All posts by kari

sustainable responsible travel and voluntourism in thailand with akha ama coffee

The Coffee Journey to the Village of Maejantai, Thailand: By Shannon O’Donnell

I never consciously chose to become an advocate for responsible travel. In my early years on the road, it seemed just as likely that I would advocate for volunteerism. But as the years bled into each other, eight at last count, I have come to understand that we have a skewed modern narrative about travel. We portray travel as equal parts transformative for the traveler and impactful on the destination. We talk as though it’s a given that our work in developing communities is a good thing. Travel, service and social entrepreneurship have many positive aspects. But even so, the narrative around these three topics needs rewiring. The tone we take in our work makes a difference. Our attitude has a profound impact on the people and places we meet in our work as social entrepreneurs.

During my first weeks in Thailand, I met a fellow expat for coffee at a cute café tucked into a backroad of an up-and-coming neighborhood. The owner of Akha Ama was a charming, twenty-something Thai man named Lee. In my early visits, I knew little about his business model. I only knew that he wanted to create a fair trade coffee pipeline from his Akha hill tribe village to the touristy city of Chiang Mai. Over the next two years, I would see both sides of the pipeline. I sipped brewed coffee on artfully weathered tabletops and later plucked coffee cherries from the mountains of Northern Thailand.

Lee’s coffee shop became my favorite spot in the city. It had a good mix of locals and fellow expats, paired with a rich, flavorful coffee that I had come to love. With each visit, I could see Akha Ama’s rapid growth. Lee had a clear vision for the coffee shop, and he put in countless hours working toward it. That year, he held the first annual Coffee Journey. His idea was that a small group of Thais and expats would spend a weekend in his family’s village, Maejantai. Intrigued, I signed up. For three days, we learned each part of the complicated process of growing and picking coffee. In the evenings, we learned about the meticulous care that had gone into Akha Ama’s business model. Working as a coffee collective, the villagers could set fair rates and standards. Together, they created a way to improve their quality of life.

Changes over the past several decades have moved Lee’s village from a barter system to cash. Thailand’s compulsory education law mandated school attendance for all children, and while the country’s hill tribes welcomed the chance to give their children an education, villagers struggled to pay even modest school fees. Beyond education, demand for conveniences like cell phones also necessitated the move toward a money-based system. Without a strong local economy, the farmers had long struggled to provide local opportunities for the young adults in their community. Now, Akha Ama sustains the families of Maejantai with a steady stream of cash revenue and new employment alternatives.

In the days after we returned to Chiang Mai from the Coffee Journey, I felt a slow and subtle shift in my perception of the traveler’s role in responsible tourism. It’s trendy to use the term “fair trade” in marketing materials on our grocery store shelves. But that doesn’t mask the truth behind the need for awareness. The Coffee Journey is a story that could compel consumers to learn about the human faces behind a cup o’ joe. By coming to know the people behind Akha Ama’s coffee, I realized the impact of my spending choices.  But Akha Ama taught me more than a lesson in purchasing habits. It made me look at my role as a traveler, an advocate for the communities I’ve visited, and a social entrepreneur.

sustainable responsible travel and voluntourism in thailand with akha ama coffee
The Coffee Journey to Maejantai had altered my understanding of responsible tourism. Lee is the face of a carefully crafted business model, as nuanced as anything taught in a graduate school classroom. Lee’s collective created a strong social enterprise using tourism to impact its community. Even more remarkably, the community has set the terms of that impact. The community has developed a business to preserve its culture and traditions, and also achieve its own goals.

The mental shift needed is minor, but the difference is manifold. Redefining our roles and moving away from the label of “changemakers” allows travelers to better support the communities our presence impacts. Most often, being of service means understanding our function as the learner. These communities don’t often lack the ideas; they lack the resources. They have the intricate cultural knowledge to create a business sympathetic with their development goals. We have the ability to support and lift those voices.

For social entrepreneurs, impact best comes through taking an attitude of learning, service, and curiosity. It’s only by creating deep connections that we can support the communicated needs and goals of our communities.

sustainable responsible travel and voluntourism in thailand with akha ama coffee
Textbooks and development models often miss the delicate nuances of culture brushing against culture, and gloss over the messy work of integrating real people and communities into empowering, at-scale businesses. Businesses with underlying social missions run in every corner of the world and support a gamut of causes and issues. These social enterprises are in the trenches every day figuring out what a modern responsible business model looks like when paired with a growing and thriving, multitrillion-dollar international tourism industry. It’s our job to serve those visionary leaders. It’s our job to see their ideas and offer them the support they ask for, not the support we think they need.

Even more, our role is about having the hard conversations and accepting the answers. Lee has no need for me to change his business, his model, or his community. What Lee needs is travelers, entrepreneurs included, to accept that sometimes buying a cup o’ joe is the best way to be of service.

sustainable responsible travel and voluntourism in thailand with akha ama coffee
That Coffee Journey offered me a chance to see Akha Ama’s vision and support it. In every community, in every new social enterprise I’ve visited — from projects with the Maasai of Kenya to cacao farmers in Panama — there were elements we can view only as outsiders. In my early years of travel, my brain categorized the areas for improvement at every moment. I have worked with many social entrepreneurs taking that same approach. Sometimes we visit and immediately want to project our ideas onto them. But those “areas for improvement” came from our personal lens on the world. Each judgement stems from a scaffolding list of priorities born from our culture and upbringing. They don’t represent reality; they represent our own perceptions. When I abandoned those ideas and shifted my focus toward support — toward being of service — I changed my capacity for impact.

Visionary leaders often have a clear roadmap for what success means in their communities. That might not mean running water or functioning solar panels. In fact, it often means neither of those things. Instead, every project we encounter — and every quirky nuance within it — highlights a fascinating chain of decisions. Local entrepreneurs design and implement the programs they feel best meet their community’s needs. As social entrepreneurs, travelers and volunteers, the attitude we bring along with us impacts our experiences and perceptions. In many places, the most profound way to be of service is through supporting another’s goal. It means buying a cup of coffee, taking the local tour and supporting the local entrepreneur’s vision of how this project should run. In many places, the most profound need is the willingness to believe that each community has a better grasp on which projects best impact its future.

sustainable responsible travel and voluntourism in thailand with akha ama coffeeAbout Shannon:
Shannon O’Donnell is a full-time traveler, speaker and writer who shares the message of service-based travel and global citizenship. She has authored the book The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and is the founder of Grassroots Volunteering, a website that helps travelers connect directly with social projects around the world. Y




Travel Tip: How to Experience the Coffee Journey with Akha Ama

Akha Ama still runs coffee journey’s regularly! Email for more information. The next one is scheduled for November 25-27, 2016. Make sure to follow along on their Facebook page as well for announcements on future Coffee Journey dates. And, don’t forget to stop in the Akha Ama coffee shop when you pass through Chiang Mai. Directions are here.


This article originally appeared on Rank & File – a digital publication designed for purpose-driven entrepreneurs seeking to make a positive impact. Rank & File believes people are worth serving and business can create change. Get a free issue at

Feature photo courtesy of Akha Ama; all other photos courtesy of Shannon O’Donnell and ©A Little Adrift 



Guest Post: Chiang Mai, Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park with Celeste Tomasulo

My first thought when I booked my ticket to Thailand was, “I need to see the elephants!” Being up close and personal with these magnificent creatures is an experience that jumps straight to the top of my, and a majority of travelers’, ‘must-do’ list. I researched a few places with the ultimate importance placed on humane and cruelty-free business practices, which also meant no riding them!

Fortunately, there are park owners who work tirelessly to save these abused animals and provide safe training techniques so elephants and tourists can walk together side by side. The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a sanctuary dedicated to saving abused elephants and provides a safe and positive environment for its inhabitants. I visited the Elephant Nature Park and credit it as one of the most influential experiences of my life. Before even meeting any animals, the landscape alone is enough to stop you in your tracks with its brilliantly lush scenery. A jungle of deep green leaves opens onto dirt paths, a flowing river separates the sides of the park, and there are stretches of valleys enclosed by the tropical hill forests and various jungle plants.

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand - Volunteering Sustainable TravelI purchased the Pamper a Pachyderm package, but there are numerous packages to pick and choose from, including overnight and week long volunteer stays. The company picks you up at your hostel and transports you to the park located north of Chiang Mai city. Along the way, you’re presented with a short video of the history of the park, and general do’s and don’ts for the day. The shuttle stops at a gas station and you’re able to stock up on snacks for the elephants (they love bread) and snacks for yourself. Once you’ve arrived and gathered with your guides, everyone is given an elephant emblemed water bottle holder (yours to keep!), and a bag full of sugar cane and plantains for the elephants. The group only consists of about 10 people, which lends to more personal interaction with the elephants and guides, as well as comfort in making friends and getting to know the other travelers.


Then the elephants come! At first I had the fear that I was going to get stepped on, or be trampled, so I was keeping some distance between them. But not to worry, because of their gentle and amicable presence, my fear quickly dissipated. While they were eating out of buckets, we were given plenty of time to get our photos taken with them, take selfies, and even get photos kissing their trunks. Then it was time to walk with the six elephants along the dirt path, across the river, and towards the overlook where we’d be having lunch.

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand - Volunteering Sustainable TravelElephants are extremely intelligent creatures and also remind me of little kids. Their trunks are exceptionally dexterous and they will get into everything. Countless times I’d be petting one elephant, only to have the other sneak its trunk under my arm and into my snack bag. Picture being surrounded by a bunch of happy dogs and you’re trying to just feed one of them treats, while the others all know you have treats and want some too. But instead of dogs, they’re elephants who tower over you and who’s trunk is stronger than you’re entire body. Basically, they got whatever treats they went looking for.

Lunch is provided with the package and is more food than you could ever hope to eat. An entirely vegetarian meal authentic to thai culture, the food is displayed across bamboo platters and is arranged for a self-service buffet style. The lunch spot the park chooses is nothing short of breathtaking. Taking place in a covered deck nestled against the hill top, the view spans out over the majority of the park where you can see its pachyderm inhabitants enjoying their leisure time off in the distance, and can trace the river reaching its way through the valley. During lunch, the guides leave the travelers to our own devices so we can eat, share stories, get to know each other, and even enjoy an afternoon siesta.

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand - Volunteering Sustainable Travel

On our way back, we stop at the river to give the elephants a bath, and ourselves in the process. They love the water and succeed in drenching everyone in the vicinity, which is welcomed to combat the warm climate and the midday sun. Once returning to the park center, we are given some more time to say our goodbye’s to the elephants and explore the pens and other ares of the center. There is also a gift shop so be sure to budget for elephant souvenirs!

Just when we think it’s time to head back to the city, we’re thrown a curveball: do we want to go white water rafting? Um…. yes please! Our guides drive us a ways up the river where sure enough, there are rafts and equipment for us. Now, this isn’t the American River of white water rafting, but more of an enjoyably scenic ride down the river which beyond exceeded my already fulfilled expectations of the day.

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand - Volunteering Sustainable Travel

I will always remember one defining moment of this trip where I was standing alongside one of the elephants with my hand resting on her cheek, my height barely reaching her shoulder. I felt humbled. This feeling came over me so swiftly, yet so profoundly, and all I could do was stand there and feel this animal’s skin beneath my own. The intense sensation of where I stood in the universe came over me, the kind that comes when you’ve opened your mind to a presence greater than yourself. For me, standing there at that moment was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had, and it brought me a sense of calm. I felt calm because the sheer magnificence of my present moment overpowered any doubts or struggles I was facing in my life. How could I be upset or worried about trivial and material things, when there were places like this that existed in the world?
The Elephant Nature Park is a life-changing experience, and I can’t say enough good things about this place. From their rescue practices to their tourism experiences, and everything in between, this is a place whose genuine dedication to their animals and clients shows in every aspect of their business.

Celeste is the author of The Traveler’s Route, where she shares her experiences, tips, travel tricks, and discount wayfaring around the world.

Drizzle Environmental Society: Empowering Canada’s Youth To Get Involved In Nature Conservation

Thanks to this Vancouver-based nonprofit, Canada’s young people are falling deeply in love with nature, and they’re banding together to fight for nature conservation in their communities.

On the morning of August 4, 2014, a dam near the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in the Cariboo region of British Columbia suffered a fatal breach and released 14.5 million cubic metres, or 3,830 U.S. gallons, of toxic water and mud into nearby Polley Lake. The poisonous slurry tore through the landscape along Hazeltine and Cariboo Creek, destroying everything in its wake. Eventually, the sludge, which contained high levels of selenium, arsenic, and other poisonous metals, spilled into Quesnel Lake, once the cleanest deep water lake in the world.

While Canadian officials assessed infrastructure and environmental damage, issued water safety warnings for nearby communities, and began the lengthy cleanup process, Darcy Green, a passionate outdoorsman and student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, watched news coverage in horror.

“Seeing the footage on TV really disturbed me,” Darcy said. “That was what sparked the initial idea of forming my own environmental organization.”

Grieved but motivated, Darcy approached four of his closest friends, who now serve on his Board of Directors, with a plan to create a nonprofit organization tailored to Canadian environmentalists’ least-targeted age group: youth.

Their mission would be two-fold: (1) to encourage young people to spend more time outdoors and (2) to educate them about environmental issues and empower them to make a difference in their communities through nature conservation.

Darcy’s friends immediately backed the project and Drizzle Environmental Society was born.

“We really wanted to focus in on youth because, in 15 or 20 years, these kids that are going through high school and elementary school, they’re going to be making the decisions,” said Darcy. “So our idea was to be able to mobilize today’s youth in a way that connects them with nature.”

Drizzle’s main vehicle for teaching kids about nature is their Outdoors Club. Started in 2015, the hiking club hits the trails in and around Vancouver on every second weekend between March and October. Members pay $50 for their first year of participation and $25 for subsequent annual renewals.


Currently, the club is only open to high school and college students, but Darcy plans to expand the program to include elementary school students in the very near future – once the team can get a handle on the current program’s rapid growth, that is. As of February, they already had 40 youth waiting to join.

Darcy and the rest of Drizzle’s team are thrilled to see so many kids taking interest in the Society and discovering for themselves all of the joys and benefits to spending time outside exploring in nature – especially in a place as beautiful and pristinely wild as British Columbia.

