I am CEO

CEO Builds a Community through Ethical Tourism

Full Episode from I AM CEO Podcast - IAM1984

In this episode,  Nora Livingstone, the co-founder and CEO of Animal Experience International discussed the importance of ethical volunteering and decolonization in travel.

It's crucial to consider the impact we have on the destinations we visit and the communities we encounter. AEI does the transformative power of traveling with purpose.

At AEI, the ethos is simple yet powerful: volunteer your time, make meaningful connections, and leave a lasting impact. Animal lovers can apply to join AEI's programs, where they'll have the opportunity to work with local vet teams and support animal welfare initiatives around the world. From wild horse conservation in Mongolia to wildlife rehabilitation in Australia, AEI offers a wide range of programs that cater to various interests.

Nora Livingstone and Animal Experience International are disrupting the travel industry by offering a truly unique and transformative experience. Through ethical travel and responsible volunteering, individuals have the opportunity to explore new cultures, make connections, and leave a positive impact on the destinations they visit. As Nora continues to advocate for change and empower individuals, AEI's mission of creating real stakeholders in communities comes to life. Embrace the power of ethical travel and join the movement today.

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Full Interview:


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Nora Livingstone Teaser 00:00

There is a founder who every day she allows herself to fail 5 times, and be totally fine with it. They can be big or small fails.

So you stubbed your toe, you failed at walking, great job. You wrote something silly, you sent an email that had a typo in it, that's a failure. Don't worry about it, it's fine. I love that because all CEOs are just people.

Intro 00:28

Are you ready to hear business stories and learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and level up your business from awesome CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresh values your time and is ready to share with you the valuable info you're in search of.

This is the I AM CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:55

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I AM CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Nora Livingstone.

Nora, excited to have you on the show.

Nora Livingstone 01:04

I'm excited to be here. Thanks so much for having me again.

Gresham Harkless 01:08

Yes, absolutely. Super excited to have Nora back on the show. She's doing so many phenomenal things. So before we jump into that, I want to read a little bit more about Nora so you can hear about some of those awesome things.

Nora is the co-founder and CEO of Animal Experience International, an award-winning B Corp. She is a board member of the Cowichan Valley Women Against Violent Society. She has a passion for volunteering, decolonization and social advocacy. Instead of just living in the community, she wants to help people be real stakeholders in their communities and in their lives.

Nora also specializes in volunteer coordination, public engagement, crisis intervention and management and consent-based tourism. Like I mentioned, Nora is a former guests on episode number 14 of our podcast way back in the day. I think she is probably a little bit of a volunteering superhero because she's volunteered with Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, FEMA, Journey women, women for nature, and so many many more.

She's also the author of an ebook, and she's also the leader of the B Corporation, which we'll talk about, I'm sure a little bit more where they wish they received the best forward-winning B Corporation. She also is a self-proclaimed chameleon who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty as well. And just to kick everything off, she has a quote that I absolutely love where she said highlighting different community groups and sending money is not enough. We must go after individuals and help them become the leaders of their community. So absolutely love that Norah. She has so many gems. So super excited to have you back on the show.

Are you ready to speak to the I AM CEO community?

Nora Livingstone 02:43

Oh, my gosh. I'm ready to have you speak about me all the time. Just keep on going with that.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 02:49

Yeah, there we go. That's a job. And that's out there that I'm putting in my application. That's for sure. So you make it easy. So I guess I got to kick everything off.

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Let's rewind the clock a little bit, hear a little bit more on how you got started, what you've been working on, what I call your CEO story.

Nora Livingstone 03:04

Yeah, Oh, my gosh, we got started, it seems like 1000 years ago. But time is not real. The pandemic also made time extra not real. But it was 2011 that my business partner came up to me at a barbecue and said, Hey, you are really passionate about volunteering. You talk about ethics a lot. What if we started a company that we help people travel ethically and we also helped wildlife centers and animal groups get really good volunteers. And, geez, the internet was so different back then. Twitter was Twitter. Twitter was nice. It was a lovely time.

It was an X and a terrible place to exist. Ever since then, we've just been growing and changing. I think in really wonderful ways. Since then, we brought on more than 1000 volunteers. We've been able to donate more than a million dollars to our placement partners. We have more than 20 different placements from wild horse conservation in Mongolia to wildlife rehabilitation in Australia. We also have been able to I think really learn more about the decolonization of travel, learn and invest more in the anti racist movement the Land Back movement, feminism, of course and really make sure that people know that, I hate saying this out loud, but everywhere you go, there you are, and there your morals are.

