Updated: May 13, 2020

Communities are so important, especially during this time. In this blog series, we spoke to three leaders who build communities around travel and sustainability. They gave us their insight on what they are doing to change the way they build community during this time.

This interview is with Kelley Louise. A travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and sustainability, Kelley is the founder of Impact Travel Alliance, a nonprofit and community aimed at teaching travelers how to spend their money mindfully so that they have a positive impact on local communities and the environment. She also runs Elsewhere Agency, a boutique creative agency for clients in the travel/impact space.

Kelley has built her career through carefully selected opportunities in the United States and abroad, including leadership roles in entrepreneurial endeavors, social impact projects and media strategy. A content creator herself, Kelley is an avid photographer and writer. Kelley is a passionate connector and has an innate ability to build loyal and diverse communities.

In all of your work, what have you learned about the importance of building community?

Kelley Louise: Community is at the heart of our organization, and always has been. Impact Travel Alliance represents an inclusive group of curious travelers passionate about sustainable tourism – a type of travel that is far too often considered a niche within the industry.

I wrote this in a letter to our local chapter leaders recently, and it rings true to our focus on community: We are often considered the underdogs, but we are the innovators and the pioneers. We are the ones who have the courage to imagine a better future, and to push forward with the vision to build it.

By joining a community of 20k+ travelers around the world, our network offers a space to know that you’re not alone, and there are others by your side to lift you up. Sometimes, that reassurance is all you need to change the world.

How did the coronavirus impact your organization and its plans for 2020? What changes do you anticipate for 2021 and beyond?

K.L.: At Impact Travel Alliance, we’re fortunate that we’ve always been very connected digitally. In-person events are a huge part of our organization, but on a deeper level, knowing that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself is what really fuels ITA.

At the beginning of 2020, we had mapped out our core events for the year, and our big event for May was slated to showcase ways travelers could support local communities. Perhaps serendipitously, that theme is now more relevant than ever, and it was an easy decision to transition that event to focus on how travelers can support locals today in an era of digital travel (visit our Facebook page for updates on all of our upcoming events).

Have you changed the way you build community right now? How have you responded? How do you plan to respond?

K.L.: In many ways, I’ve felt a sense of returning to my roots over the past few weeks. I launched ITA with a mostly digital team of volunteers, meeting in person only on a bi-weekly basis (and five years later, that’s still how our organization runs). With some of our larger-scale events, I’ve joked that my cat is an honorary team member because I’ve organized so many logistics from my couch with him by my side. We’re in the midst of strange times, but at least for me, there have been some little work habits that have been a comforting reminder of the ways in which I started ITA in the first place.

A digital focus on engaging our community has allowed us to bring our network together from different corners of the globe. In building ITA, we’ve invested so much into developing local networks at in-person events, and it’s been a really cool experience to help facilitate international connections for the first time.

There are opportunities everywhere, and I’m grateful for the creative problem solving we’ve had to do during this time to create those moments. That type of programming is something we’ll keep doing even in a post-coronavirus world.

What has been the impact of the coronavirus on your community’s members?

K.L.: The travel industry has been thrashed, and my heart aches for my peers within the industry. I don’t know of a single travel company that hasn’t been forced into layoffs and hard budget decisions, and the part that’s really difficult to grapple with is that there’s no finish line in sight for when travel will resume.

I wrote an article in mid-March urging travelers to stay home, despite the fact that my livelihood depends on the industry. Within two weeks, I lost 95% of my income. I’m sharing my story not because I’m looking for sympathy, but because I know that it’s not unique.

Our world is hurting, and community is needed more than ever. I’ve focused my energy on bringing our network together, and a huge part of that is just reminding myself that if I need some resources or support, my peers are probably seeking it as well. Shifting my perspective to focus on ways to support others is what has led me to spearhead some efforts like our webinar on best-practices for financials. We've focused a lot of our projects on community efforts like these and you can read about some more of our programming in one of our latest newsletters.

What advice do you have for everyone under quarantine, and in particular, travel lovers?

K.L.: First and foremost, take care of yourself – both mentally and physically. A quote that’s really resonated with me is the reminder that you’re not working from home; you’re working at home during a crisis. I’ve made a commitment to myself to focus on productive habits, such as a daily yoga practice, eating healthy and even little things like making my bed every day (this article offers some peace in navigating the roller coaster of emotions from life at home). For those of us with an insatiable wanderlust, remind yourself that quarantine will not last forever, and travel will return. Until then, you can keep dreaming – and the travel industry is getting creative with creating ways for you to experience the joy of travel from home. Whether it’s a workshop with an artist from the other side of the world or an opportunity to connect with new friends, the industry is reminding us that just because we can’t cross borders right now doesn’t mean that we can’t connect with the world around us.

When you look to the future, what are you hopeful for? What challenges do you foresee?

K.L.: If I could imagine the best possible scenario from what we’re going through right now – at least for travel – it’s that the industry would wake up to the harm tourism has inflicted on our world.

