Anna Alaman in this interview introduces us to the Open Eyes project in India and explains how the social business is creating employment for blind and visually impaired women, responsible tourism opportunities and unforgettable, authentic travel experiences.
- What triggered Anna’s interest in tourism and sustainability;
- Her challenges as female entrepreneur in India;
- Open Eyes’ vision and major achievements;
- Tourism sustainability challenges in India;
- Good practice examples of destinations with strong sustainability management;
- 3 bits of advice to women, especially in India, on starting their own responsible tourism business.
Anna, you started your career in marketing, sales and product management of consumer products. When did you discover your passion for sustainability and travel? What got you interested in sustainable tourism?
When I was 30, I had a deep crisis in my life. I had worked in marketing and management for 7 years and decided to take a three-year break to travel and work in Latin America and Europe. After a break up from a long relationship, I started questioning how I wanted to dedicate my life from then forward to make it more meaningful for both me and others.
At the age of 21, I started working in a company as a product manager, developing a portfolio of home products with Chinese and Indian suppliers. This prepared me to identify markets trends, opportunities for new product portfolios, to negotiate demanding contracts, and to develop a brand from scratch.
In those years, import-export was anything but sustainable, and I kept constantly asking about our “ethical” approach.
My life changed when I discovered the concept of Social Business in a book. The idea of a company being driven by change captivated me. I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur at that time, but I was moved by my beliefs. So, in 2011, I decided to combine two of my passions: travel and social impact.
Later, I realized that what we were doing was called responsible tourism. So I joined the MSc in Responsible Tourism in Leeds (UK), where I’m currently a student, actively researching and learning more. It has opened a new door for both me and Open Eyes.
Answering your question now made me realize it was the concept of social enterprises that got me into sustainable tourism!
In 2011, you founded the Open Eyes Project in India. Why? And how does this social enterprise approach sustainable tourism?
It may sound overconfident (which I was not!) but it was a vision. I wanted to “open the eyes” of people to positive initiatives occurring through travel. I chose India because of a feeling as well, a feeling of responsibility. Sometimes I think that Open Eyes chose me, and not the other way around.
Our first move was to put our ethical values at the core of the business, as any social business should.
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