Andrew Motiwalla: Sustainable Success
Andrew Motiwalla is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Global Leadership Adventures and Discover Corps. Both of these organizations serve to promote sustainable tourism and community service work amongst youth and adults. Motiwalla says that his organizations “developed partnerships and relationships with non-profits around the world to partner with to send student groups to engage in service learning programs with - students travel, do service and give back to the local communities and learn. There is a reciprocal relationship between the community and our students”. Motiwalla also served in the Peace Corps in Honduras, claiming that this was his “activating experience” which inspired his life today.
While Motiwalla may have found his passion through his time in Honduras, he wasn’t always as service driven as he is today. In high school, he was focused on short term gains, but when he went to college and did a study abroad program, he realized something in his life was missing. He then took a break from college to live and work in Peru. Eventually he completed college and then went on to serve in the Peace Corps. After this, he wanted to start a study abroad program for university students. Based on his own high school experience, Motiwalla didn’t believe that high school students wouldn’t be ready for the topics and programs that he wanted to set up. He then met Fred Swaniker, who was starting ALA (African Leadership Academy), and was piloting a summer program that was turning into a high school. They, along with a few other GLA co-founders, generated the idea of expanding the summer program outside of just Africa. After he met the students at ALA he was very impressed at the level of discussion and interest in world issues amongst the youth. Motiwalla told us that he had “realised the world has changed. High school students were completely aware of global issues, they understood that there was poverty, issues around gender disparity, and all these things. They were hungry for a space and a place to talk about it.”
The kind of programs offered at GLA fulfills a “real need” for the youth that fulfill their desire to make change and reach beyond the bounds of college admissions.
Motiwalla’s story and success shows that you don’t need to find your purpose in high school, despite all the pressure that is put on students. As teenagers, we are often expected to know exactly what we want to do with our lives, but the reality is that we don’t need to be deciding right now. What can truly make us both successful, and happy is exploring our passions and talents whilst we are young and not burdened by the responsibilities of adulthood. We shouldn't need to cater to what friends, family, or schools want from us.
The passion for service and travel that Motiwalla discovered in the Peace Corps not only changed his career path, but it altered his life, which rerouted him onto a path of happiness and self fulfillment. His career in service caused many of his friends to praise Motiwalla for his actions, being referred to as “the good friend”. As I’m sure we are familiar within our own lives, it is easy to admire these individuals, whilst rejecting the idea of ourselves living a life of philanthropy. This may be the case for a myriad of reasons: money, disinterest, or feeling like this lifestyle isn’t as interesting. We may even be envious at times of these individuals' selflessness. However, Motiwalla in fact stumbled upon these opportunities through his search for adventure.
“I was just selfish and chasing the fun”
Motiwalla helped communities develop, whilst pursuing happiness. He was having “way too much fun”, whilst his friends who were working 9-5 having no fun, but earning “big money”.
“I have had 3 people who went to IVY Leagues, worked in corporate America, and have called me up and asked for jobs that pay peanuts at GLA.”
It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? When you work to get rich, many spend the money they make to fill this void we feel. We strive to have a high income so we can live comfortably, and spend it to enjoy luxurious things and splurge on holidays. This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone; unfortunately, much of the world lives paycheck to paycheck, working hard to pay for necessities such as medical bills, schooling and housing. However, in this context, we reference the privileged who are put on a path of “success” from a young age, with the mission to earn a lot of money. Many suffer in jobs they hate, day in and day out, pursuing happiness through the money they earn as a result of these tribulations. This may be a necessity for some, but for many, it is a choice to put ourselves in this position. Caught in the rat race of work hard, play hard - with debilitating mental health and lack of self fulfillment. Meanwhile, Motiwalla was “having fun all of the time”. Whilst there is nothing wrong with following a traditional career path, and enjoying expensive things, Motiwalla is a prime example of how being so selfless, can be so rewarding that it is almost selfish. We must not get trapped in the notion that a traditional career path is the only option. Whether it be parental, societal, or internal pressure, we often feel forced onto this path.
“I keep asking parents the question, Why?
Why does your kind need to do this? So that they can get into a good college.
Why do they need to get into a good college? So that they can get a good job.
Why do they need a good job? So they can earn a lot of money.
Why do they need a lot of money? Uh, because.. That’s the goal, right?
They have no answer for that, that is just the assumed goal.”
It would be ignorant to suggest that money doesn’t matter, however we need to reprioritize our needs in life. Additionally, education is more important now than ever, but it is vital we get everything in perspective. We sacrifice so much in our quest for success and self fulfilment, we lack compassion for not only others, but for ourselves. By reflecting on how we can better the world, whilst catering to our own passions, the world would not only be much better, but much happier.
“Why don’t we start creating a vision of success. Ask yourself: what is your vision of success? And work backwards from there.”
