How to ensure a positive impact when traveling and volunteering
How ImpacTrip choose its social and environmental partners – what it means to be a local experience manager.
ImpacTrip is a social business and a sustainable tour operator, fully committed to guarantee meaningful travel experience for anyone who desire to have a positive impact when travelling. In a previous article, we already explained what characterizes our programs and our actions:
- a deep focus on learning;
- the importance to be a positive (and proactive) example;
- the awareness about social and environmental issues that affect a destination or a community;
- the respect for non-profit associations, and their way to operate with local communities;
- being informed about bad practices (such as “orphanage tourism” and mistreatment of animals);
- the value we give to numbers – to measure the impact one has when volunteering.
Moreover, among our most important values, we mentioned: transparency, the choice to prioritize and support NPOs (Non-Profit Organizations) and the development of policies based on non-discrimination, designed to protect the welfare of the local communities that we decide to bear.
Now it is time to explain how we choose our social and environmental partners in a destination. Let’s start saying that this process always goes through a collaborative coordination between the leaders of the company, other specialists and a local coordinator: the Experience Manager. All these roles constantly share ideas, analysis, progresses and results, to achieve at the best our mission – have a positive impact in our destinations, through the creation of sustainable programs and responsible experiences.
- Everything starts from the knowledge of the territory. The Experience Manager is usually a local already living in the destination where we intend to have a positive impact. The reasons behind this choice are different: obviously, a local person knows better what the social, political, environmental and in any case relevant characteristics of his city are and can therefore support a volunteer more effectively during his volunteering period. Moreover, by involving a local in our mission and activities, we aim at honoring the UN Sustainable Development Goals:
- Decent Work and Economic Grow (8)
- Target 8.3 – Promote Policies to Support Job Creation and Growing Enterprises
- Target 8.6 – Promote Youth Employment, Education and Training
- Target 8.9 – Promote Beneficial and Sustainable Tourism
- Responsible consumption and production (12)
- Target 12.B Develop and Implement Tools to Monitor Sustainable Tourism
- Decent Work and Economic Grow (8)
- Analysis of the needs of the territory, at a social and environmental level. Being a local – or one who lived the destination for years, as a local – is important but not enough, when it comes to understand the real needs of a community. In addition to the knowledge of the territory, we start a big research about which kind of associations are operative and how, which kind of social and problems they try to fix and which kind of environmental issue they try to mitigate. Once we identify more local needs, we start thinking how we can use tourism as a tool to support local development at different levels (education, animal care, social inclusion, and so on). This way, we have the opportunity to map the needs of an entire community and design our programs – with the aim of supporting, for example, associations involved in providing education for gipsy communities, professional integrations and sport activities for people with special needs, cleaning operations for urban, coastal areas and so on. We explore possible synergies, through supporting NPOs in their current missions and projects but also through bringing our knowledge and accumulated experience into what can be created and achieved together for which sometimes the partners haven’t had yet enough time, resources or ideas to out in practice. All the destinations share some needs, as well as each destination shows different, “niche” needs – that is why a careful analysis is fundamental.
- First contact, introduction, and programs explanation. We contact the partner we decide to support, and we introduce ourselves, explaining in detail our goals, mission, and vision – this happens through the Experience Manager, always in the first line when it comes to establish partnerships and make positive connections. Usually, we get an appointment and the Experience Manager visit the location and finally knows the main referents of the association. We listen to their story and make questions, especially to understand how we can be a positive resource for the staff and to contribute their mission. We also try to understand if there are other projects that still need to be implemented, to help the association to make them reality. Each decision, from the social and environmental analysis of a destination to the choice of the associations we support, is discussed, thought and shared between the Experience Manager and the rest of the company, from its headquarters in Portugal (our Headquarters are in the unique and sustainable Impact House [link] in Lisbon). When possible, the Founders of ImpacTrip and other specialists literally “fly” (by plane!) to the destination and, with the Experience Manager, go and meet some of the NPOs which share our same values – and become then part of our social and environmental network.
