Posted in News

Passports with Purpose: Travel Bloggers and Readers Making a Difference

When travel bloggers and their readers join forces, they have the power to change the world. That’s the idea behind Passports with Purpose (PwP), an annual fundraiser started by four Seattle travel bloggers: Debbie Dubrow (Delicious Baby), Michelle Duffy (WanderMom), Pam Mandel (Nerd’s Eye View), and Beth Whitman (Wanderlust and Lipstick).

Founded in 2008, PwP was launched to build community among travel bloggers and provide a way for travelers to give back to the places they visit. Every year, the founders select a specific project to support, from building a school in rural Cambodia to constructing an entire village in India.

“We pick our projects really carefully,” explains Mandel. “We’re partial to education projects, and projects that help women and children. We also look for some kind of partnership locally that makes it sustainable. The ability of the project to run on its own after we launch it is critical. We also look for projects where we can make a high impact with the amount of money we can raise.”

Villagers in southern India build homes with funds raised by Passports with Purpose in 2010. Photo by Beth Whitman.

This year, PwP seeks to raise $80,000 for Room to Read to build two libraries, to be located next to schools in southern and eastern Zambia. The project will provide hundreds of children with access to age-appropriate books in their own language, at libraries staffed by trained librarians.

The PwP fundraising model is simple: Travel bloggers line up prize donations and promote these prizes and PwP on their blogs. The posts link back to the Donate page of the PwP website, where the public can make donations in $10 increments. Each $10 donation earns one entry to win the prize of the donor’s choice. Donors who make more than one $10 donation can choose to split their entries between multiple prizes or put all their entries toward a single prize. At the end of the fundraiser, a winner is drawn for each prize from all entries received.

“What bloggers have is access to people who want to give them products to talk about on their blogs,” says Dubrow. “We ask them to use those connections, and then we provide the infrastructure.”

Raising $80,000 in two weeks is a lofty goal, one that the founders could hardly have imagined when they first came up with the idea for PwP in 2008. That first year, PwP raised $7,400 for Heifer International. Expecting a dozen or so bloggers to join in, the founders were stunned and gratified when 80 people signed up. Building on that enthusiasm, they set a goal of raising $14,000 in 2009 to build a middle school in a Cambodian village—a goal that was quickly surpassed, with nearly $30,000 raised.

“People sort of rushed in to help us,” says Mandel. “People want to do something that transcends their classic travel experience. We tap into the idea that when you travel it changes you, and you want to make the world a better place.”

Passports with Purpose co-founder Michelle Duffy cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Passports school in rural Cambodia, built with funds raised in 2009.

Co-founder Duffy had the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony for the Passports school in Cambodia earlier this year. Expecting it to be a run-of-the-mill ribbon cutting, she was blown away by the experience. “What I didn’t appreciate was what a really big deal this was,” she says. “When we arrived, the children of the village gave us an honor guard. They were tremendously happy that we had helped raise their level of education just a notch.” Prior to the school’s opening, the closest middle school was located too far away for most children in the village to attend; as a result, fewer than 10 percent continued beyond primary school.

Last year, PwP raised $64,128 to construct 25 homes in the small village of Karunganni in southern India – 25 percent more than the already ambitious goal of $50,000. Land for Tiller’s Freedom (LAFTI), a nongovernmental organization in India’s Tamil Nadu state, provided the land for the houses, allowing 25 families to become land- and homeowners for the first time.

This year’s PwP began on November 30 and is off to a rousing start. The nearly 100 participating bloggers have procured prizes ranging from travel gear to eReaders to hotel stays in destinations around the world to multi-day tours in places such as the Canadian Rockies, Thailand, and Costa Rica. Together, the PwP network of blogs reaches nearly a million unique visitors per month, along with hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers.

“To me what’s so amazing is it’s totally grassroots,” says Dubrow. “If you tell a couple of friends about it, it might make the difference between our getting to build these libraries or not.” Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money, but the PwP team is confident that its network of supporters will rise to the challenge yet again.

To help Passports with Purpose meet its goal, visit http://www.passportswithpurpose.org/donate/. This year’s fundraiser runs until December 16, 2011. Prize winners will be randomly selected and notified on December 23.

Read Ethical Traveler's Reprint Policy.