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How Social Impact Tourism Empowers Lives

Can trips to support humanitarian causes change the world? Women on a Mission founding partner Christine Amour-Levar believes so, but thinks due diligence is required.

In a world driven by capitalistic pursuits, the need for empathy has become somewhat of a social commodity. But despite the tectonic shifts in science and technology, there can never be a substitute for being a beacon of hope for those in need, says Christine Amour-Levar. “Money helps to ensure that basic needs are met but, when you give your time to someone, you’re giving a part of yourself – that’s where the real magic happens.”

The mother of four walks the talk as founding partner of Women On A Mission. She organises challenging expeditions to remote locations around the world – from trekking 60km across the Arctic gulf in sub-zero temperatures to cycling through mountainous terrain in Cambodia – in a bid to support humanitarian causes and help spread awareness of social issues around the globe.

Apart from providing necessary infrastructure like schools and homes, social impact tourism aims to delve further into the cause. “Its not just about writing a cheque anymore. It’s about changing age-old mind-sets,” she says. “Once the seeds of confidence and self-belief have been sown, everything else falls into place.” The positive psychological effects can transform lives, she adds.

Yet, despite well-meaning efforts and potential benefits, social impact tourism has been accused of encouraging crimes such as child and organ trafficking, with personalities like J.K. Rowling and Richard Branson denouncing the industry. Rowling tweeted in August: “Voluntourism is one of (the) drivers of family break-up in very poor countries. It incentivises ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses.”

(RELATED: Fraud and cynicism thwart charitable efforts.)

Incidences like these highlight the importance of thorough, systematic research in order to suss out organisations before attempting to assist them, explains Amour-Levar.