So you can, no matter where you are do really great things. If it's in your backyard during a pandemic, or if it's around the world after a pandemic, you can help yourself and animals and the community.

Gresham Harkless 04:48

Yeah, absolutely. That's why I love, everything that you do. I want to drill down a little bit more, hear a little bit more about animal experience international. Can you take us through a little bit more on like how it works, how you're serving your clients, how you're making that ultimate impact?

Nora Livingstone 05:00

Yeah, absolutely. I think I was like, let's talk about decolonization of tourism and all these isms. But there has to be a real-world tangible things that we do. So, basically it's a pretty simple model that animal lovers of all kinds, you don't have to be a vet or a nurse or anything. You apply to our programs, you talk with me and then you go away. That is very bare bones, so to put more meat on that is I go to all the placements first and make sure that they're safe, they're ethical, we're comfortable sending solo travellers away. Then the travellers will either stay in volunteer housing or with aunties and uncles, sometimes with the vets that are there and they never take professional roles.

All of our programs have local vets, vet teams, administration staff, people are getting paid on these programs, but they need a little bit more help with the everyday. And then as a company figure out everything around that. So it's from airport pickup to drop off, we make a kind of package for the volunteers. So it's like an all inclusive trip, but instead of maybe sitting on a beach, which is amazing if you want to work a little bit more, you can sit on a beach in the afternoon and in the mornings you help tag sea turtles or plant mangrove trees.

So we do make sure all the food, accommodation, travel insurance, all the nitty gritty is sorted for the volunteers. So they just go away and hopefully have a wonderful time.

Gresham Harkless 06:38

Yeah, do you feel like that is part of what I like to call your secret sauce. This could be for yourself, the organization or a combination of both. But is it that ability to not say it has to be either or, but to marry those two things together and of course be able to be that core and be able to do good by doing that?

Do you think that's part of what kind of sets you apart?

Nora Livingstone 06:56

I think that all humans can contain multitudes, and so you too, your trip can contain multitudes, right? It doesn't have to be at the expense of someone else or a different culture. We don't have to be an oppressive force when we are in capitalism or when we are in tourism. Sometimes it's a bit harder, which is why I have a whole company that does it and you can hire me to help you find an ethical solution to voluntary travel.

Sometimes it's easier than other times, but it doesn't have to be. Oh, I'd love to travel, love, travel, but I can't because it's inherently impressive. It's, I'd love to travel and I can, because I'll help you do it.

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Gresham Harkless 07:45

Yeah that makes sense. And I think it's extremely powerful because obviously you talked about how you get to go and have those volunteer experiences. You get to do all those really awesome things, see it in completely different world. But even that experience in and of itself of being able to view the world from a different vantage point in a different perspective, I imagine opens up so much more and so many quote and quote benefits.

I don't even know if that's that seems like not a full encompassing word to use, but just a really great experience that you can, live on and continue with over and over again for years and years and years.

Nora Livingstone 08:17

Yeah, absolutely. It is so interesting because if I were to stay in the Cowichan Valley, there are many beautiful, interesting, dynamic, innovative ideas that are happening, but it still is in the context of the Cowichan Valley in British Columbia, in Canada, on Turtle Island, and so there's just so many layers that when I have this deep privilege of going somewhere that is so different, I can see different frameworks and how they work.

And so it can lead to, just like what we're saying, just a completely different way of thinking that can be transplanted in so many different places. That's really exciting because it also, I think, must lead to hope. It's not it's always been done this way. It always looks this way. We can't change it. We can change it. I've seen it happening in different ways. So why don't we change it?

It might be like a long arc to justice, like Martin Luther King Jr. said, but it still is an arc towards it. So why not start today?

Gresham Harkless 09:22

Yeah, absolutely. There's no better time to start than now. So absolutely love that perspective.

I wanted to switch gears a little bit and ask you for what I call a CEO hack. This could be like an app,book or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Nora Livingstone 09:38

So, something I think that makes me more efficient and effective is perspective and vulnerability. There is a founder who every day she allows herself to fail 5 times, and be totally fine with it. They can be big or small fails. So you stubbed your toe, you failed at walking, great job. You wrote something silly, you sent an email that had a typo in it, that's a failure. Don't worry about it, it's fine. I love that because all CEOs are just people. I would say it's changing. When we started AEI, all CEOs were like meant to be on this pedestal that you don't make mistakes and you are perfect and the only people that could possibly have a business are people that have it figured out.

