Meet Adrienne Lee

She strives to ensure that local communities benefit from Tourism

Adrienne Lee is nothing short of an inspiration. Working as Director of Development for Planeterra, small group tour operator G Adventures’ non profit partner, she is responsible for helping the poorest communities in the world benefit from tourism, improving lives through social enterprise.  National Geographic in collaboration with G Adventures talks to Lee about her work and why it’s so important to support local communities.

When did you decide to lobby for sustainable tourism and how did you do it?

I joined Planeterra Foundation as a Program Manager in 2012 and have been lucky enough to lead the organization’s work with marginalized women, at-risk youth, and rural and indigenous communities in Africa and the Asia-Pacific for five years.  Since then, I’ve taken on leading Planeterra’s fundraising and business development strategy as we accelerate our five-year campaign, 50 in 5. 

Planeterra focuses our programs on a market-driven approach.  In January 2016, we launched the 50 in 5 Campaign with the aim to raise CAD $5 Million to integrate 50 new social enterprise projects into G Adventures trip in 5 years, changing the lives of local people in over 35 countries by providing them with the access to the benefits of tourism. 

Image: Rwanda Women's Tour

How do you feel working as the Director of Development for Planeterra?

I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this team and what we believe to be the forefront of Responsible Tourism.  We recognized that Planeterra has a role with working with the tourism industry to “stretch our market capital” and to do good by integrating community development work directly into the tourism value chain.

We work with community groups that have often been traditionally excluded from the formal economy, this includes marginalized women that may not have benefitted from a formal education growing up, at-risk youth that are carving out new pathways and futures for themselves, and rural communities with a particular focus on indigenous communities. 
By creating opportunities, jobs and livelihoods, we’re creating stronger economies and more cohesive communities in the places travellers visit.  We believe in the hand up, not the hand-out model, whereby investing in a community business, we’re providing the platform for individuals to determine how their income is reinvested in their family’s future, and their communities. 

What are some of the ways tourism has positively impacted women that you’ve seen recently?

Recently we launched a few new partnerships supporting women-run programs in Sri Lanka and Namibia.  In Kandy, Sri Lanka, we’ve partnered with the Women’s Development Centre, to renovate and expand a training café and craft shop that employs female entrepreneurs in the region.  The proceeds from their co-developed lunch program with Planeterra, is anticipated to be visited by 3,000 G Adventures travellers this year alone.  The proceeds from this meal service will support a shelter for abused women and other training and empowerment programs run by our partners. 

Penduka, a women-owned and run social business in the Katutura Township outside of Windhoek, employs at-risk women mostly living in the surrounding townships with no schooling background and no access to secure jobs, or those suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. Along with direct employment, the handicraft cooperative also contracts the services of more than 300 women from around the country for handicraft creation. We partnered with Penduka to bring more customers to their restaurant, and are helping them develop take-out options for travellers leaving Windhoek on their way to nearby safari reserves.

Image: Penduka, Planeterra

Do you believe tourism could create wider spread gender equality?

Women around the world face many challenges and barriers, and the world has a long-way to go before we can truly be gender equal. There is much room for improvement, opportunity, respect and resource management to close the gender gap, and globally, women still only make 77 cents to the dollar for the same job a male counterpart would make. 

Tourism brings a lot of hope and opportunity as well.  The UN WTO’s Global Report on Women and Tourism cites that Oceania is doing well for fostering female leaders in tourism, and that the Caribbean is providing equal pay for all genders in the same role.  Africa is doing well fostering women in minister of tourism roles and Asia has a significant percentage of female tourism professionals.

Tourism can provide an entry-way into the formal economy, opportunities to stay and work within one’s own rural community, or the chance to move and apply your hospitality skills in other regions.  Tourism creates jobs at all levels of management, and it is an industry where you can still thrive by being entrepreneurial. 

More growth and cultivation of females in higher management and leadership roles is a trend that can be seen across all industries.  According to UN Women – if men and women played identical roles in labour markets, as much as $28 trillion, or 26% could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025.  That’s a lot of change and movement for everyone.

Are there any new initiatives, particularly for women, such as Women on Wheels, happening at the moment?

Ah, the Women on Wheels program, that is one of my favourites!

Planeterra currently works with 13 women-empowerment partners directly, and also supports an additional 10 programs that are creating stronger female voices, livelihoods, and education and training opportunities for women. 

In additional to Sthree Craftshop and Café and Penduka, we continuous bring on more partnerships that are improving women’s lives around the world and I encourage you to check out for all our latest initiatives.

You can experience an included arrival transfer through Women on Wheels on these National Geographic Journeys tours:

Mysteries of India

North India Highlights

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