Edge of Seven: The New Kid on the Block

Erin from Edge of Seven recently commented on the blog and got my attention. She has just started a voluntourism company and I asked her to write a quick post on 1. why start a business when everyone is complaining about the economy, 2. why get into a field that seems too full. Her story is inspirational and I thought it might take us all back to how we initially got into this field and take us away from the daily worry of social media, partners, sales.


Edge of Seven: The new kid on the block

My name is Erin Guttenplan and I recently founded Edge of Seven, a U.S. based nonprofit that supports service projects in developing countries that are community driven, sustainable, and respond to local needs.  We strive to customize service adventures that are affordable, all-inclusive, and mutually beneficial.

After working in the educational travel and cultural exchange sector for a decade, I decided to switch gears in September 2009.  I took off for five months, bound for Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia, to volunteer with various local organizations.  I left with a backpack, camera, and thirst for discovery.

On November 20th 2009, I followed a Nepali friend to a rural village nestled in the mountains of the Gorkha District in Nepal.  We visited his Primary School, a building on the verge of collapse.  We saw walls that were bent and crumbling, toilets that had been locked shut for years, and children running around in dirty and tattered clothes.  We saw a headmaster and a community looking for help.

That day changed me.

I created Edge of Seven because I have worked with communities in need and I have also met volunteers who want to serve in any capacity, big or small.  I believe that Edge of Seven is a way to harness the potential in connecting the two.  The opportunity can be seen in volunteers working side by side locals to build new schools, it can be seen in a teacher reaching a student, and it can be seen in one woman empowering another to shape her own future.  I believe that it is flashes of progress like these, multiplied, that actually change the world.

Today, we at Edge of Seven connect American volunteers with projects in Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia.  In the future, as our name Edge of Seven implies, we would like to offer service projects on all seven continents.  We have applied for 501c3 tax exempt status with the IRS because we believe that organizations in this field should be reinvesting profits back into the engine to create future opportunities for volunteers and communities in need.  It’s not about making money.  It’s about doing our part to facilitate global development.

I decided to create Edge of Seven now because I believe the field of volunteer travel is on the verge of something big.  I have worked for EF Education for the last seven years and was intricately involved in the educational travel sector, working closely with U.S. teachers and administrators.  Educators understand the need to revamp the educational system in the U.S. in order to compete in today’s global economy.  Companies are searching for graduates armed with 21st century skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and global awareness and frankly, they are coming up short.  Teachers are beginning to recognize that travel provides a level of experiential learning that cannot be duplicated in the classroom.

Further, volunteering abroad fuses travel and service, creating opportunities for personal and global development.  I think it the perfect time to be in this industry as the country shifts their focus towards education and service.  Lasso Communications agrees.  They conducted a survey published in May 2009 to give a quick snapshot of the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry that same year.  Their conclusion: the field of international volunteering is booming.  I’m excited to enter a growth industry.

In conclusion, the greatest lesson that I learned in my five months abroad was to find the right projects.  Volunteers are looking to be useful.  If they wanted to be tourists, they would be tourists.  If organizations support projects that are community driven, sustainable, and respond to local needs, the volunteers will follow.

Learn more at: www.edgeofseven.org

Customer Engagement – Are You on the Sidelines or in the Ring?

I did a quick survey of the 200 or so of you that subscribe to this blog, less than half of the organizations have a twitter or a facebook account (that I could find) and almost none had a blog. So with customer engagement becoming ever more important my question is are you on the sidelines or in the ring?

The days of relying on your organic rank, or your PPC rank, are over – customers are way more savvy these days and I believe as a company you need to engage them beyond just your website.

Tom Griffiths of GapYear.com made some interesting comments recently at the ATEC Conference in Oz:

“The future spend of travellers is really influenced by other travellers, not brochures and guidebooks. Things have changed. In 2010, they don’t need us. It’s no longer about coming on to our websites. If we’re going to sell to them we need to engage them.”

The mentality  has become “I can switch you on and I can switch you off and if you don’t engage with me, you’ll lose me.”

So my question is what are you doing to stay engaged and if you’ve made a conscious effort not to get into the whole social media hullabaloo what are your reasons? Would love to know.

Advertising on VoluntourismGal???

Hmm…. I’ve been approached by a few companies lately wanting to advertise on this blog, my reaction has been ‘Sorry, but no’ every time as I think this needs to be an unbiased forum for the industry. Right??

If you’d like your company to get a link from my blog, because apparently it helps SEO a lot, then everyone is welcome to submit a guest post that is educational, not promotional, for the industry. Send me an email if you’d like to help everyone learn and the field grow.

Top 3 Things Every Volunteer Needs to Know

I was recently asked to write a guest post on voluntourism for FareCompare.com and doing so I find is often a challenge. I write this blog for the industry so writing something for the consumer is a completely different mindset.

It brought up the question though, what information needs to be included in these general consumer facing articles both in the media and in blogs. What would you say are the top three things every potential volunteer needs to know? (and do you in fact address those on your sites?)

Here’s the article if anyone wants a laugh: http://deals.farecompare.com/2010/04/12/voluntourism/

Voluntourism & Cuba

Just wanted to quickly add in at the top of this, all of you imbeciles who sent me hate mail because I talked about tourism and Cuba… you need to get a life.

For those of you who aren’t on the Ethical Traveler mailing list I wanted to let you know about this exclusive R&D trip that’s being organized to Cuba for travel professionals only. If you have ever thought about offering Cuba as a destination  this is THE trip to make the connections you need.

I think voluntourism will boom when Cuba opens and I’d love to see some of the organizations make connections early in the country.

Ethical Traveler and Global Exchange’s Reality Tours have joined forces to create an extraordinary journey: an in-depth exploration of Cuba, with a focus on the country’s huge potential for mindful travel and tourism.

The delegation will be led by Malia Everette – who has been facilitating educational and customized trips to Cuba for 20 years and overseeing Reality Tours to Cuba for over 13 years. Jeff Greenwald, Executive Director of Ethical Traveler, will be co-hosting the delegation. During the 11 days in Cuba the delegation will meet with grassroots community organizers, and visit ecotourism projects across the island. The group will dialogue with cultural leaders, educators and travel professionals, exploring how the future of US/Cuba relations will create new opportunities for the ethical traveler. Participants can look forward to experiencing some of Cuba’s timeless attractions—including Old Havana and Viñales Valley (World Heritage Sites), the Tropicana Nightclub, the white sand beaches of Varadero, and emerging ecotourism resorts in Pinar del Rio and Cayo Coco.

Because of US/Cuba travel restrictions, this delegation is strictly limited to travel and recreation professionals (including travel writers and educators) traveling to Cuba for professional development and educational purposes only. Please be assured that Global Exchange is a licensed travel service provider by the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. We encourage to you to consult your tax advisor — for travel professionals, this tour is fully tax deductible, including the segment ($1,000) that will be used as a donation to Ethical Traveler, a California 501c3.

This is an exceptional trip that will fill very quickly, so we encourage interested parties to reserve a space as soon as possible! If you are a member of the media or have time sensitive questions, please call Malia at 510-290-0573.

Program Highlights:

  • Meetings with Cuban tourism officials
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Cayo Coco and Varadero Resorts
  • Eco Tourism sites