No one has anything figured out. That's the biggest lie. We're all making it up and saying, does this work? No? Then we'll change it a little bit more. I think through having a business for so long, having a travel company in a pandemic, being a white cisgendered woman in Canada, I think that there's been a lot of times that I've had to look at what failure looks like, what mistakes look like, and then what moving forward looks like, and not saying that was a failure. I need to just shut down the company. That's a mistake. I guess I should just live under a rock and never come out again, which like sometimes you want to do.

But I think it's the companies and the CEOs and everyone that does really well are the ones that go, I'm human and I screwed up and I'm gonna try not to screw up again. It's not an excuse for bad behavior. It is I'm seeing what I did wrong and let's figure out how we can all do better and that the liberation is not a one-way street. So when you're able to say, I screwed up, other people say, Oh, I screwed up as well. It wasn't fatal. Okay.

Gresham Harkless 11:47

Yeah. That's an incredibly powerful place to be, which is why I love that vulnerability word, because I think so many times when we're vulnerable, it gives other people's permission to be vulnerable as well, too. And even when we're talking about something like failure, you realize that we all have failed. So I think that's an incredible perspective.

What would you consider to be what I like to call a CEO nugget? This little bit more worded wisdom. you might have already touched on this. It might be something around the quotes or how you're able to really, think about doing well by doing good. But what's like a piece of advice you would give to someone that's thinking of starting or potentially your younger business self?

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Nora Livingstone 12:21

So I would say, yeah don't be afraid to fail in the same way, just like always failure. I like always talking about failing. It's okay. But also, know that business doesn't have to be oppressive. I think when I was in university, we learned that there were like NGOs that were saving the world and charities that were amazing. We learned that like the corporation was the documentary was played in one of my classes and we're like, Oh, CEOs are all evil monsters. And if you have a for-profit business, have fun, oppressing people, you're awful.

But now with the B Corp movement, we can do both. We can be monsters who are helping people. But. Yeah, good monsters. You don't have to take a vow of poverty to want to help the world. You don't have to oppress people to have a company. I think in Conscious Capitalism, in B Corps, and things like that, you can do both. So, why not do both?

Gresham Harkless 13:25

Yeah, absolutely. So, I know we touched on this a little bit, so I want to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. Our goal is to have different quote and quote CEOs on this show.

So, Nora, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Nora Livingstone 13:38

Being the reason people are annoyed with you, or being annoyed with your company. So, the reason that it's ethical to pay to volunteer is because the people who are hosting you need to be paid for their petrol to pick you up, for their Wi-Fi, their food, the things that you're consuming. People get annoyed with me because I say we must pay our hosts. When groups contact me and are using animals in tourism, in a non-ethical way, when they're abusing animals, and I say, we can't work with you because we have these rules around not exploiting humans or animals, people get annoyed with me.

It's very empowering as a woman to just use no as a full sentence, but being a CEO means you have to say no a lot and people are going to be annoyed with you. And if they are, it's probably for good reason. What I mean by that is you want them to be annoyed with you. If someone wants to exploit an animal, if they want to exploit the community, if they, if they are not volunteering for the right reasons, they're not your friends. So it's good that they're annoyed. It's a good litmus test.

Gresham Harkless 14:53

Yeah, absolutely. I love that definition. Nora, truly appreciate that definition. Of course, I appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know, and of course, how best people can get a whole view about all the awesome things you and your team are working on.

Nora Livingstone 15:10

If people want to travel with us, we do solo and group trips. It's just animalexperienceinternational.com. If you forget the name, it is incredibly Google-able because you just think, I want to have an experience internationally with an animal.

Ah! There we are. We are on all the Socials. If you want to see me and travel around the world. We're on TikTok. I normally am saying something silly because I make the mistakes so our travelers don't have to but on all Facebook, Instagram, things like that, just Animal Experience International or Animal International.

But yeah, come travel with us. It is so fun to not exploit animals and it's so weird to say that out loud, but it really is.

Gresham Harkless 15:53

Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you making it so easy for everybody to do that. We'll try to make it even easier, we're going to have the links and information as well in the show notes so that everybody can click and find out about all the awesome things.

Of course, follow on all socials as well, too, but Nora truly appreciate all the awesome work that you're doing, the time you took today. I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Nora Livingstone 16:12

Thank you so much.

Outro 16:13

Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by CB Nation and Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at iamceo.co. I AM CEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Want to level up your business even more read blogs, listen to podcasts and watch videos at cbnation.co. Also check out our I AM CEO Facebook group. This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless Jr.

Thank you for listening.


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