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For the past week the world has woken-up to the fact that the ebola virus is spreading rapidly across West Africa, already killing 729 in the deadliest outbreak in history. Airlines have pulled out. States of Emergency belatedly declared. Paranoid crisis government meetings have been convened globally. Perhaps most alarmingly the Sierra Leonian doctor in charge of the fight against the disease, Umar Khan, has died from the disease. Surely if a competent doctor can catch ebola then this thing can spread far?

A week earlier at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games a small team from Sierra Leone strode proudly into the arena, only to be introduced on television by Huw Edwards as “a country which has emerged from a decade of horrendous civil war.” That was over 12 years ago Huw! There have been three peaceful elections since then.

But just when those of us who have been fortunate to spend time in Sierra Leone over the last few years thought that the negative narrative might finally be fading, ebola strikes. And now, predictably and sadly, the stereotype is reinforced: Sub-Saharan Africa / Sierra Leone — what a bloody mess!

So is Sierra Leone still a bloody mess? Yes, but also no.

Yes, development is slow. Too many people still die who shouldn’t.

Yes, infrastructure is poor. Even in the capital, Freetown, the roads are shocking.

Yes, natural resources are being plundered. Forests, fish and minerals are being wiped out.

But also no, most people in ‘Sweet Salone’ are working hard to build a better future for themselves and their beloved country.

5 reasons there is another, brighter side to Sierra Leone, that hopefully we’ll see more of once ebola has gone.

  1. Music

Music is the heartbeat of Salone, and it is being used to combat the crisis

2. Sport

Football. Football. Football. Even in a remote village the kids will tell you who the best player on the Hull City bench is.

The Craig Bellamy Academy, Sierra Leone Marathon, The Leone Stars, Yoga

3. Eco-tourism

Bouncing back from ebola will be tough for the burgeoning eco-tourism community. But, there are so many stunning beaches, islands and forests to explore that the intrepid will soon return.

Tribewanted, Overlanding West Africa, Bureh Beach Surf Club, Tiwai Island,Banana Islands, Turtle Islands, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

4. Social enterprise

DJ Focus (below), Upskill, The Collective, Ma Dengn beach Festival, Near Far Fashion

5. Religious Tolerance

Finally, perhaps the most remarkable thing for me about Sierra Leone is the culture of religious tolerance. One brother is the Imam, the other the priest. This is how Salone rolls, open, accepting and peaceful. There’s so much the rest of the world could learn from this small, beautiful country.

 

 

Last Wednesday afternoon I headed out of sweaty London to rural Sussex and walked into a small woodland and the home of wild cooking school, Hunter Gather Cook. Nick was busy rubbing down a newly built kitchen table while Dave finished dabbing a clay oven in the school’s kickstarter funded treehouse. I’d only just arrived but already London seemed a long-time ago.

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Soon a well-known wonderer rambled into the clearing to join us. Alastair Humphreys, lifestyle adventurer-in-chief (he always camps at business conferences), has been extolling the virtues of what he calls microadventures: hit the refresh button on our busy lives by going on an overnight camp under the stars. Tonight was just another meeting for him.

Next into the woods were the escape boys. Rob & Dom are two of the founders of London’s most exciting career startup: Escape the City. Together with they’re rapidly growing community (currently 150k) they’re on a mission to unleash frustrated corporates into fulfilling careers — whether that be startups, dream jobs or big adventures.

Soon we had a fire going and two large legs of local lamb roasting on a homemade spit, basted with delicious foraged herbs and oil with a rosemary brush. The meeting room was set. Nick then started to show-off by infusing foraged meadow sweet into a martini! Yes, we sat around the fire that Wednesday evening sipping wild cocktails and watching out roast dinner cook to perfection.

But what about the conversation? Our projects of course. Frequently meetings I have in the world’s urban caffeine-hubs are great to get a conversation going but rarely get to the meat of the matter. Around the fire-pit, the most ancient of meeting places ideas, reflections and connections are almost always more valuable. As much as a coffee-culture would like to think they sell ‘experiences’, its hard to compete with this.

