Philanthropic travel is one way to make a journey more meaningful, while having a positive impact on the foreign destinations and cultures that you encounter.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– Gustave Flaubert
There has been a noticeable rise in the number of people motivated to invest ethically and sustainably. In parallel to that growth in conscious investing, philanthropic travel is emerging as yet another manifestation of the new alignment between financial choices and our desire to make a difference.
International travel is largely the domain of privileged westerners, who enjoy the thrill of experiencing new ways of life, colourful cultures and mind-broadening encounters – albeit for a set window of time, and often along well travelled paths.
What is showcased to holiday-makers, however, is often a distilled and white-washed version of a more complex reality, one that often belies a romanticised traveller’s idyll.
Many experienced travellers will be familiar with the process of arriving at a distant airport to be met by a conspicuous concierge who quickly ushers them into an air-conditioned mode of transportation, bound for a luxury resort.
If they arrive when it’s daylight they may catch glimpses of poverty, disrepair, obvious over-crowding or signs of crime through the windows of their comfortable transportation.
The fact is that our idea of paradise can often come at a cost that goes beyond the financial, and is often well-hidden from the eyes of touristsi.
Tourism dollars clearly bring economic benefits and significant improvements to living standards in many less-developed locations that are widely known for their natural beauty and temperate climates. International investments from resort chains, western businesses and boutiques setting up shop and hiring locals and tourists still scoring a bargain on heftily marked up goods thanks to an attractive exchange rate – it all goes into a mix that energises and builds a level of economic opportunity that wouldn’t, in all likelihood, have existed otherwise.
But what if the reality beneath the veneer becomes too real to ignore? Is there a way to help by combining holiday time – which is often a sorely needed respite from hectic modern life – with the desire to give something back to the cultures, people and lands that drew us to hop on a plane in the first place?
Once the decision is made to combine a journey with a philanthropic endeavour, it is important to do your research to ensure that your efforts have the most significant impact possible.
Philanthropic travel is now becoming more popular as people feel increasingly compelled to find a hands-on way to help the causes that matter to them most. Travelling to areas in need is one of the most effective ways to connect with and serve others.
- Melanie Schnoll Begun, Head of Philanthropy Management, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.
Three tips for philanthropic travellers
Follow your heart. What cause do you really care about? Is there something that is particularly meaningful for you? Some travellers opt to volunteer in under-resourced schools – this may be an option if education has always been a priority for you.
Do you treasure your home as your sanctuary and find it hard to comprehend the difficulties of losing it and not having a roof over your family’s head? Perhaps you could lend a hand building homes for families who’ve lost everything due to natural disasters or war.
Does your life revolve around the health and wellbeing of your children and your ability to keep them safe? You may find an ideal fit in the opportunity to visit sick children in hospital – brightening up their day and reminding them that many people care about them and want to help.
Once you have an idea about what cause you want to support, you can move on to finding a place in the world that is also appealing to you in some way as a destination. According to Melanie Scholl, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Head of Philanthropy: “Transformational experiences happen when you find the intersection between your philanthropic passion and your destination.”
Do your homework. Once you have made your decision, you can begin to thoroughly research your destination, and the form your philanthropy will take. Ensuring you are well prepared and organized will allow your efforts to have the most substantial impact.
It can be hard to find objective information on volunteer opportunities once you venture online. It’s not as easy as researching a normal holiday by visiting websites that include rankings and reviews. But, if you are looking for a guided experience, it’s important to source a reputable organisation to work with. There are some Not-For-Profit organisations, including Save the Children, that offer organised philanthropic travel itineraries.
Some people prefer to create their own experience. In that is the case, you need to research your intended destination to determine if they can meet your needs. Some five star resorts in Fiji, for example, can link guests to guided tours of remote communities where they can purchase locally made craft that boosts the village economy and visit under-resourced schools to interact with local children.
Educate yourself. If you are travelling somewhere for the first time, make sure you look into the culture, social issues and political climate. You need to understand the complexities, particularly how they may relate to what you hope to accomplish. Take care to prioritise your own safety and look into any accessibility issues around things like emergency medical care, consular support or any restrictions that might apply to bringing certain items into the country.
Some under-developed nations, for example, may have restrictions on religious iconography that carry severe penalties. Sensitivity to the culture you are entering and respect for its customs will enable you to get the most out of your experience, while helping others along the way.
You may also want to cast an objective eye over initiatives you are considering volunteering for, particularly considering their social and socio-economic context. Your effort and good intentions will be wasted if the strategy behind a project is poorly thought out. According to Melanie Scholl, it’s important to “think about the long-term, downstream impacts of the work being done. For instance, building an orphanage may seem like a great initiative, but what if the secondary effect of this is a rise in the number of abandoned babies? Perhaps education to prevent unwanted pregnancies would be more effective.”
Philanthropic tourism can take many forms
Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and well-being of its residents.
Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.
Tourism that results in increased net benefit for the poor people in a destination.
Tourism in a destination where ethical issues are the key driver, e.g. social injustice, human rights, animal welfare, or the environment.
Tourism that maximizes the benefits to local communities, minimizes negative social or environmental impacts, and helps local people conserve fragile cultures and habitats or species.
Tourism that leads to the management of all resources in a way that enables economic, social, and aesthetic needs to be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.
It may be helpful to find out if your friends, colleagues or peers have engaged in travel philanthropy and talk to them about their experiences. Alternatively you could enlist the help of a travel agent with a specialty in this area.
For information on sustainable investment opportunities please contact your Morgan Stanley financial adviser.