Travel has this beautiful potential to empower locals, protect our environment and transform us into global citizens. But mass tourism is plagued with exacerbating climate change, overcrowding destinations and creating generic and boring experiences.

Shifting our perception to value quality over quantity is so important, and perhaps the coronavirus could offer the industry a chance to reset the traditional approach. But as all good things are, it’s easier said than done, and a more sustainable travel industry requires buy-in from stakeholders all across the sector, and that’s a big undertaking for an industry that accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP. It’s a long road, but that’s why Impact Travel Alliance exists. What resources can you share?

K.L.: If you find yourself asking what you can do to help, remember that sustainability is a lifestyle that starts at home. Familiarize yourself with what sustainable tourism looks like, get really curious about the world around you and never stop learning. If you’re in need of some inspiration, you can always connect with our community of fellow travelers. If you’re interested in learning more about Kelley’s work and Impact Travel Alliance, visit:


Communities are so important, especially during this time. In this blog series, we spoke to three leaders who build communities around travel and sustainability. They gave us their insight on what they are doing to change the way they build community during this time.

This interview is with Marilyn Ball. Ball is the founder of 12Twelve Collaborative Solutions with 25+ years of marketing and communication experience in the tourism, economic development, hospitality and micro-enterprise industries. She has spoken on the subject of Family Travel Trends in the U.S at the Hawaiian Tourism Authority’s annual meeting, and was part of a delegation team promoting North Carolina tourism in Ireland and England.

Marilyn Ball is the host of Speaking of Travel, an iHeart Radio show and global podcast. She began Speaking of Travel as a way to incorporate her love of travel and adventure with a portal for great storytelling from others who have unique travel stories and inspiring, uplifting and enriching travel experiences.

In all of your work, what have you learned about the importance of building community?

Marilyn Ball: I believe community building is achieved through a collaborative approach focusing on a common purpose and a shared vision for the future. In my book, “The Rise of Asheville: An Exceptional History of Community Building,” I describe how our community came together with locals and newcomers reaching across cultural and financial divisions to join forces and work together to create economic development in a historically poor region, without compromising the cultural riches that make this place so unique. When a community joins hands and hearts together, unlimited possibilities open up.

How did the coronavirus impact your organization and its plans for 2020? What changes do you anticipate for 2021 and beyond?

M.B.: This year is a breakout year for Speaking of Travel. Podcasting over the years has created a larger audience and continues to grow and in this time of the coronavirus, when people are housebound and missing traveling, Speaking of Travel provides inspiring stories of travel and adventure that are evergreen. The latest journey might be on hold, but listening to dreamy narratives from the travel community continues to remind us of the importance of living in the moment and that the experiences and connections in life are what matter most.

I have changed up the template of the show to include time to bring in community leaders for updates on what resources are available for help, how the airport is doing and to also provide some encouraging and hopeful messages. Moving forward, I’ll continue to provide interesting and varied conversations from people around the world and right here in my backyard. In addition, I have started a new podcast with another in the works. The one running now is Real Kids, Real Stories. Each week I interview a child about what it’s like to be living in the age of the coronavirus. These interviews are about 6 minutes long and each child writes his or her own questions. Coming up will be Brothers and Sisters Like These… conversations with Vietnam vets who will tell their own stories, recite their poems or sing a handwritten piece of music, all part of a healing process grounded in the arts. This podcast will be in association with the NC Veteran’s Writing Alliance.

Have you changed the way you build community right now? How have you responded? How do you plan to respond?

M.B.: Speaking of Travel is about people and connections. The stories kindle travel. I continue to build this community around a variety of people: travel influencers, family, friends, authors, musicians, veterans, mentors and industry leaders. With so many attractions and organizations put on hold, I’m reaching out and offering complimentary space on Speaking of Travel for these folks to keep their messages alive. Some are doing virtual tours, others telling their stories. I run these as a “commercial” break. Now people are reaching out to me and asking for ways to participate, whether through a sweepstakes or another form of engagement. My platform is providing a place for the community to come together.

What has been the impact of the coronavirus on your community’s members?

M.B.: The Speaking of Travel community includes people who love to travel, travel Industry leaders, travel brands and others who love dreaming and being inspired by travel. They are proving to be a creative, mindful, informed community as we journey through this uncharted territory. They are encouraging people to stay local for now and observe social distancing. And many are using social media to keep their morale high with messages of hope and staying strong, providing reassurance and encouragement to think about future travel plans instead of the way things are right now.

What advice do you have for everyone under quarantine, and in particular, travel lovers?

M.B.: I want to remind everyone to always dream big, never letting go of the sense of wanderlust and curiosity. This is a perfect time to learn about other countries and cultures, even if you’re exploring from your sofa. Right now there are so many ways to experience the world through virtual tours, webcams, and live streams. Grab a good travel book and search for articles on travel destinations that you’d like to visit in the future. Or whip up some recipes from worldwide chefs and create an exotic dish in your own kitchen. Or why not take an online language course and be ready to travel to another country and speak that language? Bottom line is to seek out ways to stay connected to communities across the world.

When you look to the future, what are you hopeful for? What challenges do you foresee?