- Volunteering, getting to know the people who make the difference in the area and learning from them. The second time we go to visit the association, is to volunteer there and join the staff in its daily routine. It means to be operative, proactive and – especially – open-minded and willing to learn, as the educational part of the project will be what we transmit to our volunteers. We must know the organization, its staff, and dynamics, so that the Experience Managers is able to understand the feedback we receive from volunteers, and give them constant support so they can both overcome their difficulties and barriers while expanding their capacities and impact when working there. We totally respect the way an association works, and we tend to enter tiptoed so we can fully understand what is needed and the point of view of the staff and beneficiaries. Our goal is to perceive practical ways and tasks to help them that have not been identified yet – so that we can identify and suggest as extra possibilities for impact through our knowledge on the operation and on this international, complex sector. In addition to this, we also have the chance to live the routine with the beneficiaries of the association: it’s about bonding, gaining trust and verifying that all the internal policies are respected, and no individual, animal or environmental area is damaged, ignored or abused. Each one of the associations we collaborate with is deeply committed to its cause, as much as we are – and fully respectful of regulations, human dignity, and environmental conservation. However, when we see something that can be improved, we always tend to give consultancy and justify the reason behind our advice – usually connected to sustainability issues and responsible practice.
When it is possible, we come back more time to volunteer at the association – with or without volunteers involved in a project. It is not only about networking, but more than ever about a trustful and enjoyable relation that starts becoming something more than a job, turning into a group of people who share the same values and want to grow together.
- Create the description of the program or project involving the partner we choose to support. This is the way through which our volunteers, from the other side of the ocean, have their first approach to our programs and activities. After we get to know an association and its mission, beyond having already volunteered there many times, we describe in detail its history, its main tasks, the professional profiles working there and the information about the beneficiaries’ profile. We make a general description for the program category (such as Youth Support, Animal Care, Teaching, etc.), plus a more detailed one that strictly focus on a particular association (and this part is made available to our volunteers once they arrive in the destination, on their Orientation Day). We always give real descriptions of our programs, partners, and social/environmental issues we decide to address, as any volunteers must and deserve to know exactly what they are going to face – volunteers cross the ocean to commit their energies and passions in a project, and not only for travelling. A program focused on Marine Conservation might look appealing when it comes to diving, but it also implies trash-picking actions from the bottom of the sea (and trash it’s not nice, and it can be any type). A program focused on Animal Care may sound sweet and cute, but the real need is to support the local staff of an association in cleaning the garden and do maintenance work – and, only at last (and with respect), cuddle some cats. If you are lucky.
As we usually state in our institutional policies, we are fully committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – and whenever we choose a partner to support, we make sure that the association is aligned with one or more of the 17 SDGS. That’s also one of the reasons why we are officially recognized as a B-Corporation, which implies that each one of our partnerships is based on the need to contribute to real (environmental and social) causes and cooperate with reliable partners. We support non-profit associations which have a positive, real (measurable) impact on the local community and environment, something we make sure of not only by informing ourselves and reading about the work of the association, but also by working alongside the association and touching the results of their programs. We try to understand if the association we support has received certifications or awards for their work, and if people are aware of their activities – even if they do not live, perhaps, in the same area. Eventually, we establish a long-term partnership with the NPOs we decide to support based on the impact we measure in time, and the feedback we receive from our volunteers.
This is the process we follow whenever we decide to open a destination, and this very decision also goes through some important evaluations – which country might need more support from us, in achieving social and environmental goals? After starting our programs in Portugal, Spain and Croatia, we recently arrived in Italy and we are already looking at the rest of Europe, especially after the global pandemic, to understand how we can be a support for the local change-makers you may never hear about, but who are silently fighting to improve our world.
DANIELA APPARENTE, ImpacTrip Italy Local Experience Manager & Dreambuilder