The findings of our meeting were as follows:

1. Roasting legs of lamb over an open fire beats burger and fries in an expensive London pub
2. Foraged meadowsweet martinis beats £5 pints of Staropramen
3. Fireside idea sharing beats Starbucks blue-sky thinking
4. …and waking up in the trees clears the mind for the day ahead

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Investing in experiences that provide focus

We’re not the only ones escaping on a mid-week microadventure to top-up the creativity levels or detox.

Through Tribewanted we’ve exploring this with curious travellers for over 8 years. If there is one theme that weaves through all the experiences we’ve been part of on our off-grid community projects from Fiji to Sierra Leone to Umbria, its that people are looking for a feeling that, for a moment or two at least, they belong there. To that place. With those people. At that time.

Only yesterday, perhaps the business pin-up du jour, Airbnb, relaunched their identity with the headline: ‘Belong Anywhere’.

The interesting thing for me is that now this isn’t just something we do outside of work. We feel like we’re part of a bigger community who are experimenting in work and life design not just so we can enjoy a fireside martini or two but are finding that these experiences are helping us achieve our goals — be they sales conversions or sleeping in a treehouse.

Its no wonder that we’re seeing the start of a response to the digital city life that surrounds so many of us. It doesn’t feel like a rejection, rather a recognition that we need to balance things a little better.

And of course there are a bunch of startups emerging to provide these experiences themselves…

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9 upcoming outdoor meetups, camps & digital detoxes…(or you can just take your team on a microadventure)

Unplugged Weekend

A digital detox to get away from it all. August 1-3 Brecon Beacons, Wales

Escape to the Woods

A microfestival for inspiring career change. September 5-7, 1hr from London

The Good Life Camp

Summer camp for aspiring world-shakers. September 11-14, 90 minutes from NYC

The Happy Startup Camp

Unplug. Get Inspired. Have fun. September 19-21, 1hr from London

Escape to Umbria

3 days of dreaming, planning, wine & pasta. October 17-20, Italy

Decelerator

An entrepreneurial time-out to disconnect from the all the noise and reconnect to what’s truly important. October 12-24, Bali

Awesomeness Fest

Getaway for change-makers. November 6-9, Mexico

The Do Lectures

Inspiring speakers, an engaged class of attendees and a beautiful location. Wales, USA, Australia.

Camp Grounded

Digital detox adult summer camps. Anderson Vally, California

Ok, so spending too much time online maybe a ‘first world’ problem. There are bigger battles to fight, right? Terrorism, climate change, poverty, clean water access, malaria, education…. but here is where a subtle shift has happened for me.

For the last 10 years I’ve been exploring and ‘on a mission’ to find ways to how we might live and work more co-operatively together across cultures and solve some of the too-big-to-tackle issues from the grassroots. ThroughTribewanted we’ve looked through the lens of community led tourism experiences with authentic cultural experiences and we’ve learned many lessons, including:

1. You can’t sell the idea of ‘living more sustainably’ to a large audience — at least not on environment motivations alone.

2. Cultural behaviour drives almost everything.

3. Its the individual journeys’ and stories that drive long-term behavioural change. Not the science. Not the news.

4. Word of mouth is the best tool we all have — ‘going viral’ just means ideas told in the right way can catch global fire.

With these insights in mind, I’ve been thinking more in the last year about how we might work more with people’s stories at the forefront of everything we try and do to solve the problems we’re motivated to tackle.

Living back in the UK I’ve noticed that both our relationship with our tech devices and our 9-to-5s have become bigger conversations. Working withEscape the City on helping frustrated corporates discover fulfilling careers feels like the tip of the iceberg. So I made a decision to add to what we’re already doing at Tribewanted by curating experiences that will bring these internal conversations to life. We’ve already piloted this with an ‘Escape to Umbria’ retreat and are about to launch the ‘Escape to the Woods’ microfestival for inspiring career change. With others we’re building a treehouse community as a gateway drug to get people back into nature. We’re planning a ‘roost in the city’ pop-up for next summer.

In terms of my own tech diet, I teamed up with social entrepreneur Daniela Papi to start focusing on weekly digital detoxes — we called this ‘hibernating’. Others have joined us. Next, we wanted to spend time exploring this in more depth so we invited a bunch of thinkers in the space of mindfulness and storytelling to a weekend hibernate.

