Can ‘responsible travel’ really help to alleviate poverty?

August 10, 2017
Tony Carne

Earlier this year I wrote about what a great opportunity 2017 presents having the full force of the UN behind the idea of Sustainable Tourism for Development. That article was well received (thanks!) and everyone seemed supportive of the rationale and sentiment. The point of the initial article was about action and impact. This year, more than any before and likely more than any in the near future, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that this style of travel can be simultaneously a superior form of travel in terms of customer experience while also having a demonstrable impact in real communities.

Just to rewind quickly, in 2015, Urban Adventures launched our In Focus program, working with NGOs, not-for-profits and social enterprises. These organisations have amazing local stories to tell. They are change-makers with access to inspiring people. But these are the stories that travellers don’t usually get to experience, except maybe when watching a TED video. We wanted to help open up new revenue streams and more visibility for these organisations and give travellers a 5-senses immersive experience into the solutions these organisations are working on. We now have more than 25 experiences in this collection.

Earlier this month, I received a report from Colin Murray, of the NGO One Horizon, with whom we created an experience of visiting community ‘grandmas’ and helping them to set up micro piggeries and hatcheries. This is what Colin said:

“The small business program for grandmas, which we conduct in Kenya, is able to occur because of the support of Urban Adventures. They send us visitors … via the Farm to Feast program. As part of this program, visitors’ contributions are used to purchase chickens and/or pigs and the required feeds. And when they visit us, we take them to the market and buy the pigs/chickens before heading up to the grandmas, where they see the operation of a single pod of grandmothers.

“Because of Urban Adventures’ support, we have been able to establish this additional pod in an area of Nairobi which is one of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities. The five grandmothers in this support pod look after an extended family of over 40 people. With the support of people who have booked via Urban Adventures, they have purchased 32 piglets and 100 chickens and the feed required to ensure they develop well.

“Each grandma has received five sows and there are now 10 sows at the stage at which they will give birth in a month. This means that within the next month, [there will be] over 50 piglets. Each grandma will be able to sell the piglets at $35 each — or roughly receive $350 for each litter or $700 for two litters. The significance of this is huge. The average annual income of the grandmas is $500 per year, but in a month they will have $750 (at the bare minimum) and they still have three sows to come on heat and provide a litter. So within a year they will have incomes of $3,000. And on top of that, there is a breeding program that will increase the size of their piggeries. So $3,000 is once again a bare minimum.

“On top of all that, there is demand for the pregnant sows and we will also sell them for around $650 to $700 each.

“The amazing thing about all this, is that in eight months we are on the step to eradicating generational poverty within this group. They are able to support themselves and educate their own families, and their businesses will continue to grow as their piggeries get larger. And on top of all this, they won’t need us anymore. This is because they will have their own self-sustaining businesses. We always guide and help them (for example, setting up their first-ever bank account) and they remain as part of our peer support program to new recruits. But the independence they get, and reduction in stress and anxiety are just some of the offshoots of this as well.

“Urban Adventures has enabled us to do this in eight months and as our number of visitors grow, we will increase it significantly. Previously, we could only do so slowly as resources were always tight with so many competing demands. I think Urban Adventures should be very proud of what they have done — it’s just amazing. Poverty can be beaten and the fact that [they] get us, is incredible… You have pulled people back from the brink and from the consuming misery of poverty.

Obviously we were totally blown away by Colin’s email. Of course this was our goal, but none of us expected it to happen so quickly. We are now able to move onto the next pod of grandmas, and the bookings by travellers keep coming. Farm to Feast has quickly become our most popular experience in Nairobi.

child with solar lamp in India

It’s now been a few months since we received that email, and the program continues to grow even faster. Our latest update from One Horizon is that the second generation of pigs (the result of last year’s supplies) are now being sold and earning income for the community.

“[In Kikuyu] we recently sold sows for 40,000 schillings each (about AUD 450) and two [women] who were the recipients had never held more than $10 in their hand at any time,” Colin tells us. “And the change…has been extraordinary.  Suddenly all the afflictions of poverty – the stress and anxiety – is fading fast.  Our medical bills have dropped as they have abandoned medicines as their health has improved.  And the speed of this has been rather incredible.  We are used to a slower burn given our restrictions with cash – but the additional tourists (and of course Urban Adventures) have funded work that has changed lives so quickly.”

The women in our Kikuyu program, women who were previously working the fields for $1 a day, are now opening bank accounts and working with One Horizon to become self-sufficient. Women who “graduate” from the program will continue to stay on as mentors, helping other women in the community to become financially independent.

“The change in their spirit, new enthusiasm for life and a stress-free future has arrived for them,” says Colin. “And even for me, who has seen a lot of third-world poverty over the years, it is a sobering reminder of what can be achieved by working together.  The impact of travellers…has been a blessing in terms of its impact on these most marginalised and formerly desperately poor women and their families. Poverty robs people of their humanity.”

Of course, this is a single isolated example, but we also know it is highly scaleable. Indeed, our experience with Pollinate Energy is likewise the most popular experience we run out of Bangalore. The Small Projects experience with Syrian Refugees in Istanbul, while not yet the best seller in the city (against some tough and entrenched competition), is on the rise. We look forward to being able to soon release some impact reporting from these also. Once might be a fluke, twice a coincidence, but a third time suggests a pattern.

We are always interested in hearing about other projects where we can assist in making an impact, by helping them to tell their story through an immersive experience. If you know a great organisation we can help, message us and let’s have more success stories like the one about the grandmas of Kenya.

In Focus: From Farm to Feast

Chicken and pig farming have been rated by the United Nations and World Health Organization as one of the most successful and quick-fix solutions to overcoming malnutrition in poor communities. On this Nairobi tour, you’ll head to a street-side market, where you’ll get to haggle alongside locals and pick up the fattest piglets and happiest little chicks for delivering to local communities.