“I think we feel better mentally when we are outdoors,” said Darcy, who grew up in BC himself. “Even taking a short walk can help reduce depressive thoughts.”

The Outdoors Club usually undertakes local day-hikes in and around Vancouver, but Darcy eventually wants to take the crew out on his favorite multi-day hike to Garibaldi Lake. The trailhead is located roughly 45 minutes north of Vancouver in Garibaldi Provincial Park. The crew would hike 9 kilometers, or 5.6 miles, out to Garibaldi Lake and set up camp along the shore. There, they would gain access to two more scenic trails: Panorama Ridge, which provides panoramic views of the Coast Mountain range and several alpine lakes and glaciers, and Black Tusk, a lengthy but rewarding hike that provides breathtaking views of the black stratavolcano and surrounding landscape.

Drizzle’s second initiative is called the Youth Environmental Challenge. Building on the mission of the Outdoors Club, this program challenges youth to commit to making at least five eco-friendly actions of any size per year. As Darcy explains it, qualifying action could be as simple as convincing one’s parents to recycle or as large as cleaning up a neighborhood park.

“It ties into our idea that a whole bunch of small actions can make a difference,” said Darcy. “And there’s an integrated social component and team component so that [youth] can share what they’re doing and work with their friends.”

Youth Environmental Challenge

As early as September, Drizzle hopes to partner with local schools to add a friendly competitive element to the program, allowing students from each school to band together to commit the most actions or bolster the highest participation percentage.

While most young people who get involved with Drizzle’s outreach programs have already cultivated a love for nature and understand the basic tenants of conservation, many of them haven’t been taught about the specific environmental issues facing Canada and the world — such as pipeline construction, climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s where Drizzle comes in. Their team breaks these complex concepts down into simpler terms and encourages students about their role in saving the planet, giving kids the confidence to step out and inspire change in their communities.

“We do not expect youth to fully understand climate science at a complex level,” said Darcy, “But we want them to be aware of the issues going on and understand how they impact the world they live in.”

If Drizzle Environmental Society’s vision for empowering youth to become powerful, passionate conservationists resonates with your personal and travel values, there are several ways to lend your support — even if you don’t live in Canada.

Buy a t-shirt from Drizzle Apparel Co through their Crowdfunding Campaign – only available through April 2016!
Darcy and his team founded Drizzle Apparel Co. as a way to fund the nonprofit organization and allow people to creatively express their support for conservation efforts. For every shirt sold, 50% of the profits are allocated to support the Outdoors Club, Youth Environmental Challenge, and the Society’s other outreach initiatives. All of their clothing is manufactured using sustainable practices and high quality, environmentally-friendly materials. Head to now to get your shirt.

You can also meet up with the Outdoors Club while you’re traveling with your kids in British Columbia. Sometime in 2016, Darcy and his team hope to be able open the Outdoors Club’s hikes up to non-members who pay a small fee to temporarily join the crew for an adventure. Stay tuned on Drizzle’s social media channels for updates about when this program might launch!

Vancouver-based kiddos are, of course, welcome to join Drizzle’s Outdoors Club and participate in the Youth Environmental Challenge. Additionally, as Drizzle expands their Challenge program, they’re also going to be actively searching for sponsors who can donate prize incentives.

If you’re interested in collaborating with Darcy and his team on future projects or just want to say hello, email

You can also connect with Drizzle via social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Rebecca L. Bennett has always been good at two things: telling stories and having adventures. She’s rooted in Austin, Texas, where she captains her business, Brave Bird Photography, and writes words for,, and other kind folks who enjoy epic sentences. Rebecca feels most at home in her hiking boots and would likely survive a zombie apocalypse.

Responsible Tourism with Buffalo Tours

What We Mean When We Say “Change Travel, Change Lives”

Change travel, change lives – that’s what the Buffalo Tours team is all about this year. But what is responsible tourism, and what do we mean when we say “change travel?” Managing Director Matt Masson digs into how little changes in our travel decisions make a big impact on local communities – and how they are showcasing stories of changing lives through travel this year!

This is Ms. Moo. She is a 27-year-old Black Hmong woman living in a small ethnic village of Lao Chai in rural Sapa. She has two children – one boy and one girl – and she is married to a man she met in her hometown as a teenager. Though Ms. Moo cannot read or write, she taught herself to speak English and a little bit of French while speaking to the handful of foreign visitors who came to her home village.

Authentic Homestay - Community based travel that changes lives

Meet Ms. Moo – a shining example of Sapa’s entrepreneurial spirit and responsible tourism at its best.

Over the past few decades, Sapa has gone from being a rural and impoverished highland territory with scattered ethnic minority communities, to one of the most popular travel destinations in Vietnam. This was partly because of the area’s beautiful scenery, but also because of its colorful minority people like Ms. Moo. Many of the local communities benefited enormously from the growing tourism in Sapa – by offering tours, homestays and beautiful textile souvenirs inspired by local garments.

But as tourism grew, some of the economic and social benefits of tourism didn’t reach more remote communities like Ms. Moo’s. The locals in these areas were at a clear disadvantage, after all – lack of education, lack of resources and lack of connection made it difficult for them to be a part of this rapid and promising growth.

Authentic Homestay - Community based travel that changes lives

Inside a typical Hmong home – a world away from the luxurious interiors of many Sapa hotels.

Among other reasons, this partly came down to how travel companies and operators chose to include these communities in the tours they created. While developing experiences hand-in-hand with local communities would have promised mutually-beneficial growth, many of these wonderful locals were not given the opportunity they deserved to enjoy the benefits of improving tourism.

When we talk about changing travel, we aren’t talking about changing travel at its core. We are talking about changing the way we go about creating unforgettable experiences. Every great journey is made up of many elements, after all – the accommodation, the attractions, the restaurants and of course the people. Change the way you approach these smaller elements, and you can create a journey that is transformational not just for the visitor, but for the local communities they visit along the way.

What is Responsible Tourism? A Few Caring People

Now rewind to 2006, when I was first involved with Interplast, a volunteer organization which changes futures by performing reconstructive surgery. They give both adults and children the chance to live healthy lives free from physical difficulty and social exclusion. My brother was one of the Interplast surgeons operating at the Cho Ray emergency hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.  For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead.

I remember just how incredible it was to see the impact a team of five people including 2 surgeons, 2 nurses and an anesthesiologist could make during a one-week visit. Incredibly, they completed over 30 operations on locals that otherwise had no access to quality healthcare – and experienced a profound sense of accomplishment in the process. This was a definitive moment for me. I realized that people travel for many different reasons – but more than anything, I recognised how just a few caring people could make such an enormous impact when they chose to give back. And by doing so, they experienced something life changing themselves.

So when we met Ms. Moo, we realized we had a special opportunity to make a small but important change in the lives of Sapa locals. This warm, wonderful and fascinating woman had so much to offer a visitor who wanted to experience all that made Sapa special. But rather than simply making her a stop along our journey, Buffalo Tours (in partnership with our friends at Victoria Sapa Hotel) invested in putting her homestay a cut above the rest, and committed to making her a key element of our tours in Sapa.

Authentic homestay - community based responsible travel that changes lives

Inside Ms. Moo’s renovated homestay – made possible by Buffalo Tours and Victoria Hotel Sapa

What the partnership with Ms. Moo became was a way to help her become an entrepreneur in her own right. With fair and stable income, she was able to guarantee her children a proper education and a comfortable, healthier home to live. More than anything, we wanted to instill in Ms. Moo a sense of empowerment and connection with growing tourism in Sapa – a goal we were proud to accomplish.

This might seem like just a drop in the bucket, but helping Ms. Moo become a successful local entrepreneur would have a big effect on her family and her community. The team behind this project was relatively small – just a handful of dedicated and caring employees.

A Group Effort Makes the Difference

This kind of thinking has always been a part of what we do at Buffalo Tours since the company’s founder, Tran Trong Kien, led medical missions to remote regions of Vietnam in the 1990s. In 2016 it will take centre stage for our travellers too.  We are committed to showing you all of the small ways you can change lives through travel.

All of these little changes will one day add up to something very important – but only if we work together to inspire more people to make smarter, kinder decisions about how they travel. We are ready to spend this year talking not just about how we are making small but important changes in how we travel. We want to hear about how you are too!

“We are committed to showing you all of the small ways you can change lives through travel.”

Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly how and why to change the way we experience travel – and that’s how we are here to help. To find out how we are doing things differently this year – and how you can be a part of it – stay tuned on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our blog for the hashtag #ChangeTravelChangeLives. We’ll be exploring some of the ways travel can change the lives of locals and of our travellers alike.

Don’t be afraid to show us how you are travelling differently this year, too. There are lots of opportunities coming up to share your stories and inspiration with us and with our community.

But for now, ask yourself this question about your travels this year: How can you change the way you travel for the better?

Matt Masson - Buffalo ToursMatt Masson is Managing Director at Buffalo Tours. Established in 1994 by a young Vietnamese medical student turned tour guide, Buffalo Tours has grown from a three-person office in downtown Hanoi to a leading destination management company operating in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Japan.

This article originally appeared on the Buffalo Tour’s Blog as part of their on-going focus to show how small changes in travel can have enormous impact on local communities, and illustrating exactly how travelers can be a part of that change.  You can learn more about Buffalo Tours on their website or @buffalo_tours on Twitter and Buffalo.Tours.Travel on Facebook 

Thank you Matt and the Buffalo Tour’s Team for sharing your inspired words with The Global Commute. All content and photos compliments of Buffalo Tours.

Sustainable and Ethical Shopping with Sustainably Chic

Sustainably Chic – Changing the World One Shopper at a Time

Changing the world for the better can seem like an overwhelming task and no matter how much energy and desire you have, it can be difficult to know where to start. The world is so big and you’re just one person, what can you do?

Let’s meet Natalie, a young woman from South Carolina who provides a simple answer to that very complex answer: change how you shop

Natalie Kay is the founder of Sustainably Chic, a blog and boutique dedicated to sustainable shopping that helps support fair trade, eco-friendly companies that work with artisans from around the world. She was, like so many of us, in college when she really became aware of and passionate about changing a particular social issue. As a fashion major, Natalie was introduced to the darker side of the fashion industry, a dark side that included not only the poor treatment of workers but excess amounts of waste that contribute to a growing environmental problem in our world today.

So, with a bravery and tenacity we should all admire, Natalie set out to help change it. She devoted the remainder of her time in school to studying sustainability and ethics in the fashion world. For her graduation portfolio, Natalie created La Petite N-Kay, her own accessories line built on a sustainable business model.

Natalie on La Petite N-Kay: “Working with only organic yarns, vintage buttons & other odds and ends I found, it was my way to contribute to something I was passionate about.”

Natalie uses sustainable materials not only in the making of her products, but also in the shipping materials she uses. La Petite N-Kay is currently in the middle of what is sure to be an amazing update, and you should keep an eye on the Sustainably Chic blog for new items soon!

shopping ethically and sustainably with Sustainably Chic

Natalie with a beach blanket from Fair Seas Supply Co. (Photo courtesy of Sustainably Chic)


Starting small with La Petite N-Kay, Natalie wasn’t finished working to improve the fashion world. In 2014 she founded Sustainably Chic, where she has created not just a blog but a community where like-minded people from all over the world come together to improve it, each in their own small ways. Natalie has found social media to be invaluable, saying it “has been the best tool for networking and finding new brands to work with.”  She started by creating an Instagram and “just posted about looking for sustainable brands. Within the first day [she] had over ten emails and some content to write about.” Natalie’s experience with Sustainably Chic has been about more than just running a business, it has been about building relationships. She keeps in touch with the people and businesses she blogs about and everyone trades advice about business and marketing.

Natalie: “We all have the mentality ‘in this together’ so everyone has been quick to help each other out… I’ve had brands tell me they have been picked up by new retailers from seeing the photos on my Instagram or blog. I love to hear about growth! That’s what these relationships are all about – helping each other grow.”

On Sustainably Chic you can learn about companies around the world like:


Sustainably Chic Suppliers - Shopping Sustainably

Making a mochila bag can take up to a month. (Photo courtesy of Sustainably Chic)

In Columbia we meet the Wayuu tribe, and the women who produce beautiful 100% handwoven bags called mochilas. The Wachila company, a combination of the words “Wayuu” and “mochila,” practices fair trade and provides one-of-a-kind bags with the personality of the weaver woven into each one. The weaver tells a story in the patterns and the colors they choose to use, making each bag unique and beautiful in more ways than one. It’s easy to see how Wachila fits Natalie’s views, as a company that is promoting change by starting with a small difference. By paying the women of the Wayuu tribe fairly for their work, Wachila ensures that its customers are shopping ethically, sustainably, and supporting a community a world away.
Read more about Wachila on here

Natalie: “Promoting products where pay is fair with good working conditions is very important. Even though most of these workers aren’t in your community {or anywhere near}, we have the duty to make sure their life is not in danger because of us.” 

Ways of Change

Sustainably Chic Artisans in Myanmar

An artisan smiles for the camera. (Photo courtesy of Sustainably Chic)

Ways of Change (WoC) works with refugees on the Thailand Burma border and sells handmade jewelry made from organic, natural, fair trade and locally sourced materials. As happens so often, the people in this community were artisans with amazing talent, but had no access to people who would fall in love with and be able to purchase their products. Through the power of technology, Ways of Change provides that much needed access to a marketplace.

But they didn’t stop there. Partnering with a local nonprofit, WoC funds entrepreneurial training and community development projects. Currently they are working to fundraise enough money to help one of the refugee communities purchase a plot of land that houses their school and soccer field, which will otherwise be used for large-scale, non-sustainable farming.
Read more about Ways of Change on here.

Natalie: “I understand it being difficult when you can’t see it happening, but it is being talked about and we can’t stop until there is an end to all of it. Ethical factories are becoming more popular and Fair Trade is helping support impoverished nations.”


