How Keith Became Active in ‘Voluntourism’

Since 2009, Keith has led annual group trips to Guatemala, with family, friends and clients, to work with orphanages, local organizations and social entrepreneurs dedicated to improving the circumstances of deserving kids and their families. On a recent Social Capitalist podcast, Keith shared the story of how these trips started:

I “woke up” a few years ago. … Around Christmastime every year we went to these amazing conferences, like the Renaissance Weekend. ... [We] talked so much about changing the world at these conferences, and that’s fantastic. But our whole focus at Ferrazzi Greenlight is about behavioral transformations and action. We don’t give a damn that you went through a training course – what we care about is that you applied it in your life, you made a difference and that that difference is measurable. That’s all we care about. That’s the ruthless focus of our organization. And to that end, I realized I wasn’t “living it” myself as much as I would’ve liked to.

I also recognized that, to some extent, I was applying my philanthropic outreach too much at the time for the sake of my professional gain. You know, it was about giving free speeches to big organizations. It was about being on boards where there were networking opportunities – and I had to take a reflective look at my goals for the year and say, “Where am I being of humble service?”

… [In] thinking about that, we also started thinking about how we spent our vacations. There’s a wonderful organization in San Antonio called Cultural Embrace, which I reached out to. They had never done high-end travel before, because what they did is put college kids to work in service in third-world countries as a part of vacations and outreach.

I reached out to them and said, “Listen, I’m unlikely to be taking a month off and sleeping in a shack; my business can’t afford that right now. But what I would like to do is, I’d like for on the next trip I do internationally … I would like you to find disadvantaged youth that I can go be of service to. Go find orphanages. I’ll raise money, I’ll go there, I’ll work with the kids, even if it means I’ll just extend my trip a weekend.”

And what’s interesting, we decided to go down to Guatemala one year. We showed up and we were prepared for an entire trip where we lived in this wonderful little city called Antigua in this gorgeous old mission hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever been in my life for, like, $200 a night, right? And every day we would forage out into the community and work with kids that ate every other day. And we raised money among our Ferrazzi Greenlight family, our fans from Never Eat Alone, etc. – like “a couple of hundred bucks, folks” – and [what we were amazed to discover is that] we were able to transform these kids’ lives for a year. It educates them, it feeds them, it houses them, it gives them medication. 

So I started giving away, every year at Christmas to all my clients, the gift of having taken care of an orphan, having taken care of a little kid. And then I started giving these little pictures. … What I would do is I would take a picture of that kid they helped holding up a sign that says, “Thank you, Mehmet,” right? And I sent it to them. Then they’d call me and they’d say, “That was beautiful. Can we go with you next time?”

All of a sudden clients and friends started coming with us, and they experienced the same thing I experienced, which was just transformative.

To learn more about Keith’s trips to Guatemala, or about our upcoming trip in August, visit greenlightgiving.com. To download the full transcript of Keith’s podcast on The Power of Giving, click here. To listen to this and other Social Capitalist podcasts, download them at iTunes.



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