Photography and sustainable social development: Britt Basel at the first National Forum for Women in Tourism

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Working for National Geographic in Tokyo, Japan. Britt is purifying herself in a symbolic way, washing her hands before entering a temple. Photo: Jeff KennelWorking for National Geographic in Tokyo, Japan. Britt is purifying herself in a symbolic way, washing her hands before entering a temple. Photo: Jeff Kennel
 
 
By Javiera Ide
Translation by George Chambers
 
With a view to creating the first Red de Mujeres en Turismo (Women in Tourism Network)  – a collaborative alliance seeking to share experiences, build references and reclaim the role of women in the sector – the forum will take place as a way of raising awareness of the work of the many women involved in and supporting the development of tourism in Chile.
 
There can be no development without equality. Despite the fact that there are almost twice as many female entrepreneurs in tourism as there are in any other sector, they earn 15 percent less, and many have no choice but to work informally. The forum will raise the issues of improving the quality of work for women and boosting female presence in decision-making roles.
 
Among a schedule packed full of activities, one of the most awaited presentations is the ‘Inspirers’ space. Britt Basel will deliver a talk on the capabilities of women in local development, based on her community project management experience in more than 42 countries around the world with her social enterprise, Ecothropic.
 
 
In the village of Buma, located in the Solomon Islands of Melanesia, women led by Tina, a local leader, begin a coconut oil production project. Charlotte is learning the technique. Through this activity, the community has a sustainable way to pay for the school and books for the children. Photo: Britt BaselIn the village of Buma, located in the Solomon Islands of Melanesia, women led by Tina, a local leader, begin a coconut oil production project. Charlotte is learning the technique. Through this activity, the community has a sustainable way to pay for the school and books for the children. Photo: Britt Basel
 
 
How did Ecothropic come to be?
Ecothropic is the result of work I’ve been doing my whole life – I’ve always been a person of many projects and dreams! With a team scattered over many parts of the world, we formed an organization to be the headquarters of all this.
 
At Ecothropic, above all, we work on adaptation to climate change and management of natural resources, helping indigenous and rural communities around the world to solve their own problems, with their own resources and knowledge. For this, we use the power of science, creative educational strategies, effective local planning methods and communication platforms.
 
Whatsmore, along with that, we organize trips to the areas where we work so that travelers can get to know the communities and therefore better understand the issues we face on a global level, as well how me might address them in a sustainable fashion, using our knowledge of nature. I’m also a photographer and writer, so it all just came together. And that’s where we are today – at work with communities on education and also using video and photo formats to tell their stories and raise more awareness.
 
 
Collaboration for OceansWatch, an NGO in New Zealand. The team traveled to Ngdeli, by invitation of the chief of the village, where they spent ten days with the community, helping them forge their own plan for adapting to climate change and preparing for the challenges to come in the future. Photo: Britt BaselCollaboration for OceansWatch, an NGO in New Zealand. The team traveled to Ngdeli, by invitation of the chief of the village, where they spent ten days with the community, helping them forge their own plan for adapting to climate change and preparing for the challenges to come in the future. Photo: Britt Basel
 
 
The Malecon is the front porch of Havana, a place for locals to escape the heat of their homes during summer months. On a typical day there, you can find families enjoying the afternoon, young people out on romantic dates and groups of teenagers dancing Regaetton. This photo was part of an article that Britt wrote for National Geographic Travel India on music and dance in Cuba.The Malecon is the front porch of Havana, a place for locals to escape the heat of their homes during summer months. On a typical day there, you can find families enjoying the afternoon, young people out on romantic dates and groups of teenagers dancing Regaetton. This photo was part of an article that Britt wrote for National Geographic Travel India on music and dance in Cuba.
 
 
Britt currently lives in Chiapas, Mexico. From there, she collaborates with different media outlets such as National Geographic, The Washington Post and The New Zealand Herald, as well as directing Ecothropic. Always with a camera in hand, she has undertaken various community development projects in places as far away as the Solomon Islands and India.
 
With all your experience working with different communities over the world, in what way are women catalysts in the process of local development?
I believe in the strength of human beings and in the power of us all working together, without emphasizing “difference.” However, I think it is often forgotten that women are essential in culture – that they rule – and that from them, children learn. By nature, women are our foundation and the inclusion of their voices is fundamental.
 
An important part of development is risk management and family and community well-being, and women are, on many occasions, invisible. For example, more women died in the Mexico City earthquake than men, simply because the women were inside their homes and the men were outside in the street. So, when we talk about development, it’s important to step back and see the complete picture and how we can protect, include and benefit every one of its components.
 
 
Britt during the recording of the Water Gang, a short film made in conjunction with schoolchildren from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Esteban PadillaBritt during the recording of the Water Gang, a short film made in conjunction with schoolchildren from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Esteban Padilla
 
 
How can we empower female leadership in Latin American communities, considering the region is still very ‘macho’?
What’s most important is that we must figure out how we are, how we express ourselves, what we do and not to allow individual and biased versions of history, or of what reality is, to become ours. Culture is something created over many years, undergoing constant evolution. Therefore, today it is up to us to change these narratives, in order to change reality.
 
Do you believe that tourism can be a tool in sustainable development?
I definitely believe it has that ability. Tourism has many facets – it is a motor which can churn out amazing things and also very harmful things. It is really important that when an area opens itself up to tourism, all the people involved are aware of this.
 
It’s essential that it starts with the mindset of creating from the needs of the community itself, without imposing outside visions. I truly believe that’s something that can really benefit both sides: for the tourists, for whom it’s an opportunity to learn and connect with cultures and microcultures; and for the hosts, who can get more access to opportunities and determine their own future. I’m a true believer that we can change the world through this kind of understanding.
 
 
Britt took this picture at a temple in Rajasthan during the student expeditions of National Geographic. What impressed her most during this part of her stay in India was the solidarity among women there. They know the dangers that a woman can face when alone, so they always protect each other. This photo shows affection between strangers, who welcome a woman after a trip.Britt took this picture at a temple in Rajasthan during the student expeditions of National Geographic. What impressed her most during this part of her stay in India was the solidarity among women there. They know the dangers that a woman can face when alone, so they always protect each other. This photo shows affection between strangers, who welcome a woman after a trip.
 
 
A shepherd returns to the village of Esilalei with their animals in Tanzania. Upon arrival, the people in the community share stories of how they are already experiencing the impact of the change of the seasons, the rains and how every day it becomes more difficult to maintain their traditional way of life. Photo: Britt BaselA shepherd returns to the village of Esilalei with their animals in Tanzania. Upon arrival, the people in the community share stories of how they are already experiencing the impact of the change of the seasons, the rains and how every day it becomes more difficult to maintain their traditional way of life. Photo: Britt Basel
 
 
What are your expectations for your participation in the first National Forum for Women in Tourism?
It is a total honor to be here, I’m very excited to learn and share. I don’t have any expectations; I’m just coming with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity.
 
What advice would you give to women who want to begin working in documentary photography, or who want to start their own venture within the social and environmental sphere?
Dream it, do it and always be curious. It’s not a straight path by any means, so you have to be totally driven by what you want to achieve. Try to do it well, try to do it with heart, and do it because you want to contribute something to the world. If you come with that mindset, and with a lot of determination, absolutely everything is possible.
 
For more information about the first National Forum for Women in Tourism, go to the Instagram account @redmujerturismo

  

 
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