Director of Global Programs Kelly Galaski reflects on her ten years at Planeterra, and the accomplishment of the 50 in 5 initiative, launched in 2016 and achieved last month with the addition of Planeterra’s 75th project.
One cold winter week of 2015, the small but mighty Planeterra team of the time huddled in a basement meeting room in Toronto, and the idea for our 50 in 5 campaign was conceived. The team wanted to do something bold, yet strategic, and had been overwhelmed by the success of the community tourism projects developed over the course of the previous few years, realizing that this work was having the greatest impact at breaking the cycle of poverty, out of all the different causes the organization had supported over the first 12 years. The women artisans of the Ccaccaccollo village in the Sacred Valley of Peru were sending their children to university, even though they themselves had experienced oppression and lack of access to education beyond primary school. There was evidence that the gender gap was closing in Nicaragua at the Puesta del Sol homestay where women had traditionally been excluded from economic opportunities. New literacy classes were being launched in rural Morocco, enabling a whole new sector of society to start to reach their potential. All of this because of the funds generated by their grassroots tourism businesses. We felt like we were on to something. We could see that lives were being changed by our projects; in fact, we were helping to change entire communities. The feeling in the room was that we wanted to do more.
We also knew that when people visit and connect with these local people, their lives change too. We counted up how many destinations we would need to add to our portfolio to reach over 90% of our founding partner G Adventures’ annual 150,000 travellers and launched an ambitious plan to add 50 new projects over the next five years. This would ensure a customer base and sustainable income source for our community partners. We went to work that September, launching our 50 in 5 campaign to the public with the Ignite the Night fundraising event, and began to see support unlike anything we had envisioned. We quickly grew our team and our project count: 11 in the first year, then 15 in the next. By late 2017 it was becoming clear that our ambitious goal was going to be met, and met early.
Another 17 projects launched the following year, and the team once again reconvened to talk about the impact we were having around the globe. By now, we were launching projects nearly every month, and this momentum led us to a total of 69 projects by mid-2018. These new enterprises hosted nearly 100,000 travellers that year - driving needed income to essential non-profit programs and into communities that had never before seen the benefits of tourism.
Our partners were reporting back to us about achieving their dreams. People with disabilities were gaining new skills and jobs in communities where they had once been shunned. Women were taking control of their families’ incomes by becoming the sole or main breadwinner, investing in nutritious food and education opportunities for their children, and putting money back into their businesses and cooperatives to drive even more income. Communities were building computer labs for students, undertaking water and sanitation projects, starting community gardens and launching recycling programs. Indigenous communities were telling us that tourism was their hope for the future, for generations proud of their cultures and with livelihood opportunities close to home. The ripple effects were limitless.
Looking back on the last three and a half years, and my ten years at Planeterra, there are too many highlights to put into words. Someone asked me this week what motivates me, what makes me stay. Every time I answer this question tears come to my eyes. Even writing this now. When a woman tells you she was so oppressed and overlooked because of her race and gender and finally feels that she has control over her destiny, has freedom to make the choices she needs to make, and the respect she deserves, all because of an opportunity to earn her own income and share her culture, I know our work is the most important work I could be a part of. When an Indigenous youth tells me he feels it’s the only hope for children in his community to believe they have something powerful and special to share, I know our work is what I want to be a part of. Our team of dedicated professionals, generous supporters, and our partners around the world have enabled us to finish 50 in 5 a full year and a half earlier than anticipated. We have seen tens of thousands of lives changed - entire communities transformed - as a result.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people who helped along the way. Thank you to those who visited our projects, in 43 countries around the world. Thank you to anyone who supported our work - whether with $1 or $1,000 - it all went directly to our global programs and allowed us to change lives. Finally, thank you to the staff and leadership of G Adventures, our largest partner, who have helped us in immeasurable ways to make this impact.
To all our generous supporters, we hope you continue this journey with us, because we’ve only just begun.