Kelley Louise is Executive Director of Travel + Social Good. Founded in 2013, in partnership with the UN Foundation and +SocialGood, the non-profit is building a collaborative community that seeks to develop the tools and network to help catalyze our industry’s next leaders.
TRAVINDY: What challenges is your organisation trying to address?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: Travel+SocialGood is a nonprofit and community aimed at propelling the travel industry to meet its potential for global positive impact. The travel industry has this wonderful potential to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, and we look at the Global Goals for inspiration on issues that we can tackle as a community.
There are so many incredible travel professionals whose vision is centered on making the travel industry more sustainable, and ultimately, geared at making the world a better place. Our aim is to connect the dots between those visionaries.
TRAVINDY: What is the impact you are trying to achieve?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: Our goal is to transform the industry into a force for good. We are focused on education, advocacy and community. We hope to arm our community with the tools and resources they need in order to spark positive change within the industry.
TRAVINDY: What’s special about your approach to meeting these challenges?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: We believe that sustainable travel is the future of all travel. I think there’s a misconception that when you hear “sustainable,” “responsible,” or “impact” travel, people tend to think of this as a niche within the travel industry, and their gut reaction is (usually), “That’s great, but I want to go on a vacation.” But the thing is, there is no reason you cannot visit any destination, and do so in a sustainable way.
When most people travel, whether for business or pleasure, they are visiting cities. We believe the secret to pushing the travel industry toward its potential as a force for good is to transform cities into capitals of sustainable travel.
One of the most beautiful parts about this is that these sustainable experiences – ones that really celebrate the community and empower them – are also the most authentic and memorable experiences we have when we travel.
TRAVINDY: What’s the most exciting thing your organisation has achieved so far?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: First, it’s our community. We launched our first Hub (TSG NYC) in April 2015. Since then, TSG has grown and expanded to 22 other cities around the world. We are an unfunded nonprofit run entirely by volunteers, so it’s deeply humbling to see the time and dedication that our passionate members put forth.
As the Executive Director, I feel so blessed to witness this movement coming to life, and the biggest factor that keeps me going is when people find Travel+SocialGood and tell me, “I’ve found my home.” As entrepreneurs within the travel space, I think it can be incredibly isolating to feel like it’s you against the world, and it’s so humbling to know that we don’t have to do fight this alone.
“We believe the secret to pushing the travel industry toward its potential as a force for good is to transform cities into capitals of sustainable travel”
Second, it’s the Global Summit. We originally launched as a Summit to explore the potential within the travel industry, and more than 250 social entrepreneurs, travel industry professionals and innovators joined TSG for the inaugural Summit in 2013. It was an incredible success, and after the event, the overwhelming response was, “What’s next?”
The team went back to the drawing board, and since then, we’ve grown into the nonprofit we are today. The Summit sets the tone for our organization as a whole, and we have four other initiatives that create a web of opportunities for the travel industry.
This year’s Summit will be hosted at the UN Headquarters in New York City and already shows the promise of being our most impactful event to date. We’ve limited the event to 150 visionaries in the travel, tech and social good nexus, and the main portion of the event is a design-thinking session (different workshops geared at finding concrete solutions to unlock the potential within the industry). Our goal will be to answer one question: How do we mainstream sustainable travel?
To find out more, visit the Summit page on our website.
TRAVINDY: What do you need to help you be more successful?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: Our biggest challenge is learning how to be sustainable as an organization. There is so much passion and potential within our community of volunteers, but as an unfunded nonprofit, it’s always a balance of investing our time and also being creative to keep costs free or as low as possible.
People hear what we’re doing and are blown away by our rapid growth and the traction that we’ve already been able to accomplish – and it’s usually after that realization that they find out we’re run by volunteers. I think the gut reaction is to say, “Wow, that’s so incredible because you’re driven entirely by passion.”
There’s this misconception that you can’t do good in the world and get paid to do it, but the reality is, that’s just not sustainable. One of my greatest hopes is that TSG can talk about sustainability with radical transparency and through a very holistic approach, one that encompasses triple bottom line (people, planet and profit), and also be a sustainable nonprofit organization in itself.
TRAVINDY: What does that success look like? Share your dream with us.
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: Travelers today are driven by experiences and purpose. There’s a growing trend that encompasses supporting local, empowering communities and spending money on businesses that include social good in their business model. These ideas are why you see success in services like Airbnb (connecting travelers with locals, and therefore, more authentic and unique experiences) or companies like TOMS or Warby Parker (that integrate social good directly into their business model).
For Travel+SocialGood, I think success is more than just growing as an organization – success would be the ability to look back at the industry in 10, or even five years from now, and to know that we played a small part in helping to catalyze some of the industry’s next leaders.
TRAVINDY: If you could connect with one person, company or organisation in responsible tourism, who would it be, and why?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: TSG leads with an inclusive voice, so there isn’t a specific person or organization that I would want to pinpoint. But I will say that much of the power within TSG is centered on the fact that our community connects the dots between likeminded individuals (from different organizations focused on travel, tech and social good).
It becomes very powerful when you consider the potential of connecting say perhaps, a small community-based tourism operator with a social media influencer, or a large positive-impact retail company with a community-led development project.
TRAVINDY: Which other person, company or organisation would you most like to recommend to be interviewed for this series, and why?
TRAVEL + SOCIAL GOOD: Some of my personal favorites include –
- Visit.org — A platform that connects travelers with nonprofits and community-based tourism organizations around the world for tours and activities that benefit local communities. One of my personal favorite experiences that they offer is through League of Kitchens, which connects travelers in NYC with an immersive culinary cooking class in an immigrant’s home.
- Mama Hope — A nonprofit that trains impact entrepreneurs from around the world and partners them with visionary leaders in developing countries to lift their communities out of poverty. One of their campaigns is called Stop the Pity, and is an incredible example of the power of digital storytelling and the ability to shift perception through media.
- Humanity Unified — A nonprofit focused on economic empowerment, Humanity Unified partners with local NGOs to help communities rise out of poverty through education, food security projects and economic opportunities by investing in women. Their mala bracelets, which benefit women in Rwanda and India, are one of my personal daily reminders to persevere.
- Redline — A nonprofit contemporary art center in Denver, Redline is both a museum and an artists’ residence program. It is an incredible example of how a local project (and tourism destination) can empower a community and individuals to create social change through art.