Global Sojourns is a boutique adventure travel company that specializes in customized mid-range and luxury level trips to Africa. It was founded in 1997 in Zimbabwe and is currently based in Vancouver, Washington, USA. Alongside, and informing the drive behind the travel company is a U.S. registered nonprofit, Global Sojourns Giving Circle (GSGC), which partners directly with local communities to create sustainable support for children’s education and empowerment. GSGC primarily supports girls’ clubs run by local women who serve as passionate mentors who act as confidantes, nurturing girls in safe spaces. With support and training from GSGC, our Mentors gently guide girls to stay in school, avoid early marriage and pregnancy. GSGC-sponsored clubs help girls share their challenges, gain confidence, envision, and obtain a brighter future in what is currently a deeply patriarchal society. Each girl’s success helps to break her family’s – and community’s – cycle of deep poverty.
When and why did you begin your impact tourism program?
Global Sojourns Founder, Priscilla Plummer, has lived in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa and worked in international development before starting the company. In 1997, with a deep understanding and drive for wanting to empower marginalized people (particularly young women), she decided to launch a way to assist travelers who wanted to contribute to meaningful support in Africa. She wanted these contributions to not only benefit local communities, but also travelers in a way that would help them learn and gain a broader perspective of the world. Her prior work in development and women’s issues, together with extensive research on effective use of small grants, influenced a decision to focus on supporting girls and education via community-based organizations.
When looking for a model for the Global Sojourns’ philanthropic program, Priscilla met Marc Ross Manashil at CREST’s first Travelers’ Philanthropy Conference in 2004 at Stanford University. Marc was promoting international philanthropy through the concept of Giving Circles. The model appealed, because it provides a great platform, not only for donor contributions but also for their learning. Global Sojourns Giving Circle officially launched in 2007.
Please provide brief examples of some of your most impactful projects.
The focus of Global Sojourns Giving Circle activities is around the facilitation of clubs; safe spaces created for the nurturing of young girls living within communities near protected wildlife-tourism areas. GSGC does not run these clubs, but instead empowers young women within these areas to do so, as mentors. This is done through the provision of financial backing, mentorship training, communications and providing practical resources and social support for the growing network of these clubs. These young women are passionate about contributing to a positive future for themselves and their communities. They recognize that cultivating a confident, compassionate and purposeful young population as a powerful way of doing so.
One example is a young woman named Procedure who joined one of the early formed clubs as a teenager in 2014. Procedure gained a lot of social support and belief in her future within the club which helped enable to secure a job in a curio shop in her hometown of Victoria Falls. In her free time, she started helping girls in her neighborhood. GSGC noticed this and helped her to set up a trust and she is now following her passion of helping girls and runs two formal clubs, called Girl’s Time, mentoring 60+ girls. who are receiving the same support and sense of community that helped Procedure direct her life in a positive direction. She has also gone onto consult and advise other changemakers who have approached GSGC to start their own clubs in other areas of the country.
“It doesn’t seem like so long but there is so much growth. So much change, so much growth. It’s amazing to actually watch a transformation from being in a club to being a leader of a club, and to be able to impact the lives of so many young girls. To be able to give what I couldn’t get as a young girl. To have the opportunity to be part of these clubs is cause for relief. To say, “You can do this. You can live for more than just you. You can touch lives. So from being a girl in a club to being an Auntie, working with the GSGC, it’s been amazing.
So much growth through the years and now, being able to actually present the GSGC’s model to people from other communities who are expressing so much interest. Our communities are so affected and to actually be one of the people presenting a model that has worked so beautifully for me as a person, I’ve seen the impact that it has in a person’s life. I’ve personally experienced it. It has worked in my life and I see it working through me and in other people’s lives. The experience of presenting the model to people in Dete just a few weeks ago- to see that hunger in people and to be able to share with them this model, to see that they want to change their community and for us to be able to help, for me to be part of this big thing, is a very big thing. It’s amazing.” – Procedure, Global Sojourns Giving Circle Mentor
From starting to test workshops with girls in Livingstone, Zambia in 2009 and to now having over 24 clubs in 4 different countries in 2020 (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Madagascar & South Africa), the success of this mentorship model is apparent. This growth has happened organically, from the mentors themselves sharing their experiences and successes with others. Requests for more programmes are increasingly being received from the people living in these areas, as well as from communities we’re not directly involved with. We see this as a powerful, positive indicator as to the impact of this model.
