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Meet our Member: Greenheart International

Oct 11, 2017

We’ve interviewed Laura K. Rose, CEO of Greenheart International who spoke about their company re-branding, name change as well as about establishing life-long friendships via WYSE Travel Confederation:

Tell us your story. How did your business get started?

My partner and I have always been avid environmentalists and advocates for cross-cultural understanding and social justice so it has been our mission since the beginning to build an organisation that addresses environmental sustainability, social justice, and cross-cultural understanding through a wide variety of methods. What I knew from the onset is that cultural exchange has the capability to change lives and perspectives, and that for many people cultural exchange programs provide an opportunity to foster the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and abilities needed to address some of the most pressing challenges we collectively face around the world.

When my partner and I founded our company we were named Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI), but over the past 30+ years our organisation has grown into something much larger and more diverse than it was when we started. Five years ago we started a re-branding phase when we renamed our organisation Greenheart International. We made this change because the name “Greenheart” is more representative of our organisational mission and values. We are at the final stages of our re-branding with the recent renaming of our inbound cultural exchange branch to Greenheart Exchange (formerly CCI Greenheart). We are very excited about these changes as we believe our current brand and logo are globally recognised and relatable representing love and respect for people and the planet.

Our first participants were a group of seven Spanish students that we placed in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois for an academic year program. Over the past 30 years, our organisation has grown significantly, and today Greenheart International facilitates the experiences of some 11,000 participants from 75 countries on over 20 different program types. This is made possible by the invaluable contribution made by approximately 140 staff, 250 independent contractors and numerous interns within our four branches:

  • Greenheart Exchange (formerly CCI Greenheart) – facilitates cultural exchange programs (J-1 & F-1 Secondary School, J-1 Summer Work Travel, J-1 Intern, J-1 Trainee, and short-term ESL and American culture teen summer programs) for international students interested in travelling to the United states.
  • Greenheart Travel – Facilitates cultural exchange programs (high school, language immersion, volunteer, teach, work, and internships abroad) for native English speakers interested in travelling to any of the 35+ countries where we offer programs.
  • Greenheart Shop – An eco-friendly and fair trade shop which carries a wide selection of products from around the world that are fair to artisan producers and good to the earth. We have a physical shop in downtown Chicago and an online store where products are sold.
  • Greenheart Transforms – Organises events, workshops and retreats aimed at personal and social transformation.
What are your unique selling points? What makes you different? 

The most unique selling points of Greenheart Exchange and Greenheart Travel programs are that by joining one of our programs you are connected to a global network of people who care deeply about making the world a better place through cultural exchange, volunteer service, environmentalism and fair-trade. What makes us different is that by participating in a Greenheart cultural exchange program, you become connected to this vast network of hundreds of thousands of alumni participants, host families, host organisations, artisans, and individuals around the world who are all dedicated to the concepts of social justice and global sustainability in their own unique way. As an international non-profit organisation, we have the experience and resources to support individuals all over the world interested in making a lasting and positive impact on the planet.

What are some of your success stories?

As you can imagine from the wide scope of our work, our organisation has numerous success stories across our different branches. As it relates to cultural exchange, however, some of my most favourite success stories are those where former Greenheart Exchange and Greenheart Travel participants start their own organisations dedicated to cultural exchange, environmentalism, fair-trade, and/or personal and social development. I know a great number of former participants from Vietnam, Czech Republic, Brazil and the United States, to name a few, who came on a Greenheart program and were so inspired by the experience that they started their own organisation to create opportunities for even more people.

Some of my other favourite success stories involve alumni who are awarded a Greenheart Service Grant to start a project or support an existing social or environmental focused organisation in their home country. The Greenheart grant recipients have made commendable strides in literacy, education and environmental sustainability projects.  Additionally, we have many alumni who by their own volition are now working in the fields of education or are focusing on rehabilitation programs in their countries. The work these former participants partake in is inspiring. Some of these stories were most recently shared during our annual Greenheart Global Leaders Conference in Washington DC.

Which trends do you see in the programs you offer? Which challenges do you see in the programs you offer?

Over the past 30+ years we have been part of many changing trends in the programs we offer. Perhaps one current trend would be that we see many of our participants and stakeholders are seeking more tangible outcomes and deeper connections as a result of participating in a cultural exchange program. As international education and cultural exchange professionals, we strive to meet this growing demand by enriching our own programming and becoming even more intentional in our program design to allow all stakeholders to achieve specific learning outcomes.

The challenges associated with facilitating many thousands of cultural exchange programs per year are numerous. One of the greatest challenges is ensuring all participants are safe and closely looked after on all of our programs.  Participant and stakeholder safety is at the forefront of our operational mind set and guides all of our policies and procedures.

What support/safety is provided for young people joining your programmes?  

The nature of our work involves a certain level of inherent risk – travelling to a new country, meeting new people, and often times living with a language barrier in a foreign land. How we prepare ourselves, our participants and stakeholders to the inherent risks associated with cultural exchange programs, and further how we as an organisation respond to safety concerns as they arise are the most important aspects of my role as CEO of Greenheart International.

Our safety measures start long before a participant arrives on program through in-depth screening processes to approve any host organisation or host family a participant will be placed with during the program. Perhaps somewhat uniquely, our Greenheart staff undergoes extensive training on topics related to participant safety and how to respond to emergency situations. We also conduct extensive training in collaboration with our international partners to ensure participants are receiving adequate pre-departure and arrival orientations to help them prepare for any safety concerns that may arise. Through these joint efforts with our partners around the world, we focus on making participants and stakeholders aware of protocols for when they need additional support. Like most reputable organisations in our industry, we also offer 24 hour emergency support to our participants and stakeholders. We are diligent in our attempts to make sure that everyone involved in a Greenheart program understands how they can contact us and what they should do in an emergency no matter where they are in the world. Lastly, we encourage all of our participants and stakeholders to exercise extreme caution, to utilise their best judgement in navigating situations which they are presented on program, and to reach out to our staff immediately if they have any concerns about their safety.

What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation? 

I met my husband at a WYSE Travel Conference in Mexico City in 1991 when they were still called FIYTO so WYSE is particularly special to me. I have attended lots of industry conferences, but WYSE has always been the best from a standpoint of really being about networking and forming lifelong friendships with people who ultimately become some of your best clients and international partners. We could not have had the success we’ve had with our organisation had it not been for the contacts we’ve made over the years at WYSTC.

What are your future plans?

Our future plans at Greenheart Exchange and Greenheart Travel are to continue to develop high quality programs and services for our participants, partners and wide array of stakeholders around the world. We will continue to focus on being at the cutting edge of our industry by developing best practices and procedures to promote safety, well-being, fun, and learning for all who are involved in our programs. We also plan to continue fundraising for scholarships, investing in programs such as the Greenheart Global Leaders Conference, and developing enhanced resources for all stakeholders to develop an even deeper connection to our organisation for those who are interested in even more engagement with Greenheart.

For more information visit their website www.greenheart.org.

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