If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the Rustic Pathways ethos: Education, Travel, Philanthropy. We pride ourselves on being a leader in student travel and providing young people with life-changing educational experiences, and we think we’re pretty darn good at that. What you may not know is that we are also an impact driven company that believes strongly in our responsibility to actively contribute to the communities where we travel. One of the ways we do this is through the Rustic Pathways Foundation—a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting high-priority needs within the communities where Rustic travels.
Here’s how it works:
1. First, the Rustic Pathways Foundation works with communities around the world to identify locally-driven, sustainable projects that directly address a high priority need.
2. Then, students, alumni, and parents of Rustic trips support these projects by donating and/or setting up fundraising pages to collect even more donations. Rustic Pathways (the company) supports all administrative expenses of the Foundation, so 100% of donations go directly to the projects on the ground.
3. Lastly, the Rustic Pathways Foundation collects all these funds and works alongside local partners to implement the solution.
Here’s a recent example: Yorkin is a rural community in Costa Rica, nestled between the Panamanian border and the Caribbean Sea only reachable only by boat, and home to the Bribri people—an indigenous group within Costa Rica. Rustic Pathways has been working with the community for more than 10 years. Access to clean drinking water is a daily challenge for people and they have been working on plans to build a new aqueduct that will vastly improve the quality of life. The Rustic Pathways Foundation selected the Bribri Aqueduct project as one of 14 projects funded in 2016, and to date students have raised more than $24,000 of a $30,000 goal. One student, Daniel Chan of Beijing, has raised almost $17,000 on his own!
Philanthropy is a core aspect of who we are, and with that in mind we couldn’t be more excited to introduce the new Executive Director of the RP Foundation–Andrea Bouch. We’ll let Andrea tell you a bit about herself, but just know that this is a new era for our commitment to making a positive impact in the world and we are so excited that you are on this journey with us.
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you begin working for Rustic Pathways?
I’ve spent my career exploring social impact from many different angles. I’ve worked in microfinance, impact investing, philanthropy, education, and tech. The common theme across all my jobs is that I’m always searching for new ways to bring about true change and to help make the world better for everyone—regardless of where you were born.
On a personal note, travel has always been central to my happiness. I’ve visited somewhere around 50 countries and take every opportunity I can to hop on a plane. Working at the Rustic Pathways Foundation is an awesome intersection of my personal passion for travel and my professional aspirations as a change seeker!
What are some of your goals for the Rustic Pathways Foundation and what are you most excited about? How do you plan to partner with Development Ambassadors?
I’m so excited about joining the Rustic Pathways Foundation team that it’s hard to pick just one thing I’m most excited about!
First and foremost, I’m looking forward to exploring new ways of ensuring that Rustic Pathways works responsibly and sustainably with the communities where we work and travel. Many of the projects we fund are prioritized by the communities themselves (clean water, schools, basic sanitation, etc.) and these types of locally-driven projects can sometimes be hard to complete without outside involvement. Rustic Pathways is uniquely positioned to support these communities and I look forward to expanding this support to more projects and countries in the coming years.
I’m also super excited to work with our growing community of Development Ambassadors! The Rustic student community is so passionate about supporting the communities where they’ve traveled and I think there’s amazing opportunity to grow student involvement even more. Our generation is changing the (old) traditional philanthropic model and Rustic students are at the forefront of this change.
You’re a Rustic Pathways alum. What was your experience like as a Rustic student?
I am a Rustic Pathways alum, although it surprises me to realize how long ago that was! I went to Australia with Rustic Pathways in 1997 and had an amazing time. Back then, all the Rustic trips were adventure-based, so we went skydiving, whitewater rafting, and rock climbing. It was really fun to meet students from all over the United States and to travel in a new country. That said, if I’m being really honest, I wish some of the awesome current Rustic trips had been available back then!
What’s your craziest travel story?
One of my favorite stories was on an overnight camel ride in Western India. I grew up riding horses competitively and was constantly asking our skeptical guide if we could go faster. He finally agreed, so once we were almost back in his village he unloaded the packs from our camels, drew a finish line in the sand, and we headed back out (maybe a half mile) before turning back and racing toward the town. A group had formed so there were many witnesses to me winning the race! The village then tried to convince me to stay and train with them to become the “best female camel jockey in the region.” Every once in a while I think about what my life would be like if I’d opted to stay…
You’ve worked in Guatemala, Switzerland, Kenya, and India, in addition to the USA. What interests you about working in international and global organizations? What have you learned from these experiences?
I fundamentally believe that everyone should experience working in at least one country outside of their own. There is so much perspective, humility, and knowledge to be gained by experiencing different cultures, on many personal and professional levels.