I was delighted when so many of the leaders in this space decided to join us, including Rohan Gunatillake creator of mindfulness app Buddhify, Frances Booth author of The Distraction Trap, Beth Nichols founder of Do What You Love, adventurer Dave Cornthwaite, Ocean Advocate Emily Penn, & solo-nature experiences leader Andres Roberts.

What did we learn from our weekend Hibernate?

  1. That being offline doesn’t mean you miss out.

2. That purposeful work and living is becoming more important.

3. That the best ways to create impact and change are through connecting people with what matters to them, not the agenda of Government, media or anyone else.

4. That we need to collaborate on everything.

So maybe next time you’re trying to figure out that next tech startup that will change the world the first thing you should do is unplug.

 

 

 

Escape to Umbria – review

In May, ten courageous and curious escapees joined me and the tribe in Umbria for a weekend of escapology. Below is some of what happened. PS. We’ll be doing it all again in October 2014. Join us?

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(Some) of the things we got up to…

  • Sketched out what our friends, family, colleagues & we think ‘we do’
  • Shared in-depth stories of each other 3 hours after meeting for the first time
  • Reframed & broke-down our fears, barriers and blockers
  • Asked big hairy questions…’well if I really could do anything, I’d probably…’
  • Played the Queen Bee
  • Hacked v1.0 of our Escape Plans, first horizons
  • Committed to peer-to-peer skypes

and away from the post-its and ruffled brows we…

  • Ate like Kings & Queens (Grazie Costa)
  • Embraced the Umbrian ‘spring-time’ climate
  • Crunched our abs during morning Pilates
  • Conquered Jerry’s ‘Cantina’ & Flavio’s Flirtations
  • Got lost in Gubbio
  • Planted bamboo. Fed the pigs.
  • Danced with Pablo the baby goat + beat the bongos.
  • Made pasta not war!

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Escapee #1

It normally takes me a few days to unwind into a break, as I work at such a ferocious pace in a very high pressure job it’s difficult to switch it off. But within a couple of hours in Umbria my shoulders had dropped from their usual stressed-out hunch and I was happily swapping stories with my fellow escapees. I was almost skipping down the country lanes and I realised it was the release of being away from London and sharing my potential escape ideas with others.

The food and hospitality throughout the entire trip was amazing. Mumblings from around the dinner table included: “this is the best pasta I’ve ever eaten in my life!”, and: “do you think the chef would marry me if I asked nicely?”. Don’t even get me started on the wine. I came away from the trip mentally a few pounds lighter and physically a few pounds heavier.

Over a few days we went on a journey towards making our escape plans. I ended up drawing mine out as a picture – it’s cryptic enough to have on the inside door of my locker at work and I check in with it every few days.

I’ve already met up with some of my fellow escapees following the trip. We plan to support each other as we put our plans into action and help ourselves maintain some of the focus we found in Umbria.

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Escapee #2

The weekend for me was really a catalyst to realising that I can leave this chunk of my life behind, that is making me unhappy. Funnily as a result, I’m not now sure that fitness is what is going to work for me, I hope it will in some way but being given the time to proactively think about my career rather than just day dream, has opened my mind up to the freedom of clearly thinking through my options. I found the exercise of flipping the negative aspects of what is holding me back, really liberating. The challenge will be to hold on to those alternative views as bills roll in!

Monestevole is simply perfect. Even amidst the wind and rain, it was the most wonderful setting for our weekend. Again, it opened my eyes to possibility of throwing conventionality out the window and heading off to enjoy life. It made me question why we trudge on being unhappy stuck in the trappings of the life we’ve created.  I don’t think that I will be making immediate changes to my life but I know that if I hadn’t come on this superb weekend, I wouldn’t have had the guts to actually break free.

On a final note, I think one of the biggest bonuses of the weekend was the incredibly lovely people to share it with. We were all quite different in our own ways, but everyone I look forward to seeing again. There is an open offer to hold any reunion (or new escape meeting) at my house should the need arise!

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Escapee #3

The escape weekend was overwhelmingly positive from my point of view. In fact, it was possibly too successful because I’ve found it incredibly difficult to settle back into work since!

