G Adventures’ Planeterra: Empowering Women Through Tourism

By Bruce Parkinson

Adrienne Lee

Women On Wheels

Maasai Stoves

At a time when there’s far too much focus on what’s wrong with the world rather than what’s right with it, a conversation with Adrienne Lee, Director of Development at Planeterra, G Adventures’ non-profit partner, is the perfect antidote.

And it’s perfectly timely, too, on this International Women’s Day, that the topic is how tourism can and is positively impacting women around the world. 

Lee tells Open Jaw that women make up over half of the tourism workforce – that’s the good news -- and yet they are often underpaid and have limited opportunities to move into higher positions in their jobs.

The goal of Planeterra’s ‘Empowering Women’ projects is to help women in G Adventures destinations by providing life-changing access to education and job-training.

“Tourism is such a great way to create livelihood,” says Lee. “When we can bring people into the tourism supply chain, especially when they come from groups like marginalized women and at-risk youth, we can redistribute wealth. Gender inequality is a huge barrier to community development.”

The non-profit organization provides small businesses with catalyst funding and training, and then closes the loop by delivering G Adventures travellers as customers.

The projects are fantastically innovative and diverse, ranging from pottery and weaving cooperatives to a group that trains human trafficking victims as paralegals and a company that produces biodegradable soaps and cleaning products for use on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Lee described two of the projects she says have most inspired her.

Women On Wheels

More than 3,000 G Adventures travellers have been picked up at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi by drivers from Women on Wheels. In partnership with the local Azad Foundation, Planeterra has helped build a chauffeur service where all the drivers are women from resource-poor areas of Delhi. Many start with little education and after up to three years of education and training become professional chauffeurs.

Lee says one of those drivers had never crossed a street without a male escort before training with Women On Wheels. “Now she’s leading tours and is the primary breadwinner for her family. It’s transformative,” Lee says.

And it’s not just good for the women and their families. Arriving at chaotic DEL, especially for the first-time visitor, can be daunting, Lee says, and G Adventure travellers are met and transported by a female entrepreneur. “It’s a wonderful way to feel safe and secure on arriving,” Lee says. Women on Wheels gets 50% of its business from G, making everyone a winner.

Maasai Clean Cookstoves

Lee, who holds a Masters in Environmental Management, shared with Open Jaw the startling fact that inhalation of cookstove smoke is the fourth-biggest health risk in the world. In rural communities, many cookstoves, usually wood-burning, are not vented or leak, leading to long-term inhalation, especially among women who traditionally do the cooking. “It’s incredible, just the act of cooking is killing millions of people,” Lee says.

In Tanzania, a partnership between Planeterra and Maasai Stoves & Solar, saw the development of a safe cookstove that uses local materials, removes 90% of indoor smoke pollution, and is 70% more efficient, reducing the amount of time and effort required to collect fuel. Women are trained to install the stoves and get paid for their work.

G Adventures then created a Maasai village tour that includes a chance to test the air quality in a home with and without a clean cookstove. Each tour pays for the cost of a stove for the home that didn’t have one. Over 1,000 G travellers have taken the tour, and 250 families now have clean cookstoves.

“Creating meaningful experiences. Becoming stewards and advocates. This is a better model of how to travel,” Lee says.

Lee says agents and clients can get involved with Planeterra’s efforts to empower women and improve the lives of people in G Adventures destinations by getting involved with the group’s Citizen of Change program.

“We can do so much for a little money. Some of our projects cost $5,000, others up to $100,000. But it is amazing and rewarding to see what that money can do.”

Planeterra currently has 50 active projects in 31 countries benefitting over 52,000 people. Thirteen of the projects come under the ‘Empowering Women’ theme.

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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