Social Change Through Travel

Die-hard travelers know that getting out of your comfort zone and exploring a place or culture that is markedly different from your own can be a life-changing experience. For some Westerners, visiting a developing country might be the first time that they see entire communities living in poverty, which can help change their attitudes about the poor when they return to their home country.

Many times on these journeys, people find themselves and finally discover what it is they want to do with their lives. Sometimes, that discovery includes realizing what it is they can do that will positively impact the people and places they just visited.

Room to Read library in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia.

One of my favorite examples of this is John Wood, a former Microsoft executive took time off to trek in Nepal several years ago. During his trip, he visited local schools and noticed a shocking lack of resources for the students. Upon his return, he quit his job and started Room to Read, which helps build schools, establish libraries and develop sustainable solutions to educational challenges. Launched in Nepal in 2000, the program is now in nine countries and has established more than 7,000 libraries in the developing world.

African child with murky water. (c) Charity: Water

Scott Harrison a former New York City nightclub promoter, left the city in 2004 to volunteer in West Africa with a group called Mercy Ships, which provides medical care in the world’s poorest nations. He returned with a new understanding of the water crisis facing these countries and founded charity: water. The organization raises money to help build wells and fund clean-water solutions. Since launching in 2006, charity: water has funded 1,247 water projects which have brought clean water to more than 650,000 people.

Toms Shoes. (c) molltiply

Perhaps most well-known of these “entrepreneurs for change” is Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, which gives away one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Mycoskie was traveling in Argentina in 2006 when he noticed many of the children he met had no shoes to protect their feet. He returned to the United States, created TOMS, and by the end of that year, brought 10,000 shoes to Argentina. Today, he has given more than 140,000 pairs away, and estimates that 300,000 will be donated around the world in 2009.

Do you know of any other social entrepreneurs who were inspired during their world travels? I’d love to hear about them.

Photos: Room to Read library in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia; African child with murky water. (c) Charity: Water; Toms Shoes. (CC 2.0) molltiply.

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