Aside from being a great opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Umbrian countryside with a group of fantastic people and lots of amazing food, it has fundamentally shifted my point of view on how I view my future. Prior to the escape weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking ‘I hate my job: how do I escape?’ whereas now my focus is ‘I love my idea: how do I make it happen?’ It’s been a subtle but powerful shift from feeling trapped to wanting to achieve something that I feel passionately about.

The entire experience of Tribewanted was brilliant – the location and accommodation are fantastic and the people couldn’t be more welcoming. Being able to take part in the things that were happening such as the bamboo planting and pig feeding contributes to making it feel like a community that you are a part of rather than a place you are temporarily staying in. I have already recommended it to several other people and would have no hesitation about going back.

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About Tribewanted

At Tribewanted we’re building a collection of the very best off-grid community holiday experiences. Join us on location in Africa or Italy and become a tribe member and earn a 20% discount on your trips + between 1 and 5 free night stay a year.

When is the next Escape to Umbria? 17-20 October 2014

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What is Escape the City all about then?

> We decided to build a community around the idea that life is too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you.

> Our Mission: Help people reject unfulfilling work – make career changes, build businesses, go on big adventures. 

The Escape School is Escape the City’s education arm – “the life, career and startup education you never got at school”.

> Subscribe to fresh Escape the City blog posts here – stories and lessons learned from 5 years helping people escape.

> We are hard at work on the main site matching people to exciting jobs that matter to them – grab your Escape Profile.

> Want to chat? Best place to reach us is @escthecity on Twitter and www.facebook.com/EscapetheCity.

> Want to learn more? Check out The Escape Manifesto (poster) and consider reading our eponymous book.

> Why? Because smart, ambitious people should be doing work that matters – to them and to the world.

www.escapethecity.org – “Do Something Different!”

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At Tribewanted, we’ve been working with the founders & owners of Guludo, Amy & Neal Carter-James, and we’re very excited to announce that together we are now opening up this wonderful lodge & community to our members. 

Guludo is a tropical barefoot paradise, set on a 12km powder-white beach in the Quirimbas National Park. Accommodation provides everything you need and nothing you don’t; barefoot luxury never felt more indulgent. Guludo offers scuba diving, humpback whale watching, visiting tropical islands and spending time in the local community.

Guludo has won countless awards for it’s approach to responsible tourism and today, through their charity Nema, partners with 16 communities (24,000 people) helping them sustainably eradicate poverty. 

Tribe members can now book a stay at Guludo, including a 20% discount.

See you on the beach in Mozambique!

A lot of the projects I work on tend to be online. This has big upsides: mobility of work, flexibility of work, cross-pollination of work. But the downside is I often spend a disproportionate amount of time with my battery-inefficient macbook. What this means is that each month I make sure I have at least one offline project (more than just an event or meeting) that I’m committed to doing. Ideally two or three.

Here’s what I’ve got in the pipeline this Spring. See you there!

1. THNK Accelerator Festival

Why am I going? To re-connect with friends and THNKrs on projects we’re all working on, to discover new great projects and people and to enjoy fine Dutch hospitality.

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2. Tribewanted Monestevole Season 2 Opening & Digital Detox

Why am I going? To join my Umbrian family for the celebration of a new season and all the good things Monestevole brings, and to discuss with tribe members and visiting guests how best to manage our tech diets.

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3. Hunter Gather Cook Treehouse HQ Opening

Why am I going? I love treehouses and I’m working with Nick Weston and friends on building a community around getting more people into trees. If our kickstarter goes well we’ll be building the foraging school’s new HQ and hosting a bunch of the backers for a wild cocktails party in the woods.

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I spoke at the Escape School event this week and shared some of these insights that have helped me over the years stick to work I want to be doing (almost) everyday. Let me know what else guides you.

1. Think in 3 Horizons – but only execute on 1st and 3rd. 

Horizon 1: What are you doing now / this week / month to set you on the path you want to go on? Act. Do. Make something happen.

Horizon 2: What’s going to happen between now and the long-term? You don’t know. Things change. A lot. So, don’t waste time planning too much.

Horizon 3: Where do you want to be in 5 years? What values will underpin this lifestyle? Who will you be working with? Always keep this in mind.

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2. Write a letter to yourself from the future

It’s 2019. Write a letter to yourself saying what you’ve achieved over the last 5 years and how you’ve done it. This may sound stupid but it’s a great way to visualize where you want to go and what really matters. Exchange letters with a friend or mentor if it seems weird doing it by yourself.

