My partner Lisa and I share a love for travel and adventure. It is something we are both passionate about and one of the many things that makes our relationship as strong as it is.
We were introduced to Journey and we were automatically drawn to taking part in one of their life changing trips. Journey is an organisation that enables travellers to embark on adventures of a life time – taking them off the well worn tourist trail and into rural communities that need a helping hand.
Lisa and I joined 30 other intrepid travellers on a journey to Guatemala in April, where we assisted people living in slum conditions to build new housing for themselves and their extended families. Whilst this allowed us to be immersed in local culture, it also enabled us to soak up the surrounding landscapes and beautiful vistas Guatemala has to offer. Read more about our journey.
After a few long days of building housing, I was overwhelmed with the need to sit down with the founders of this amazing new company and find out a little more about the driving forces behind their inspiring and impactful business venture. Introducing cofounder Amy Merrill...
Q: An obvious place to start is at the beginning. Can you tell us a little about yourselves and the seed of thought that turned into Journey?
Taylor and I started working together in 2014, after he had started a crowdfunding platform that used personal video to scale the face-to-face ask (for example, you’d get a video from me saying “Hey Jamie! Our friends are all giving the cost of a day to fund a school, you have to join us!). It worked (10 times better than existing crowdfunding sites) and we watched 16,000 mostly-millennials raise $4 million for projects all around the world.
But in 2015, we had a problem: we kept hearing the question, can I visit my project and see the impact firsthand? And we always said sorry, no. Eventually, we took a step back and asked, what if the answer was yes? Wouldn't we want to see our impact too? And is our big goal to build the world’s best crowdfunding platform, or is it to catalyse change by transforming hearts and minds?
Taylor had sold his real estate company to build the fundraising platform after a life-changing trip to Kenya and Uganda, where he saw the powerful impact of a schoolhouse on children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. I had spent years working on anti-sex trafficking in South East Asia, but only after an earlier trip to Cambodia where I’d seen a young girl led into a makeshift brothel behind a massage parlor.
We recognised the potential ripple effect from in-person experiences that cause perspective shifts: people make decisions differently when they return home, show more empathy and take more ownership over our pressing social and environmental challenges. To me, this was exponentially more powerful than nonprofit work or online fundraising alone: clicking to like/donate/share is not enough, and nonprofits can’t pursue their missions in a vacuum.
And so we designed an immersive group trip, with two days of hands-on impact work combined with three days to reflect and connect, hike, surf, and explore the nightlife. On our pilot Journey in December 2015, we took 20 people to El Salvador to build 20 homes. Since then, we’ve led 16 Journeys in six countries, with group sizes ranging from 10 to 65. Our third cofounder, Lauren, left Mashable to join Journey a year ago and built out Journey’s brand and influencer partnerships and content strategy. As a leadership team, we continue to balance two goals: maximum impact and maximum fun.
Q: Your journeys have an immediate and very tangible impact on the communities you set out to help. What is your desired outcome for the traveller participants in the Journey tours?
Our outcomes fall in three tiers: self, community, world. We want to create opportunities for personal transformation and self-growth, by building a ‘sandbox’ of impact work, integration and reflection, and new friends. We create opportunities for perspective shifts, moments of empathy or what we call Oneness, which can change an individual’s frame on the world and how they show up in it. Finally, we give Journeyers a soft landing when they return home: a strong community of Journeyers with shared values and experiences. They are seeds being sown back into the world.
Q: Throwing 30+ individuals into challenging and sometimes confronting situations is a bold move on behalf of yourselves (the organisers) and the participants. What leadership qualities do you need to manage such a diverse group? And what styles of leadership do you see arise most often in participants?
Our leadership role is, first and foremost, to ensure the safety and well-being of each Journeyer. Like anyone who creates and leads experiences, we are constantly synthesizing new information and navigating new situations alongside our participants and our partners on the ground. This requires good judgment, clear communication, and flexibility and responsiveness.
Second, we hold space. Emotions can come up as individuals experience extreme poverty and meet families in unthinkable living conditions. Our leaders help guide processing, which requires empathy and excellent listening skills. And finally, a passion for service and people is mandatory. This is heart-driven work, and our leaders exemplify it best.
Participants often step up in ways that show their natural leadership style: for example, CEOs directing other participants on their build site v. HR professionals as caretakers, ensuring everyone has water and snacks. Some participants who are yoga teachers, chefs, or coaches find creative ways to offer their skills to the group, which we love.
Overall, this kind of traveling and living as a family for nearly a week leads to people dropping their masks and being their authentic selves, which is my favorite part of the process.
Q: Running a socially minded International travel company is a substantial venture with a lot of responsibility. What is your personal daily routine and what coping mechanisms do you use to stay cool when the heat is on?
Years ago, when I was working for an anti-sex trafficking organisation, I learned about a condition called compassion fatigue, and another called secondary trauma. I experienced both of these, plus traditional burnout, and ever since I’ve believed strongly in the importance of taking care of yourself so you can show up for others.
Our team practices daily meditation to stay grounded and focused under pressure. Each of us practices differently; I was trained in transcendental meditation about five years ago, and now I use the Headspace app to start my day.
In the office we are big fans of Bulletproof coffee, with a satiating and slower-burn caffeine hit. While travelling, we’ve each refined our own kit of essentials: supplements, healthy snacks, earplugs, and other potions to stay feeling good and healthy on the road.
We also have a culture of recognising and respecting our differences in work styles and behaviour (we love diving into personality types, leadership styles, and Human Design). We have ‘clearings’ where we air any disagreement or frustration and neutralise it. We mitigate stress and burnout by drawing boundaries for ourselves, and recognising what we can and cannot control. We hustle, write, design, navigate, meet, program, build, and give Journey our 110 per cent. Then, we surf.