Courtesy of OneSeed Expeditions
Photo by Cathryn J. Wile, courtesy of OneSeed Expeditions
Ninety percent of loans have gone to women entrepreneurs.
The first installment in our Tour Operators That Give Back series meets an outfitter that believes adventure and entrepreneurial hustle go hand in hand.
What makes the best adventure travel experiences stay in our memories for years? Perhaps it’s a combination of the challenge of pushing ourselves in the great outdoors and the connections we make with people along the way. With a goal of investing in local people while inviting its guests to explore the world, OneSeed Expeditions seeks not just to provide the best trekking, hiking, biking, rafting, and kayaking experiences around the globe—but also to partner with locally owned businesses to maximize the benefit from tourism.
OneSeed offers group and custom trips at a variety of difficulty levels in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Georgia, Nepal, Peru, and Tanzania. On the easy side, you could take day hikes to explore the salt flats of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, or trek in the Greater Caucasus mountain range in Georgia. Or you could dial your excursion to the max by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or trek through Hindu and Tibetan villages and forests on the Manaslu Circuit in Nepal. During the COVID-19 pandemic, OneSeed expanded its trip offerings to include adventures inside the United States, such as dog sledding in Maine, backpacking in Glacier National Park, and kayaking the San Juan Islands.
What makes a trip with OneSeed special is that the organization partners with communities to ensure that tourism directly supports local guides and local entrepreneurs. When you travel with OneSeed, 10 percent of your trip cost is invested in local microfinance institutions (MFIs). They, in turn, lend seed capital to small entrepreneurs as a microcredit that’s repaid over the course of the loan term as the entrepreneur launches or expands their business. Take Judith, founder of Malau Bakery in Tanzania, who used a series of small business loans to grow her bakery. She’s been able to employ 69 people in the bakery itself and 200 people indirectly, for deliveries and other tasks.
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OneSeed’s founder, Chris Baker, began visiting Nepal as an 18-year-old backpacker, returning several times. In 2007, he lived there for an extended time while working with microfinance platform Kiva to help facilitate its partnership with a local microfinance institution that was giving small business loans in the Kathmandu Valley.
“One day, I was in the Khumbu region watching the stream of trekkers going up to Everest Base Camp with the equivalent of the average Nepali citizen’s per capita income being worn by each trekker,” he says. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I just saw this incredible opportunity and then the space between that and where the entrepreneurs I was working with on the microfinance side who were doing so much with relatively small amounts of capital—but the barriers to that capital are so high.”
In Nepal, those barriers range from inheritance laws to limitations on access and banking for women, and they place a high bar on the ability to get anything close to a traditional loan. “We saw the development of entrepreneurship as a way to have a meaningful impact in places like Nepal, where a lot of benefit from tourism may take place in the valley where the trail is, but not in the next valley over,” says Baker.
OneSeed started with work in Nepal and then expanded to South America and grew from there. In 2020, the company celebrated its 10th year of operation, with a team of 65 guides spanning speaking 13 languages, and running more than 30 different expeditions.
OneSeed is a Certified B Corporation, a business that meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance purpose and profit. B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end, delivering a positive impact for communities, employees, and the environment.
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“It’s important to understand that just like in the United States, if you give someone a loan, that doesn’t ensure business success,” says Baker. “It doesn’t always work. And we have to be careful about that, so we’re not just dropping money on a situation and then everything is fine. I think when we acknowledge that, it changes the perception of the borrower. This is not a recipient of aid, this is an entrepreneur who is using a tool. We’re not just handing them a solution. They are the ones making things work.”
OneSeed shares data like how many loans have been dispersed (836 so far), total amount invested to date ($374,335), the average loan size ($448), and how that loan might compare to a percentage of per capita income in that place. Around 90 percent of loans have gone to women entrepreneurs. Although 10 percent of each traveler’s trip cost goes to local entrepreneurs, the organization doesn’t include visits to those borrowers on excursions, to avoid adding the expectation that borrowers must tell their story for a stream of visitors.
When selecting their suppliers, OneSeed has several priorities: The supplier must be independently owned (with preference given to underrepresented populations), located in the community where the service is being given, follow all local laws and industry best practices with respect to ethical management, and meet or exceed industry standards in its energy and supply sourcing. Since its very first trips, OneSeed has practiced Leave No Trace principles and began in 2020 to offset all emissions from expeditions and business operations to reach carbon neutrality.
“We want to see the value in our work as an outfitter and creating value for communities through every single part of our trip,” says Baker. “We need to be really good on the adventure travel side of the business, but we’re also trying to communicate what entrepreneurship looks like in that country—what the opportunities and challenges are for those entrepreneurs.”
Through local guides, OneSeed provides an opportunity for travelers to have a deeper and more meaningful experience, by bringing different voices and perspectives where even in simple moments—such as conversations around the dinner table—guests learn about what it’s like to live in this particular place.
“We often get comments from travelers like, ‘I came to see Machu Picchu and it was wonderful, but the best part of my trip was playing cards with the guides in the evening and talking about being parents,’” says Baker. “That connection is really powerful.”
>> Next: Epic Trips That Give Back
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