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Chris Baker, Founder of OneSeed Expeditions (INTERVIEW)

Socially Responsible Travel

— January 18, 2012 — Social Good
Despite the fact that traveling and tourism often brings a fair bit of money and economic opportunity to the host country, the influx of foreign people and hotels can create unintended negative consequences on local communities and the environment alike. Chris Baker is the founder of OneSeed Expeditions, a travel company with a focus on people. Plain and simple.

Social Business spoke with Chris Baker about his business model, empowerment through entrepreneurship and his lifestyle splitting time between the Rockies and the Himalayas.

Four Questions with Chris Baker

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?

The idea and implementation really came from the passions of our start-up team. We're a bunch of former researchers, teachers and guides who spend way too much time in the mountains.

We keep it pretty simple: We invest 10 cents of every incoming dollar directly into microfinance initiatives that provide capital to women entrepreneurs in Nepal. You take an amazing trip to Everest Base Camp; a local woman launches or expands her business.

Our goal was to take an existing revenue stream -- in this case, adventure travel -- and channel that into projects that fund creativity and entrepreneurship. Having worked in microfinance and having seen its impact in Nepal in particular, we knew there was both incredible need (for capital) and amazing potential (in the entrepreneurs themselves).

In addition to our microfinance projects supported through the OneSeed Fund, we provide equitable employment to local guides and porters. Every single member of our team -- from our porters to our directors -- has a profit-sharing stake in the company. Our goal is to invest in the communities that make the places we explore great.

2. How did you decide to join this sector?

After graduating college, I taught in public schools for 2 years as a Teach for America corps member. The idea for OneSeed had been developing, but working as a teacher within the Teach for America model was exactly the kind of preparation needed for starting a business. As a corps member, you set goals in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges; you work like a dog to reach those goals; and you don't sleep very much -- perfect training for an aspiring entrepreneur.

We structured OneSeed Expeditions as a social business because we believe in the power of entrepreneurship. Everything we do is aimed at aligning our social goals with our business practices. When you're able to achieve this, the good work and good business drive each other.

3. How do you get your inspiration?

I spend a lot of time in the field. Before launching OneSeed, I spent months riding on the back of motorcycles, visiting small-plot farmers and micro-entrepreneurs in Nepal. For our expedition clients, we check every bed, every toilet and sit down with every lodge owner we partner with. We pay attention to the details. I find incredible inspiration in the tiniest of details.

The greatest inspiration for OneSeed comes from one-on-one conversations with our partners. We're continually amazed by the creativity and innovation that comes from individuals with access to a little bit of capital and opportunity. We're a small part of a larger movement towards empowerment through entrepreneurship.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?

I'm lucky enough to split my time between the Rockies and the Himalayas. When we're in the field, there's nothing more focusing than slowing life down to the pace of the walk. There are no cars, no roads; time is measured in river crossings and valley lengths. When we do staff retreats and training sessions, we don't even think about PowerPoint presentations and whiteboards -- we head for the mountains. The conversations and connections that come from sitting around a stove and drinking tea form the foundation of our company culture.

When I'm home in Colorado, fresh snow or a sunny day is all the reason needed to run for the hills. Mountaintop at sunrise, back at the desk by lunch.
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