Global Citizens On The Move

Campuses, Camper-vans and Communities: How Anouschka Got Moving

written by Ash Shah

Before we develop an understanding of our race, our gender, our passions, our family histories and so on, the red thread that weaves itself through all our lives is the shared experience of being a human first. We’re all born as global citizens, but it takes us a while to learn the ropes. There’s a vast number of ways in which different individuals contribute to different causes and our goal is to help you discover a version of global citizenship that is unique to you! In this article we outline the global citizenship journey and practice of Anouchka, co-founder of Tours that Matter.

Act one: the campus days

Once upon a time, there lived a young woman who wanted to change the world. This young woman, like several others out there, believed that the surefire path to accomplishing this was through social entrepreneurship. Her journey took her to Nicaragua, all over Asia and the length and breadth of Europe. Only then was it revealed to her that the answer had always been right in front of her, in her very own home and community. This is the story of how Anouschka found her beat within the global citizenship sphere and became involved with global welfare from a local perspective.

This story starts off as a campus movie and then becomes so much more. In the beginning, the protagonist, Anouschka, was in the throes of an economics degree that has failed to spark much promise. After a couple of years of listening to classical economists drone on about human nature being “selfish and rational,” Anouschka began to lose sight of her purpose. Every good campus story needs a moment of reckoning in the wee hours of the morning after you stumble home from a frat party, look in the bathroom mirror and ask yourself, what am I doing here?

The thing about Anouschka is that she took that moment and used it as a springboard to launch into a critique that led to actual change in the curriculum and scope of what she was learning. One thing led to another and before she knew it, she had landed a research project in Nicaragua and hopped on a plane that took her to what she believed was the culmination of her journey. Little did she know that it was only the beginning!

Scouring the globe for answers

While Anouschka was busy researching the efficacy of micro-credit in Nicaragua, something else was brewing on the side. While researchers like her collected data and analysed it in tropical beach cabanas, they accidentally formed the first version of a nascent tourism community there! The researchers became the most frequent customers of Fidel’s homemade ice-cream and Rosa’s tortilla & frijoles breakfast.

The presence of these researchers in the village meant that money was being fuelled into local businesses at an unprecedented rate. Locals were suddenly able to move from surviving to thriving. A lightbulb lit up in Anouschka’s mind: perhaps, the answer lay not in micro-credit but in tourism!

After a stint in Asia where she worked with a responsible tourism start up that worked to maximise gains for locals, Anouschka returned to Amsterdam. She was determined to work for a bigger company that would groom her in the art of balancing profit with vision.

Anouschka then spent five years working for one of the largest walking tour companies in Europe with the sole aim of learning how to run a successful business so that she could build a conscious and impact-driven enterprise within tourism. Two crucial things came together here: she carried with her the original idea that the answer lay in using tourism as a tool for welfare, and now she had the business acumen to know how to turn that into a successful enterprise.

Act two: the camper van

What can’t you solve in a mobile home once you hit the open road? After years of working for a big tour company, Anouschka was ready for her next adventure. She had witnessed the working of big corporations from the inside and observed how profit was still prioritised over positive impact. Implementing real change within the abstract corporate machinery was a Kafkaesque nightmare. She also observed that tourism did not always add value to the lives of locals and in fact, often seemed to bring in bigger problems like gentrification, cultural commodification and large carbon footprints. She had tread down the tourism path believing that the outcomes of tourism were inherently positive. At this juncture, she was forced to question everything!

So she did what any sane person at the end of their tether would do: she bought a camper van, packed her bags and set off on a European odyssey to figure out her next move.

In the remote mountain villages of Albania, she was able to immerse in a similar kind of raw and genuine tourism experience. The locals were not jaded by overtourism, the tourism dollar was valued in the local economy and there was the sincere possibility of open connection. She recalls an incident when someone tried to break into her van and a family in Macedonia took her in and gave her a bed so she could remember their town fondly. What stayed with Anouschka after this trip was the kindness of the locals, how they helped her plot routes to waterfalls and let her park in their fields and farms overnight. Rather than tourism being an activity organised by a large corporation, it was a humble act that people participated in voluntarily.

Anouschka spent six months in that camper van where she had the time and space to connect the dots in her mind, evaluate the last few years and think long and hard about what course to set. While walking barefoot somewhere in the lush reaches of the Balkans, an epiphany came to her!

Act three: Community-based tourism

The last act of this three-act story has that decisive return to the hints planted in act one that makes us stop and think. Anouschka returned from the Balkans with an idea whose time had come. After many long years of experimentation and learning, she now had the skill, knowledge and experience to act on the core of what she had stumbled upon in Nicaragua! The answer was still tourism, but the goal was different. This time, she wanted to bring locals into the fray more decisively and form a network that connected the various enterprises she worked with. She wanted to ensure that the balance of give and take was maintained so that both tourists and locals got to walk away from the interaction happier.

She set up Tours That Matter with two other power-women and they have been taking tourism in the urban sphere by the horns for two years now! Anouschka returned to Amsterdam and blazed her own trail there. The core of the vision was to reinvent the tourism industry and use it as a force for good. Besides just offering a unique way to explore Amsterdam, their tours are more than just tours. They are a tool of protest and a way to plant seeds of awareness. They connect and inspire people to discover new perspectives on topics that matter, such as circular economies within the city or sustainable spaces.

The answer was still tourism, but the goal was different. This time, she wanted to bring locals into the fray more decisively and form a network that connected the various enterprises she worked with.

With true cinematic continuity, the first profits from the business went towards the purchase of a camper van for the team! In the following years, the Tours That Matter women have taken many trips to Spain and Portugal in their office on wheels so they can stay inspired, rested and connected with the core of what brought them all together!

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