Money funds our fundamental human requirements; however, this doesn’t mean that we must use money to define success. We need oxygen to survive, yet we don’t revolve our self worth around the amount of oxygen we inhale. It sounds silly, but it's true. Oxygen, water, food, money, etc - we need it all to survive in today’s society, yet we can survive without defining our ability to obtain them as our measure of success. We are taught to sacrifice so much in order to “succeed” through a mission to become wealthy. Activism and service careers not only helps the world, but it can fill you with passion, happiness, and self fulfillment. This kind of career comes in all forms - from artistry to accountancy. Although this is not possible for all, it is a discussion that we need to have more often. Let this be your activating experience. Work hard, discover your passion, give back, and find happiness. Sounds like utopia - but only you can make it a reality. What do you want your legacy to be?
Motiwalla didn’t just learn about himself in the Peace Corps, he also learnt about sustainability. Not just environmental sustainability, but economic and holistic sustainability. This, however, wasn’t taught in a classroom or just explained to him, he learnt it through experience.
“Sustainability is the thing that underlies everything. It's the wrapper around this planet: the wrapper comes off and everything else comes off”
Motiwalla “spent a year and a half preaching organic farming and not cutting down the trees”, but that didn’t work because he was just trying to impose that thought on them. When he came up with the idea of a business to sell pine cones from protected forests that they could profit off of, they “totally got on board”. In this scenario, profit was the motivating factor that worked. Motiwalla said that “the community had to own it in the end, even after I left”, showing that in order for a project to be effective, it must come from the community. In fact, after this initiative, he realized that the most impactful community initiatives were the ones where he would “shut up and listen”, rather than thinking he knew what was best. “It was about hearing where the need was and asking myself how I can fit into this and help facilitate something”. We must think about issues on a global scale, but must act on a local scale. You can act “locally” all over the world - local doesn’t need to be where you were born, grew up, or even live - it just means you must pay attention and listen to the needs within the community in which you are acting in. This concept is vital in the climate crisis, as we must all take individual and local accountability for a global issue.
Achieving sustainability is key in international relations. War isn't always talked about with regards to the climate crisis, but it is a major knock on effect that may become prominent in the future. “As environmental sustainability declines, the competition for resources intensifies. The competition for resources turns violent”. Without sustainability, overtime the economic disparity between people who can and can't afford things will increase. This will cause conflict and fighting for finite resources, such as oil, which is often how wars begin. Independence of resources is key for a country, which is why using renewables is so beneficial: the sun, wind and other renewable resources don’t run out (hence the term “renewable”). Renewable energy also solves a lot of issues with regards to unemployment: E2s recent clean jobs america report found that there are already 3x more workers in renewable energy than fossil fuel energy, and considering that renewable energy only accounts for 17% of america's energy, this is a huge difference.
Pre COVID-19, the tourism industry was far from sustainable, and the only reason we have seen a change is because fewer people are travelling. While this is good in the short term, what about when things return to normal? What happens then? According to Motiwalla, “within the industry right now, there's a lot of rethinking”. For example, “Venice Italy was overrun by tourism, the city was sinking.” Life was unsustainable for locals, but no one wanted to make a change because revenue would decrease significantly. Yet due to the pandemic, they are having to rethink certain things such as eliminating large cruise ships pulling into the ports in venice. Furthermore, the travel companies are realizing that diversification is a strategy that should be implemented in order to prevent a collapse, making it more sustainable economically, environmentally and socially.
“When everything is so highly concentrated, you are putting a lot of eggs in one basket.”
COVID-19 has exposed our weaknesses. You can’t always predict what's going to happen, but by using diversification we can all be more confident that unprecedented situations won’t lead to a large downfall. Society has been given a reset button, and it's our choice if we want to press it. We can either return to our old habits, or step into a sustainable future.
While the majority of the tourism industry is unsustainable, it doesn't mean that there are no sustainable travel companies. The economic leakage through transnational corporations is extremely overlooked. When you go into foreign countries and stay at large resorts, you often aren’t providing for the community. Large resorts often provide minimum wage jobs which are so de minimis compared to the long term sustainable impacts that GLA and Discover Corps provide.
“The principles that I [Motiwalla] started both organizations on were: smaller footprint to the community, working with the community to help provide the experience and not dropping in some foreign monstrosity.”
As years have gone on, both GLA and Discover Corps have kept themselves set on these principles and made sure that they don’t violate them. Not only are both organizations more environmentally sustainable than the average tourism company, but they also help to ensure economic sustainability and prosperity for the locals of the communities they are working in. They often have to train locals with regards to how to teach foreigners things such as traditional dances. After they train them, the people now own their own business that they can also sell to other travelers. This “gives them an economic incentive to preserve their culture”.
‘You can easily do something, so you should’
Everyone has the potential to change the world, whether it be moving a mountain or a pebble. However, at the end of the day, no one is going to care about the good of the world unless they have two things: passion and drive. Motiwalla found these two things through his time in the Peace Corps, which he described as his “personal activating experience”. You don’t have to wait for your activating experience to just come around, you can go out into the world and find it. It can be as big as a trip, or as small as a conversation; whatever it is, it will change your life forever.
Written by Chloe Young and Georgia Scarr.