Name of Organization: Global Exchange
Job Available: Reality Tours Coordinator
Location: San Francisco, CA
Skills: Communicate, Budget, Organize itinerary, Recruit participants, Select Trip Leaders, Show interest in international issues
Burn Out Rate: Medium
If you’re familiar with the land struggles in Brazil or the transformation of South Africa and you’re interested in changing the the color of your parachute, then check out the current job opening at Global Exchange.
Defining itself as a “non-profit education, research, and action center,” Global Exchange is looking for a “Reality Tours” Coordinator to organize the hybrid activist/tourist organization’s tours to Ireland and Africa.
Founded in 1988, Global Exchange was started by Medea Benjamin, Kevin Danaher and Kirston Moller after they were all deeply affected by their own travels in South America. They wanted to create an opportunity for others to see the “real world” and have more in-depth travel experiences.
Reality Tours takes groups of curious travelers to the focal point of a conflict, where they meet local participants (government officials, farmers, soldiers, street vendors, housewives, and anybody else who might be involved), learn about the situation in that area, and have their experience motivate them towards further involvment.
But Global Exchange emphasizes that participants in their tours are not there to teach local participants anything. Shirabe Yamada, a Reality Tours Coordinator, says Global Exchange helps “build direct and mutually respectful relationships with local people by getting beyond hotels, beaches and stereotypes and understanding the pressing social, economic and political issues they face.”
“When needed, when asked and when invited, we go,” says Jennifer Carino, Reality Tours Director. (Of course, mass mailings, press releases, radio shows and speaking events help in getting the word out as well.) In orientation, coordinators must remind participants that “we go there to learn. We’re not there to teach the people of that country, argue with them or correct them in an area that we feel isn’t right,” Carino continues. “We go to observe as much as possible. Keep your mouth shut. Open your eyes, ears and heart.”
While Reality Tours participants may not get to hang out on the beach and sip margaritas (at least on a regular basis), few other package tours offer visits to Gandhian Ashrams and with prominent figures like 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta.
Having sponsored over 90 trips, Global Exchange, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, continues to grow—often taking advantage of the world’s constantly evolving political situations. In fact, Global Exchange, recognizing that political struggle isn’t limited to foreign countries, has recently introduced Reality Tours for California (albeit with softer names like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Wine and Dine in Sonoma County”).
The Skills You’ll Need
Judging from the lingo flying around the office when we visited, you might want to brush up on your activist-speak. Get an early start by looking up terms like “experiential education,” “people to people diplomacy” and “grass-roots internationalism.”
Global Exchange isn’t kidding when they say they’re looking for a “people-skilled” applicant. Coordinators must be able to recruit participants and mediate between them and trip leaders, as well as make travel arrangements. “From a professor who wants to know the intricate details of the political situation in Cuba to a house-wife who wants to hear about the logistics of the itinerary,” coordinators must gracefully deal with each individual’s needs.
And that doesn’t even begin to get into the potential logistical nightmares you may face leading groups abroad. During one recent trip to Ireland, peace talks about Northern Ireland’s “troubles” broke down. That wasn’t an unprecedented event in itself, except for the wrench it threw into a planned brunch with the U.S. ambassador and some of the (former) peace talk participants.
Don’t pack your bags yet. Just because you’ll have to deal with nudgy travelers while abroad doesn’t mean you can avoid the drudgery of a desk job at home. Coordinators lead only one or two trips a year. On the home front—where you’ll spend 50 weeks out of the year—coordinators must manage a database for finances and desktop publishing programs for creating flyers; plan and market a trip to a specific audience; and select a trip leader (coordinators wait anywhere from six months to a year to lead their own trips).
The Skinny on the Workplace
Because trips range from $900 to $3,500 (with partial scholarships available), most participants have a substantial disposable income, which sometimes leads to awkward moments in less developed countries. When leading a trip in Cuba, Susan Kench, the Partner Relations Coordinator (which means she’s in charge of “special trips”), felt she had to make her group understand that the breakfast and dinner buffet provided by the hotel did not accurately reflect what most Cubans were eating. Most travelers eventually realized they were being pampered.
How much work does it take to give people a simple dose of reality? “People put in a lot of hours because they have a heartfelt investment in their work,” says Ted Lewis, director of the Mexico campaign. “Although not necessarily the expectation, it’s the nature of the organization.”
“The applicant will thrive if they’re able to take on the job without much training,” says Susan Kench, a former lawyer and corporate headhunter now in charge of recruiting group travelers. She appreciates being surrounded by active and knowledgeable people, adding, “I’m getting a real education about what’s going on in the world and once you know things, you can’t turn back.”
Reality Tours Director Jennifer Carino, your potential boss, says the intensity of the education, while very stimulating, is also very tiring. “At first you want to do everything. It’s good to realize you can’t do it all. If you never realize that, you’re in a bad situation.”
How to apply: Send résumé, writing sample and cover letter to Reality Tours CoordintorSearch Committee, Global Exchange, 2017 Mission Street, Suite 303, San Francisco, CA 94110, fax: 415-255-7498, e-mail: email@example.com. No phone calls, please.