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Rethinking Impact at Rustic Pathways and our Alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
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Rethinking Impact at Rustic Pathways and our Alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The world has changed a lot since we established our first service project in 1996—global travel is more popular than ever before, community development practices are more robust, and global goals have been redefined to unite organizations toward collaborative impact.

So too have travelers. They want to travel sustainably with companies that demonstrate responsible travel practices. And they want more authentic local experiences that support local communities and their economies.

To meet the demands of a changing world and push ourselves to be better, I’m excited to announce Rustic Pathways’ company-wide alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals is just one of a number of ways we’re reimagining the impact our programs will have on students and our projects will create for partners in communities around the world.

We as an organization are thinking strategically and creatively to raise the bar for how travel companies can and should operate in remote communities while aligning with best practices.

For years we’ve evaluated our student and community impact—if students experience the expected personal growth on programs and whether our service projects meet the needs of the community partners they’re designed to benefit. We publish the results of that analysis in our annual Impact Report.

In 2018, more than 97 percent of our students grew in at least one learning outcome their programs were designed to foster. Those students completed more than 187,000 hours of community service while contributing to 195 projects in 21 countries. In addition, we contributed nearly $1 million in local communities through dollars spent facilitating our programs and fundraising by our nonprofit Rustic Pathways Foundation. We also employ more than 150 full-time staff who call those communities home.

But we can do more.

Aligning our existing work with the Sustainable Development Goals will allow us to take what we’re already doing a step further. Our service work will contribute directly to Sustainable Development Goals such as improving access to education, protecting and preserving the environment, and ensuring access to basic human needs such as clean water, quality education, and adequate food—among others. Not only will our community service outcomes contribute to the 17 goals the UN is working to address by 2030, but everything we do as an organization will be guided by those core principles.

Here are the other ways that we’re rethinking our student and community impact:

Community-Centered Approach

While our work is now aligned with larger global initiatives like the Sustainable Development Goals, our focus will remain local. Our projects will be developed in collaboration with our partners to support existing initiatives and to create a sustainable and lasting impact.

Read more about our community-centered approach to creating new partnerships and programs.

Global Impact Committee

In the last two years, we’ve invested heavily in people to help us push our community impact to the next level. We’ve hired a team of six full-time development professionals responsible for building and maintaining relationships with community partners, designing and managing projects, and measuring and evaluating the impact of our work. These Community Impact Managers have strong backgrounds in community and international development, and a deep understanding of local challenges.

Read more about Rustic’s Global Impact Committee and their work.

Service Learning

Our programs are designed to help students develop skills, habits, and mindsets associated with future success. They’re also intended to give students an understanding of global challenges and equip them with the tools to start creating change at a local level. We’re trying to create globally-minded self-aware young men and women committed to making change.

Read more about how we’re incorporating service learning into our programs.

Eco-Ambassador Program

Each of the 21 countries where we operate have an Eco-Ambassador, a local representative who leads efforts to ensure our environmental sustainability across our global operations. This includes creative recycling programs in the Dominican Republic, becoming carbon neutral in Fiji, and banning single-use plastic products during our programs in Costa Rica and Australia.

Learn more about Rustic’s environmental sustainability efforts.

Rustic Pathways Foundation

The nonprofit arm of Rustic Pathways funds initiatives that address issues our community partners deem to be the most pressing, and then leverages the support of the global Rustic Pathways community for development and implementation. Rustic Pathways provides the Foundation’s operating expenses, which means that 100% of donations go directly to projects on the ground

Learn more about the Rustic Pathways Foundation and its work.

Impact Ambassador Program

The Rustic Pathways Foundation Impact Ambassador Program allows students to stay involved and connected with the community impact efforts taking place anywhere in the world. Our most engaged travelers raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to fund a dozen Foundation projects that provide ongoing support to our community partners around the world.

Read more about our Impact Ambassador Program.

At Rustic Pathways, our mission is to empower students through innovative and responsible travel experiences to positively impact lives and communities around the world. These new initiatives put us in a position to do that better than at any point in our history. Stay tuned for updates about our progress and how we’re hoping to inspire other travel companies to follow our lead.


Click below to get more information about our global impact at Rustic Pathways.

About the Author

Andrea Bouch

Executive Director, Rustic Pathways Foundation

Andrea has spent her career exploring social impact and sustainable development while working in microfinance, impact investing, philanthropy, education, and tech. Andrea traveled with Rustic Pathways as a high school student in 1997 and has since visited 50+ countries. She holds an MBA in nonprofit management and international development from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where she was also an adjunct professor in social entrepreneurship, and a BA from UC San Diego. A California native, she has lived in Chile, Guatemala, and Switzerland and considers travel a central component of her happiness.