How One Woman Championed Responsible Tourism & Created “Just a Drop”

by Fiona Jeffery

Wanderful is proud to partner with Just a Drop, an organization working at a grassroots level to support communities around the world with access to sustainable safe water solutions, sanitation facilities, and knowledge of safe hygiene practices. Founder and Chairwoman Fiona Jeffery OBE shares why she created the organization that has already benefitted 1.7 million people in 32 countries.

Many women feel an inherent sense of responsibility and a natural nurturing role within society. As female travellers, we often instinctively identify things around us that need more care and attention.

As Women’s Month draws to a close, it’s particularly relevant to think about the ways we are all able to support women across the world, whose lives are quite different from our own. It’s our good fortune to travel and see what others don’t — this helps us break down barriers and, I hope, make the world a better place. 

The key to success, in my view, is keeping things simple. So what could be simpler than an easy concept that if each of us gives a little, collectively we can make the world of difference?

The Creator of World Responsible Tourism Day

When I took over the role of Managing Director for World Travel Market, (the largest professional travel industry event in the world, attracting over 50,000 travel professionals from 189 countries), I didn’t realise that my business responsibilities would lead me on two further journeys. While different, they are linked and shaped, I suspect, by being a “female traveller.” 

The first of my unexpected travel deviations came from my deep-seated sense of responsibility for the planet and the communities experiencing tourism across the world. As travel grew exponentially, I was concerned with how my industry was operating. 

In 1996, I set up a global initiative with the UN World Tourism Organisation called World Responsible Tourism Day. Its aim was to educate the travel and tourism industry about better, more sustainable and responsible ways of operating, taking account of its impact on communities, local cultures, the environment, wildlife and biodiversity. 

WTM World Responsible Tourism Day logo

The problem was, apart from a few “Tree Huggers,” no one was interested in environmental issues at that time. It was all about getting to an ever-expanding range of destinations as cost-effectively or cheaply as possible, to fuel demand and to expand the impact and growth of the industry. But where was there any sense of Responsibility in that?

It was absolutely about Profit and Growth but not about People, Places and Purpose.

Whilst I persevered with World Responsible Tourism Day — and it’s now, thankfully, (or was until the pandemic) the largest gathering of responsible tourism practitioners in the world — it forced me to develop an alternative idea which I felt would have more resonance with the travel & tourism industry at large.

A Shift in Focus to “Just a Drop”

At the time, I’d recently become a mum and that is something else that shapes how we women “see the world”. I figured lots of travel industry professionals were parents. So I decided to identify a cause that benefitted children, was environmentally sound and impacted people wherever they were in the world, due to the global nature of the travel industry. 

That cause became “Water.”

I learnt that more children die from dirty water than anything else in the world. A child was dying every 17 seconds from dirty water and yet just £1 or $1 could provide a child with safe water for nearly 10 years at that time. 

So “Just a Drop” was born as an international water and community-led development organisation. Did I set out to develop an International NGO? No, definitely not, but I had set out to make sure my industry didn’t needlessly destroy our planet and create a negative impact on communities and the environment around the world.

Have I succeeded in my mission? No. But are we making progress? Yes.

A woman in Bugluube Village Nakakawa smiling as she runs water over her hands | Just a Drop
A woman in Bugluube Village smiling as she runs water over her hands. | Image courtesy of Just a Drop

Fighting for Women Around the World

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the environmental and social concerns we need to have for our fellow human beings, both at home and in far off places. For international travel to return, we need everyone to feel that they can travel both with personal safety and without risk to others.

But it’s critical that, as travel re-awakens, it does so in a much more responsible, sustainable way. And, as travellers, we also need to consider our footprints.

The impact of climate change is growing — we see it where we work in places like Kenya, Uganda, and India — and it impacts women and children the most. 

They are the ones who have to trek, on average, six kilometres a day to fetch water. Water that is often dirty and that makes them and their children sick, so they don’t have the strength to go to school. 

Two schoolgirls washing their hands in clean water. | Image courtesy of Just a Drop
Two schoolgirls washing their hands in clean water. | Image courtesy of Just a Drop

They can’t afford medicines and because 200 billion hours are spent a day with women collecting water just to survive, they are unable to engage in more income-earning activities to help financially support the family. 

It’s a pernicious, vicious cycle which means girls also drop out of school during puberty, due to the lack of menstrual hygiene knowledge and facilities.

But the wonderful thing is that, as women, we are able and willing to help other women. It’s the strength of “sisterhoods” and “common bonds” shared through “common concerns and priorities.”

Women in the developing world want exactly the same as we do: for their children to be safe (not raped or abducted when they trek for water), to be healthy and to be able to enjoy a good education.

Menstrual hygiene management program in Uganda Just a Drop
A menstrual hygiene management program in Uganda | Image courtesy of Just a Drop

The aim of Just a Drop has always been to encourage each of us to give a little, because then collectively we can make a HUGE difference. 

Access to water and sanitation transforms lives — those of women and girls the most. It supports 12 out of 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, some of which include: 

  1. Poverty Reduction
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health & Wellbeing
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  7. Climate Action

There isn’t the scope in this one article to explain in clearer detail our work on the ground, but Just a Drop is not an aid organisation; it is a community development organisation. We provide a holistic approach that aims to empower local communities to help themselves.

We aim, with the positive power and influence of women across the world, to help make the change we all want to see. 

This is why it’s such an honour and pleasure to be working with the Wanderful team and their community, knowing they can help make the world a better and more beautiful place, creating better places for people to live in and creating better places for people to visit. 

We look forward very much to attending WITS online and, with a fair wind, WITS Gdansk in person in September.

Join us at the next WITS Travel Creator + Brand Summit

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