Sustainably Chic Artisans Making Crafts - Shop Sustainably

Hand crafting a MudLOVE bracelet. (Photo courtesy of Sustainably Chic)

Based in Indiana, MudLOVE is a company dedicated to helping solve the water crisis in the developing world. They sell simple but exquisite bracelets and mugs that are handcrafted from clay, and use lead-free, non-toxic glazing and non-hazardous mud in their products. If a particular piece has imperfections, it is simply melted back down and its clay is reused. Not only do they operate using a sustainable business model, but through their partnership with Water for Good, each purchase of one of their products means you are also buying a week of clean water for someone in need. The Central African Republic, an underdeveloped country that recently had an outburst of violence, is the focus of the current fundraising project through MudLOVE and Water for Good’s partnership. Half of every sale of their cursive “love” bands goes to provide clean water for the people in need in this developing country.
Read more about MudLOVE on here


With just a glimpse into three of the small, sustainable, eco-friendly and fair trade companies that Natalie promotes on her blog, it is easy to see that not only is Natalie herself making an impact on the world, but that she is also drawing attention to others doing the same. It may seem that our efforts are just a drop of water in a huge ocean. But through the power of online community, Natalie shows us how each drop is making ripples and how their ripples are connecting to make a much larger impact.

Natalie: “I think what we have to keep in mind, as much as we want things to change, we have to do it a certain way. We can’t be rude about others or pretentious, which happens a lot with ethical and eco nuts. We turn people off to the idea of a more sustainable community real quickly. The whole ‘I’m better than you’ attitude truly radiates off some. I try my hardest to be understanding of other lifestyles, and want the conversation to be more open, genuine and inviting.” 

It started small. A fashion major operating her own line of sustainable accessories and starting a blog about fair trade, sustainable businesses. But it’s reached around the world. And sometimes, as Natalie says, “Our voices are heard a lot louder in smaller areas, and it is much easier to change the minds around you, rather than taking on everyone all at once.” 

Let’s take our lead from Natalie: “We can all make a difference by what we decide to purchase and not purchase. Shop positive, shop small, shop sustainably.”

Founder Natalie Kay Smith - Sustainably Chic BlogConnect with Natalie and learn more about Sustainably Chic at:


Social Entrepreneur Podcast - The Global Commute

Making a Positive Impact through Podcasting: With Alexandra Black-Paulick

Alexandra Black-Paulick is the host of the Positive Impact Podcast. Her fun-loving, insightful and contagious personality brings the stories of social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and change makers to life.

Alexandra believes that business is the most powerful resource to drive change and is a self-proclaimed business junky. Before we get into some of the background with Alexandra, let’s hear directly from her on what the Positive Impact Podcast is all about:

Alexandra’s love for business began soon after college. While sitting with her mentor going over a freelance project, he said to her, “So you know you have to pay taxes on this right?” Alexandra realized at that moment that she hadn’t been prepared by her college education for true business in the real world, and that she needed to learn as much as she could to catch up. But even though she may have been naive at that early stage, it’s no question that she had done one important thing right: she had a mentor.

Alexandra stresses the importance of mentorship and says she owes her passion of social entrepreneurship to one of her mentors in San Diego, Joon Han for introducing her to the idea of “getting ahead, by giving back.”

With determination and help from her mentors, Alexandra developed a real passion for social business. With her podcast, she speaks to a new mover and shaker in business every single week. The topics vary, but always contain the right balance of business, impact, innovation, inspiration and a little bit of fun. With Alexandra’s background as a Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps member in Bozeman MT, she also brings on past Peace Corps Volunteers who share stories of their adventures abroad and how those experience led them to eventually start social businesses.

Social Entrepreneurship Podcast - The Global Commute

Host Alexandra interviewing COMPASSION IT Founder Sara Schairer


When I asked Alexandra about the most inspirational guests she has had on her show thus far, she shared that, “There has been too many impactful conversations to pick just one, but a few do stick out.”

14-year-old Gigi from episode #10.5 was interviewed on the impact that she experienced personally from ThinkPink, a fun way for girls to appreciate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through games and bracelets. “She was articulate, focused, and the way she carried herself in the interview was truly impressive.” Gigi shared with Alexandra in the interview, that her role model Malala has inspired her to care about education even more.

“She proved that girls are smart and they are strong, because that’s what she is.” 

Alexandra says that the Friday follow-up episodes, like Gigi’s, have been the most surprising for her. These shorter episodes humanize things and really bring the project’s impact to life. “This is something that makes Positive Impact Podcast really stand out from the other podcasts out there.”

Social Entrepreneurship Podcast - The Global Commute

14 year-old Gigi inspiring others

Another one of Alexandra’s favorite guests was from her recent Journey2Socent summit, which featured a fresh stream of live-video interviews with social entrepreneurs for five consecutive nights. Evan Delahanty, Founder of Peaceful Fruits, inspired Alexandra by talking about the multifaceted complexities of leadership, and how we need to often lead from behind, sometimes come in from the side, or even drag people along at times. This was something Evan learned during a term of service in the Amazon Rainforest with the Peace Corps.

“During a year of service abroad when you’re there as a new outsider who is free, you are often given tasks that people would never pay you to do.” Evan shares that during his time as a Peace Corps volunteer he not only had amazing experiences like reaching his village by canoe, but also gained valuable leadership and tactical skills that he couldn’t have gotten in school or in other job settings that early on. Now Evan is applying those skills to his start-up Peaceful Fruits. The company not only improves the lives of the people in the Amazon Rainforest, they also partner and support the community of people with developmental disabilities. “Our products are sustainable super snacks made from wild superfood acai, but our mission is much more.”

Peaceful Fruits Social Entrepreneur

Evan Delahanty Founder of Peaceful Fruits with Andy Haas, one of his sticker labelers

For impactful stories from around the world and inspiration from business founders like Evan, makes sure to listen in on Wednesdays and Fridays to the Positive Impact Podcast! The Global Commute is listening in along with 20,000 others who have already downloaded.

Founder of Positive Impact Podcast for Social EntrepreneursTo learn more about Positive Impact Podcast visit You can connect with Alexandra on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Video recordings from Journey2Socent are now available for free, so be sure to check out her conversation with Evan and all of the other social entrepreneurs.

Shop Social Enterprises with Cambio Market and The Global Commute

Look Good. Feel Good. Do Good. Shopping Social Enterprises with the Founders of Cambio Market

Gelaine and Jérôme are the founders of Cambio Market, an online marketplace full of handcrafted items made by social enterprises and social causes around the globe. By shopping on Cambio Market, you can become part of the global movement to use business for good. The online market carries everything from handcrafted cards made by women who have escaped sex trafficking in the Philippines, to hair accessories that symbolically adopt Grey Canadian Wolves from World Wildlife Fund.

No matter what type of gift or trinket you are on the hunt for, Cambio Market makes it easy for you to impact the globe even when you can’t be out volunteering and traveling around the world.

I was very fortunate to catch up with Gelaine, during the couple’s current travels in the Philippines, to learn more about their beginnings and upcoming plans for Cambio Market. Let’s hear more Gelaine:

Take us back to when the two of you first met! What was it that connected the two of you?

When we met in 2010, I was a member of AIESEC (an organization that activates the leadership potential of young people) at the University of Guelph in Ontario and Jérôme had just graduated from the University of Laval in Quebec City. Following graduation, he moved to Toronto to be part of the national team of AIESEC Canada, and was fortuitously assigned to be the national coach for my AIESEC chapter. We often met at committee meetings, coaching sessions, and student parties where we became friends first and eventually more (the dollar beer nights at our local pub probably helped with that transition:)

AIESEC was how we met, but what truly connected us was our shared understanding of the world and our passion for travel. Despite us coming from two different cultures (he grew up in Quebec in a traditionally French Canadian family, and I grew up in Toronto as a child of Filipino immigrants), our dreams and values were so aligned. This is why we have had so much success working together, first with ChooseSocial.PH and now with Cambio Market. I think our previous travel experiences really had something to do with that.   

Shop Social Enterprises with Cambio Market

Gelaine and Jérôme in Medellin, Colombia, during a trip few years ago.

Out of the 25 countries you have both traveled too,  which one has had the most impact on you personally so far?

The Philippines, hands down, has had the biggest impact on me. This country is where I have been most inspired and also most challenged. I’m a Filipina and was born in the Philippines, but I moved to Canada when I was very young, although most of my family is still there. As a result, I grew up with western values which are often in direct contrast to Filipino culture. The thing is – it’s one thing to witness cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism in a country with complete strangers, and it’s another to witness those same things in your own family and cultural roots. It’s during those moments when my personal values clash with the traditional values of my heritage when I’ve been most challenged.

On the positive side, I have been so inspired by the Filipino social enterprise landscape. I’ve always been an avid supporter of socially responsible businesses, which lead to the launch of our social enterprise Cambio Market in Canada, but what’s happening here in the Philippines is on a totally different level. The Philippines has one of the most active social enterprise communities in the world (they call themselves the “Silicon Valley of social enterprises” and the name is totally warranted). Social enterprises here are tackling big problems like poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of cultural identity and they are doing so in ingenious ways. When I meet other Filipino social entrepreneurs, I am always so inspired by their ability to dream big. The older generation is much more skeptical, but the younger Filipinos aspire to create change and truly believe they can fix some of the country’s biggest problems within their lifetime. This makes me so proud of where I’m from.

As we speak,you are in the Philippines scoping out new social enterprise partners for Cambio Market – how has the trip been going?!

Initially, we did hope to use some of the hospitality companies that we feature on ChooseSocial.PH, but our schedule has been so hectic with meetings and work that we’ve barely had time for anything touristy! Despite this, we’re very committed to traveling ethically and supporting social enterprises. So far during our trip, we’ve been fortunate in that we’ve mostly done homestays with friends and family. As a result, we’ve been able to learn so much more about Filipino culture and daily life than if we had stayed at hostels or resorts. We also visited the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm (the “Silicon Valley of social enterprises in the Philippines”) and attended the Gawad Kalinga Social Business Summit last week where we met locals and foreigners alike who are committed to ending poverty in the Philippines.

The founders exploring the Philippines

The founders exploring the Philippines

Jérôme and I have also been staking out handmade products and suppliers, so we’ve had so much fun visiting the local markets and social enterprise shops like the ECHOstore in Manila and the Anthill Fabric Gallery in Cebu. In short, we’ve had to be our own “tour guides” during this trip, but we would have loved to try social tourism companies like Route+63 and Trail Adventours!   

Meeting with our suppliers has been the best part of our trip by far. The Paper Project is one of our current partners and they produce fair trade and recycled greeting cards, all handmade by women who are former victims of sex trafficking. During our visit in Manila, we were able to talk in depth with one of the founders and actually got to meet some of the women who make their cards. We do a lot of research on our partners ahead of time, but reading about sex trafficking in the Philippines is totally different from meeting someone who has actually experienced it. Suddenly, it puts our work in a whole new context and lends us a new sense of urgency and drive to succeed. 

Shop Social Enterprises with Cambio Market

Gelaine and Jérôme with The Paper Project

We’ve also met with potential suppliers like GKonomics, Gifts & Graces Foundation, and Anthill Fabric Gallery. Next week, we have a trip to Davao City planned so we can visit our partner Olivia & Diego and meet their artisans. We’re working on a few blog posts to share what we’ve learned, so keep an eye out!

Shop Social Enterprises with Cambio Market

The couple with a potential partner, Anya Lim from Anthill Fabric Gallery, in Cebu Philippines

You can follow along with Gelaine and Jérôme’s journey through the Philippines over on the Cambio Market blog. You can also follow along on Instagram. To shop their curated online market of social enterprise goodies, visit


Sustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical Luxury and Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

Going Eco: Sustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical & Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

As a conscious traveler, it is important for you to travel in a sustainable way. But, you also want a great experience. You most definitely want to feel like you are on vacation and enjoy a bit of those luxuries you don’t get every day (at least for a few nights of your trip!). And with that being said, you also want to feel adventurous and get a real picture of what life is like in the destinations you are visiting. You want to be a part of a story – to give back and to come away with amazing memories.

Over the next few weeks, we will be delving into authentic, socially-driven and eco-friendly travel in Thailand.  We will show you where to stay, what the best experiences are and what amazing social enterprises and conscious companies you should be supporting along the way.

Expect adventure, natural beauty, smiling faces and a whole lot of heart as we explore the lush country of Thailand.

Eco What?

Spending a few days at an eco-resort in the lush jungles or along the sandy beaches of Thailand may be a great choice for those times when you want a bit of pampering while still traveling with your authentic, adventurous and socially-conscious style.

Thailand has a TON of eco-lodges and resorts that claim to be environmentally friendly, which is great-and-all. But what does this really mean? How much impact are they really having?

As you look for eco-lodges and resorts, it is important to understand how they are actually effecting the environment around them. For The Global Commute, this most importantly means: how are they effecting their local communities.

Not having air-conditioning or electricity may be less strenuous on the environment, but if that is where the resort’s eco-responsibilities end, than that means little to the local community and flora and fauna. What is really means is a whole lot more for the bottom line of the resort (who has conveniently lowered there costs on your account by switching off the lights and cranking up the temp…).

So to help you with your eco-choices in Thailand, here are The Global Commute’s top picks for eco-resorts in Thailand who are actually doing things right. These resorts tick all the boxes: they care and support their local communities in addition to the surrounding environments; they embrace the culture and use the resort as a platform for cultural awareness; and, they provide comfort and professional hospitality to their guests in a way that stays true to the destination.


Bangkok Tree House

Where: Bangkok
How Much: starting from $165 per night

Sustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical Luxury and Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

Why we love it:
The bamboo “nests” offer a unique way to spend the night along the river in Bangkok. And for every booking, the hotel removes 1 kg of trash from the waterway. You can chose open-air tree house rooms or glass and bamboo-enclosed rooms with high-efficiency air conditioning to rest comfortably.

While your’e there:
The location is great for enjoying daily, low-key living. The hotel provides free bikes for reaching the area’s attractions like 200-year-old Wat Bang Nam Phung Nok temple, Bang Nam Pheung floating market and the Sri Nakon Kuan Kan Park, with its stunning botanical garden. The hotel will even pack you an organic picnic lunch to enjoy while out exploring.

Best local/social activity:
Cooking with Poo is a Thai cooking class in the Klong Toey slum run by Khun Poo, a local to the slum who fought the odds and grew a social enterprise in her home town from scratch (literally;). She now has a best-selling cookbook and leads daily market visits and cooking classes, helping her community out of poverty.


