Those of us in the travel industry are tremendously fortunate. We get to see places, meet people and experience things that many people don't. We are among the "haves" in a world with way too many "have nots." But if we approach our journeys with open eyes, it becomes obvious that there are myriad opportunities for the fortunate to give back and make a difference for those who are less so.
I recently had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with a remarkable woman who exemplifies that spirit of giving back. Fiona Jeffery is the chairperson of World Travel Market, an amazingly successful trade show held in London every November.
Jeffery runs what I believe is the finest international trade show in the world; while a tremendous accomplishment, that is not what I find most remarkable. Jeffery is the founder and chairperson of an organization called Just a Drop (www.justadrop.org) that seeks to remedy an appallingly pervasive problem worldwide: lack of clean water. Polluted water is the world's largest killer of children under five. While we take access to clean water for granted, millions of Asian and African women must walk an average of almost four miles per day to get drinking water for their families. And yet, a donation of $2 will provide clean water for a child for 10 years!
Water is such a simple commodity that its availability to us is a given. Not so in many of the places we all travel to for fun or business. I urge you to visit Justadrop.org and learn about all the wonderful projects and programs they have in place. There's a nice big "Donate" button on the site...I ask you to click on it and make a difference.
Another really interesting type of charity with which I've become involved is in the area of "micro-financing" or "micro-loans." By making small loans through Kiva (www.kiva.org), you can help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually six to 12 months), you receive e-mail updates from the entrepreneur you've sponsored.
I got turned on to this by another remarkable woman...my mom. A recent Peace Corps volunteer (who spent her 60th birthday teaching English and music to kids in Macedonia), my mother learned about Kiva a few years ago. In lieu of Christmas gifts for her grandchildren one year, she gave them all certificates showing that they had loaned money to folks in South America to purchase cows and goats for their farm. The gesture was somewhat lost on my son, who was hoping for a Pokémon, but I loved it.
The impact such philanthropic initiatives can have on tourism is tremendous. You can make "micro" loans to an entrepreneur in Tanzania who may need the money to make or buy products to sell at a souvenir stand. Or to a man in Cambodia to purchase parts to repair his taxi. Or to a group of women in Guatemala to purchase thread with which to weave blankets they will sell to tourists at the market. Go to Kiva.org, sign up, peruse the list of loan applications and make a "loan-ation."
I urge you to check out both of these great organizations, and make sure your clients know about them as well. You'll feel good, it will benefit people, and you'll be more connected to the world we benefit from so dramatically in the tourism business.