We both grew up in Boston and shared a passion for travel at an early age. We first met each other in high school and had a few rocky dates. After graduating, we went our separate ways; Harriet graduated from Kent State, and Alan went into business without finishing college. Six years later, we met again. This time we connected—the teacher and the entrepreneur.
We invested in our first travel company in 1973 and in 1985 we took one of the biggest risks of our lives: we purchased Grand Circle Travel. Eight years later, we acquired Overseas Adventure Travel.
When we started our own company we did so with a huge dream—to create a business that helped change people's lives. We dreamed of helping to change the lives of our travelers, by offering unbelievable adventure and discovery and opportunities to explore daily life in the villages we visit; our associates, by creating a workplace culture based on values and challenging each person to find and follow their passion; the people in the villages we visit who make our travel experiences real and meaningful, and many who need our help. We still hold this dream and it is what gets us out of bed in the morning with energy and spirit, inspiring us to make a difference.
Giving back where we live, work, and travel has been part of our lives since we were young. We each share a fundamental belief that with good fortune and health comes a responsibility to contribute to your community, share what you can, and endeavor to make our world a bit better. Moreover, we believe that each of us wants to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and that companies can help their associates realize this basic desire by providing opportunities to serve and teaching them how to give back.
In our early years as owners there were so many people and causes that we wanted to support—immediate and personal causes. As the company grew and we became a bit wiser, we decided to think more strategically about what a difference our giving could make if we focused. In 1992, we created the Grand Circle Foundation to give something of lasting value back to the world we travel, and over the years, we refined our focus to the schools and villages that are part of our trips. It is because you choose to travel with us that we are able to give back so generously to the people and places we visit around the world.
But for us it was never, and never will be, about just writing a check. This work is too important to stop there. For us, giving back is personal—very personal. Yes, we make donations—lots of them. In fact, since the Grand Circle Foundation started in 1992, philanthropy has been an integral part of our business, and we have pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools around the world.
Many of these schools and villages are literally in the path of our travelers—which gives them the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the daily life of a village. Our hope is that they return from their journey with a deeper appreciation for what unites people worldwide. Breaking bread with local families, and getting to know them in the process, gives our travelers the power to change the world. We don't want our travelers to come back home and say, "Let me tell you what I saw." We hope they return and say, "Let me tell you who I met and what I learned." In turn, we believe our overseas hosts will learn something about Americans, too.
To us, giving back is also about leadership, service—and even world peace. We are passionate about leadership development. We have learned over the years that the organizations that will make the most lasting and significant social change are the ones that have great leaders—or, as we call them, gutsy leaders. We are in the midst of the most significant world changes of our lifetime, and these are the leaders of the future.
With change comes remarkable opportunity and it takes a strong leader to seize opportunity. That is why we established the Pinnacle Leadership Center in 1992: to teach leadership lessons. It is also why when we choose where to invest our time or resources, we first go with strong leaders—and why we now invest so much of our personal time helping to develop the next generation of social entrepreneurial leaders from all over the world.
Among our associates here in our headquarters in Boston, and in our offices around the world, the spirit of service abounds. In this crazy, busy world, your time can be one of the hardest and greatest gifts you can give. Our associates generously offer their time and talent to make their communities a bit better. From renovating the nation's first shelter for homeless veterans here in Boston ... to rebuilding classrooms in Thailand ... cleaning a park in Russia ... building a new road to a school in Cambodia ... or creating a sustainable microfarm in rural Costa Rica, our associates care and care deeply. As owners, it is deeply humbling and gratifying to work with a team of dedicated people who remind us each day that we can and we do help change people's lives.
Over the years, we have received many awards to recognize our leadership and social responsibility. They're nice, but at the end of the day, the real reward is knowing that with your help, children in the delta of Argentina have classrooms in which to study ... in Costa Rica they have a meal, which for some is the only one of the day ... in Tanzania, schoolchildren now have a place to attend secondary school ... and children in Zimbabwe have clean water to drink. When you step back after a day of service to restore the home of an elderly homeowner who will now be safe and warm during the Boston winter, or move a family from the homeless shelter to a real home, there's a real satisfaction in knowing the time you gave in service to another made a difference. Helping to develop new leaders, who will in turn, coach and pass the baton to the next generation of leaders for social change, ensures that the work we do continues in the years to come.
We are so proud to be Americans. We will never underestimate, take for granted, or diminish American generosity—generosity that we witness every day from the travelers and organizations who humble us with their support. Last year, we both turned 60. At this time in our lives, we are more committed than ever to help change people's lives by giving back to the world where we live, work, and travel.
Love and peace,
Alan and Harriet