Has your impact tourism program helped, hurt, or had no impact on your business?
There has been some sourcing business due to our philanthropic work, but it is not measured as that was the purpose. The purpose is to provide those with a heart for Africa, and a will for a world of equal opportunity, with a way to give back in a manner that is direct, responsible, and impactful and to provide supporters with a connection and increased understanding of the people and communities that they are contributing to.
Since 2007, though, Global Sojourns has become known as a trusted provider of such experiences and therefore has attracted, through word of mouth, more of the kind of traveler we desire— those who wants to know that their visit contributes to a positive journey for a local life too.
How do you select projects?
Through the successes of the purposely gradual development of the clubs, we’re attracting and being approached by like-minded individuals and locally based organizations who share our values and common mission. These individuals and organizations are applying for us to fund and assist with training for the implementation of our mentorship clubs model within their communities. We have a formal process to assist in selecting which of these to support.
Via the network of the 24 current clubs, we release annual requests for proposals. Initially new club mentors are provided small grants to start to become an established mentor. At this stage they move through a process of being trained and nurtured by experienced aunty mentors; in person meet-ups, presentations, club gathering sit-ins, documentation templates and provision of mentorship guideline tools). Through this stage, the capacity, dedication and communicative ability of a potential new mentor is assessed.
Once a positive record is established, the new potential mentor is invited to take part in a full grant application process that takes place on an annual basis, for all club mentors. They are provided with a template to complete and submit. Once all submissions are in, a budget analysis is undertaken and a GSGC vetting committee (selected from board members and donor circles) selects applications that fit a qualifying set of criteria and an announcement of grant awards are made. Once funds are dispersed to awarded mentors, they are required to adhere to a reporting protocol including quarterly report submissions and regular, ad-hoc communications updates on their club activities. Should reporting frequency or quality not be kept up, the grantee risks losing their grant in the following year.
Our philosophy of giving:
- Support passionate locally based individuals and organizations with leadership potential, where limited amounts of money will make a significant difference.
- Rigorously research, engage with and assess potential grantees before committing funds.
- Monitor the clubs we invest in through a reporting protocol, regular communications, regional and annual gatherings involving other mentors, M&E Committee and GSGC Board Members.
- Give input, but more importantly, listen to the Mentors running the clubs as they express how our support can best be utilized.
- Educate ourselves about the clubs, the issues, the cultures/communities, and about best practices in international philanthropy.
- Regularly connect with the clubs and the mentors running them.
What is the structure to ensure ongoing accountability?
A monitoring & evaluation team is constantly connected to teams on the ground via a reporting protocol and adhoc communications. These quarterly reports are reviewed by a committee, who engage with mentors on questions and learnings from them. There are also regular regional gatherings with mentors, as well as an annual gathering with all participating mentors (from all regions) as well as the M&E committee and GSGC board members. These gatherings ensure a regular finger on the pulse of how each mentor is running their clubs.
In addition to this, club budgets and accounts are reviewed on an annual basis through the grant awarding process, with adhoc audits being contractually agreed to be allowed to occur as and when needed.
How are your employees and your company involved in the projects?
There are only 3 employees for Global Sojourns travel company, whom are all very much involved and inspired by the programmes, offering travelers detailed information to find out more, should they want to.
Currently, the GSGC network is made up of 25 female and male mentors, who receive grants to run their clubs, but who also host travelers to the area (through Global Sojourns) to help them understand their communities better. There are also a group of 10 – 15 volunteers, based around the world (primarily in the US) who participate in various GSGC committees. These are all past travelers who have visited/experienced the programmes firsthand during their travels with Global Sojourns.
What have been staff reactions?