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3. Less is More. 

Simplify everything. This isn’t just about great UX. It can be about a lot of your life.

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4. Master the most important venn diagram in the world

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5. Write an Escape List and pin it on your wall (fridge. facebook. bathroom)

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6. Don’t let being comfortable kill your ambition, because it will. 

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7. Bin the CV. Build a Story. 

I might be wrong but I think CVs won’t be around forever. What matters when I meet someone is whether they’re doing something they really want to be doing and have gone out and built the skills and experience necessary to do that thing better. There are SO many good web tools for sharing your story, there’s no excuse.

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8. Do one thing exceptionally well rather than everything just well. 

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9. Always try and escape the ‘vicious circle of badness’ @davecorn

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10. Use stimulants! Coffee for productivity. Beer for creativity. Water for life.

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I was recently discussing with a friend how to balance paid work with working on your own startups, especially in those leaner times. Here’s what I came up with. Not rocket science, nor the solution for everyone – but this approach has helped me. Let me know what’s worked for you too.

Woodland sunrise taken at The Lodge, Bedfordshire by Stuar Geeves (rspb-images.com)

1. Pay it Forward – I know it’s frustrating when you work on things that don’t pay you straight away but I’m a big believer in give before take. Loving new ideas and supporting people on their career/startup journey is actually a pleasure, at least from a karma point of view!

2. Drop the CV & build a page that shows off why you’re different (and therefore valuable). Tell you story! I’ve used Strikingly. It’s free and looks a whole lot better than a CV.

3. Ask yourself what you would really be happy/fulfilled doing? Then build everything else around that. If the answer is running your own business, in what? And then, how? If that means working on it part-time for 12 months whilst you freelance, do that.

4. The right freelance work takes time to get – I’ve always done a little of this but now (because of a new family arrival) I’m making much more of an effort. In fact, I’ve used my wife’s pregnancy as a timeline to get the contracts signed. The result? I spent Sept-December meeting and networking with people I wanted to work with/for. It really only costed me my time and coffee and I’ve now got 3 interesting paid projects. Yes, they’ve taken time to close and they’re not enough yet for this years income target, but at least I’m working on things I want to be doing (which means I should do a better job) and then I use the rest of my time to work on my own startups.

5. Collaboration increases productivity - I’ve spent a lot of the last few years working mainly on one project with one or two people. I’m now working on 4 or 5 projects with a lot more – yes, I have to be organised – but I think I’m getting better and more productive at what I do.

6. Hibernate from email – Less is more. I’ve always told myself this with projects. But I’m not very good at practicing it. This year I’ve started taking weekly 24 hour email fasts – what we used to call ‘a weekend’ before blackberrys and apps changed things. I’ve learnt that enforced regular time away from my inbox has lots of upsides – and most of them are work based. If you’re interested in reclaiming your tech health, come hibernate with me.

digital-detoxWhen did the addiction begin?

April 2006 (although I wasn’t aware of it at the time). It was the time my first startup project – Tribewanted – took off. We had just shared the idea of forming an online community to support  the development of an on-island (Vorovoro in Fiji) eco-tourism project. The Metro newspaper mentioned us and then my relatively quiet inbox went bananas.

How did it feel?

Amazing. People were signing-up (and paying) in droves to join the tribe. Every paypal notification was like a shot of something good into the bloodstream. Every ‘woo-yeah’ note of excitement, a kicker, a high, an endorphin rush.

What happened next?

Well, it kind of spiraled. More members, more excitement and then the questions and challenges came…not in a great flood, but certainly a growing swell, and I started to notice that I’d be spending almost all my time tapping away at my keyboard, managing the growth, responding to the questions. I struggled to find time to eat, let alone exercise, reflect on what was happening or hang-out with friends and family.

Has anything changed since then?

Well Tribewanted grew and slowed and grew again. And the years went by. And other projects happened. And facebook and twitter happened. And life happened. But, some of those early online habits (and ongoing challenges with the way I work online) have never really gone away:

1. The futile journey to the lost city of ‘Inbox Zero’

Every-time a note pops up (gbox, twitbox, facebox…wherever) it often feels like it doesn’t matter how big the sand castle is we’re building the tide will swallow it. When traveling, the cliche goes that the journey is the destination. In gmail, the journey often feels like we’re trying to get to Mordor while carrying about 25 rings.

