blanket reductions in marketing spend across the board combined with a reluctance to change channels would spell disaster.

At a time when customers have ceased to trust brands; when they favor the recommendations of friends and peers over the exhortations of sales personnel; and when they can research a producer’s claims or compare supplier’s prices on their mobiles as they walk to the check out stand, loyalty cannot be bought. It can only be earned through assiduous attention to detail, through rigorous honesty, through genuine respect for the customer’s intelligence and through genuine gratitude for past business. Tough but true.

To read the full article visit:


Researching Volunteer Tourism: Defining the Experience

Just wanted to take a second to clear up a little confusion that seems to have arisen about this blog in the last couple days. I am a voluntourism industry consultant so some people who read this do hire me – but I will never let that influence what is done or said on this blog. My consulting practice is just that, and the blog is a forum where I try to present a neutral issue and encourage people to debate so we can further the field. I don’t make money off of this blog, I just want to help facilitate conversations.  There have been some great learnings so far so let’s keep it going!

On to the real post of the day:

Angela M Benson, Principal Lecturer Sustainable Tourism Development, University of Brighton, presented the below research at the GWTTRA Symposium – I found this really interesting as she talked to a lot of travelers and compared their perceptions of volunteering with the messages that voluntourism operators are putting out there.

“What is clear is that if organizations do not want volunteers to view this as a holiday experience more clarity in the message and terminology used is required and a transfer of that message is actions and activities at the field site.”

To see the full study download: defining-the-experience

Serve America Act – Good or Bad for Voluntourism??

I wanted to wait at least a week before I posted this topic again for discussion. The initial ‘woo hoo’ sentiment is wearing off and I have heard a lot of mumbling about whether the Serve America Act is good or bad for voluntourism. Let’s start the debate – make a comment, share how you feel.

What do you think? Is voluntourism better or worse off as a result of this Act?