Why Creating a Philanthropic Business in the Travel Industry Is More Important Than Ever

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When I set out to build my business in the travel industry, I knew there had to be a philanthropic approach. Going back as far as I can remember — and at the age of 52, that’s quite a few years now — my parents taught me that giving back was vital. It not only enriches the lives of the people you are trying to help, but it also enriches yours as well.

I am here to share with you why creating a philanthropic business in the travel industry is more important than ever. As we’ve all seen over the past year and more, we are all connected and the travel industry is deeply ingrained in local communities all around the world. As we begin to come out of this crisis, we need to ensure everyone comes out of this crisis.

First, Philanthropy Is Different From Voluntourism

As a Rotarian, I am a firm believer in volunteerism; however, there’s a vast difference between volunteering and philanthropy. When we see volunteerism overlap with travel, countless problems can arise. I can only speak from personal experience, but there is endless literature about the concerns around voluntourism. People are well-intentioned and go to an exotic location to volunteer on a community project to get experience. I think that’s amazing; however, it’s not long-lasting.

First, the volunteer is usually only in the country for a short time. Usually, the volunteer posting lasts one to four weeks at a time. Second, they view the issue they are volunteering in through the NGO’s eyes and direction. Once the volunteerism position is over, they may or may not continue volunteering in some capacity. Many go back to their lives, get busy, and over time the cause they were so passionate about is forgotten until something happens that wakes them up again to take action.

Building philanthropy into your travel business guides your business decisions based on that cause. It becomes the center of everything you do and talk about. 

Amina Mohamed teaches a photography class for Cameras for Girls in Uganda
Image courtesy of the author

When you incorporate philanthropy into your business, you can easily reach people who are passionate about the same things you are. They naturally start to promote your travel business and come on your tours as they can see the direct impact their dollars are making. The effect is long-lasting and every dollar spent is accounted for.

As more and more women start businesses in the travel industry, it would be wonderful to see them build philanthropy into their travel businesses.  

I promise you the dividends will pay off for years to come. Plus, inside of yourself, you will find what might have been missing, and you will also find a way to put your talents and passion to use. 

After all the hard work, doubt, and sleepless nights, you will find your people. I promise!

How to Find Your Philanthropic Purpose

My family and I originally come from Uganda. We immigrated to Canada in 1972, when I was only three years old, after then-president Idi Amin kicked out all the Indian Ugandans with only three months’ notice. 

I grew up listening to the beautiful stories my parents told of their lives in Uganda. Life was easy-going, and while there was a clearly defined split between the haves and the have nots, there was no indication of what was to come under Idi Amin’s sadistic rule.

When I returned to Uganda for the first time in 2007 to film a documentary about the Indians returning to reclaim their lost properties and lives, the stories my parents told me and what I saw in front of my eyes did not jive. 

When we lived in Uganda, there was no prevailing poverty; however, it was now clearly evident and very overwhelming to my first-world senses.

In particular, while there, I began to see the plight of females. With education not being accessible to all, many families choose to educate their sons over their daughters. 

Worse, girls and young women were at home tilling the fields, taking care of the younger siblings, and/or married off as early as 14 years old to help support the family. Seeing this disparity in my home country, I committed to finding a way to invest in as many girls and young women as possible.

Finding your own philanthropic purpose might look very different, but it’s vital that you find the cause that resonates most deeply with you. Incorporating philanthropy in your travel business must come from a core belief, a deep connection with the place and/or people. Whether that cause is local or halfway around the world, you must feel committed to it and integrate that focus into your business plans. 

Creating Triple F Photo Tours and Cameras for Girls to Serve Others

Remembering my vow to make a difference for girls and women in the developing world, in August 2018, I designed a for-profit business called Triple F Photo Tours and a non-profit initiative called Cameras For Girls. Our goals through both are to empower girls and women and to alleviate poverty.

Our for profit-model with Triple F Photo Tours is a travel and photography business that invites enthusiasts and amateur photographers from Canada, the US, and Europe to improve their photography skills while enjoying numerous fantastic excursions in Uganda.

Amina Mohamed of Cameras for Girls with several of her students in Uganda
Image courtesy of the author

However, what sets us apart is that they also get to see the direct impact their dollars make when they travel with us, as 10% of their payment goes towards our non-profit Cameras For Girls. That 10% helps us purchase a camera and provide the subsequent training to the girls and young women we serve.