River Kwai Jungle Rafts

Where: Kanchanaburi
How much: starting from $100 per night

Sustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical Luxury and Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

Why we love it:
Fall asleep to the sound of the river current beneath your floating hut. Despite the fact that there is no electricity at this super eco-friendly resort, the huts provide a sense of calm as you unwind to enjoy nature. There is something utterly romantic about the gas-lit lanterns that fill the raft’s halls at night. River Kwai Jungle Rafts supports the nearby Mon community by building a Mon school and playground, as well as providing drinking water hygienization, proper waste management and malaria protection.

While your’e there:
Jump right off the raft into the refreshing river. Or, travel by long boat through Sai Yok National Park to view Sai Yok Yai waterfall cascading off the cliffs into Kwae Noi River.

Best local/social activity:
The Baan Unrak Foundation, meaning ‘House of Joy’ is located 2 hours upriver. The children’s village and outreach program works with Thai and Burmese displaced women and children. Their vegetarian cafe and bakery is a perfect place for lunch in support of their work. You can also purchase handicrafts made at their weaving center.


Hintok River Camp at Hellfire Pass

Where: Kanchanaburi
How much: starting from $100 per night

Sustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical Luxury and Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

Why we love it:
Self-proclaimed ‘glamping’ – Hintok River Camp’s canvas tents provide a sense of connection to nature but are equipped with extra comforts. The setting couldn’t be more ideal, on a gigantic cliff overlooking the River Kwai, surrounded by a local village and several temples. Hintok is also serious about their community involvement. The Camp has built a school for children, created a water sanitation and malaria protection program, and much much more.

While your’e there:
Enjoy a campfire on the cliffs, take a dip in the natural swimming pool, or trek along the historic Death Railway constructed during the Second World War.

Best local/social activity:
Just north of the Kwai Jungle River Rafts,  a visit to the Baan Unrak Foundation is recommended during a boating outing up river.


The Pimalai Resort & Spa

Where: Koh Lanta Yai Island
How much: starting from $185 per night

ustainable Eco-Resorts for Ethical Luxury and Authentic Local Experiences in Thailand

Why we love it:
Reachable only by the resort’s private boat, once at The Pimalai you will be tucked away in the rainforest at the water’s edge. The resort is secluded, peaceful and luxurious… but that doesn’t mean boring either. There are plenty of eco-initiatives happening to keep you preoccupied (if you so desire). The resort employs around 175 local island workers, providing extra education and English training, which in turn effects over 2,000 people in the community.

While your’e there:
When not enjoying the sea, you can visit and support the island’s hospital, school or nearby towns with local staff from the hotel. The resort regularly gives to these establishments.

Best local/social activity:
Visit the sleepy Lanta Old Town to visit the Jumbo Hammock shop, a social enterprise selling cheerful, colorful handmade hammocks that support the once nomadic Mlabri Tribe.


Travel Hacks this Holiday Season to Save Time, Money and Sanity

Traveling this holiday season? Want to save some money? Or, are you just curious about how to make flying and hotel stays a bit easier? Read on for my favorite five track hacks this year:


1. Clear your history, cache and cookies on your web browser before buying flights online

Did you know that many airline websites keep track of how many times you have searched for a particular flight…and increase the price? So make sure you clear out your browser history, including your cookies and cache before searching for flights. Or better yet, use Google Chrome Incognito browser tool. You can find this by clicking the drop-down menu on the right hand corner of your Google Chrome browser.


2. Use Seat Guru to get the best seat

Flying in cramped airlines is never fun, but it’s even worse when you select that nice isle seat online toward the front of the plane, only to board and then realize that your seat has less leg room and under-seat storage than practically every other seat in the plane! Seat Guru is a great website that shows which seats have the most leg room (or more importantly, the ones with the least room) based on the aircraft model of your flight.


3. Bring your family that famous home-baked pie or those cupcakes everybody loves from your hometown bakery

Thought you couldn’t bring large baked goods onboard? As long as its not jelly or liquid, it’s ok (think pies, cakes, cookies, casseroles and even turkey!…but leave the cranberry sauce and gravy at home). Need tips for getting your baked goods to your final destination in one piece? Map Happy has a great article on how to bring a pie on a plane.


4.  Gate check your bag at the gate

Most security scanners at airports can accommodate larger bags than you think, even if they can’t fit in the overhead compartment. Most airlines limit their carry-on allowance to between 21 and 24 inches in height, but most scanners can accommodate a 27-inch bag. Meaning, that you can just check your bag at the gate to avoid bag fees on airlines who normally charge for this at check-in. Of course there are exceptions, but it’s worth a try in most cases, especially if you have time to return to the check-in counter to check your bag if there are issues at security.


5. Use your hotel’s TV to charge your electronics abroad

Traveling abroad with out an adaptor and need to charge your phone? Just plug the USB into the back of your hotel room TV…most of them have a USB port these days. Problem solved!

Bonus for the Ladies: Use a button to avoid losing your earrings

Secure your earrings through the holes of a large, brightly colored button. It keeps them together and makes your chances of losing them disappear!


social enterprise christmas gift guide - gifts that give back this holiday season

Buying Social: The Ultimate Gift Guide to Support Social Enterprises this Christmas

Tired of boring gifts? Want to find a creative gift from a trendy, local company with great products and even better causes? This guide showcases some of my favorites this holiday season:


hot bread kitchen - social enterprise holiday gifts

Krochet Kids - social enterprise holiday gifts

prosperity candles - social enterprise holiday gifts

Sack Cloth & Ashes - social enterprise holiday gifts

Rags2Riches - social enterprise holiday gifts

Bambikes - social enterprise holiday gifts

Want to support more Filipino Socents? Check out my How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List Guide to the Philippines.

Soko - social enterprise holiday gifts

Two Fingers Brewing - social enterprise holiday gifts

Want to support more Kenyan Socents? Check out my How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List Guide to Kenya.

Artisans of Peru Change the World of Fashion Featuring Social Entrepreneur Matt Reynolds at Indigenous

Artisans of Peru Change the World of Fashion — Featuring Social Entrepreneur Matt Reynolds at Indigenous

Meet INDIGENOUS. A fashion brand that honors both people and the planet.

INDIGENOUS is a California-based company working with a network of fair trade artisans in Peru. Together they create beautiful, eco-friendly woven clothing that helps elevate the poorest of Peruvian artisans to world-renowned status in the handicraft textile market, all while paying fair living wages.

Indeed, striving to transform the fashion industry for the better takes vision, passion and perseverance; and for INDIGENOUS, this means having Co-founders Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds as the driving force behind its team.

As The Global Commute continues its survey of Peru, we caught up with President Matt Reynolds, who shares what it takes to grow a brand, while also changing lives. He explains how it all started, the importance of partnering with others, advice for other social enterprises, and their personal must-see destinations within Peru.

Let’s hear from Matt…

What was the defining moment in your lives when you decided to embark on this journey together to start a social and eco-responsible fashion brand?

finding meaning and heart at work - social enterprise #socent
1994.  My co-founder Scott Leonard and
I believe in the simple idea that when people go to work, they should not have to leave their hearts at home. We believe in that idea for ourselves, our artisans, our retail partners and everyone else who walks with us on our chosen path.  For us, that path was clear decades ago.  In our early years, 20 years ago, INDIGENOUS was a very small company built on a very big idea: to create clothing that truly honored both people and planet. That idea became a promise – a promise to use only eco-friendly materials; to pay fair wages and create opportunity for artisans in the developing world; and, to help change the way the world looks at fashion.  As a result, INDIGENOUS has become recognized as a pioneering leader of fair trade and organic fashion.

The defining moment for Scott Leonard began on a street corner, where a chance meeting with an Ecuadorian social activist and social entrepreneur opened his eyes to a world of possibility, working with indigenous artisans. Already a successful surf shop owner who used business for social action, Scott’s heart quickly opened to the possibility of a socially responsible knitwear business. INDIGENOUS became Scott’s way to live his commitment to social good, and his path was chosen.

As for myself, my path began while I was living in South America as a child with my family.  I learned that we share this world with many diverse people and that our true worth was not defined by what we take from it, but rather what we give back to it.  My Dad was a developmental economist at Stanford, working to create opportunity for those who needed it most in the America’s. The special people I grew up with in Central and South America and their culture were part of my daily life.  After a prosperous early career in retail, I realized my heart was searching for more. The marriage of my retail acumen with compassion for the world’s diverse peoples and cultures was a natural personal growth step, and my path was chosen.


Describe the feeling the first time you ever visited the rural highland villages of Peru. Describe the feeling when you visit your artisans in those villages now.

There are so many great stories and contributions that have been part of this journey – all evoking tremendous feelings of gratitude, humility and pride.  As I mentioned earlier, from day one Scott and I made a promise to use only eco-friendly materials; to pay fair wages and create opportunity for artisans in the developing world; and, to help change the way the world looks at fashion.  For two decades, we’ve been driven by that promise and we’ve done everything we can to live it in everything we do. 

Scott & Matt of Indigenous Knitting in Peru

Matt and Scott knitting with some of their partners.

Today, we have over 1,500 artisans working with INDIGENOUS, some grassroots knitting cooperatives, some small scale Artisan workshops – all are being given opportunities to flourish and grow.  For some, it has truly been their path out of poverty, a chance to eat, a chance to give their children an education.  There is an incredible feeling of partnership, teamwork and mutual respect.  And we still have a long ways to go.  This has not been the easiest path to travel, and it’s one we’ve traveled slowly, mindfully and intentionally.

Our ongoing goal is to create economic and social opportunity for thousands more artisans and their families in the decades ahead.  It will take continued support from our customers and our partners to help make the dream of elevating thousands more artisans’ lives a reality.

Indigenous social enterprise Peru


Since 2012, your garments all come with a QR code that links to your app the Fair Trace Tool, which builds bridges between the consumer, the artisans and origins of product. Share a little bit about how that tool has the effected your brand since its launch. Have any other companies started using your tool?  

Although Scott and I still remain incredibly proud of the work behind the Fair Trace Tool,  I can’t say it has effected our brand externally.  Scott and I hoped more consumers would have been interested in scanning the QR code to meet the artisans while shopping.  We also hoped more apparel companies would have expressed interest in taking us up on our offer to share the Trace Tool.  With that said,  we have had interplay and interest from a few companies in the natural food industry, such as Alter Eco.  



You said in a recent interview with Trep Life that one of the great things about being a social entrepreneur is that you meet interesting people in the world of social business. Is INDIGENOUS a part of any social enterprise or socially-responsible business associations?  If so, what do you find is most helpful about these groups?

INDIGENOUS has been a founding member and/or a deeply active participant in the following socially responsible organizations.  All have played an important role in our success:

Social Venture Network – Scott and I have been attending SVN since the late 90’s.  This socially responsible business network has been an invaluable family member of INDIGENOUS.  I highly recommend  any social enterprise take the time to experience an SVN gathering.   I cannot express in words how grateful I am to the SVN community for advising and supporting INDIGENOUS along in our journey.      

Organic Fiber Council – INDIGENOUS collaborated with the USDA to help set the standards for organic cotton in the USA.

Root Capital – INDIGENOUS is responsible for spearheading and actualizing a breakthrough production financing model for expanding small to mid sized social/fair trade enterprises into new markets through Root Capital Finance for Communities and Conservation, Cambridge, MA.

OIA Eco Working – INDIGENOUS was a catalyst in the OIA (Outdoor Industry Association) forming the Eco Working Group responsible for The Eco Index – a tool providing guidelines and metrics for how companies can be more conscious and sustainable in their supply chain.

WOG Development Organization – INDIGENOUS partnered with WOG Development Organization for SMS technology launch to improve communication between brands, vendors and workers for a stronger understanding of fair trade standards.

Green Steps Sustainability Program – In 2005, INDIGENOUS founded the Green Steps program to raise business awareness of sustainability issues in the industry, bringing together dozens of companies to raise the bar on the environment and social justice.

B Corporation – INDIGENOUS is one of the 10 founding B-corporations, signing the B-Corporation Declaration of Interdependence on June 1, 2007!   The B-Corporation network is strong and aligned.  We actively seek to do business with other B-Corporations whenever possible, as it is the only business network I know of that openly shares their business practices transparently online through their web-site:  

RSF Finance –  INDIGENOUS has been working and collaborating with RSF finance for well over a decade. For example, RSF Finance helped us launch our Fair Trace Tool through a PRI loan (Project Related Investment).  In addition, our Fair Value Fund is managed by RSF Social Finance. This non-profit invests in skills, technical assistance and equipment to benefit artisans, schools and organic farms.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge for social entrepreneurs who are faced with the hurdles of entrepreneurship while also working to fix major social and economic issues at the same time?
social enterprise motivation and encouragement #socent

When you are working to build a brand, as well as fix major social and economic issues, it often feels like you are working with one arm tied behind your back. We deal with consumer acceptance constraints (fair trade and organic is “hippy”), capital constraints, production constraints, fiber quality constraints, marketing constraints and production timeline constraints.   Yet, we learned to not let any obstacle get in the way of our “mission”.  If there is a will, there is a way.  


If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self 20 years ago, what would you say?  

Don’t underestimate the power of a good financial forecast model and a bottom up budgeting process.  And make sure to check in on a regular basis, comparing your actual performance against your budget. This is fundamental to creating a profitable and thriving business.   


For travelers who want to have a culturally rich experience while also making a positive impact on the local society, where would you suggest that they travel to in Peru?

There are so many incredible places to visit in Peru.  However, I am bias to the high desert regions.  The Salinas Aguada National Reserve is stunning with amazing small towns, such as Huayllachuco and Imata.  This is where you can meet some of the most remarkable artisans and alpaca herders.   For those that may not be able to travel so remotely, the cities of Puno, Juliaca and Arequipa are beautiful as well. 

social enterprise travel in Peru


founder at Indigenous - social enterpriseMatt Reynolds is Co-founder and President of INDIGENOUS, where he spearheaded a revolutionary production financing model for fair trade knitting cooperatives through Root Capital, Finance for Communities and Conservation, Cambridge, MA. Today, he oversees the company’s sales strategy, as well as maintaining industry leader margins.

INDIGENOUS designs are available through Viva Terra, Copper Penney, Whole Earth Provision,  NYFO, Cool Sweats, Overland Sheepskin & Co, Rodale,, MAST GENERAL, Alabama Outfitters, Mountain High Outfitters, and hundreds of better women’s specialty retailers throughout North America, as well as for purchase on their website indigenous.comYou can also follow their journey on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Adventurous round the world travel with photographer Asher Svidensky

Breaking Walls around the World: Behind the Scenes with Leading Photographer Asher Svidensky

Asher Svidensky is a photographer. But more importantly, he is a storyteller. He is also an adventurer and a traveler who truly embodies The Global Commute’s mission to Journey beyond the Bucket List.