I’ve fought the gmail orcs with some success with weapons like sanebox (instead of an insane box) and unroll (simplify your subscriptions) but I need something more…something that changes my habits.

2. The distraction trap: Tweetdeck & Hootsuite you bastards!

Can I get to the end of this blog without clicking on another browser. Seems not…my wife just asked me the surname of someone. I checked on facebook and I’m pulled into more notifications including one titled ‘what happened to Downtime?’ (I’m being distracted by an article talking about distraction whilst writing about distraction – its a post-modern ironic mess)… damn, 5 more minutes gone.

3. Binge Browsing Vs Serendipitous Surfing

And as a result of the weariness of the journey to inbox zero and the distraction trap…I find it difficult to differentiate between binging on online content like a never-ending conveyer belt of fast-food that just looks and smells so good that I just don’t know what might come out of the kitchen next, so I’ll hang around a little longer AND surfing the wonderful web and discovering some of my favorite things in the world.

I’ve tried plugins like Momentum and it helps, but only a little. I want to be more focused and have as healthy a tech diet as I do with the food I eat.

So what now?

Well I’ve been talking about this with friends for a while. More than half of me still feels like tech  has set us free. Really. The people, projects, ideas and experiences I’ve had since April 2006 have been phenomenal. But I think I’ve compromised too much and given the screen too much attention. So, now I’m proposing to myself, my friends and anyone else who wants to join me to actively takes step to reclaim control of our tech tools. For that’s what they are – tools for us to use to better our lives, to go on great adventures and to change the world.

I’m going to start small. I’ve taken a pledge, to take 24 hour ‘e-fasts’ (email fasts) at least once a week. Zero email. A digital detox. And in that time I will focus on projects (yes, still work) and people that don’t come in the form of lists or notifications. I hope this becomes a habit. I’m starting my first deliberate e-fast now – Midday on Tuesday 31st December 2013. Why don’t you join me in hibernating in 2014?

Night ceremony

A scented candle. A personal city tour. An airport pick up. A special playlist. A great dinner. A new friend. Good hospitality makes a difference. We all know that.

But what if good hospitality – sharing our place, way of life & favorite things could do more than simply make people smile and add an Instagram memory or two?

For the last 10 years or so I’ve been part of, witnessed and learnt about hospitality experiences that have done more than just provide good memories. Hospitality thats changed lives. Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambqiue, for example, has only 10 rooms but has already impacted over 25,000 local people’s health or education.

But as inspiring as places like Guludo are, they are only individual examples in isolated places. They have not scaled. The ‘responsible/eco/community tourism’ movement is still only on the fringes of mainstream travel.

Recently, however, something has changed.

The Sharing Economy. 

We’ve started sharing extraordinary hospitality through a new open, online peer-to-peer economy. In hospitality terms first there was Couchsurfing – stay on a couch anywhere for free; the hippy travelers ultimate online community. Then there were smaller projects like ours, Tribewanted, which focused on one or two locations by crowdfunding their development and engaging people online as well as locally. Now, of course, in Airbnb we have perhaps the most disruptive and fastest growing hospitality business ever. Watching Airbnb’s Open Live event the other day and listening to the team talk passionately about how they see themselves enabling a global army of amazing hosts to share their talents, homes and generosity with curious travelers AND make money – it became more and more obvious that this is just the tip of the iceberg for hospitality with impact.

During Hurricane Sandy in New York, Airbnb host, Shell, decided to let her apartment out for free to victims of the storm. 24 hours later 400 more Airbnb hosts had done the same.

Imagine if that started to happen in places where food, water and shelter are needed more than just during a one-off crisis? How far could an army of networked hosts go?

Could global communities like Airbnb bring their equity spread and host empowerment model to the people and places that really need it, and would there be a demand in such places?

Smartphone access is clearly key – Airbnb has recognised this – but then barriers to entry are low both for potential hosts and guests.

Extraordinary hospitality is about sharing the best of you. Could this action of peaceful giving be a more powerful act than we could have previously imagined?

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