Today isn't just one more sleep until the weekend — it's International Women's Day — an annual celebration of women's achievements throughout history and across the globe. To show your support, there are many ways you can take action and one person in the know about this particular topic is Adrienne Lee.

Adrienne is the Director of Development at the Planeterra Foundation, which is doing great work to change the status quo and to give women around the world opportunities they could once have only dreamt about.

In this article, I talk to Adrienne about her role at Planeterra, the great work this organization is doing, and just a few of the initiatives empowering women around the world today. So read on and see how you can get involved.

Can you tell me a little bit about Planeterra and how it came to be founded?
Planeterra was established in 2003 by Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of global adventure travel company, G Adventures. Created as a means for the travel industry to give back to communities, it's a non-profit organization that helps empower local people to develop their communities, conserve their cultures, and create humane and supportive systems for their endeavours. Our mission is to improve people’s lives by creating and supporting social enterprises that bring underserved communities into the tourism value chain.    

What is your role at the organization?
I am the Director of Development at Planeterra and help to lead our fundraising and business development strategy globally. As a not-for-profit, Planeterra raises funds to invest in our community development programs around the world. G Adventures backs Planeterra by covering all of our administration and operating costs, as well as providing us with a breadth of pro bono services. This effective model allows us to invest 100% of public, private, and individual donations to our projects worldwide. 

Prior to my role as the Director of Development, I spent five years as a Program Manager with Planeterra, helping to develop and partner with organizations supporting women, at-risk youth, and rural and indigenous communities in Africa and the Asia-Pacific. 

Why do you think it's important to have a day that acknowledges the efforts of women around the world? 
Women make up half of the world, and are too often marginalized in society. A day to acknowledge the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and how far we still need to go, keeps these issues in the forefront of everyone's minds. There is much room for improvement, opportunity, respect and resource management to close the gender gap, and to have a day to assess and reflect is one way to create a platform to end gender inequality. 

According to UN Women – if men and women played identical roles in labour markets, as much as $28 trillion (or 26 percent) could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. That’s a lot of change and movement for everyone. 

I'd love to hear more about some of your Planeterra initiatives that empower women around the world. Can you talk about some of your most successful initiatives?
Through working with Planeterra, I’ve had a chance to see many lives of women change through tourism and in some cases, saved. Tourism can provide an entry-way into the formal economy, opportunities to stay and work within one’s own rural community, or the chance to move and apply hospitality skills in other regions. Tourism creates jobs at all levels of management, and it is an industry where you can still thrive by being entrepreneurial and without necessarily needing a higher level of formal education. 

Planeterra’s first women-lead program in Peru, the Ccaccaccollo Women’s Weaving Workshop is now entering its 12th year of partnership with us. Over the past decade, we’ve observed these women’s lives change, and the lives of their children. The members that have been with us since the beginning are the first generation from this community to see all their children attend university.

Our partners in Tanzania, the Maasai Stoves & Solar Project, are utilizing tourism daily to support and install life-saving clean cookstoves across the Rift Valley. The female stove engineers share with G Adventures travellers the mechanics of a clean cookstoves, and what their homes would be like with and without this locally-engineered technology. 

More recently we’ve launched a few new partnerships supporting women-run programs in Sri Lanka and Namibia. In Kandy, Sri Lanka, we’ve partnered with the Women’s Development Centre, to renovate and expand a training café and craft shop that employs female entrepreneurs in the region. The proceeds from their co-developed lunch program with Planeterra is anticipated to be visited by 3,000 G Adventures travellers this year alone and will support a shelter for abused women and other training and empowerment programs run by our partners. 

Penduka, a women-owned and run social business in the Katutura Township outside of Windhoek, employs at-risk women mostly living in the surrounding townships with no schooling background and no access to secure jobs, or those suffering from chronic illness or disabilities. Along with direct employment, the handicraft cooperative also contracts the services of more than 300 women from around the country for handicraft creation. We partnered with Penduka to bring more customers to their restaurant, and are helping them develop take-out options for travellers leaving Windhoek on their way to nearby safari reserves. 

Do you offer volunteering opportunities for people wanting to get involved?
Our focus is on job creation for women to diminish the gap between capacity, resources and opportunities around the world. We develop jobs and livelihoods, so women can in turn gain decision making powers, enhance their income, and build self-esteem. We do not offer volunteering opportunities. Instead, all of Planeterra’s partnerships are visitable by travellers, and are included in 206 of G Adventures itineraries as an experience or tour. Each time you visit a Planeterra partner on one of G Adventures’ tours, you are supporting the greater work of our partners to empower women, sustainably develop their communities, and help conserve and celebrate their culture. 

How else can people help?
Canadians can support women when travelling abroad by seeking out women-run and owned-businesses.  Do your research ahead of time to see if there are social enterprises that are supporting female job-creation, or fostering support for families. One of my favourite things to do prior to travelling, is seeing if there are local women’s groups that are promoting female-led tours. When shopping or visiting a market, support enterprises and market stalls that are being run by a woman, often-enough, supporting a female entrepreneur has the ripple effects of supporting her family’s needs as well. 

Our partnerships that support women are also continuously expanding. As a pillar to our mission and mandate, individuals can also help by investing in a Planeterra program that are supporting empowering women worldwide. Individuals can become a Citizen of Change with us, and we’ll send you a Purpose Package made up of some of the products from our women-run handicraft cooperatives world-wide.

Tell me about your 50 in 5 Campaign.
The 50 in 5 Campaign started in January 2016 with the aim to raise CAD $5 Million in order to integrate 50 new social enterprise projects into G Adventures trip in five years, changing the lives of local people in over 35 countries by providing them with the access to the benefits of tourism. 

With almost two and a half years into the campaign, we’ve partnered, invested and integrated 25 new partnerships into tours that are supporting the livelihoods of over 1,500 women worldwide.   

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