To help answer this question, we asked one of our travel team to provide a few words about what the Global Sojourns Giving Circle programmes mean to her:
“I have been very privileged to see GSGC unfold and continue to be amazed at the wisdom and strength that the Aunties and Mentors embody each and every day. They continue to do so despite challenges and hard times. They aren’t afraid to try something new; they forge ahead with the resources that they have at hand and share with each other their own experiences so that they can learn from each other – to uplift one another. That is rare! No matter what continent you may live upon, these are rare traits by any standard. They embody the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” – they make it happen. Not every traveler is interested in these nuances because these kind of nuances take time to witness and experience. Not every traveler has the time to spend in today’s fast paced world. With Global Sojourns, we try to create an experience for our travelers to get a glimpse of the magic that is GSGC, it is subtle magic but unwavering in its strength and effect that it has on the girls and boys. It’s a privilege to be a part of it!” – Pam Buttner, Global Sojourns Travel Specialist
Have you provided staff training to support your impact tourism program?
No formal training on the programmes is undertaken as part of induction into Global Sojourns because the GSGC is core to who we are, and each person knows this before they join the travel side of the company. Training is in the form of continuously engaging with the news and developments that happen in the mentorship clubs via internal communications within Global Sojourns and regular Familiarization trips to programmes during travel experiences.
How are funds raised from travelers?
Small donations are included in travel costs, for those travelers visiting areas where mentorship clubs are run. They are made aware of the fact that this is happening and offered further opportunities to support the programmes upon their return home from their travel experiences.
How do you solicit donations?
Donations are solicited via several strategies:
- Online fundraising campaigns around specific days and/or events (Mother’s Day; Birthday Challenges; and current donors/travelers host gatherings in their home countries)
- Consistent contact and relationship nurturing with past and current donors has proven an effective method in attracting further financial support (via phonecalls, personal e-mails, newsletter distribution & social media engagement)
- An annual donation renewal opportunity is distributed (vial email) towards the end of the fiscal year to all past and current donors, offering them the opportunity to continue their support
Are donations tax deductible?
Yes, the GSGC is a registered 501(c)3 charitable organization in the US.
How are funds distributed?
Through the annual grant application, vetting and awarding process undertaken by prospective mentor club leaders. Since 2008, US$486k has been distributed for programming
To date, how much has been raised?
Roughly US$550k has been raised since 2008. Most of it has distributed, with reserve fund being kept ringfenced for emergencies.
Do project funds go into a separate account or to a foundation to ensure transparency and separation from business revenue? If not, what is your process to ensure financial accountability of donated funds?
Yes, into a different account.
Do travelers visit the project sites? Why or why not?
Yes, travelers are offered the opportunity to visit clubs near wildlife tourism areas they are visiting. Visits are not a standard, built in feature to all itineraries. Should a traveler be interested in learning more about the programmes, their itinerary is customized to allow a visit when and where it is appropriate for the mentorship club proposed to visit.
Do you offer opportunities for voluntourism and/or material donations? Why or why not?
Not on a formal basis, it is very rare that we offer volunteer placements. We are not set up for voluntourism. Our trips are designed for travelers/participants to learn about the issues facing our local networks and the work that they are doing to address those issues. Our time on these trips is spent connecting, listening, and learning rather than doing. Global Sojourns is not averse to providing hands-on assistance but only in circumstances where there is a specific request from our mentors and we happen to have skills that meet those needs.
Our visits to the projects can be tailored to the traveler’s needs/itinerary – anywhere from one to three days where we focus on learning about the local issues and the work being done by the boys and girls groups. We believe that the most effective use of the GSGC trips is to initiate relationships between the traveler and the people doing the work on the ground. At this time, it is common for the traveler to then become a supporter of GSGC, returning home with a much better understanding of the issues, they feel connected to the people they have met and the projects they have seen. Through this connection, the traveler then starts to raise awareness (as well as funds) by sharing theirexperience with others when they are back home.
How is the impact tourism promoted or marketed to guests?
Mainly through conversations with our clients, inclusions in social media published material and a feature on our website. We are currently working on ways to more effectively create links between the travel and GCSC work on our website and in pre-departure materials.
What type of educational opportunities and/or materials do you give to travelers?
We primarily focus on discussions – whether in person or via phone. We are working on revising an Ambassador Booklet to help clients prepare for visits with local communities. We find that most people don’t read through the trip material, so we are looking at more innovative way to share information
The educational opportunities for travelers lie in the experience of visiting the projects and our team of local hosts/Mentors sharing about the work they do, the conditions they do it under and the impact it has on young girl’s lives within their community.