Our photo tours in Uganda fulfill a bucket list adventure for travel and photography lovers while our non-profit work allows travellers to pay it forward in the most meaningful way.

Through our non-profit, Cameras For Girls, we teach photography to local girls and women endeavouring to become journalists. We give them a camera to keep and teach them how to tell stories that matter to them. We also help them find full-time work. 

The Impact of Cameras for Girls

We work with young women between the ages of 19-29 who have either completed a Mass Communication and Journalism Program and are seeking employment or are in the last year of studies. Unlike in North America, you must own a camera and know how to use it to get a paid job in Uganda.

However, even after completing a degree program, these students may have touched a camera maybe four times in total over the course of their university career. That’s not enough to grasp photography and not enough practice to get a job.

A class of Cameras for Girls with their photography teacher Amina Mohamed sitting at a table discussing the topic
Image courtesy of the author

Our program operates in three phases. Phase one takes place in Uganda over three days where we train the girls in the basics of photography, including a section on how to tell stories using photography. 

Phase two takes place over a year virtually through Zoom calls, video training, and a private Facebook group, coupled with monthly assignments. The students learn a full curriculum of photography concepts. 

Finally, in phase three, they are taught how to build a proper resume, cover letter, and Linkedin profile to help them get jobs.

To date, we have conducted two trainings with 32 students, and 11 of those former students now have full-time jobs.

Success Story: Joanita Nakatte Took Charge Of Her Future

One of my favourite success stories is Joanita Nakatte, who was in my first training in August 2019. She was extremely polite, quiet, and shy. She took copious notes over our time together, but I could not reach her — or so I thought — emotionally. I thought I was not getting through as there was a clearly defined cultural difference. 

I’m a Muzungu (foreigner) coming into Uganda to save them, which is how most NGOs are perceived. Even though I am from Uganda, I grew up with first-world sensitivities in Canada and could not understand what life was like, other than what I had read or studied.

After the 3-day in-person training was complete, I continued to take my travellers on tour around Uganda. After returning to Canada about two weeks later, I received an email from Joanita.

Joanita Nakatte looks at a digital camera during a Cameras for Girls course with Triple F Photo Tours in Uganda
Image courtesy of the author

She told me how she had gone to see her editor after completing the 3-day training. She never told me, but she had a job for four months at the point of taking the training. She was not getting paid or published because she lacked a camera and the adequate skills to take photos.

She showed her editor that not only did she now own a camera, but she could now take good pictures. He put her on payroll, and she immediately started getting paid and published a minimum of four times per week.

That was in August 2019. Today, she is now supporting herself, her mother, and her six siblings. When the roof flew off the family home, she was able to repair it. Furthermore, a few months ago, she traded in the camera I gave her and, combined with her savings, purchased her first DSLR camera.

Success Story: Sharon Kyatusiimire Is Giving Other Women A Voice

Another success story is Sharon Kyatusiimire, a single mother living and working as a journalist in Uganda. Sharon is a driven young woman and recognized that girls and women in Uganda don’t always get the opportunity to use their voices. With our financial support from Cameras For Girls, Sharon is designing an organization called “The She Voice” to give other women opportunities to tell their stories.

Sharon is a firm believer that, if she can show her son that she can make a difference independently, his life will also be equipped to make a difference in his way.

Support breeds support!

So how can you incorporate philanthropy into your travel business?

From personal experience and after several years of running a philanthropic travel business, I want to help you understand how to incorporate philanthropy into your own company.

A young woman holds a camera smiling as several women nearby practice on their own cameras, part of the Cameras for Girls program in Uganda
Image courtesy of the author

Tip #1 – Use your talents

For me, using my talents meant using my skills as a photographer. Knowing that the power of photography and the camera as a tool could be used to change lives made it a natural fit for me. 

Use your passion, talents, and interests to find a way to combine them with your travel business. Not only will it be life-changing for you, but it will be more so for the communities and the countries you take your travellers to. What can you teach or share? How can your talents be helpful to others? Find a way to use your strengths and incorporate them into a philanthropic model.