His work has been featured on BBC and National Geographic; and earlier this month, Tedx invited him back for a second Talk, after his moving first appearance “Heroes in Stories.”

His work, a mixture of art and documentary photography, is powerful and compelling storytelling.  And whether you are interested in photography or not, Asher is full of inspiration and wisdom for us all.

Let’s hear from Asher himself as he shares his personal story and his advice for traveling and connecting to cultures around the world.


Take us back to the beginning. How did you become the adventurous, traveling photographer you are today?

It all began to develop back in 2009, when I was enlisted in the army. For three years, I was fortunate enough to be drafted as a military photographer at a small base in the desert that trained new soldiers. My job was simple: try to document the daily happenings of the base. I took advantage of my time there and worked on myself as a photographer, really experimenting in different styles.

After my service I worked as a commercial photographer – even though I didn’t enjoy it at all. Photography became a “job” and slowly I started hating it. I noticed that my camera changed from an “instrument” that I used for my passion of photographing into a “tool” that I used for work.



Upon reflection, I didn’t like the way my life was going. So, I decided to change my path. I took a bag, a few shirts and my camera and set off to Asia. I wanted to give myself the opportunity, just like I had in the army, to grow as a photographer in my own way, hoping to find a different future for myself and my passion.

Now, I don’t really have a home base, I just keep moving from place to place; looking for stories, planning my next adventures and sharing my work with others. I guess in a way, I can say I have no fixed address… I am wherever I am welcome.



I love what you say in your “Heroes in Stories” Tedx Talk about capturing profound moments where ordinary people can become heroes. Tell us more about your storytelling photography style.

I think I still don’t have a fixed style. Every time I go out for a shoot, I try to adapt myself to the only thing that matters – the story.

Sometimes I use a pure documentary-style of photography to show what is happening in front of me. Other times, I approach reality with a more artistic style – trying to create a visual that expresses my feelings and understanding of what I see.

In my recent shoot of the Miao tribes of China, I used both styles.


While shooting the Miao ethnic tribe, you worked with two layers of interpreters in order to speak with them in their unique Chinese dialect. What would you say is the most challenging part about connecting with local people as you travel? How do you create that bond so that you can more easily tell their stories?

Yes, it was a very “wordy meeting” that day. The language barrier is just one of the things that a documentary photographer has to overcome. I think that the most important thing for anyone who wishes to connect with cultures around the world and to do meaningful work as a storyteller is to invest the time. It is a very rare thing that one can just pop in to someone’s house for a few minutes, take images and leave with a good story. Sitting down and sharing who you are, what you do, and listening to the person you are photographing is a key feature in my work.

I don’t believe in walls. I love having the people I’m photographing as an active part of the creative process.


If you wish, you can check out my story from a different place in China, where I shot the Yin-Bou fishermen. Sometimes just talking and sharing isn’t enough to break all walls…



What tips do you have for travelers who want to also connect with local people while traveling, perhaps with or without a camera in hand?

Other than spending time with people and not rushing everything, I think the best advice I can give is – shut up and listen!

There is an amazing TED Talk done by Ernesto Sirolli where he talks about his approach to helping young entrepreneurs in remote countries as a foreigner – just stop what you are doing and watch it! It is a great talk and I truly believe it is relevant to anyone who wants to understand and connect with local communities – with or without a camera…

… just listen, make a friend, get yourself into their world and don’t expect them to go into yours.


Thank you so much for that advice.  You have been in a Ted Talk yourself! Tell us about the young Mongolian eagle hunter you describe in your talk. How did you feel the first time you saw her with the massive bird?

I was amazed by her comfort and ease as she began handling the grand eagle for the first time in her life. She was fearlessly carrying it on her hand and caressing it somewhat joyfully.


When I was photographing 13-year-old Ashol-pan, I always compared her to the other boys that I had shot for that photo project. Most of them were the same age, also with very little experience in these early stages of training with eagles. All of the kids I met were a bit afraid of the wild golden eagle, and rightly so. Partially because the idea of holding this predator, which is almost their own size, still felt terrifying for them.

Even though they would not admit it, it was clear that they felt some relief when the eagle flew away from them… but not Ashol-pan. She was the least experienced of all the children I had shot before her, but I saw she was unique. She was strong and proud as if she was a warrior from the past.

Her strength made her a hero and a story worth sharing.


What unique place and people group are you searching for now for your next project?

I have a few things on my mind for my next voyage – I would really love to see East Russia. I love traveling into places where the elements and harsh terrain covers the people. There we can see the radical changes of the 20th and 21st century. I believe that in these places one can find stories not only on “Indigenous people” or “Lost cultures” but stories that due to their simplicity can be shine a light on our common humanity.


I hear you have just appeared in another Ted Talk? When can we watch that online?

Yes it is true! The event was on the 12th of October under the name TEDxTheWhiteCity. I’m not sure when will the videos will be released online, but as soon as the lecture will air online I will share it on my Facebook page and website!


Adventurous round the world travel with photographer Asher SvidenskyYou can learn more about Asher at He regularly posts videos on his YouTube channel as well that dig deeper into his work and adventures around the world.

All photos and video in this article are copy write – Asher Svidensky.


social enterprise travel - socent, meaningful travel

Eleanor Roosevelt Reveals why you Might be a Small-mind Traveler: The Secret to Meaningful Experiences Around the World

I saw this quote recently. It moved me.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Each week, I have a blank page. The opportunity to erase the blinking cursor on my computer screen. It’s the time for us to have a conversation together.  So what should we talk about?…

I like the analogy that we can pull from Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote about how people talk and how the subject of our conversations can classify us as having a great, average or small mind.

I couldn’t help but ask the question… Are we all small-mind travelers?


Who are Small-Mind Travelers?

Have you wanted to just escape to somewhere…anywhere!? Have you recently skimmed the surface of a foreign land after flying 18+ hours in a cramped airplane with re-circulated air and mushy food?

Let’s get honest. Because travel is a self-focused luxury, most of us are small-mind travelers. We travel to forget, to run away, to escape, to indulge, to take-advantage, to heal, etc. etc.

Some of these motives may not be bad, and at times may be even necessary. But just like a person who focuses all of their conversations only around events and people…there is still a better choice.


Great-Mind Travelers

Great-mind travelers are not happy with the status quos. We want to explore, to learn, to grow and to have a great time doing it. We stand in awe of creation, and are humbled by those who are created different from us.

We are adventurous and bold, yet quiet and respectful in cultures that require our understanding.

We step out into the unknown, and ask for a helping hand when we get lost.  We journey off the beaten path…but also find new and interesting ways to learn from the well-worn roads that are often ignored by travelers searching only for novelty.

We travel uniquely, dig deeper, ask questions, exchange ideas and serve others no matter where our interests may lead us.


A Winning Combination

Today I want to challenge all of us to really live what Eleanor Roosevelt says, and to apply her concept of great minds to our travels. Don’t spend your limited vacation days each year focusing on meaningless distractions. Ask yourself the hard questions. Dig deeper.

Use your time traveling to re-align your priorities, to serve others and ultimately to ask yourself, “what is this all about?”

Be a great mind…. And connect with other great minds around the world.


Why I love Social Entrepreneurs

Social entrepreneurs are like great-mind travelers, yet perhaps more important. They want to push the limits as well, but are grounded in their love of home. They are patriotic, yet dedicated to producing the change they want to see in their communities. They may be small, but they are also bold. Seeking out the smallest opportunities to make large impact, with nothing but hard work and creativity.

As you take trips around the world, don’t underestimate the power of social enterprises to help you create meaningful adventures for yourself. By spending time with local projects, you will not just exchange ideas – you will make incredible memories, create lasting friendships and be a part of something bigger than just yourself.

Be a great-mind traveler. You won’t regret it.


Want help learning how to Journey beyond the Bucket List? Join the community! I would love to have you as part of our growing group of passionate, great-mind travelers.



How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru: The Best Destinations, Tours and Hotels for Making an Impact through Social Enterprise

Peru is abounding in travel potential. From the marvels of innovation that is Machu Picchu, to simple lake life on Titicaca, the country has cultural and natural beauty in abundance. With a growing tourism industry, you would think that the average Peruvian worker within tourism zones would benefit equally from this relationship. Yet this is far from the truth. Most tourism dollars are sucked away by international tour operators or hospitality hotel chains. And although they do provide employment to the local community beyond farming, the game is not fair. Through social enterprise, Peru’s locals will begin to benefit more equally from the growing tourism industry, making sustainable tourism a win for the local people and the traveler.

The great part about traveling with a social enterprise is that you will be connected directly to the community. You will not be shuffled through places like cattle as you peer into local life as it were a fish in a fishbowl. You will meet and assist the communities in a much more mutually rewarding way.

Let’s take a look at the best places in Peru for an authentic cultural experience and who you can partner with to make sure that your trip is both impactful on you and on the community that you are enjoying.


Lake Titicaca

Sitting high up at 12,000 feet (3,800 meters), Lake Titicaca has blue waters, floating islands and a distinctive local culture bred from one of South America’s oldest communities. It is not only the highest navigable lake in the world, it is also the birthplace of the Incas. Explore the Uros Islands made entirely of bundled totora reeds; hike along portions of the ancient Inca roadway; visit the local market of the Altiplano people; and explore Puno, the Peruvian Capital of Folklore.  From the Bolivian side, the Islands of the Sun and the Moon are filled with Incan remains of temples and palaces.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

Eco Lodge La Estancia – the only one of its kind, this eco and social project was built near the Estancia community on the Island of the Sun in 1998. 15 cottages provide a great location for exploring with the local people. The lodge employs only locals from the island and works to enhance their involvement and inclusion into the tourism sector. They offer several outings around the island and the lake focusing on the community and the environment.

Qhantati Uros Hotel – Uros Q’Hantati is an island owned by Cristina Suaña and her family, and together with five families, they run a hotel and sustainable tourism coop. The hotel is extremely unique as it is made entirely of totora reeds, just like the island itself. Booking a stay on this local island is possible through the social enterprise RESPONSible Travel Peru introduced below.

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

RESPONSible Travel Peru is a little social enterprise that is having BIG impact in Peru. They work to develop the local indigenous groups to benefit from cross-cultural tourism where travelers can learn from them while also supporting their traditional ways of life. Their Lake Titicaca programs spend time with several communities on the lake and surrounding regions.

All Ways Travel  is a Peruvian company started with the purpose of developing a more socially responsible kind of tourism. They provide travelers with an active roles through the implementation of creative and fun educational activities that are also shared with indigenous leaders, teachers, parents, mother associations and children. On their website that have a section for traditional tours, but also “non-touristy tours” like Remote Taquile: Lake Titicaca’s Living Heritage where travelers stay overnight with locals in their homes.



Known as the White City, Arequipa lies at the foot of ice-capped volcano El Misti, as well as four other volcanoes. It acquired its nickname from the color of the volcanic stone used to construct is many colonial-style mansions. Beginning at Lake Titicaca, Arequipa is easily visited as a stop on the way to the Colca Canyon and Cusco.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

There are plenty of places to stay in town ranging from luxury to budget. Unfortunately there are no formal social enterprises at the time of this article. Airbnb has several options to stay in local homes.

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

Ai Travel is a socially-focused business, owned by sociologist Miguel Fernandez, who designed the “Reality Tour” to appreciate not only the beauty of his country, but to understand their everyday reality through the perspective of the poorest people. The proceeds from the outing go toward the city’s soup kitchen and nursery.


Colca Canyon

Claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world, Colca’s sides are so steep that it is impossible to see the valley bottom. Most visitors don’t venture down into the canyon, stopping only at the ridge to view condors…don’t be this type of traveler. Craggy mountains, pre-Incan terraces, huge herds of llamas and traditionally-dressed Andeans are all a part of the scenery here as you descent to the river bed far below.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

Sangalle Oasis lies at the canyon floor with lush vegetation and bungalows for overnight guests, helping you to more easily plan your descent without worry of overnight lodging and food!

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

RESPONSible Travel Peru has a few options for trekking the canyon and staying overnight with host families with convenient departures from both Puno (on Lake Titicaca) and Arequipa.


Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu  

Cusco (or Cuzco), conquered and rebuilt by the Spaniards, is the Peruvian center for tourism and the gateway to Machu Picchu. With over one million travelers making their way each year to snap a selfie with the majestic ruins of Machu Picchu, it’s more important than ever to make wise choices before planning your visit to the ancient site. Trekking the famous Inca Trail, a four-day hike that leads to Machu Picchu, provides a more authentic, raw experience; yet, it is limited to just 500 people per day (booking up over eight months in advance) leaving the majority out of this coveted experience.

Pre and post Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley provides a glimpse of history and local life. But there are certainly good and better ways of doing it as well. Like your visit to Machu Picchu, you will want to plan carefully and rely on people with the right local know-how and connections to support sustainable development projects.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

Ninos Hotel is a social enterprise hotel that gives proceeds to their project to support neglected youth in Cusco. They have a hotel in the center of city – the courtyard is adorable and the restaurant has great reviews. They also have a hacienda located in an ancient village outside of the city.  While you stay, make sure to sign-up for a visit to one of their children restaurants to see their projects in action.

Llama Pack  is a backpacker hostel that is owned by two mountaineers who assist with llama reintroduction projects in the surrounding hills. It’s a great place from which to explore the Sacred Valley.They have simple but clean amenities, and travelers rave about their stays here – noting that hikes and outings with the owners were unforgettable!

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

RESPONSible Travel Peru has hands-down the best trekking programs to and around Machu Picchu. They range from 10 days to 1 day and have everything from homestays to coffee and chocolate plantation visits. Their RESPONSible Inca Trail Experience is a great way to do the traditional route for first timers. Within Cusco and the Sacred Valley, they also have great ways to interact with locals as well – from visiting the Amaru community to the Awamaki project, a local women’s weaving cooperative and social enterprise.