M.B.: I believe people will respond to the lowering of travel restrictions by traveling. Early studies are revealing people might stay closer to home initially, and then begin to venture further out as they begin to feel safe and secure. I have confidence in the long-term future of travel. And I am hopeful the environment and climate change will become more top-of-mind, with sustainability for the planet everyone’s top priority. Our biggest challenges will be in creating a clear vision, strong policies, and collective strategies to transform the way we think and how we create a sustainable global environment.

What resources can you share?

M.B.: Stay informed by checking in with a trusted source like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The U.S. Department of State. Also check out travel influencers like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Johnny Jet for current travel information.

If you’re interested in learning more about Marilyn’s work and her podcast, visit her at:




ExplorEquity founders Catarina Rivera and Remi Oguntoye, with Chef Gabriela Ramos

Last week, we partnered with Impact Travel Alliance to host an event celebrating World Food Day in New York City at the Coco-Mat store in SoHo. ExplorEquity co-founder Catarina Rivera joined chef Gabriela Ramos in conversation about all things sustainability, food, Puerto Rico, entrepreneurship, and more.

To kick off the evening, the animated crowd of over 40 attendees connected over a menu of plant-based Puerto Rican appetizers including alcapurrias, arroz con gandules, and a chia coconut tembleque dessert cooked by Chef Gabriela Ramos. Settled with full plates, the audience gathered around Catarina and Gabriela as they began discussing their connections to Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican cuisine. As Gabriela shared, “Through cooking I find my way back...it’s a way to connect back to your roots, where your family is.”

After learning about the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico, the Taínos, Gabriela began to gravitate toward eating food from the land and sea. “People think Puerto Rican food is heavy -- beans, rice, and meat -- with meat as a centerpiece, but it’s not. The Taínos ate as a community and sustainably hunted for food.” She further explained how diets were mostly plant-based with root vegetables, cashews and peanuts, as well as eating conch and clams from the ocean.

Chef Gabriela also offered some advice on getting started with a plant-based approach to food. “I think people are afraid of going vegan or cooking this kind of food - it's actually easier than we all think. It's just getting comfortable with the ingredients and getting in the kitchen.”

For those skeptical about forgoing meat - “It's just all about flavor. Sometimes you eat at these vegan restaurants and the portion is small and it's bland.” It’s also about the texture. ”I make croquettes with plátano and beans inside - a wonderful texture. I use a lot of garlic, and onions, and acid. It's the way you cook the food too - roasting is really nice right now because it's fall. You get a nice texture.”

Catarina spoke about the strong plant-based movement in Puerto Rico right now, with participation from farmers, bloggers, activists, chefs, and more. She mentioned the following organizations and people doing excellent work in this area: El Josco Bravo agroecological farm, Casa Vegana de la Comunidad, Cooperativa Organica Madre Tierra, and @borivegan, and @mindulgrub on Instagram.

As the conversation continued, the theme of sustainable tourism was highlighted. Impact Travel Alliance is a nonprofit aimed at improving the world through travel and educates travelers about the importance of sustainability. They define sustainable tourism as travel that has a positive impact on a destination’s environment, economy, and culture. ExplorEquity is engaged in sustainable tourism as part of its model, and Catarina spoke about how we only partnered with locally-owned businesses and organizations for our trip exploring food systems in Puerto Rico post-Maria. We wanted to ensure that our dollars actually benefited the local economy. She shared that a challenge we found was that sometimes these wonderful locally-owned entities didn’t have the best environmental sustainability practices so it’s going to take time and effort to achieve full sustainability in all its dimensions.

On entrepreneurship, Catarina and Chef Gabriela both offered their perspectives as Latina entrepreneurs. Both discussed their family’s responses to their entrepreneurial efforts and commented on the cultural values that are placed on stability and traditional careers. Catarina offered some wise advice about how to make boss moves and launch a business. “Don’t stay in the idea space too long. Even if it's something small, just start. Fail fast, send out an email, send out a survey.”

Both Catarina and Gabriela discussed tips on how to maintain productivity through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey, like the benefits of finding accountability mates, coworking spaces, or assistants through services like GenM, and how social media can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s important to take a step back to be creative, figure out what is for you, and follow that instinct.

On deciding to launch ExplorEquity and its first trip to Puerto Rico, Catarina talked about gut feeling and passion. “I feel it in my soul that this is the right approach, this is the right idea.” with Gabriela adding on - “I just try to figure out what my purpose is, just do it for me.”

What resonated for you about this conversation? What are your thoughts on plant-based eating and its connection to Puerto Rico or other Latino cultures? What kind of event would you like to see in the future? Comment to share your perspectives and join the conversation.

World Food Day is celebrated annually on October 16th to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and each year’s theme focuses on an aspect of food and ending hunger. The 2019 theme called for #ZeroHunger while also discussing the need to improve our diets, due to the global transition we have made from “seasonal, mainly plant-based and fibre-rich dishes to diets that are high in refined starches, sugar, fats, salt, processed foods, meat and other animal-source products.”