This is an interview-style post with Ann Davis.
Q: Hey, Ann. How would you introduce yourself and what you do in a few sentences?
A: I am the founder of Venture with Impact. I am many things: a teacher, a cancer survivor, a female entrepreneur, a woman with a serious case of wanderlust, and most importantly, a dreamer.
After surviving cancer and subsequently traveling to over 40 countries in my 20’s, I found my most valuable and fulfilling travel experiences to be the instances when I stayed in one place, and worked with the local population.
At the same time, I saw friends and colleagues struggle between the desire to maintain careers that provide financial security and the desire to travel and work for the social good. Life is too short not to have it all, so I founded Venture with Impact with the dream that working professionals could share in these same experiences while still working from their jobs.
Prior to founding Venture with Impact, I worked for 4 years as a teacher in the New Orleans and New York school systems, initially through Teach for America. Additionally, the age of 18, I founded Swim for Success, a nonprofit dedicated providing free swimming lessons and water safety skills to New Orleans Youth.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you had in your 20s and how did you overcome them?
A: The greatest difficulty I have overcome in my life thus far took place five years ago, at age 23.
While working as a teacher in New Orleans I was on a run with friends one day, and felt an electric shock run up the side of my leg, like I had stuck my foot into a toaster. Bam! I was on the ground, body in convulsions, and was rushed to the hospital. Two weeks later after a 12-hour craniotomy, I was diagnosed with brain cancer and my life forever changed.
After undergoing chemo and radiation treatment, I made a full recovery and have been in remission for five years.
Without this mind-boggling, terrifying, looney life event, I would probably never have had the guts to quit my full-time job and follow my dream.
Q: What were your most fulfilling travel experiences and why?
A: I have done a lot of traveling over the last ten years, and have been lucky enough to visit over 40 countries in 5 continents. My most valuable and fulfilling travel experiences have been when working in international development, and working with the local population – forming relationships and learning about their culture in the process.
In 2010 I lived with a family in Valparaiso, Chile. My host father, a local radio talk show host taught me Spanish through songs by Violetta Parra. And we enjoyed discussing our thoughts on spiritualism and religion in Chile and throughout the world. Near the end of my stay, he surprised me with an interview (in Spanish!) on his colleague’s daily broadcast. As nervous as I was about the interview, I couldn’t help but think, ‘I feel like a Chilean today’.
In 2011 I spent a summer in the Gran Sabana of Venezuela working with a local NGO, and living in an indigenous area. My experience working with the locals to implement workshops on sexual education and public health was incredibly enlightening. I worked closely with the organization’s Venezuelan staff and local doctor, and we exchanged information and experiences on life and culture in the U.S. and Latin America.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which interacting with local populations has allowed me to have a greater understanding and empathy for cultures outside of my own.
Q: What made you start Venture with Impact?
A: I started Venture with Impact because I, like many professionals, was torn between the desire to travel and make a social impact, while at the same time, maintaining a professional career.
I found that many people of all ages have the same desires, but also don’t want to forego financial stability and professional development.
Venture with Impact solves the problem by allowing people to work remotely from their jobs in a foreign country for one or two months.
We organize the accommodation, workspace, and 24/7 support for professionals that work remotely for their current positions. In their free time they have the opportunity to dive into a new culture through local events a individualized pro-bono projects.
Q: What’s the mission of the organization?
A: The mission of Venture with Impact is to expose professionals to new cultures, people and ideas so that they may be more informed and empathetic world citizens, and in the process, provide a positive social impact.
Q: You’re allowing people to combine travel and volunteering. What programs do you have for them?
A: Venture with Impact plans co-working retreats for professional that travel abroad for a month, and work remotely for their job back home. We have a variety of professionals that join us each month including software developers, marketing managers, educators, lawyers, etc.
In addition to providing accommodations, workspace and local support, we offer a social impact component in which each Venturer is matched with an individualized pro-bono project with a local partner organization.
Although there are a few existing programs that plan travel experiences for remote workers, there are no organizations that so thoroughly integrate and emphasize the community relationships and cultural experience like Venture with Impact. We are the only program of its kind that includes a social impact component.
Each Venturer works on an individualized project that aligns with their skills and interests as well as the needs of our partner organizations. We have had professionals with backgrounds in marketing consult on marketing plans and create social media calendars, software developers build websites, project managers consult on improving systems, and much more.
Q: What’s your advice for those just starting to follow their dreams?
A: I tell others what I tell myself every day:
Take risks, be positive and optimistic, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and use your network.
Don’t be hesitant to tell people about your idea and spread the word. We are so afraid of failure and what others think…but most people don’t spend time thinking about what that you failed at, but if you succeed, it’s something that they notice.
Q: What’s next for VWI?
A: In 2018 we are expanding to two new locations: Chiang Mai, Thailand and Lisbon Portugal.
In the past, we have primarily worked with professionals that have applied individually for our programs, and received permission from their employer. Moving forward we are partnering with many more companies that are including a VWI experience as part of their employee benefits and perks package.
Q: Aside from that, what do you want to achieve personally in the following year(s)?
A: I am almost fluent in Spanish. However, I have great improvements to make with Portuguese, and I would also like to learn Thai, as Portugal and Thailand are two of our upcoming locations.