How did you first get involved with A&K’s philanthropy program?
It came about from an amazing conversation I had with Geoff Kent (founder of A&K) when he asked me how we’d set this program up. I told him we’d have to have full time professionals responsible for our community relations and commit to that so we’re not seen as a casual relationship. We also had to respect the community’s needs in the context of whatever we worked on. He gave me the green light and the freedom to create.
And the expansion continues?
Every year we’ve been adding two or three community development programs. We’re going to expand into Uganda and Brazil this year, Namibia is on the agenda and we are deepening our engagement in Laos.
How do you choose which projects to get involved in?
It has to be where A&K goes, obviously, because that’s the critical connector with exposure for the guest. It also has to make it through the filters that we use, so it has to be an idea expressed from our community partners and be realistic. Anything we do I want to be able to elevate and replicate in a way that’s going to have a maximum degree of impact.
When I first approached the leadership regarding working with the community to get in front of mother/child transmission of HIV, we were discussing a $250,000 outlay – we’d never invested that much. I knew it was going to be a challenge to overcome the threshold of that financial number, but I also knew that our program would be supported by our guests and it would be inspiring. They said yes and haven’t said no to anything yet, but there are filters in place.
This job must give you immense personal satisfaction.
There is great joy to this position, for sure. There are headaches, frustrations and things that go wrong, but most mornings it’s kind of easy to wake up.
My biggest high is that philanthropy is a learned activity and we’re giving kids, especially teenage girls, a moment of opportunity to actually experience things like this and hopefully they start to get it. My hope is that it stays with them for a lifetime.
Do you think the experience for A&K guests is life changing?
I hope so. For a lot of people it may not be their thing. For some folks going to see sick people in a clinic when they’re on holiday is the last thing they want to do and I have to respect that.
The critical moment we have is when a guest arrives for that two hour visit to a medical centre or to a school – that’s our chance to tear down all the perceptions of poverty and help them learn and understand through a village voice what these communities are confronted with and what they hope to achieve.
It changes the whole idea that these people are poor because they don’t work or don’t make the effort or whatever. It puts it into a context that guests carry with them and that’s the bridge building that travel ought to provide.
So is this kind of experiential activity the future of travel?
God willing, because our industry is not known for giving. Raising the bar in terms of what it means to this industry to do better by our host communities, I hope that’s the future.
Both images: Nakatindi Village, Zambia, health clinic opening (supplied)