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'The Sustainable Dragons' Den': Interview With G Project's Cyndi Zesk

by Katka Lapelosová May 13, 2013

The G Project is a global initiative sponsored by G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation which strives to connect people in the world with world-changing ideas, one project at a time. Based on their innovative strategies to make a difference, contestants who enter the G Project have a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to Costa Rica and present their proposals at the Summit in the Jungle, a conference where like minds from several nations and industries will meet to discuss how we can make the world a better place.

This initiative promotes global collaboration in resolving the world’s toughest issues, such as environmental preservation, poverty, and sustainable development. I discussed it with Cyndi Zesk, VP Global Marketing & Managing Director US for G Adventures. It’s clear from her responses that this is no ordinary “SAVE THE WORLD! FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF!” campaign for change — the G Project is going to be majorly influential.

Read on to see why you should submit your global plans to the G Project today.

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KL: What triggered the creation of the G Project? How is this initiative different from other global-change campaigns?

CZ: When it comes to travel, most marketing efforts focus on product promotion. But with the G Project, we wanted to do something a little more ambitious than just give away another trip. Instead, we sought to empower people to make a difference on an individual and personal level. The G Project has encouraged people to join us in delivering on one of our fundamental promises as a company — that of changing people’s lives. It’s not just about travel any longer — it’s about something much bigger.

I believe what differentiates this from other cause marketing efforts is that the G Project is deeply embedded in what G Adventures has always stood for as a company. We’re not a soft drink maker hoping to move bottles of fizzy water by doing some good that’s unrelated to their product or purpose. We’re a people-focused social enterprise with a strong internal culture dedicated to promoting sustainable development through travel — and trying to do the right thing wherever and whenever possible. Making the world a better place is part of our collective DNA and it’s top-of-mind as we develop our travel programs.

Are you looking for projects that are pretty established and just need that extra “boost” to make a big impact, or conceptual ideas that have potential to really make change?

In short, both. It’s our not-for-profit foundation Planeterra that provides us with the flexibility to consider both independent ideas and those tied to a pre-existing cause. Because Planeterra is an integral part of G Adventures, we’re provided with an insider’s understanding of the challenges facing the places to which we travel. This unique perspective permits us to take on nascent ideas or established causes, while providing effective, long-term solutions that result in lasting opportunities for communities all over the world.

Do you think it’s better to focus on using your resources to help developing nations abroad, or focus on issues concerning your local community?

For me, it’s less about the ‘where’ and more about the ‘why’. The G Project is all about building an emotional connection. It’s not simply about supporting a cause, it’s about supporting an idea that people you know believe in, that they can relate to on a personal level. Whether that happens at home or abroad is, in my opinion, a moot point. Supporting an idea from someone you know is what’s most immediate and powerful — that’s democracy and engagement at its very best.

How did you decide on the four themes: Freedom, Beauty, Knowledge, and Community? Can you provide a brief description of ideas that might fit into these categories?

Essentially, we created the four categories as a way to inspire people to submit and vote for ideas that help make the world a better place. We created the ‘Freedom’ category specifically for ideas that sought to improve the well-being of people, the ‘Beauty’ category for ideas focused on protecting the planet for future generations, the ‘Knowledge’ category for ideas that promoted education and greater understanding, and the ‘Community’ category for those ideas that made the world a better place to live.

What role does social media play in the G Project?

In my opinion, social media often starts the conversation. And then helps spread the message in ways traditional media never could. With the G Project, we started the conversation because we created the subject. But if you visit the G Project website, pull up Facebook, or check out the #gproject hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see that the conversation has taken on a life of its own. It’s really about the community. At the end of the day, the G Project is about creating a space for people to have meaningful discussions about things that matter.

How is the G Project campaign different from other crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.?

While the sites you mention are interesting in their own right, the G Project is more than just a fundraising platform — we are a partner in creating change. With the support of the Planeterra Foundation and our travel industry partners, we’re able to provide the right set of tools, advice, people, and support to help ensure that the chosen idea is brought to life in a way that is as efficient and sustainable as possible. We don’t simply develop good ideas or make funding contributions, we also produce the supply chain for these initiatives — and that makes what we do very different from the rest.

The G Project recruited some incredibly influential world icons, like scientist Jane Goodall, and anthropologist Wade Davis, to choose the final four projects. What qualities did you look for when deciding who would sit on this prestigious panel?

We sought leaders from both the private and nonprofit sectors with extensive experience. They’re CEOs, foundation presidents, and some of the most innovative thinkers in social good, chosen for their proven track record and commitment to moving the world forward. We knew we could rely on them to inspire people from all over the world to submit promising and innovative ideas.

What is the biggest point you’d like contestants to understand concerning the philosophies of the G Project and the Planeterra Foundation?

We’d like to inspire everyone in our industry. We firmly believe that tourism has the power to drive extraordinary change — to level the balance of wealth around the globe and to make our world a better place. Our business model isn’t about bottom-lines and turnover. It’s about happiness, freedom, and independence — for our travellers, for our employees, and for the communities we visit.

In my opinion, this is our greatest strength. Because of such a firm commitment to these qualities, we’ve become adept at forming a quick consensus and making swift decisions. It’s helped us overcome challenges in the past. In the future, we will capitalize on these strengths by focusing our business activities on helping to make the world a better place for the benefit of everyone. The G Project is just the beginning.

How will the conference, Summit in the Jungle, impact global change, and what can G Project finalists take back from the experience?

We feel that the Summit in the Jungle will endorse the critical role that everyday people play in moving our communities forward and making them better. As an opportunity to bring changemakers together, it will encourage attendees and speakers from vastly different fields to cross-fertilize and draw inspiration from unlikely places. It will also turn a spotlight on the importance of business, nonprofits, and committed individuals working across boundaries to help each other more effectively. It’s a little like a sustainable version of Dragons’ Den.

What global issues do you feel need to be addressed NOW?

I think that one of the most pressing global issues is poverty and the distribution of wealth. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $3 a day. In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 75% of total consumption, while the poorest fifth accounted for just 1.5%. We need a major perceptual shift to address these inequalities.

Can you describe something that you are really proud to have accomplished, that may have had an impact on the success/happiness/well-being of someone else?

It’d have to be the G Project. Just based on the quality of the ideas we’ve received thus far, I’m confident that we’ll have played a part in making the world a little better for someone out there. To be candid, what’s impressed me is how much the G Project has connected not just travellers, but also our employees and our partners, in pursuit of something positive. I’m really proud of the way that it’s helped us to cultivate and celebrate this collective optimism. The G Project will help shift perceptions of how consumers choose to travel. We believe this awareness alone will inspire changes in the kinds of trips people take.

What criteria does a G Project need to make it effective?

I think the ideas that have the greatest chance of success are those that focus on creating sustainable solutions while leveraging the power of the travel industry and the energy and inspiration of global citizens. Like all of Planeterra’s projects, the winning idea will likely demonstrate a clear vision of long-term objectives, display an understanding of local needs, and transform good intentions into tangible benefits for communities. Hence, criteria will favour ideas that focus on local communities with a strong social element. This post proudly produced in partnership with The G Project. Submit your world changing idea.

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