The global travel and tourism industry is a more than $7 trillion behemoth that for the past five years straight has outpaced the growth of the global economy. Its staggering impact worldwide is hard to overstate.
Yet, here’s something few travelers likely realize—only a small portion of that revenue typically stays in local hands. And even when profits do remain local, they rarely end up in women’s hands.
This reality is part of what inspired New York City resident Michal Alter to create Visit.org in 2015, a start-up focused on offering immersive social impact travel experiences with non-profits across the globe—from South America, to the Middle East, Africa, India, and beyond.
Through its mission of connecting travelers with local do-good organizations, Visit.org is helping tourists support hundreds of projects across the world that that are aimed at empowering women and achieving gender equality. Examples range from an organization in Harlem, New York that offers cooking classes led by immigrant women; to Bedouin tribeswomen in Israel teaching tourists how to weave and women in India educating visitors about traditional Mehndi designs.
“We are one of the first platforms that allows these women to participate in the tourism industry,” said Alter, a fascinating character herself whose career includes being one of the first female pilot cadets in the Israeli Air Force and later serving as director of Refugee Affairs for Tel Aviv’s city government. “Having women lead activities like this—for many of them it’s the first time in their life they’ve had this type of leadership position.”
In addition to the confidence and sense of self-worth, women get from being put in such positions of leadership and being called upon to educate visitors, all of the money paid by travelers to participate in the activities goes directly to the local organization. In other words, 100 percent of the money stays in local hands, including women’s hands.
Visit.org’s focus is on short, affordable experiences for travelers, many ranging from a half-day to full-day excursions. Prices for participation start around $9 and a max out at about $150. And the experiences can be added on to any vacation or itinerary, whether you’re traveling on business or a family getaway.
March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day meant to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also highlighting the need for accelerating gender parity. With that in mind, here’s five Visit.org opportunities that help empower women and provide an unforgettable travel experience in the process.
Sambhali Trust, India
A non-profit based in Jodhpur, the Sambhali Trust’s focus is developing and empowering the poorest and most disenfranchised women and girls in Rajasthan, India. The charity has impacted 10,000 women and children over the past decade through 16 projects focused on education, handicraft skills, self-help and health.
Govind Rathore, Sambhali Trust’s 33-year-old founder and managing trustee was inspired to establish the organization after watching the treatment his mother, grandmother and other women received in the country’s harsh patriarchal society.
“We offer a holistic approach for women—HIV education, maternal health, everything you can think about that a woman needs to know,” says Rahtore. “Women are equal to anyone out there and they should be taught to think by themselves.”
All of Samhali Trust’s projects are located in slums, where the women and girls come from families that often earn just $50 to $150 per month. The trust provides these women vocational training such as sewing, embroidery, block printing and more, which enables them to produce artisan goods and work towards financial independence.
A three-hour visit to Sambhali Trust costs $9 and includes learning about the trust’s various projects and being taught about traditional Mehndi designs by the women who are being impacted by the organization.
Sidreh Lakiya, Israel
The rich Bedouin culture dates back to ancient times and has long included the art of weaving. Hand-stitched fabrics, whether for tent making, warm clothing, blankets or rugs, have been vital to the survival of the nomadic desert people.
The Sidreh Lakiya organization in Israel was developed to support Bedouin women who want to open their own businesses, an accomplishment that helps the women develop self-worth and earn recognition as important members of their families and household.
A four-hour visit (cost $40) with the women includes hands-on weaving lessons, enjoying freshly made Makluba (a traditional staple of local cuisine,) and learning about the village history and desert life from its oldest residents.
Located about three hours outside of Mexico City, the Centro de Asesoría y Desarrollo Entre Mujeres project (also known as CADEM), exposes visitors to the lives of hardworking Mexican women.
That experience begins with a morning spent assisting on the farms of women who work together to grow vegetables, raise bees and chickens. Come lunchtime, participants take part in preparing regional cuisine, including handmade tortillas.
The three-day experience (cost $91) also includes touring family-owned businesses and meeting still more with indigenous women to discuss the importance of economic development and women’s rights.
Association Khamlia, Morocco
Established in 1950, the village of Khamlia was founded by Gnawa families, people who were originally brought to the area as slaves from Central Africa. Association Khamlia, a local non-profit, is working to improve the quality of life for the community’s residents in a variety of ways including education and capacity-building services for women and social justice.
“The situation for women here is difficult. They must wait for men to give money to them,” explains Khamlia Association Founder, Mohamed Oujeaa. Many of the women and children in the village have historically been unable to go to school, Oujeaa said. The association offers women education and work opportunities, among other support.
“We want them to have a chance like men, a chance to have their own opinion and to express their opinion, to participate in the development of the village,” he explained. “Without women, it’s not good. It’s important to have women to share in the development of our education and this village.”
During a six-hour visit here (cost $50,) travelers learn about the village and the Association Khamilia’s efforts, explore the village’s agricultural and irrigation projects and work with women to make bread and learn the art of henna.