Deep in the desert of Peru lies one of the most mystifying monuments of the known world—the massive-scale geoglyphs known as the Nasca Lines. These intricate ancient drawings are massive, with the largest figures over 656 feet (200 meters) long and ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, llamas and lizards. The ancient lines can only be clearly understood from high in the air, leaving generations mystified as to how these precise works could’ve been completed long before the invention of aircraft.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

B&B El Jardin – There are no formal social enterprise options in Nasca at the time of writing this article, so I prefer the B&B El Jardin, located in a quiet setting five minutes from the Plaza. There is a garden with fruit trees and a terrace with hammocks to relax in. It’s available on Airbnb so you can speak with the host.

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

Alas Peruanas – There are several options for viewing the Nasca Lines, none of which are social enterprises. However, Alas Peruanas offers smaller crafts and more in-depth options with local guides giving you that personal connection. Several of the more budget options are large crafts with audio recordings during the flight.


The Capital of Lima

Lima is the only South American capital city which faces the exquisite Pacific Ocean. Lima is now a hub for different and varied issues making it economically, socio-culturally and ecologically key to the country, its citizens and its visitors.  Most likely your international flight will arrive into or depart out of Lima, so make use of the time to explore its diverse and vibrant neighborhoods.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

Second Home Peru  is a great recommendation if  you don’t chose to do a home stay. The old Tudor home was once owned by Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfin and is nestled conveniently in the heart of Barranco, Lima’s arts district. Staying here helps promote art and culture, all while enjoy the cozy setting.

Hotel Antiqua Miraflores is a more upscale boutique hotel option but nonetheless, the hotel is one of great values. Self-proclaimed as a promoter of Peru’s Heritage, they partner with Best Buddies Lima as well as Pack for a Purpose to give back to the community.

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

Haku Tours  is a Lima-focused social enterprise striving to help families who live in its shanty towns. They offer a Shanty Town tour, along with a wide-array of other options including homestays with local families.

Again in Lima, RESPONSible Travel Peru has several great unique options. I like their outing with a local fisherman to learn about his daily life and the nearby sea lion and penguin colony by boat!  They also have a fashion outing, visiting several designers with responsible missions that reflect the local culture and fashion scene in Lima, as well as a trip into the countryside to pick organic produce, prepare a home-cooked Peruvian meal and visit the host family’s pottery studio.


Trujillo and the North

Trujillo is a green oasis lying in an irrigate valley amidst the arid desert at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range. Within the city, step inside brightly colored colonial mansions or venture into the desert to explore the ancient civilization of the Moche’s. Check out an ornately tattooed 1,600 year-old-mummy at El Brujo complex; and walk through the largest pre-Columbian city in South American at Chan Chan.  For a more laid back vibe, the beach of Huanchaco is a traditional seaside town of fishermen and surfers from around the globe.

How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Peru – the best destinations, tours and hotels for making an impact through social enterprise

Where to Stay:

Chaparrí is a beautiful eco lodge situated in a private nature reserve, in close contact with nature. The community originally constructed the lodge as a way to protect their land, and still today is maintained as a community-led conservation project. There are many nature activities on the reserve, but the lodge is also very near to important archeological sites such as Huaca Rajada (Sipan) and Lambayeque, as well as museums like Tumbas Reales, Túcume and Sican.

How to Meet and Impact Locals:

Wind Aid Institute builds wind turbines to provide power to the poorest of communities in Peru. They have a four-week volunteer program that people from all walks of life can participate in!

Sumak Travel  is a UK-based social enterprise that partners with local providers to help maintain sustainable tourism projects. I usually like going direct to companies based within their own country, but Sumak Travel’s values line up to provide great impact. Their Northern Peru program also happens to be the best out there right now as well.

So that wraps it up! As you plan your travel to Peru, remember to dig deeper as a tourist. Meet the locals, understand their challenges and embrace their unique ways of life. And most of all, always partner with sustainable companies and social enterprises that are making a positive impact on the local community. If you do, you will walk away with a much more rewarding and adventurous experience!


Photo Credits:
Feature Photo – Flickr, Roderick Eime, Attribution 2.0 Generic
Lake Titicaca – Flickr, Alex Zanuccoli, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Arequipa – Flickr, Derk Preston, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Colca Canyon – Flickr, Boris G, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Machu Picchu  – Flickr, Boris G, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Nasca Lines – Flickr, Christian Haugen, Attribution 2.0 Generic
Lima – Flickr, McKay SavageAttribution 2.0 Generic
Chan Chan (left) – Flickr, Richard Mortel, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Chan Chan (right) – Fickr, Tyler Bell, Attribution 2.0 Generic  


Peru Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs

Peru – a mysterious past and an innovative future for social entrepreneurs

We are continuing our Journey beyond the Bucket List as we uncover the social enterprise movement around the world. Next stop – Peru.

A region of mystery, Peru’s past seems to whisper its secrets as you travel through the mountainous terrain. From picture perfect Machu Picchu to the eerie complexities that surround the Nasca Lines, the marvels of the Inca’s engineering have made Peru a destination associated with innovation from another time.

Social Entrepreneurship Peru - mysteries of the past, innovation of the future

Yet Peru is on the verge of another era, marked with a new type of innovation: the rebirth of social-entrepreneurs.


A new time for social entrepreneurship in Peru

Peru currently is home to eight million people living below the poverty line.   And although the country has had a dramatic decrease in its poverty levels over the past decade, the dire need remains in need of further answers.

The Peruvian government has acknowledged that private social businesses are the key to lifting the base of the pyramid up through the creativity and resourcefulness of the poor. In 2011, the government created a Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion. Head of this Ministry, Carolina Trivelli, recently acknowledged that “the government is a poor innovator. There are no better innovations than those that come from the private sector.”

The country has since then hosted the first Social Innovation Summit at the World Economic Forum on Latin America and launched Start-Up Peru in November 2013. The Start-Up Peru initiative is expected to provide support to 200 startups over the next five years.

And, they are on the right track as seen by their massive current list of participants, helping both “innovative entrepreneurs” to validate and fund their business models, and to “dynamic, high-impact startups” to launch early-stage products to reach the market place at scale.

What is even more exciting is growth through private institutions, happening under the supportive entrepreneurial environment that the government has set the stage for.

One example is 10,000 Women, a global initiative by GoldmanSachs.  Let’s hear from two women in Peru who share their start-up stories with 10,000 Women:

10,000 women is a one-direction support system, but even more power lies in collaborative networks. The massive and growing community of Lima Valley is an almost viral network of social entrepreneurs who focus on internet-based solutions. This is perhaps the most exciting area of social enterprise development because their solutions are built on powerful dynamic platforms unlike traditional industries that require huge physical and geographical barriers. Lima Valley has over 10,000 members throughout the country who all give and receive resources and knowledge from a group of voluntary sponsors and collaborators at various events.

The Next Generation of Social Entrepreneurs Peru


The Important Role of the Traveler in Peru

Although barriers do exist for the growth of social enterprise in Peru, the traveler can be a key support system to Peruvian entrepreneurs. As you travel to the main tourist sites of Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Trujillo, Lima and beyond, you have the unique opportunity to engage with locals and to support grassroots initiatives on the ground. In this way, you are supporting the local people and deepening your travel experience at the same time.

Social Enterprises and Social Entrepreneurs Peru

Over the next few weeks, we will explore the social enterprises that exist around these tourist zones so that you can Journey beyond the Bucket List in Peru.

Come back next week as we introduce the top places for social enterprise-supporting travel around Peru!



Feature Photo: by Glenn Shepard,
Macchu Picchu – Flickr, ckmck, Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Nazca Lines from above – Flickr, funkz, Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Click Asi – Flickr, Amelia Wells, Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Peru Travel: Crossing the Plaza – Flickr, Latin America for Less, Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Lonely boat Lake Titicaca, Peru – Flickr, Boris G, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Peru Weavers – Fickr, pamelacarol, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Travel Tool Review: Don’t be a Granny. Use PocketGuide – The Travel Best App to Make Exploring the World Easier

When I travel around the world, a few things are extremely important to me as I explore:

  • I want to experience the destination in an authentic way – seeking out the little hidden restaurants, shops and off-beaten path places that make it unique.
  • I want to meet as many locals as possible to hear their stories, further connecting to the culture
  • I want to support the locally-owned businesses (especially social enterprises) to make a difference
  • I don’t want too much of a binding daily schedule

Achieving these things is not easy. Even when I scour guide books and the internet for tips on the best restaurants and attractions, they often miss that personal connection that I am looking for. Or, they promote group tours leaving me with a binding schedule and a group of fellow-travelers that I am chained to for the duration of the trip.  Have you ever felt this way as well?

Enter Pocket Guide – the trending travel app that is making my meaningful, deep travel a little easier.

PocketGuide is an award-winning audio guide app for iPhones, Andriods and tablets that has a huge library of audio tours for round-the-world travel.

Side note: this is not a paid advertisement and does not contain any affiliate links. I just wanted to tell you about this great tool cause I am excited about it.


Why I love this travel App

What I love most about PocketGuide is that the app allows storytelling, helping me to achieve my 4 most important travel goals with one tool.

Take Dublin, Ireland for example: I want to sleep in and start my sightseeing at a time that is convenient for me. After too many coffees, I open up PocketGuide on my phone and peruse its library for the city. I am interested in Dublin’s music, so I select “Dublin’s Music Trail.” Then I plug in my headphones, push play and off I go, guided by the help of a GPS-enabled route map. At each stop, audio narration pops-up, sharing insider-knowledge about each pub, bar and music store. If I feel like it, I push pause and explore on my own. Or, I leave the storyteller in my ear as I go into each stop. It’s unobtrusive and convenient, yet full of interesting insights that I wouldn’t know without its help!

Within the 150 cities currently featured on the App, you can go on foodie walks, author-led tours to places within their novels, and much more. PocketGuide is GPS-centric, works indoors and outdoors, works in online and offline mode, and is multi-lingual.

But is it better than a tour with real human beings?

One of the reasons why I love touring, is because you get that local insight. But, it is a challenge to sign-up, pay the fee, arrive on time, and stay for a certain duration with other strangers and your guide. This is sometimes great if you are on a specialized outing to a social enterprise where interacting is part of the experience. I also love supporting local guides and companies when I can. But sometimes, it is nice to plug in your headphones and listen to narration for 3 minutes, then hit pause while you walk into café for a coffee and pastry break.  PocketGuide connects you to real stories, but allows for flexibility.

I don’t think that it should replace real, in-person guided experiences with great companies and local causes, but it can supplement those for the perfectly balanced trip. For those times when you want to explore on your own, PocketGuide is there to help you not miss out on the interesting parts of the city that require insider-knowledge.


Be your own Storyteller on the App

I haven’t tried it yet, but another cool things about the PocketGuide App is that it allows you to create your own video and audio tours to share with your friends or the PocketGuide community. It’s a fun and easy way to create video memories of your travels. You can also use it to share local knowledge with your friends as well, like your favorite running route, your regular pub-crawl, your local restaurant recommendations or even your dog-walking path. If you have got a route and a story to share – PocketGuide makes it easy.


PocketGuide promo from Pocketguide on Vimeo.


As I continue my round-the-world travels, I am going to be using PocketGuide. I will also be trying out its personal video and guiding tool to help share my stories with all of you.

So what do you think of PocketGuide? Do you think it’s the future of touring? What do you think it will do to the local guiding industry?


Feature Photo Credit: Flickr, Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Attribution 2.0 Generic


How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in the Philippines: Tour, Shop and Eat for Great Causes

The Philippines is a beautiful destination made up of 7,107 islands, though marked by poverty. Yet, it is now the setting for a remarkable story of empowerment and change. The social enterprises movement is sweeping through the nation, inspiring its people to rally together for a better future using innovative solutions.

In between your snorkeling, diving, beach combing and relaxation – make time to soak in the Filipino social entrepreneurial spirit and to support their grassroots causes. This guide will help you do just that.



Flip Trip

Flip Trip is an online platform that simplifies travel planning and the direct booking of off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Philippines. Created by three young Filipino travelers, the website connects you to local businesses in out of the way places, and works closely with local government and organizations to promote new sustainable tourist activities.

Side Note: need an alternative phone charger or light for your adventurous trip to the Philippines? Check out these social enterprises which benefit the poor communities in the country:

Waka Waka – solar powered (one for one model, and available at Apple Stores)
SALT – a newer start-up, powered by salt and water!



Although there may be several great internationally-based groups that travel to the Philippines – the country has some exciting things happening internally. And, there is no better way to learn about the country than through a Filipino-based movement. Here are my top choices, if you want to travel in a group:

Gawad Kalinga – GK Mabuhay

Gawad Kalinga (GK) is the largest social enterprise movement in the country, vowing to bring 5 million people out of poverty by 2024 through various projects. I love their social mission because it is rooted in faith and patriotism – it is truly Filipinos helping Filipinos. The GK Mabuhay Program welcomes local and foreign visitors to volunteer and to experience Filipino culture by immersing in the GK community.  Volunteers of this program will have the opportunity to get to know the GK Residents and build houses with them, tend their farms and participate in other GK programs wherever their interests lie. There is also time for exploring the beauty of the country. You can get in touch with them directly to put together your trip at:

Volunteer in the Philippines

Courtesy of Gawad Kalinga – Bayani Challenge

Route +63

Route +63 is a Filipino social enterprise committed to sharing the Philippine experience through travel. The young founders partner with social enterprises, government and other development organizations to promote sustainable tourism and community development.  Their trips range from coffee eco-tours in Sagada highlands and Baatan sea turtle conservation expeditions, to surfing and culinary tours.

Copy write Darwin M Mangili -

Copy write Darwin M Mangili –

Trail Adventours

The Philippines has an incredible landscape – full of high peaks, lakes and moss-covered forests. Trail Adventours was started by a Filipino team of outdoor lovers who wanted travel to make a difference in their country.  Their various treks support local projects and conservation, and cover some gorgeous and exhilarating trails throughout the country in a very economical way. It is also very likely that your group will be mainly nationals – which will further enhance your trip.
Hiking the Philippines


Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise that hand-makes bamboo bicycles with fair-trade labor and sustainable building practices. Their bamboo bike builders (aka Bambuilders) come from Gawad Kalinga, a Philippine based community development organization for the poor, working to bring an end to poverty.

Get to know the city with a hip, but conscious approach on Bambike’s bike tour around the historical core of Manila. During the ride on your bamboo bike, you will pass Plaza San Luis, San Agustin Church, Plaza Roma, Fort Santiago and more.

