Travel, with a purpose

According to the World Tourism Organization, more than 1.1 billion tourists traveled abroad last year. Clearly, there’s money in the tourism industry. But when was the last time you took a vacation and actually thought about how your travel dollars were impacting someone else’s livelihood?

Onwards, a new Wisconsin-based, travel-with-purpose nonprofit, is aiming to change that by getting vacationers to interact directly with individuals and businesses it has supported through loans, training, and revenue.

Founded by UW–Madison graduate Jacob Taddy and his sister, Christina, Onwards was born in 2012 when Taddy recognized a need to shift how he and others were talking about and providing domestic and international aid. Onwards seeks to shift from short-term solutions and volunteer projects to long-term, sustainable economic development.

Onwards supports tourism-based microenterprise development. That is, the organization provides loans, training, and revenue for businesses such as guide organizations, restaurants, small hotels, and anything else that can benefit from community-tourism. Then they create trips to these businesses that provide immersive travel experiences where dollars are going to support community development and ultimately help alleviate poverty.

Now Onwards, which already has a presence in Milwaukee, is coming to Madison. The organization will provide Madison-area residents with immersive travel experiences that contribute to social good and community development.

Taddy, who has a background working in aid — primarily short-term, construction-based, service trips — notes these kinds of programs are often not sustainable, focus on hand-outs versus a hand-up, and do not empower communities to have control over their own future.

“While studying abroad in the Dominican Republic, I had my first hands-on experience with small-business development helping to create a cooperative of artisan women,” Taddy says. “This experience really proved to me the importance of meaningful work (especially among impoverished communities), not only for income, but for purpose.

“In addition, myself and my sister, Christina, had always seen the positive benefits of travel, both economically and personally,” he continues. “Connecting people not only changed outlooks and encouraged people to be global-minded citizens, but paying for your meal in a locally owned small business really could feed a family as well.”

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Taddy says the decision to bring Onwards to Madison was a no-brainer. “Madison is and will always be home. I graduated from Middleton High School and then from UW–Madison with a degree in Community and Non Profit Leadership.

“Forward, the state motto — quite similar to our organization name — is certainly representative of the Madison community,” he adds. “As we try to shift the way in which we, as a society, think about international aid, we believe the Madison community is a perfect population to evaluate, understand, and get behind our vision to empower individuals, connect people, and transform travel.”

For its next fundraising campaign, Onwards is preparing a “Your donation = your next vacation” theme for its branding. By supporting Onwards, vacationers will empower entrepreneurs in developing countries to start/expand tourism-based businesses, Taddy explains. In addition, all donations made in September 2015 can be used toward a trip with Onwards during the next two years. So, invest in Raquel’s Bnb in La Cumbre Dominican Republic now, and visit her and her business on your next vacation.

“The idea of ‘buying local’ is a familiar concept to most here in Madison,” says Taddy. “But that idea doesn’t always translate abroad or when traveling. A large part of our mission is educating people that our travel choices matter. Where we choose to spend our money matters, both here in Madison and anywhere else.”

  According to Taddy, Onwards has already piloted development projects, based on lending and training, and trips in communities in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. While those countries were great starting points, he says those at Onwards are excited, after seeing proof of concept, to replicate the models elsewhere. Onwards will continue to seek community partners and organizations in other Caribbean and Latin American countries that could benefit from its services and more community-based travel. Prospective next countries include El Salvador and Honduras.

There may also be opportunities to implement its model domestically, Taddy notes, including right here in Wisconsin.

“We believe our model has beauty in its simplicity, and could certainly be implemented in larger, more developed areas, perhaps even Wisconsin. The services we provide are generally unavailable in the communities in which we work. Loan rates are often extraordinarily high and training is either unavailable or too expensive. I would love, at some point, to provide more resources — or connections to existing resources — for businesses here in the USA, but that will likely be a bit down the road.”

Onwards is holding its Madison launch party from 6–8 p.m. Sept. 8 at Capital Brewery, 7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton. The event is open to the public, and insights about the organization’s unique approach to travel will be shared.

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