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Impact Tourism:
Bigger Than Jobs
FEBRUARY 19, 2011: The world is awash with the idea of Impact Funding, the new buzz term for the
development and successful use of socially responsible business models that earn profits and do good. Everyone
with money and opportunity wants to get in to the game, because they see it as a way of doing more with their
sometimes fragile resources. The recent economic downturn didn’t just hurt average people, it actually made
those with means take a look at how vulnerable they might be if their dollars are tied only to traditional
investment methodologies. It isn’t just that they might experience drops in their endowments, but that they may
not be able to continue their good turns until or unless they have become part of something truly revolutionary
with its impact on serious social challenges.

One of the most promising such efforts is the Social Impact Fund. It seeks to give dollars to large, proven,
nonprofit projects, but it likewise seeks to lay the foundation for how for-profit capitalists can get into the game
too. Almost as if everyone assumes that even the best of innovations with roots in the helping sector will never be
able to generate enough revenue on its own to stay in business. (We disagree with this, which is where our initiative comes from, but that’s a digression at the moment.)

But as good as the Social Impact Fund is, it needs to broaden its reach a bit. Jobs are clearly a critical part of what
needs to be done, but they are not and don’t necessarily have to be the major, overriding FIRST focus. Some ideas
have fantastic possibilities that may not be realized until a bit more attention is directed to what they are trying to
do and how they could be appealing to the public at large. Large and small “followship” businesses, such as
Facebook, didn’t start out as and haven’t make their success on the back of the jobs they created. They provided a
service and opened doors (okay, portals) to opportunity. Only later would this allow investors to sneak in the

Which is why our interest is on something called Impact Tourism (some may call it eco-tourism) – the vision of
connecting travel, travel dollars, the emersion of traveling people, into the natural, money-making attractions of
the world. Almost like selling tickets to watching ground-level local people doing what comes natural to them.
Like going to a zoo where the indigenous do what they do and the rest of us buy a ticket to watch.

A great document, summarizing the workings of a collaborative meeting, was released in late 2010 to discuss this
topic and how it might progress. In particular, the group was interested in building banking and investor
underpinnings for broad-based opportunities (though agriculture seems a priority issue). The piece is entitled
Impact Investment in Community-based Sustainable Tourism, and you might want to Google it to see the
specifics. It’s short and eminently readable. It was put together by The Aspen Institute in cooperation with
USAID, the Department of Commerce, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and others.

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The talk they summarize is interesting; their piece is short and to the point. They note the potential of the field is
exceptional, particularly if they can help develop a set of transitional funding layers. Foundations might be the
first layer along with those capable of absorbing early risks. Later investors can then jump aboard as appropriate.

Overall, they found much to celebrate, though they worried about issues like scalability and corporate brand
inundation. Do tourists really want to travel for these purposes only to see, quite literally, all the signs of
corporate hotel, restaurant, gift-shopping and other businesses of tourist profitability? Does this serve any purpose
or just drain the resources of the local bees doing their own work? What might it do to struggling artisans?

It’s worth taking a look at what they concluded.

We like it because this is the essence behind what we sought to address through our Green Gold: Pairing Honeys
& Cheeses initiative. Yesterday we posted a document on this and its empowerment intentions, serving to build an
online resource where local harvesters and cheesy entrepreneurs can work, act and support together and overcome
the barriers to bringing small-production treasures to market.

Honeys and cheeses can truly give the people of the world with access to a decent amount of disposable income,
they could effectively be the hive for building a followship of naturally harvested goods, and open a new world of
golden delicious cheese artistry in specialty or farmstead settings. Each of these products shines with terrior as
well as small-scale agricultural empowerment. And they are even helping to revitalize core growing lands.

And this is not just our opinion. Nearly every developing nation already has papers and presentations online
talking about how honeys and cheeses are credible job and community builders. There is a reason why both have
been consistently seen across the eons as flavor agents for some remarkable social and cultural progress – and in
many ways, why they have been seen as their own servings of access to a sweet or savory afterlife!

OUR SHOT FROM THE HIP: Our opinion is that eco-based, impact-ridden tourism projects offer something
bigger and brighter than just job-based initiatives, such as those supported in 2010 and proposed for 2011 by
credible groups like the Social Impact Fund. But these efforts also have to have a broader view and need to look
at more than just their ecological implications. Gourmet opportunities have their place at the table too!

INVESTING IN CHANGE: We’d like to pull together a collaborative of foundations, innovation funders and
local food/export people to showcase how to harvest and inspire the ROI of Green Gold.

What do you think? Got any rich relatives, friends, associates – dollars just waiting for a most delicious
opportunity? You can see more about Green Gold at And below are a few more
suggested resources. Tell us what you think, or feel free to take your shot back at our ideas (A interactive blog is in the works.


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