Culture Shock 

Culture Shock is a Filipino tour company that is passionate about their home country and all that it has to offer.  Their tours are fun, authentic and make a positive impact.  Culture Shock can take you to meet and support the T’Boli tribe of Lake Sebu, across the Culinary Capital of Pampanga to try unique cuisine, on beach patrols to help at a turtle conservation project and much more.

Culture Shock - Social Enterprise Philippines

Courtesy of Culture Shock PH

Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours

Planning a trip to Pawalan? Corong Galeri is a locally-based social enterprise that works with fishing villages to provide eco-tours that support and promote their indigenous cultures. Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours can involve up to 7 local families in different roles: ground handler, boat owner, boat captain, food preparer, tour guide, entrance fee recipients, etc. You can use them for multi-day expeditions around the island or customize a day trip to island hop and meet with the locals.



Most likely you will arrive into the Philippines through Manila and plan to spend some time in the thriving capital – the true business and cultural hub of the nation.  Below are some of my favorite social enterprises in the city to check-out while you visit.


Makabata Guesthouse and Café

It’s easy to select well-established hotel chains that offer predictable service when you are choosing accommodations (especially in big cities where large international brands will be present). But you can’t replace the feeling of supporting grassroots causes either. So opt out of the boring, predictable chain hotel and stay in a place like Makabata. This social enterprise and youth training center is run by Bahay Tuluyan, a children’s rights organization. The 14-room hotel serves as a training ground for young people of Bahay Tuluyan, where they gain valuable skills as part of their Independent Living Skills program. Even more importantly, every cent you pay for your room goes back into supporting Bahay Tuluyan’s programs and services for children.

The Circle Hostel

This chain of budget friendly eco-hostels is a place for the artsy and the adventurous. Their quirky beach huts are covered in lively colors, painted from fellow hostel mates. Their unique business model helps strengthen the communities where their hostels reside by providing food, rentals, surfing classes and more to their customers. Currently they have three locations.

The Circle Hostel- Social Enterprise Philippines



GK Enchanted Farms

As I mentioned earlier, Gawad Kalinga is a powerhouse social enterprise that is rocking the Philippines from within right now! The most exciting thing about GK for international visitors is their Center for Social Innovation at GK Enchanted Farms. This pilot site in Bulacan, about 90 minutes outside of Manila, is a  village university, social tourism destination, and incubator of social enterprises. They are transforming a once-abandoned, barren wasteland into fields of abundance.The farm has an astonishing 9 Pioneer Centers!  One of the newest ones is the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) which has led to 19 social enterprises at the farm, all aimed at using local resources in order to grow the economy and lift Filipinos out of poverty.

You can visit GK Enchanted Farm easily from Manila – they host social enterprise demos, farm tours, farming activities and a buffet lunch using ingredients sourced from their fields. You can even book directly with them to say overnight at the farm.  Check-out their webpage for visiting, which will give you all of the details before you show up.


Coconut House – Restaurant

The Coconut House is working to transform the country’s large coconut industry to benefit over 3.5 million coconut farmers who work in some of the most impoverished places in the country. The owner of the restaurant works to create new Filipino coconut products that utilize the entire coconut for new worldwide trends like coconut oil and water. The industry right now uses only a portion for its main export Copra, and sadly throw the rest of the coconut away, leaving the farmer with little profits.

In support of his mission, the Coconut House’s cuisine features dishes that all use coconut. You can also buy his coconut ice cream at their small outlet “Ice Cream House” at various locations around Manila.

Uniquease – Restaurant

This Filipino-Japanese fusion casual restaurant aims to bring healthier and fresher choices to the large fast food industry in Manila. Uniquease also serves as a training and support center for at-risk and under-privileged youth in the city. Japanese founder, Yachiyo Nakamura quit her traditional NGO job and has for several years been inspiring youth to take control of their futures, and to further support the social enterprise movement when they are grown.

The Enchanted Farm Café – Restaurant

This GK Enchanted Farm outpost in Quezon City, Manila sources raw materials from the farm and from other social enterprises throughout the country. I suggest checking out the restaurant for dinner on Wednesday nights- when the restaurant becomes a watering hole for social entrepreneurs who come for the weekly Center for Social Innovation (CSI) event. It’s a great way to connect with the local movement!

Local Edition – Coffee Shop and Café

If you find yourself in Makati City, Manila and you love coffee as much as I do – stop in at the trendy coffee shop and café Local Edition. This neighborhood joint was started by two college friends who wanted to design a space where people could gather for inspiration and creativity. The coffee shop serves 100% Philippine coffee, and their menu supports local markets and farmers. The design of the space also constantly changes with local artist’s work that motivates and challenges. Why not make a positive impact on the local economy and get inspiration while you get your morning or afternoon caffeine fix? It sure beats Starbucks or McCafé!

Local Edition - Social Enterprise Coffee Shop and Cafe Philippines

Courtesy of Local Edition

Bayani Brew – Tea

Bayani Brew was started at the GK Enchanted Farm. Bayani Brew traces its origins from the native formulations introduced by the nanays (mothers) of the Gawad Kalinga community in the GK Enchanted Farm. It advocates the use of indigenous ingredients such as lemongrass, pandan, and sweet potato tops which are the main ingredients of “Bayani Brew Classic” and “Bayani Brew Purple Leaf.” As they put it, Bayani Brew wants to

“…be remembered not only for its refreshing beverages, but also as part of a movement brewing a new breed of Filipinos crazy in love with our country.”  

Visit their website to find out where you can purchase and enjoy Bayani Brew while you are in the Philippines.

By Sarah Deutsch Photography -

By Sarah Deutsch Photography –

Theo and Philo – Chocolate

Philo was born in the Philippines, but like many educated nationals, was living overseas for work.  While abroad, he began learning to bake. His interest in chocolate sparked, and he soon realized that the European nations that are world-renown for their chocolates, actually import their cocoa beans and sugar cane from places like the Philippines. Philo returned to his country with the mission to keep the capital within his country and to make chocolate “from bean to bar” all in Philippines. The boutique makes small-batch artisan chocolate and supports local farming. While you are exploring around Manila – make sure to stop  in one of these retail outlets to pick up one of their sweet treats.

TheoPhilo - Social Enterprise Philippines



Lagu – beach blankets

If you are planning to visit the Philippines, the beach is definitely on the agenda.  Don’t want to pack a bulky towel? Buy a Lagu. Lagu is the first-ever beach-friendly blanket made to address human-made sand erosion. In fact, the average person carries away 170 grams of unwanted sand every time they leave the beach. Unlike ordinary beach towels, Lagu repels sand, is quick to dry and is allergen-free. Keep sand on the beach where it belongs!  Lagu blankets are available in multiple colours and can be purchased online, internationally, and in various stores nationwide as well as several resorts in popular beach destinations in the Philippines.

Courtesy of Lagu -

Courtesy of Lagu –

Plush and Play 

Plush and Play melds the creative genius of the poor together with the passion of young social entrepreneurs to create world class toys, restoring Filipino’s dignity and promoting their children’s right to play. The company is working with Gawad Kalinga to provide a secure source of income for 500 families by 2017 and to raise a new young generation of heroes and local social entrepreneurs, all while continuously raising the bar on the safety, social and environmental standards within the toy industry. Their plush veggie toys make great souvenirs or gifts for your young family members, and are currently available to buy at GK Enchanted Farm, Toy Kingdom Megamall and online. My nieces and nephews would LOVE their green pea with glasses named Antonio Repolyo.

Plush and Play - Social Enterprise Philippines

Human Nature

Human Nature is a body care company that is fighting poverty by changing the way products are made and sold in the Philippines, so people of all walks of life can experience quality. I love how they state their mission as,

“Being faithful stewards of our God-given talents and natural resources, we will give the best of ourselves to urgently and sustainably build a global company which will showcase the best of the Philippines and uplift all our people, especially the poor through providing affordable, quality, natural products.”

It’s clear to see that they “walk the talk” and are truly as they promote: pro-Philippines, pro-poor, and pro-environment. They are a champion and major mover in the current social enterprise movement happening in the country right now. I particularly love that they treat farmers, suppliers and employees with respect – providing wages and benefits never seen before in this industry of the Philippines and are expanding their reach faster than ever!

While searching through their website, I was astonished at the products and prices. I just started using their clarifying shampoo and coffee body scrub and love it! They have 29 stores in the Philippines (location details here), so you can stop in while you are there to stock up on essentials.

Side Note: Don’t miss my interview with Human Nature where they talk all about their story and future vision!


R2R began in 2007 in Payatas, one of the Philippines’ largest urban poor communities and home to half a million people. An informal cottage industry of rug-weavers here scavenged through dumpsites for scrap pieces of fabric to create and sell handcrafted rugs. Rags2Riches stopped the exploitation of these women, and now works with their original vision to increase their wages and end poverty in other communities as well.  In six years, R2R has trained over 900 artisans across communities in Metro Manila and continues to expand its social impact and eco-ethical footprint around the country.

For the ladies out there, I love their Ashely black clutch. They also have a new home accessories line R2RLiving with gorgeous rugs and pillows. Their bags and home items are available at their Manila storefronts:

3rd floor of Glorietta 2 (near National Bookstore and Vanilla Cupcake Bakery), on the 2nd floor, Archeology wing of Rockwell Power Plant, and on the 3rd floor of Podium Mall.


First of all, I love their slogan: Wear your Tribe. Wear with Pride.
Anthill enables Filipino weaving communities to preserve and promote the tapestry of hand-loomed fabric traditions in their young by turning these textiles into contemporary lifestyle products. While I travel around the world, I like to buy authentic pieces that really speak to the place, that support the local economy and that I can actually use and enjoy! Their men, women and baby fashion items are a cool yet practical keepsake that you can wear long after you visit the country.


ECHOstore is a sustainable lifestyle store founded in 2008 by like-minded women who wanted to use their skills and experiences to bring artisanal and health products to a specialty market. They now have three linking store fronts that all work together under one mission – what they call the “Four Ps: People, Planet, Profit and Pneuma” (or spirit that gives us the passion to continue our mission-led business).  When you arrive at their shops, you will see EchoStore, EchoMarket and Echo café. It’s a great stop while you are in Manila to pick up fair trade items, local food products and grab a healthy bite to eat. You will leave feeling connected to the Philippines and feeling good about your choices. They have three storefronts in and around Manila – you can find their contact details and street addresses on their contacts page.

Manila Sole

Manila Sole makes quirky lace-up shoes for men and women that are made from the billions of old tires that are continuously discarded and lying around in cities. I love their earthy designs. You can purchase them while passing through Quezon City, Manila at the Mad Kahuna Surf Shop or on their website. Even if you aren’t planning to travel through the area – you can’t beat $15-20 for a great pair of casual shoes that supports a positive mission. Check them out online!

Jacinto and Lirio

Jacinto & Lirio is the flagship brand of social enterprise EcoIngenuity Inc., which aims to raise the competitiveness of Filipino indigenous materials, and supports the communities who produce them by building global Filipino design brands. All items are not only fashionable, but eco-ethically produced and created in collaboration with aspiring and established Filipino designers and innovators.

Jacinto & Lirio means hyacinth and lily. Hyacinth is actually one of the most invasive aquatic species in the country that clogs waterways and causes flooding. By producing hyacinth leather, the harmful plant is removed from lakes and provides new livelihood for rural communities. They offer a wide range of bags, notebooks, planners and more.


Sari-sari stores are small neighborhood retail shops run by women micro-entrepreneurs from their homes. Quite often these micro-entrepreneur mothers, or nanays, engage in shop keeping in order to supplement their family’s income. With more than one million sari-sari’s present in the Philippines – these stores have come to represent Filipino daily life, but also poverty.

Mark Ruiz and Bam Aquino started Hapinoy (literally meaning “Happy Filipino”) to help women set-up and manage their sari-sari shops. Through their training and supply channels, they have empowered and equipped over 3,000 sari-sari owners and several communities. Before your trip, get in contact with Hapinoy and plan to support some of their shops at

So I hope you made it all the way through this guide and that you can clearly see how vibrant the social enterprise movement is in the Philippines right now.  It is THE time to visit the country!

These are just some of the amazing entrepreneurial start-ups coming out of the Philippines right now. So, let me know if I left out one of your favorites. Let’s help each other travel with meaning and authenticity.




Photo Credits:
Feature Photo: Flicker, Richard Messenger – Attribution- Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic License
Hiking the Philippines: Flicker, ArthurNielsen – Attribution 2.0 Generic License

How Just One Natural Product Company is Uniting and Changing the Philippines – with Human Nature

The words seemed to pop out of my computer screen as I read the moving mantra of Dylan, Anna and Camille – a husband, wife and sister trio who are fighting poverty in the Philippines through their social enterprise Human Nature.

“Our country is blessed with the best and most passionate Filipino innovators and enterprises, and we stand before a future absolutely brimming with hope for our nation. Together with you, our fellow advocates, we are fueled by passion and purpose to create a global Philippines that uplifts our poor, helps fellow social enterprises scale up, and fosters inclusive growth by doing business while leaving no one behind.”

I was first intrigued when reading about Human Nature’s body and home natural products on their website. But have since then fallen in love with the company – their story, their vision and their future. Dylan, Anna and Camille’s personal journey with the company is one filled with hard work, faith, lessons learned, and the impact that others can have on our lives.

A Love Story

Dylan Wilk was a poor English boy who abandoned his education during high school. Despite the negativity surrounding his future, he started a video game business from his kitchen at the age of 20.  By the age of 25, he had ranked #9 as one of the richest men in the UK under 30.

Dylan, feeling a large void in his life, began praying and searching for more. He embarked on a journey that eventually led him to Gawad Kalinga – a national movement working to combat poverty in the Philippines.  He fell in love with Gawad Kalinga….and also with the founder of Gawad Kalinga’s daughter – the Filipina Anna Meloto. Like many love stories, Anna impacted Dylan, and the faith and compassion of Anna’s family led them on a new path together.

While in the USA working to unite a network of volunteers for Gawad Kalinga, Dylan and Anna witnessed the emerging trend of natural products and compassionate companies competing in the mainstream. They saw huge potential for a new market in the Philippines that could pair well with a social mission. And thus, the vision for Human Nature was born. Anne’s sister Camille, a cosmetic lover, soon joined the mission as one of the three co-founders.

