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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 4 Issue 3 Highlights



Tuesdays 10am ET/7am PT

So You May Know

VolunTourism: "Not-For-Profit-Only"

Scott Laughlin and Chris Coyne are entrepreneurs. They have started numerous companies, helped launched others, guided those trying to fulfill their own entrepreneurial goals, and provided insights into how to bridge profitability and responsibility. As VolunTourists, they are as “serious” about combining their voluntary service with their love for adventure and travel. It is this integrated approach to business and life that has transformed what was once a rapacious capitalistic drive to a mantra that reads: “Not-For-Profit-Only.”

Scott Laughlin reached out to me in the Fall of 2007. He had recently helped launch a series of socially-responsible companies such as First Juice, Inc. and Zymetis, exactly the types of companies of interest to Mr. Chris Coyne, a fellow entrepreneur, active angel investor, and Co-Founder of Coyne Group with his brother Greg.  Scott and Chris found common ground immediately and agreed to stay in touch about more ways to collaborate in the future.  In one conversation, Chris shared the story of his voluntourism journey as part of a medical mission to Niger in 2006 with Irma Turtle, Founder of Turtle Will. His vivid description of the experience - - the gamut of service meets adventure - - and his testimonial of personal transformation as a result of the journey had piqued Scott’s interest; so much so, that Scott had signed up to join Chris in March of 2008 for a trip to Mali. It was to be the first “official” journey of Heart & Passion.

Chris and Scott had begun the discussion of what it would be like to create a series of voluntourism adventures for high-end travelers, primarily those within their immediate sphere of influence – venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc. How could such journeys enhance the well-being of all stakeholders – participants, communities, NGOs, and travel suppliers? How could connecting such diverse groups lead to greater understanding and information-sharing? These were just some of the questions, albeit rhetorical at this point, being asked by both gentlemen. The phone call between us was sufficiently intriguing; we scheduled a face-to-face in December 2007 at Vivienda’s Estate in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

Without any inclination of how our time together would unfold, I entered the pristine and sustainably-constructed space of Vivienda’s Estate on the afternoon of 5 December 2007. A cool breeze greeted me as I entered the foyer. Scott welcomed me with a grin and a firm handshake. I was struck by how young he was to have seemingly accomplished so much. He used concise phrases featuring a brilliant mastery of interconnected thoughts and ideas with a smattering of vocabulary garnered only through a sincere appreciation of literature.

Chris Coyne soon joined us. If a portrait of the “awakening seeker” could be rendered three-dimensionally, I beheld it before me in that moment of greeting. “This hand, which I now clasp,” I thought, “has shaken many others; these feet I see before me have trod many miles in many lands; and these eyes have seen things that mine may not see in lifetimes worth of being.” There was no doubt that the man standing before me had embarked on a determined quest to find THE Answer.

Confirmation of my initial thoughts on Chris Coyne was soon forthcoming. He spoke of his trip to Niger with Irma Turtle and the profound impact it had had on his life. He spoke of the balance of the itinerary between the amazing service projects and the travel-related activities. His was the fire of passion coupled with wisdom expressed by one who knows because he has experienced, firsthand. He clearly wanted others to embark on such journeys. He wanted to identify unique NGOs that could unite the hungry with the hungering; the materially-deprived with the soulfully-deprived; the culturally-rich with the financially-rich.

At one point the question of sustainability versus charity was raised. This engendered a second, equally compelling narrative from Chris. He shared the tale of a visit he once had to a leper colony in Ecuador where one of the acts of service was to hug individuals with leprosy. “The deprivation of human contact,” he explained, “makes the service of a simple hug the most benevolent of gestures.” For him, it had been a transformational moment in his life; I could understand why.

Although there were no formalized conclusions drawn from that day as to what Heart & Passion might one day become, I believe it kindled a greater inspiration within each of us to pursue our paths with the zeal that springs from knowing someone else is walking beside you. Scott has since taken his trip to Mali, about which you can read some of his commentary and illuminating moments in his blog. It has fed his passion to run a new start-up venture, Zymetis.

In June 2008, we held a “reunion” in Arlington, Virginia. I was introduced to several new folks including Bryan Van Vranken, a director of the Umbrella Foundation, USA, and Anik Singal, CEO of Affiliate Classroom. We had time to discuss many items of interest relating to Heart & Passion and VolunTourism.org. It was an excellent way to recharge the batteries for more path-treading. I was humbled to be in the presence of men with great business acumen who had been transformed by their engagements with purposeful travel. Scott said it this way: “Whatever is created, it must be not-for-profit-only. Is it a B-Corp (B-Corporation)? I don’t know. But it must have a purpose, a purpose beyond money-making.”

In the VolunTourism universe there are many questions, many dilemmas. Is this a space in which NGOs should reign supreme? Or are we ready to believe, and possibly embrace, the notion that business can also be socially beneficial? This is our challenge. For some it may require an intense bout of amnesia to forget corporate-coffer largess. For others it may be possible to begin “trusting” B-Corporation-like companies and getting to know these brands and the people behind them. Some individuals may insist that nothing less than complete transparency will suffice. And some, like Chris, Scott, and Bryan, may be willing to introduce us to a product or service that merges the personal/social with the practical/business. It is no less than a circus high-wire act; the question is really this: “Are we willing to feel the pain of not knowing, of making mistakes, long enough to discover an approach that serves and honors everyone?”

The world of capitalism has long existed hidden beneath the guise of transactional behavior while its essence, regardless of profit-motive, has rested upon the foundation of relationships. VolunTourism will test us to shine the light on the transaction to ensure that the relationships are being nurtured and sustained. These relationships span all stakeholders – VolunTourists, VolunTourism communities, VolunTourism operators & suppliers, and the world at large.

Concluding Thought

Are the entrepreneurs of this planet prepared to steward something that can fundamentally transform our approach to travel AND service? To the way we spend our leisure time? The answer lies in the potential for a shift in paradigm, keeping in mind the rule of the turnstile - - “one-at-a-time.” If “awakening consumers” connect with “conscious capitalists” around a common product/service like VolunTourism, we may very well see the realization and perpetuation of Scott’s vision: “Not-For-Profit-Only.”

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