Social Impact Travel Experiences: How to Do It Right

Cobbled streets and culture are an alluring effect of the small town of San Miguel Allende on the Eastern side of Guanajuato, Mexico. It attracts thousands of international tourists and new residents who carve out their sliver of heaven in seasonal homes. Mexicans, foreigners and indigenous people create the mix of life here. The other side of living in this growing community, is that of locals working to create sustainable lives with more education, striving towards better jobs, and working with community-based organizations that create real social impact.

Giving people a chance to do good is a growing trend in our lives. In our businesses and in travel. And its one I welcome as a sign people want to make a connection rather than participate in social good opportunities for the Instagram story. Combining a vacation with social return is a noble aspect of altruism. The experience-based holiday, the pursuit of giving and the sharing of knowledge ---- all great for participants. One the flip side, it can be an unpredictable way to give, and backfire if there is a blurred vision of purpose. This basic vision on social impact experiences, should include a direct connection to the outcome, rather than a lure for businesses and tourists. In short, traveling with purpose, takes purpose.

Consciously considering the social, cultural and economic impact with experiences we have is where the conversation should start, whether at home or abroad. 

“I came here through an unexpected set of circumstances.” says Michelle Raffanti, Volunteer Coordinator at Centro Infantil de Los Angeles in San Miguel Allende. Centro Infantil provides daycare, support and meals for 155 children, ranging from infants of one month to children of four years. Working directly with volunteers from across the globe. The focus is a “trade-plus-aid” form of philanthropy. Participants engage with the children daily and live on site adhering to fair trade principals and practices.

“I saw an ad for the position in need to increase the growth and benefit of the daycare program at Centro Infantil, and just after applying I found my way here.” Raffanti states. She holds a Masters in Sustainable Development and relies on her work with previous non-profits to propel Centro Infantil forward. Her first several months on site with the program have been nonstop work to create positive impact, including her help in increasing Centro Infantil capacity from 100 children to its current, 155. If you’re looking to create an impact, look at the approach of culture and care.

We may have all heard the stories of a business’s work with social impact gone wrong. Volunteer monies don’t make it back to the people who need it. The social tourism traps that are created with large fees attached to your desire to volunteer, only to benefit the wrong areas. And those that take a “laissez-faire” attitude towards social impact experiences. According to the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program), for every $100 spent by a tourist on a holiday to a developing country, only $5 remain in the host community. Good intentions don’t always go the way we believe they should. Businesses’ and travelers looking to make a difference can work with locations and organizations that are vetted and turn to the Center for Responsible Travel or the Better Care Network to better understand the needs. I’m an advocate for volunteer activism but I also want to know that both sides of the social impact experiences will benefit, the business and the communities they serve.

Centro Infantil de Los Angeles offers programs to sponsor a child ($500 annual fee) or volunteer and live on site for $180 USD per week. Raffanti will welcome you for a stay for a week, a month, or even a year to assist in these impact volunteer programs. Work with children, share your skills, and take away priceless memories.

There’s no need to bite of more than you can chew. You can stay true to your values and your drive for impact and sustainability by being careful with your time and money. Connecting ourselves to other cultures, economics, languages, and opportunities can help to transform our thoughts, erase figurative borders, and truly make a difference with non-profits making sure the benefits, and your intention go where they should.

There is a growing community of people ready to partake of authentic social impact experiences that they know goes directly to those in need. Michelle Raffanti works to cover all areas to make Infantil Los Angeles sustainable. One that allows volunteers to bypass the bourgeoise and enjoy the history and picturesque beauty of her town, while helping impact the lives of local families and their future.

Social impact experiences may be hard to quantify and are not relatable to everyone. It can be tricky to find community focused trips or businesses that really have social good in mind. Connecting with organization like Centro Infantil, Trips for Good, Have Fun Do Good and Lokal Travel can increase your reach.

I have hope that most of us aspire to be the best version of ourselves we can be. Giving back is more natural than we give ourselves credit for because we lead busy lives and have demands that consume us, leaving little bandwidth left to give. Or so that’s what we are led to believe.

What do you spend your time on? Life is suffering from many tolls and malevolent aspects that diminish how and why we care. But I believe giving and social good is rooted in our needs and desires as human beings. With growing partnerships and opportunities, I'm lucky to be able to work with driven, passionate people in the impact travel sector. Most recently with Impact Travel Alliance as a media affiliate, Venture with Impact with co-working skill based impact travels, and Wild Adventure Wellness for transformational travel. Coming together only increases our giveback, and we all invite you to come along.

So how can we ensure the intention to do good while travelling or other social impact experiences have a positive outcome? Start by reaching out to the right people.

Applications are open for sponsorship and volunteers at Centro Infantil de Los Angeles + we will be volunteering for a day with Centro Infantil teaching yoga to pre-schoolers and sharing our skills. Join our project (6 spots open) for 5 days, 10 classes, 2 workshops, 1 charity giveback + cooking classes and local tours and total fitness transformation with 20 year wellness expert! 

If you want to come along for our 5 day FitAction Charity Retreat in August, please submit your application email us at info@wildadventures.life with any questions. 

*Originally published on Thrive Global by Liz Galloway