Human Nature is Born

The trio set out with a simple saying: pro-Philippines, pro-poor, and pro-environment. The realities to carry-out such a lofty statement are always much harder to achieve than simply putting them on paper. But through faith and hard work, they not only succeeded in launching the first product in 2008, Human Nature now has extraordinary reach in the Philippines and abroad as they strive to end poverty and reinvigorate the Filipino spirit worldwide.

Human Nature simply does things right. They create high-quality, natural products using Filipino ingredients that are harvested from their farms and community projects around the country. They sell their products at an affordable rate, yet take care of their employees and partners with an incredibly high standard.

I am honored to share further insights on the brand with you today from Dylan, Anna and Camille. Let’s here from the founders:

Thinking back to the beginning before Human Nature was born, how did you make the brave decision to start your own social enterprise in the Philippines?

ANNA: My father inspired me to work not only for my own personal dreams but to use my education and talents to help our country. Later on in my adulthood, Spiderman affirmed the values that my parents taught me when he said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Having been born into a position with access to a good education and a stable family, I have a certain power and a privilege that I am thankful for every day, and I have a responsibility to use those gifts not only for my own personal benefit but for the good of others as well.

When I started, it was really the desire to do something useful with my education and experience while having the time and energy to raise my kids. It was also my kids because I wanted to have products that I felt were better for them and the environment.  Our vision is to be the gold standard of a globally-successful business with a heart that will embolden other businesses to better serve society.

DYLAN: For me personally, it was because I created my own business in the past, which was very successful financially but not very fulfilling. And, so I came to see that personal success is meaningless unless you can also bring other people along with you.

For me personally also, my family was not rich. My grandparents were refugees from World War II. They were factory workers their whole lives, and I saw really how difficult their lives were. And so as an employer I wanted to be able to provide better opportunities for Filipinos, especially the poor. For me, charity will not solve poverty. It will not stop the poor from being poor. You have to give them dignified employment with a just wage. In fact, the Church teaches that the dignity of the employee is the responsibility of the employer. It is our responsibility to make sure that our employees have everything they need. Because what the law says, paying the minimum wage, is not enough. It doesn’t exonerate the employer in the eyes of God. You still have to do what’s right and just.

The other thing that motivated me was that I believe in the Filipino. I have a very strong faith in the Filipino. There’s so much talent here and so much goodness in the people. I personally find Filipinos very loyal, very honest, very hardworking, very dedicated and very joyful. Wherever Filipinos go around the world, they thrive and flourish and blossom. It’s a tragedy that the two highest aspirations of Filipinos, the best Filipino graduates, are usually to leave the country or work for a multi-national company. But in both cases, they spend their lives making another country rich. And so I really wanted to show that it is possible to have a successful business in the Philippines and to make opportunities for everyone from the best to the least educated in the country.

What are some of the current challenges that social entrepreneurs still face in the Philippines and what is your advice for them?

DYLAN: There are far too many to possibly list here because there are literally thousands of them. Every day is, for me personally, filled with problems – filled with fire-fighting, filled with challenges. Anyone who wants to go in business should know that it’s going to be an incredibly hard uphill battle, especially trying to do it the way that we do it. But I honestly believe that there is an answer, and the answer is just very simple—anyone who’s starting a business if they follow this will succeed—don’t quit! So many people quit when they are right at the cusp of solving their issues and creating something. Even though there are struggles and problems, the bottom line is don’t quit.

I love your motto of “pro-Philippines, pro-poor, pro-environment” and that you are acting upon this mission.  How many farms do you currently work with and support? What is your philosophy for hiring your staff?

DYLAN: We actually work with about 18 different communities now. Some of them are farming communities, others are social enterprises. We don’t necessarily choose the best community. We just look for the ones that are willing and keen to try. From there, we help to provide training and the equipment – and we buy the produce. We are guided a lot by Gawad Kalinga with which communities to work with.

ANNA: We’ve given jobs to people who otherwise would not have gotten regular, secure jobs from other companies. We pay 45% more than the minimum wage in Metro Manila even though we are not required by law to do this. Many of our people have been able to buy motorcycles, send their kids to school and secure their homes. We continuously provide training and life skills development to our people so that their quality of life improves even beyond their stay at Human Nature.

What is your vision for the Human Nature’s future? What projects are you currently working on?

ANNA: Our dream is to become a global Filipino brand. Currently, we are already in the US, Singapore, Malaysia and UAE, but most of our market is still local.

CAMILLE: It would be great to see our company reaching more people in the next few years.  I would love for our brand to be a household name in our mother land for Filipinos to constantly be reminded that we are capable of doing something great.  I would also love to see our brand establish more farming communities and source from more local farmers.  I would love for our research and development team to have more scientific breakthroughs and innovations, such as discovering new uses and benefits from our local plants.  I would like for us to be able to contribute in lessening the gap between the rich and the poor in our country.  I am one with the goal as well of Gawad Kalinga to alleviate poverty in the Philippines by 2024.

Thank you Human Nature for sharing your insights with The Global Commute! If you too are inspired by Dylan, Anna and Camille’s work and are passionate about helping the Philippines –  you can learn more about Human Nature at Their products are available for purchase online – Click here to view their online catalog. You can also sign up to be a dealer for Human Nature very easily right on their website.

I will leave you with two videos – I couldn’t leave one out! The first is a fantastic Ted Talk by Dylan Wilk. The second is a showcase of several social entrepreneurs that Human Nature is assisting to scale:


Escape the City: My Top 9 Places for the Adventurous Traveler in the Philippines – including coffins, crater lakes, underground rivers, mini monkeys and throwbacks to the Chinese

The Philippines is often know for WW11, the crystal beaches of Boracay, and the loud and boisterous nightlife of Manila. But the more than 7,000 islands that make up the nation have a whole lot more to offer, especially for the adventurous type who enjoys trekking, diving, snorkeling and general wandering on the road less traveled.

Here are my top 9 places to explore outside of Manila for a truly authentic and epic trip:

Mt. Mayon – The World’s Most Perfectly Formed Volcano

Although the Philippines has a multitude of breathtaking hikes, Mt. Mayon stands out. The perfectly cone-shaped volcano is the most active in the country and rises more than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. Hiking up this cone takes 2 days, passing grasslands and ravines on the way up to the summit for 360-degree views of surrounding peaks and the nearby archipelago.

Want to book a knowledgeable local guide and travel with a group? I suggest the social enterprise – Trail Adventours. Baldon Baldon

Mount Pinatubo – Crater Lake

The devastating story of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 has come to a peaceful close, leaving a striking landscape for the Filipinos to enjoy, that is completely different from Mt. Mayon’s cone. Valleys and boulders created from the lava cover a wild area before coming upon the crown – its crater lake. Steep cliffs rise from its rims and depending on the season, it changes color from turquoise to sapphire.

Trail Adventours offers a day hike that is suitable for beginner hikers that I highly recommend as well.

Mount Pinatabo

Flickr – Eric Goldberg

Malapascua Island – Total Seclusion

Although many guide books may tell you to head to Donsol to swim with whale sharks, smaller more remote islands will ensure you see more marine life. Malapascua Island is an isolated locale made up of quiet fishing villages and is ideal for diving – in fact, it’s the only place in the world to spot thresher sharks on a regular basis, as well as manta rays and hammerheads. Sadly, this beats the increasing chance that Donsol will not meet your expectations.  And, the photography opportunities alone are worth a trip to this secluded escape.

Apo Island – Sea Turtles

Next on the list for diving and snorkeling, but certainly not least is Apo Island. Apo is rated as one of the top diving destinations in the country. It is also extremely good for snorkeling with sea turtles. I love the fact that it is a protected marine reserve – so you know that your impact will be lessened here.

Palawan – The World’s Longest Subterranean River

The Archipelago of Palawan provides a sort of ying and yang experience – serenity and adventure. Journey along the underground river of Puerto Princesa to view karst formations and fluttering bats, then retire to El Nido, a charming town squished between towering limestone cliffs and a clear bay.


Thinkstock/istock/ ViewApart

Bohol – Chocolate Hills and Tiny Monkeys

Over 1,268 symmetrical and almost-identically shaped mounds cover the interior of the island of Bohol. These strange formations (now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are a certainly a site to behold. While you’re in Bohol, make a stop at the tarsier sanctuary where you can see several of the world’s smallest monkey species relaxing in the trees. I suggest staying at Bohol Organic Bee Farm on the sea, for excellent organic food and lovely accommodations.

Flickr- Paolo Martini

Flickr- Paolo Martini

Batad and Baneau – Ancient Lands

High up in the Philippine Cordillas mountain range are the indigenous Infuao tribes in Batad and Baneau. They have shaped their landscapes for thousands of years – cutting their rice terraces into the mountainside. On a trek in this area, you will encounter local tribes that have retained their traditions for generations. Check out Remote Lands co-founder Jay Tindall’s story of his encounter with the Ifugao – his pictures are wonderful.

If summit hiking is more your style: The Bakun Trio (which includes Mt. Kabunian, Mt. Tenglawan, and Mt. Lobo)  is also thrilling… so I guess I will squeeze it into this list as well as a side note to this area!

Sagada – Above and Below Ground

Located just north of Baneau, Sagada is sometimes missed by tourists after their brief “photo stop” at the rice paddies. The mystery of Sagada is seen both above and below ground. High up on the cliffs – the mountainside Ifugao people have for thousands of years hung their deceased in coffins suspended for all passerby’s to see. The coffins are also often seen at the openings of the over 60 caves that lie beneath Sagada. The “Cave Connection” is about a three-hour trek between the famous Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves. (I really love Alex and Wonderland’s humorous account of the trip with great photos.)

Flickr - Martin Lewison

Flickr – Martin Lewison

Vigan – Colonial fusions

Every well-rounded active trip should take in the full historical culture. So, after hanging out with the Ifugao tribes, travel further north to Vigan. During the Colonial times, this town prospered because of their gold and beeswax trade with China. Still today, horse-drawn carts pass on cobblestoned streets, and mansions still stand tall long after their glory days. The Mestizo district, meaning “where the Chinese live” has unique Spanish-Chinese colonial architecture that can’t be found elsewhere.

Flickr - kin0be

Flickr – kin0be

Photo Credits (in order):
Feature Photo: paramitaAttribution 2.0 Generic Baldon
Flicker – Eric Goldberg, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Allan Ascaño, Attribution 2.0 Generic
Flickr – 
Lisa and AlecAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic 
Thinkstock/istock/ ViewApart
Flickr- Paolo Martini, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Andrew and Annemarie, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Martin Lewison, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – kin0be, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic


Which Country is the Future World Capital of the Social Enterprise Movement? The Southeast Asian Nation to Watch…and to Visit

Today marks the start to our new Global Series – where we uncover destinations and discover how to create meaningful and impactful travel experiences, while supporting socially-minded, local businesses.

I am familiar in a sense with our next destination. Well to be fair… I am familiar with several individuals from the next country in our global guest – the Philippines. And as I always like to say,

“A country is its people.”

Copywrite: Jun Pinili

Copywrite: Jun Pinili

Coincidentally, several of my ship mates during my first job on a yacht were from this beautiful Southeast Asian nation. While working alongside them or simply passing them in the corridors, I quickly became rather fond of their warm smiles, sense of humor and sticky rice congee breakfasts. There love of singing and family. Their strong work ethic and deep-rooted faith.

But what I remember most is that Filipino’s care. They are acutely aware of others around them and always make you feel as if your life matters when they speak to you. I can’t quite describe it, but I feel as if I have lifelong friends that formed from simple interactions. It’s not often that you meet someone like this. And yet, when you meet a Filipino – it will certainly be the case.

This compassion for others is paired with another wonderful trait: creativity. Although this may be peculiar coming out of one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia that has been shaken throughout history by natural disaster and political instability, Filipino’s think for themselves, are thrifty in tight situations, and take matters into their own hands.

It’s no surprise that the social enterprise movement has become a magnetic force that is gaining strength, to potentially make this Southeast Asian country the world wide capital of social enterprises.

Yes, it’s true – the Philippines may very well be the future Social Enterprise Capital of the World.  And even now as it gains its momentum, it’s the place to watch.

What I love most about their movement is that it has anticipation and excitement behind it. There are several communities, like well-established Gawad Kalinga, that are massive movements that retain their human connection and vibrancy (check out this video below to see what I am talking about). It’s compassion like this that inspires other small start-ups to form with vigor behind them as well.

Lifting the Base

There are two main trends emerging in Philippine’s social enterprise market. Number one being the fight to end poverty.  As Gawad Kalinga puts it,

“As our country experiences rapid economic growth, there is a great need for us to reflect on the realities that confront the least amongst us―the poor (landless, homeless and hungry) at the “base of the pyramid.”

A recent article by the large national newspaper Philippine Star  explains that even though the country has experienced an economy boom in the last few years, income inequality and poverty will continue to be an issue.  Social enterprises therefore are desperately needed as the wealthy lift up the poor with innovative and self-sustaining solutions.

The nice thing for travelers is that there are several social businesses that cater to visitors. You won’t just find micro-finance and green initiatives here (although those are great too!). As you travel through the islands, you will likely be able to engage and experience several of the country’s grassroots social enterprises, ranging from farms and restaurants to fair trade factories and retail outlets. All helping to educate and employ those living in immense poverty throughout the country.

Connecting Again

The second trend that is appearing among Filipinos within this realm is a desire to bond and mobilize the 10 million dispersed Filipinos around the world, rekindling their national pride. This is a powerful tool that social enterprise Kaya Collaborative hopes to tap into – bringing together the resources of Filipinos who now reside and study in the West to support and engage in local support for issues at home.

It’s clear to see that the winning combination is here – compassion, creativity, a need, and a community. It is not doubt that the Philippines is going to be a leader in the social enterprises movement and I can’t wait to be a part of it!

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing spotlights on Filipino social enterprises, tips for how to go in-depth with the people and places as you plan your trip to the beautiful islands, and how to more fully understand this under-appreciated country and people group.

Let’s get to know the Philippines!


Photo Credit
Feature Photo: Flicker – Anton Diaz
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Lincense
The Children of Digyo: Flicker – Jun PiniliAttribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License