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Gamechanger: How Terra Education is Shaping Global Citizens & Impacting Communities

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Gamechanger: How Terra Education is Shaping Global Citizens & Impacting Communities

The B Corps community is full of individuals and companies who truly believe in using business as a force for good. In connecting and working with this community, we’re continually reminded that aligning our work with our values is what leads to deep and sustainable impact. Lately, when we’ve come across a B Corp with a mission we think is unique or particularly inspiring, we’ve asked them to sit down with us so we can learn more about their models and impact.

One such B Corp is Terra Education, a company that offers international service-learning programs to students of all ages, with a focus on helping them acquire the skills and perspective necessary to become effective global citizens. We love that their programs emphasize long-term, sustainable impact on destination communities, as well as a thought-provoking and enriching experience for program participants. They offer experiences that are impact and community-focused, but that also align with their volunteers’ passions, such as animal and wildlife conservation trips to destinations like Thailand and Galapagos, and sports-oriented service trips to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

We had the opportunity to connect with Terra Education’s Founder and Director Andrew Motiwalla to learn more about their work and impact – here’s what he had to say:

What sets Terra Education apart from other service-learning programs? 

Terra Education offers two international travel programs: Global Leadership Adventures (service-learning trips for teens) and Discover Corps (volunteer vacations for adults). What sets us apart from other programs is our fanatical emphasis on identifying high-quality non-profit partners around the world. This allows us to connect our travelers to meaningful grassroots projects. Unlike some organizations that invent unneeded projects or simply make participants do any manual task as a quick way to add a volunteer component to their program, we have a team of people around the world dedicated to identifying sustainable projects and responsible NGOs that we can partner with.

 photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

We love your guiding principles of compassion, cultural sensitivity, innovation and integrity. What was your process for selecting these values? 

Core values have a danger of becoming clichés. Our team was wary of inventing values that might seem like they were intended to make us sound good. So, we met as a staff and discussed what truly sets us apart from our other professions’ experiences. For almost everyone, these were values that we had not seen reflected to such a large extent at any of our other past jobs. Then, we tried to come up with scenarios where we might have to make the choice to compromise on these values – and the ones which we knew would never compromise are the ones we knew would hold true.

Speaking of putting your values to the test, can you explain how you use them in practice? For example, perhaps there's a time that stands out when you referenced your values to make a particular decision or overcome a particular obstacle? 

Compassion is witnessed on a daily basis here. The fact that many staff members feel like Terra is a family is evidenced by the way we treat each other and our clients. For most of our clients, it is nerve-wracking to put your life in the hands of a company and fly to a developing country and hope for a good experience. We realize this. Instead of getting upset by anxious clients who ask tons of questions, we put ourselves in their shoes and consider the emotions they are feeling, and then answer the questions from that mental state. There are inherent risks in traveling abroad, and people have a right to ask tough questions and demand honest and thorough answers.

Cultural sensitivity is also critical in our work. All of our programs occur outside the United States, and therefore require a certain level of sensitivity to understand how things work in other countries. But it’s most important when doing any sort of project with a community. When designing our volunteer projects, the experience cannot be driven by us. Otherwise, it will be inauthentic, or worse, possibly damaging to the community. This requires a heightened sense of cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural competency.

 photo via Global Leadership Adventures

photo via Global Leadership Adventures

As we understand it, program participants volunteer with community-based organizations. How do you select these partners? 

When vetting a partner, we visit them to understand how they engage a community, and how they design their projects to be sustainable. Whether they're adult volunteers on a Discover Corps trip, or high school students with Global Leadership Adventures, our travelers are only in-country for a couple of weeks, and therefore it’s important that they be a link in a chain of volunteers that is working towards a larger vision.  

Sometimes, partners are overly optimistic about how much foreign volunteers can actually contribute, and then we work with them to set expectations properly. Just because someone is an accountant from the United States doesn't mean that they can join a team to implement an accounting system for a NGO in another country in a week.  

Do you regularly report on and/or review your impact? If so, has this had an effect on how your business has developed?

We definitely review our impact when it’s time to renew our certification, but we would like to do it more frequently. We are forming a new internal committee to look at more ways we can increase our impact in a more structured way. In the past, many of our efforts were ad hoc, but as we grow we would like to be more strategic about our impact. We hope to specifically look at areas where we can really boost our scores.  

 

One of our favorite things about Terra Education is how they aim to have a positive impact both on the destination communities in which they work, as well as on the individuals who participate in their programs. These participants are called “gamechangers”, and you can learn more about their experiences here – we highly recommend that you check them out.

To follow along with Terra Education’s work or learn more about their service-learning programs, visit their website for adult programs: Discover Corps  or their website for teen programs: Global Leadership Adventures.

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

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How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving This Year

We often talk about how important it is for businesses to step up in response to the current events and issues affecting our world every day. And the unfortunate fact is, there are always ways that businesses can help out or stand up – whether it's a natural disaster, an act of mass violence, or racial injustice in the form of police brutality.  One of those moments is happening right now.

The results of this year’s presidential election are, for many, shocking and devastating. The implications of Donald Trump’s election, along with a Republican Congress and the likely appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, are far-reaching and scary. Many marginalized and minority communities are gearing up to protect their rights as we prepare for a conservative political system that will likely work to take them away.

How to Think Differently About End of Year Giving

As we move forward, it is important for each and every one of us to think about how we can respond in a way that is proactive and impactful.

One of those ways is through end of year giving. Often thought of as an obligation – a requirement that all “good” companies and organizations must fulfill – we challenge businesses to think of it differently this year. Instead of moving forward with your typical year-end giving plan, use it as an opportunity to support any work that protects the rights of vulnerable populations post-election.

