Welcome to our new member – Envoys
Interview with Seth Leighton, SVP, Education
Tell us your story. How did Envoys get started?
The founding team at Envoys met while studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where a common interest in cultural awareness, empathic skills and academic achievement inspired the development of a new paradigm for developing global competency. Recognizing that the true potential for educational travel required programming to meet the same high expectations that have been placed on the rest of the education sector, we sought to ensure that the opportunities schools were able to offer for students to travel abroad had the same deep focus on student learning and agency as all other areas of the curriculum.
What makes Envoys different from your competitors?
Envoys is differentiated by the comprehensive curriculum that we imbue in every program, and the ways in which we engage students and faculty in developing a greater understanding of the trade-offs and complications involved with ‘doing good’. A key component of our programming is bringing students into contact with organizations and individuals that act as societal change-makers, fostering an understanding for students of both the inherent complexity of global issues and the potential for dedicated actors to make lasting improvements. To realize these learning goals, we have developed over eighty organizational partnerships, including a senior citizen center in Havana to a school for the children of migrant workers in Beijing to a DPRK defector employment agency in Seoul.
What is your favourite success story from your organisation?
We are proud of the ways in which we have brought schools together to expand the boundaries of possibility for global education programming. In 2019, we designed and implemented programming for member schools from the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) learning about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of Morocco. Students and teachers from five different schools took foundational online courses on the history of the SDGs and the ‘big picture’ of the Moroccan context, as well as travel health and safety. While in country, student groups rotated through immersions with several Moroccan organizations whose work was directly connected to selected SDGs, allowing the deeper exploration of the struggle for gender equality in a predominantly-Muslim country, the education opportunities available to young Moroccans, lingering colonial identities and inequality, and Morocco’s emerging strategies to protect biodiversity while also developing the nation economically. The program culminated with a daylong policy simulation, where students formed interest groups and conducted negotiations based on their programmatic learnings.
What can we expect to see from Envoys in the future?
We have made substantial investments in developing curriculum and programming that involves students in making realistic assessments of service projects and carbon costs for travel programs, providing learners with a greater understanding of the trade-offs and complications involved with global education. Instead of an idealized checklist that is impossible to realize in the world, the frameworks we are developing provide four key domains within which conversation can take place. Each domain comprises a set of questions that dig into the nuances of the particular service project. Ratings and justifications are utilized within the framework as avenues for planners and participants alike to critically evaluate the choices made and implicit and explicit assumptions held by the project.
The term “CEDE” was consciously chosen for this framework in order to frame the process as a release of the tensions, inhibitions, and shame that often comprises service learning. Engaging in the process requires acknowledgement and acceptance of the particular problems for a chosen project, including those elements that could lead to serious ethical issues. As making thoughtful choices lies at the heart of the CEDE process, all project stakeholders, including students and community partners, are engaged in authentic and frank discussions, thereby achieving certainty around the choices made.
Which trends do you see in educational and active youth travel?
In the realm of experiential education, there has been a gradual shift from anecdotal stories of student growth to a fact-based analysis of skill gains and the elements that contributed to those transformations. The introduction of data-based considerations to programmatic decision-making is having a transformational effect for our partner schools, as choices can be made based on educational rationales, as opposed to purely financial or logistical reasons.
How do you work to ensure the health and safety of young travellers involved with Envoys?
We believe that making sound decisions is the single largest responsibility of any program leader. On a daily basis, leaders are accountable for making consequential choices on what the group will eat, how they will travel, and how activities will be run. The duty of care imposed by traveling with youth requires these decisions to meet standards of reasonable care, regardless of the context. However, true accountability can only be realized when the level of expectations placed on individuals is matched by institutional support.
From our understanding of this reality, we have spent several years designing, testing, and refining a mobile checklist system for use in the field. This tool provides real-time assistance for leaders to navigate complex field situations, document the choices that they have made, and efficiently convey information to relevant stakeholders. The heart of the system is a series of checklists, available with or without a network connection, that provide step-by-step procedural advice and protocols for field staff. Checklist submissions are time-stamped and geo-located, creating documented records of programmatic standards in practice. Incident reports result in email/SMS triggers to various stakeholders, facilitating the dissemination of information and allowing for rapid activation of resources during a crisis.
Since launching the system in 2014, the tool has been used on over 400 programs in 16 different countries, impacting well over 20,000 student travelers. We continue to iterate and refine the system to improve its efficiency and efficacy, building the capacity of program leaders to meet their duty of care and make better decisions.
What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation?
Around the office, we have a saying. “Today’s ceiling is tomorrow’s floor.” With a fail-tolerant and iterative culture, our team works each day not only to keep up with developments within the industry, but also to contribute to that progress. We were motivated to join the WYSE Confederation because we wish to learn from and with our fellow experiential educators and members of the global education community.
Have you attended a WYSE Travel Confederation event? (WYSTC, STAY WYSE, WYSE Exchange Australia, WETM-IAC) If so, what was your experience with the event?
Members of our team attended a WYSTC conference in Hong Kong, and were inspired by the wealth and diversity of partnership possibilities.
What is an industry challenge your organisation is facing currently?
We see the need for immediate actions to reduce and offset the carbon impact of travel programming as the largest challenge for the educational travel industry. We have undertaken an ambitious and concentrated effort to reduce climate changing emissions within our offices and our programs, and are proud that all of our program flights will be made carbon-neutral for the 2019-2020 academic year, as we work towards completely carbon-neutral programming by 2021. However, we recognize that offsetting carbon emissions is not a comprehensive long term solution, and there is a need for the educational travel industry to institute standards for a sustainable future.
Envoys is an organisation created by and for educators. We work with innovative schools and teachers to expand the boundaries of possibility for global education programming. Envoys recognizes the necessity of experiences outside of the classroom to develop globally competent youth. We believe that educational travel must meet the same high expectations that have been placed on the rest of the education sector.
Upholding our mandate for community development, intercultural understanding, and empathy, Envoys partners with carefully selected experts at home and in our destination countries to develop educational experiences of the highest quality.
Membership: WYSE Travel Confederation Buyer Member