Yesterday, after commenting on Voluntourism Gal’s blog about customer engagement, she emailed me asking more about Edge of Seven. I was humbled by the exchange as she is considered to be an expert in my new industry. I cited her company’s State of the Volunteer Travel Industry several times in my business plan so it was an honor to hear her feedback on the Edge of Seven model. She asked me to write a guest blog for her site today about why I’m starting this sort of business now and lessons learned during my five months in Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia. Here is the guest post:
My name is Erin Guttenplan and I recently founded Edge of Seven, a U.S. based nonprofit that supports service projects in developing countries that are community driven, sustainable, and respond to local needs. We strive to customize service adventures that are affordable, all-inclusive, and mutually beneficial.
After working in the educational travel and cultural exchange sector for seven years, I decided to switch gears in September 2009. I took off for five months, bound for Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia, to volunteer with various local organizations. I left with a backpack, camera, and thirst for discovery.
On November 20th 2009, I followed a Nepali friend to a rural village nestled in the mountains of the Gorkha District in Nepal. We visited his Primary School, a building on the verge of collapse. We saw walls that were bent and crumbling, toilets that had been locked shut for years, and children running around in dirty and tattered clothes. We saw a headmaster and a community looking for help.
That day changed me.
I created Edge of Seven because I have worked with communities in need and I have also met volunteers who want to serve in any capacity, big or small. I believe that Edge of Seven is a way to harness the potential in connecting the two. The opportunity can be seen in volunteers working side by side locals to build new schools, it can be seen in a teacher reaching a student, and it can be seen in one woman empowering another to shape her own future. I believe that it is flashes of progress like these, multiplied, that actually change the world.
Today, we at Edge of Seven connect American volunteers with projects in Nepal, India, Thailand, and Cambodia. In the future, as our name Edge of Seven implies, we would like to offer service projects on all seven continents.
I decided to create Edge of Seven now because I believe the field of volunteer travel is on the verge of something big. I have worked for EF Education for the last seven years and was intricately involved in the educational travel sector, working closely with U.S. teachers and administrators. Educators understand the need to revamp the educational system in the U.S. in order to compete in today’s global economy. Companies are searching for graduates armed with 21st century skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and global awareness and frankly, they are coming up short. Teachers are beginning to recognize that travel provides a level of experiential learning that cannot be duplicated in the classroom.
Further, volunteering abroad fuses travel and service, creating opportunities for personal and global development. I think it the perfect time to be in this industry as the country shifts their focus towards education and service. Lasso Communications agrees. They conducted a survey published in May 2009 to give a quick snapshot of the State of the Volunteer Travel Industry that same year. Their conclusion: the field of international volunteering is booming. I’m excited to enter a growth industry.
In conclusion, the greatest lesson that I learned in my five months abroad was to find the right projects. Volunteers are looking to be useful. If they wanted to be tourists, they would be tourists. If organizations support projects that are community driven, sustainable, and respond to local needs, the volunteers will follow.