If you're on board, here are our thoughts on how to get started:

Think through your values and how they align

 First things first: What does your business care about? Is it diversity? Gender equality? Mental health? Education? The list is endless, but think it through and take time to hone in on what you would call your company’s core values. If you’re looking for some insight on how to get there, this post will help you out. Once you know what those are, it’s time to think about how they align with the work that needs to be done following the presidential election. Do you want to focus on work to fight racism? LGBT rights? Women’s rights? Immigrants’ rights? As you know, a lot of people’s rights and safety are at stake right now, and we need to do something about it – all of us.

Determine where you want to focus your efforts

The answer to this question isn’t simple. Depending on what your business is, it may or may not be clear as to whether you should start with your own community or focus on national or policy-level efforts. Think about it yourself, and take time to talk to your team. Together, you can determine where your focus should be.

After you know which issue area(s) you want to focus on and at what scale, it’s time to do your research. There are so many organizations out there that need support in various capacities, and it’s worth putting in the time to determine which would be an effective partnership. You’ll absolutely want to consider their work, to date, and what they’re trying to do now, but you’ll also want to look at how they measure their impact, who manages the organization, and whether or not there is a need that you and your employees could fulfill. This post has some great questions you can ask yourself to get started in identifying your partner(s).

Decide how you can give most effectively

Next, think about what you have to give. If you’re looking to give money, this is the perfect time to do it. You could also offer to match employee donations to your chosen organization, or simply pledge to give a percentage of your revenue through the end of the year in support of their work. If you’re looking to give your time, you can arrange a company volunteer day, give employees a day off to volunteer, or simply encourage your team to do so on their own time, providing them with information about organizations your company supports.

 

We also very much encourage businesses to spend this time thinking about their internal culture. Support your employees’ mental health, implement policies that allow them stay safe and care for themselves, and, above all else, take measures to ensure that your workplace has zero tolerance for hate or harassment.

Do you know of a business that has responded to this election in a way that’s worth talking about? Tell us about them – we want to spread the word, and encourage others to do the same!

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No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

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No Selfies With Cute Babies: On Finding the Way to Responsible Voluntourism

by Shanley Knox, featuring interview with Kate Otto

Have you ever seen those beautiful photos of volunteers with small, African children wrapped in their arms? At first glance, these photos represent selfless individuals making a difference. But, could there be a deeper issue at stake?

Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica #MedicalBrigades, #GlobalHealth, and the nostalgic #TakeMeBack are growing in popularity as students and young professionals experience life changing trips to Africa and beyond. But, research is showing that these trips are not always beneficial to local populations.

In her recent piece, “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism,” Lauren Kascak writes that, “Volunteerism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems.”

As organizations work to improve the impact of “Voluntourism,” we, at WhyWhisper, took a look into the digital side of sharing these experiences. 

We asked Kate Otto, a World Bank consultant and the founder of Everyday Ambassador, to weigh in with her tips on impactful digital documentation surrounding your volunteer experience. 

Below, her tips for helping, instead of hurting, through your social sharing:

WWCo: How can we do better in digitally sharing our overseas experience?

Kate: The golden rule of sharing your experience overseas on public, digital media: imagine that everything you're posting to your Facebook, Twitter, and blog will be read and observed by everyone who you talk about in those posts (even if you know they don't have accounts on these platforms, or access to Internet). Would they be hurt, insulted, belittled, or disempowered by your comments or photographs? Would they probably think you're misunderstanding them? Then don't post it.

Have the consent of anyone who you're posting a picture of to post it to the world. Basically, even though the people you're working with are different from you on many levels, treat them the way you would like to be treated.

 WWCo: Can posting a certain projection of Africa and other destinations in the Global South be harmful?

 Kate:

1. There’s nothing wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're working and living with abroad; this can be an act that solidifies friendships and documents moments of joy and gratitude in the same way we would do in our 'home' environments. The problem isn't with your action, it's with your approach. There's everything wrong with taking and posting photos of yourself and the people who you're living and working with abroad, if in doing so you present yourself as "saving" or "helping" others, or in any way being "above", "smarter than", "more advanced' than "them".

2. Avoid us/them narratives at all costs. We are we. We are all people. We give and take in our relationships (and if you think you're the only one giving, you're probably not in a relationship), and we are gracious and kind and respectful in our relationships. By doing anything other than treating each other as equals, we are perpetuating systems of oppression. So be cool.

WWCo: What is the way forward toward documenting and sharing our experiences in a more positive way?

 Kate:

1. Honestly, document less and live more. Enjoy your experience without having to document every moment of it. 

2. Question yourself always: are you documenting for yourself, or for others? If it's for others, why? Be honest with yourself about whether you're taking and posting that photo to craft your "image" for others, or because you genuinely want to share a specific, meaningful moment with friends/family who are happy to share in your joys, whether they're your new friends abroad or your 'home' friends.

3. The absolute key part of travel and volunteering/voluntourism is about building meaningful relationships, and it's your responsibility to decide how (over)documenting your experiences will diminish or enhance your capacity for deep, lasting human connection.

To dig a bit deeper on this topic:

For effective ways of writing about your service/voluntourism experiences, check out EA's #WednesdayWisdom blog series 

For a weekly roundup of hot media on the topic of being authentic in a technology-saturated world, check out EA's #WeeklyPassport blog series

Looking for concrete tips about managing your voluntourism experience? Check out EA's recent webinar "No Selfies w/ Cute Babies! And Other Tips for Your Summer Abroad"

Pre-order Kate's book "Everyday Ambassador" to get a deeper analysis of these topics, pub date Jan 2015

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