How do you ensure that your values and approach align with those of the community supported?
Rapid feedback loop via the mentors and the communities they live within. The model is shaped by them. It’s intrinsically built into our work.
How are you ensuring that your projects meet the most relevant needs of the community?
Again, rapid feedback loop via the mentors ensures the work is relevant. There is a culture of open dialog (written and verbal) between the Mentors and GSGC staff, encouraging the ability to engage if they need to make tweaks to their programming based on the local conditions and context. One of our core values is relevancy.
Do you engage in ongoing dialogue with the local community? If so, how?
We are in ongoing dialogue with our community of Mentors via a closed Facebook group, WhatsApp and phone calls. These mentors are in constant interaction with their communities.
Has there ever been a time when adjustments to your approach or project have needed to be made as a result of community feedback? Please explain how you were able to adapt.
Adjustments and improvements to programmes are constantly taking place, due to how the organization functions. Two examples are:
- After feedback from the mentors, the historically used term “aunties” was highlighted to diminish the level of professionalism they approach their work with. It was decided to use the term “mentors” instead.
- After initially introducing an approach of running workshops to deliver female empowerment material and practices, we moved to the model of setting up clubs. This happened after realizing that long time periods are required to facilitate deep seeded support and change.
Community Partner Perspectives:
“I love working with the GSGC because I love the freedom that they give you. Its not like other organizations where you have they saying, “do this, do that”. They give you the space to think. You are given the ability to come up with ideas and discuss and see what works and what doesn’t work. Each Auntie is bringing in something. You are learning from one another so it’s a wonderful circle of people who have great ideas which we can all learn from and achieve a goal together as one. – Racheal Musonda, Believe Foundation, Livingstone, Zambia
I love the GSGC model and I would so wish for other organizations to follow this model. They come into the community and they work with people already on the ground that have a passion for the work and that are literally living in those communities and are facing the same challenges and are aware of the challenges that the young girls are facing and are going through the same processes, with their own children. And we think that getting people from communities and making them part of the program, literally embedding them into the program is the way to go. Its sustainable, it means that you are guaranteed that whether there is oversight from the outside or not, you’re guaranteed there is self-management. People know they have to do this work. It’s their passion. It’s their need. They see the difference everyday of their work. They aren’t coming in and finding a report and saying “you have to deal with this issue” because they are within those communities. They know this is the area that they have to work on, this is what we need to focus on, what we need to concentrate on with the girls and each day we see a sustainable change in the lives of girls.” – Sefelepelo Sebata, Rise N Shine Trust, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Why do you feel your impact tourism program has been so successful?
The clearest indicator is an increase in demand for more clubs to be set up. We have significantly more girls wanting to join the clubs than we currently have funding for. Parents / caregivers, teachers and community leaders have increasingly approaching with requests to increase capacity for more girls to join clubs and have safe spaces. We also have communities in other areas, which we are not directly involved with, reaching out to us with requests to launch programmes with them.
What challenges has your company faced in developing a successful program?
Funding, we don’t have enough funding to support the demand being requested for more mentorship clubs. We are also hamstrung by the fact that many of our committees fulfilling functions like vetting grant applications and offering communications and marketing services are dependent on voluntarily contributed time and skills, which makes it difficult to expect hard deadlines for completion of these tasks.
Why do you feel it is important for the tourism industry to not only promote a produce but to provide environmental and community support?
The tourism industry has the responsibility for considering and supporting the health of the local context it operates within intrinsically tied into its existence. Without a healthy local ecological environment, which is dependent on a healthy social context and visa-versa, there would be no product for an industry to sell. This is a clear, logical argument. There is a deeper one than that, though, in that to visit a place, a beautifully preserved wilderness area is a privilege. To be welcomed into such a place, with a delicate balance of people and ecology preserving it, only to take an experience for yourself (to just pay for the food and service you receive) leaves opportunity for a one-way result, experienced by all parties in the exchange. A more holistic acknowledgement of the value of each participant in the tourism exchange (traveler, host, local community, local ecology) provides for a greater level of satisfaction and sustainability for all.
“Tourism doesn’t work if you don’t include local communities” – Beks Ndlovu, Founder &CEO, African Bush Camps