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.