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The Art of Doing More: The Roots of Our Alumni Project Fund

A letter from Operation Groundswell Co-Founder, Jonah Brotman

It began with a question. A question that had been percolating in all of our minds for nearly six weeks. A question that forced us to challenge our assumptions and confront everything from the “white saviour complex” to “voluntourism”. A question that changed the way we would operate forever.

“How could we do more?”

Creating projects that would effect lasting change has always been at the heart of Operation Groundswell’s global operations. From youth mentorship to water tank construction, OG teams have spent thousands and thousands of hours over the years on community-requested projects.

But our teams have always and continue to go well beyond expectations. Way back in 2007 on our first program to West Africa, we saw the need for clean drinking water in the community of Larabanga, Ghana. The community was a mere stone’s throw from Ghana’s famous Mole National Park and yet they saw no revenue from the tourism there and instead lived in abject poverty, forced to drink from a contaminated pond.

In the days after the visit, we were moved to act. Conversations swirled and ideas were hatched. At the time, we were just a group of intrepid backpackers who were exploring on-the-ground realities of a country seemingly far removed from our own. What could we do to support this community without any financial support? We found our efforts hindered by this problem. It was then and there with our inaugural team that we decided that a community contribution was essential to all our programming. It is this contribution to our partners that support the community-requested projects aimed at long-term sustainable change.

But at Operation Groundswell, we believe that backpacking with a purpose doesn’t just end once you board that flight back home and unpack your backpack. Team members who travel abroad with us often come home feeling inspired and moved to continue working with partner communities. That’s why we decided to establish the Alumni Project Fund, a pool of funds set aside by each team to create and support projects long after the summer is over.

Over the years, we’ve granted more than $50,000 to innovative projects led by you, our inspiring alumni. And we’re back at it again this year. We’re excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for our Alumni Project Fund. We are looking for change-making solutions that are sustainable, innovative, and most importantly, solutions that express solidarity with our partners. So tell us, what’s your big idea?

Learn all about the projects we’ve funded in the past and download our application here.

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