Amina Mohamed of Triple F Photo Tours stands beside a whiteboard teaching a photography class on aperture
Image courtesy of the author

Tip #2 – Ignore your competition and venture forth anyways

I always come up with wild ideas at night, as I suffer from insomnia. In August 2018, I woke up with the idea to go back to my home country of Uganda and teach photography to local girls, intending to help them tell their stories. My husband is used to this because, admittedly, I am a serial idea-maker who sometimes finishes, and most times doesn’t. However, this time was different. I stayed up the rest of the night making plans and writing down all my goals and dreams of making this new idea happen.

I did not research my competition, as I genuinely believed I was onto something big. 

Amina Mohamed of Cameras for Girls teaching a young woman photography skills
Image courtesy of the author

The following day, feeling invigorated and energized, even with no sleep, I went to work and started putting together a GoFundMe page and telling all my family and friends. By the following August, I was in Uganda for our first training, having spent my savings, raised $2,500 on GoFundMe, and collected 15 various point & shoot cameras for the training.

It turns out, there is a US-based charity I did not know of when I launched my business. I am not sure if I would have stopped in my tracks had I done that competitor research. All I know is that I had a purpose and a dream, and nobody was going to tell me it was not possible.

Tip #3 – Give your travellers an experience they will never forget

People love to travel and explore, but how many of the travellers you know are willing to get cozy with the locals? How many are worried about the environmental impact we make through travelling? 

Sustainability has become the new buzzword, but what does that mean for the people in those countries we visit? How do they benefit?

I knew that my walk had to match my talk. I knew that if I wanted people to understand our mission and purpose, we had to incorporate it into everything we do by showing them, not just talking about it.

By bringing our travellers to Uganda and allowing them to meet the girls and see the training we do with them, they get so much more than just a bucket list trip. They get to see the direct impact of the dollars they spent to travel with Triple F Photo Tours.

When they go home, their trip doesn’t stop there. If our travellers wish, they get to stay in touch with these girls, encouraging them from afar and supporting them financially and/or mentoring them to help them get work.

Amina Mohamed teaches a photography workshop for Cameras for Girls in Uganda
Image courtesy of the author

Kim Jackson is a 60-year-old woman from British Columbia who dreamed of going to Africa since she was 5-years old. She came on our tour in June 2019. 

She had no idea what it was like to visit a developing country, and it took her a few days to settle in with all the poverty she was seeing and experiencing first-hand. Before the trip, she was only excited about seeing the wildlife. However, after returning to Canada, she was more interested in learning about various ways to support our girls and those in her community back home. 

She has since started an initiative to help girls in her community get outdoors, thereby alleviating the stress and anxiety experienced during COVID. Those girls now also get a peek into the work we are doing in Uganda and are even developing a fundraiser to support Cameras For Girls.

Giving your travellers a memorable trip isn’t just about the destination. You can create lifelong advocates for your philanthropic work and continue their journey once they return home.

Tip #4 – Don’t Stop, Keep Going

As with any business, there will surely be days when you want to stop and give up – but you can’t. 

People need you and your talents. Where their voices have been quieted, they need you to give them a microphone. Where they cannot advocate for themselves, they need you to advocate for them.

There have been so many days where I thought I was wasting my time – especially after COVID arrived and all but decimated everything we had worked so hard for.

After I dried my tears and put my big-girl panties back on, I knew I could not give up. I knew that what I had to offer was vital to a girl or young woman battling gender inequality and alleviating poverty for herself and her family. I started to work even harder, and the fruits of my labour are paying off.

Amina Mohamed of Triple F Photo Tours and Cameras for Girls sitting beside a laptop
Image courtesy of the author

In March 2021, we received national press in Canada, which led to us raising over $3,500 on our GoFundMe and the collection of new and used cameras from across Canada and the US. It also led to numerous guest blogs, such as this one and tons of interview requests with podcasters. 

Telling people what you do and why you do it will help you gather your people. You can’t market to everyone as not everyone will get it, but when you speak your truth and reach people in their hearts and minds, you will have reached your peak of greatness.

Triple F Photo Tours And Cameras For Girls Will Keep Venturing Forth

We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know one thing: We are committed to our philanthropic goals. We plan to expand our programming and our travel offerings to other developing countries, where we can make a difference for girls and young women through the power of photography.

We know we will hit roadblocks and naysayers, but our belief in what we are doing is supported by the results we are getting. The results may not be huge, at this point in time, but they are making a difference one young woman at a time.

So, with that in mind, what are you waiting for? What will your philanthropic endeavour be that you incorporate into your travel business?  Write to me and let me know.

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