“It doesn’t matter what the definition [of voluntourism] is…it matters what’s happening on the ground.” -Daniel Ponce-Taylor, 2016 Blue Ocean Summit.
Born on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Valencia, Daniel moved to the Balearic Island of Mallorca a few years later. Ocean exploration was destined to be a huge part of his life and mission. Since those early days, he connected to the ocean. As soon as Daniel started snorkeling and diving, he knew that he had to be a proactive actor in its exploration and conservation.
Daniel Ponce-Taylor is the former Director of Programs at Global Vision International. When we talked to him in 2016, he had held a senior position at GVI for 12 years.
More than 26,000 GVI alumni do something a little different with their vacation than lay on a beach with a drink in hand. GVI creates volunteer travel experiences. This is often referred to as voluntourism, responsible travel, or ecotourism. Overseeing the development and running of GVI’s field operations, Daniel shaped the ethos as much as it shaped him.
Sharks in Australia to Turtles in Mexico
Daniel studied Oceanography and Marine Biology at the Southampton Oceanographic Center (UK). Then he gathered field experience. Daniel worked and volunteered with sharks in Australia; turtles in Mexico, Costa Rica and Greece; and corals in Mexico and Australia.
Firsthand, Daniel understands what constitutes an impactful volunteer experience. While many only pay lip service to the mission of ‘giving back,’ it is no coincidence that Daniel’s experience is reflected in the values of the field programs at GVI.
The more common volunteer abroad or work abroad program includes short interactions with the local populace or environment. It generally has more of an impact on the visitor paying for the experience than it does on the intended target, says Daniel. These programs can also reinforce stereotypes about the supposed poverty of a ‘developing’ country. This can hold back progress and spread misinformation.
GVI uses a service learning approach and a system of monitoring that alters that paradigm.
Connecting to Global Goals
“The trip is a two-way process,” said Daniel. “It’s about what you give and what you get.”
One of Daniel’s proudest accomplishments is raising the measurement of success at GVI. They integrated the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals into their goals as an organization. Creating key performance indicators for each local project, they collect data on their impact that is relevant at a global scale. Using this data, which is in the beginning stages of collection, will allow GVI to report measurable progress. Their volunteer vacations have real impact.
SDG 14: Life Below Land
GVI supports five long-term data collection programs in Fiji, Mexico, the Seychelles, Greece, and Costa Rica including coral reef and turtle conservation research.
SDG 6: Clean Water & Sanitation
Since 2011, GVI has helped the Dawasamu District of Fiji gain over 100,000 litres of rainwater capacity.
A key part of each of GVI’s programs is inclusion of the local populace. They invite locals to learn along with their guests. Their National Scholarship Program provides opportunities for locals to take part as a guest. GVI enriches the community and is providing examples of alternative livelihood.
“Very few people are doing this,” said Daniel.
Build Skills for a Career in Ocean Conservation or a Job that Travels
Regardless of the length or location of the GVI program, guests are given material to read and study before leaving home. They are taught the skills required to participate in their course by GVI staff even before they arrive at their destination.
“All you need is a desire to learn and contribute to marine conservation,” said Daniel.
Most participants learn a skill related to marine conservation, but they also develop soft skills. Tools like adaptability, cultural awareness, and personal reflection are all gained.
Daniel himself took this approach. He cultivated a career that grew out of work and volunteer experiences calculated to give him a leg up. “I knew that in this industry you need hands-on, on the ground experience, as well as being flexible, adaptable and resourceful.”
He has collected certifications like Divers Alert Network (DAN) Divers Emergency Provider (DEMP) Instructor, PADI Divemaster, Royal Geographical Society Health & Safety Trainer, Emergency First Response (EFR) Instructor Trainer, Child Safe International Childe Protection Specialist, and RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Boat Skipper.
Service Learning: The Unspoken Impact of EcoTourism
“There is the component of service which sparks inspiration and connection to the cause. There is education which provides the tools to act, and then there is reflection which synthesizes the two.”
According to Daniel, many guests are hit with the gravity of the task at hand early on in their trip. It’s not uncommon for guests to become overwhelmed by the state of the ocean. A daily reflection period is built into the service learning model GVI employs. This allows guests the opportunity to better process their experience.
“The world we live in is so fast and we don’t think we have the time to reflect,” Daniel told Blue Ocean Summit host, Laurie Wilson. “But you cannot cement knowledge if you don’t have the time to reflect on the activity and how it affected your values and your day-to-day life back home.”
Upon leaving a trip, guests continue their education and reflection. They essentially become mini-ambassadors for ways to conserve marine life and the benefits of ecotourism in their hometowns. Sharing their newly-gained experience and knowledge influences others.
“When you hear about it [marine conservation] from family and friends, it hits home,” said Daniel.
Spreading the Message in New Areas of the Industry
Having left behind his role as Director of Programs with GVI, Daniel Ponce-Taylor has a new position with The Chilam Group in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. He is responsible for day-to-day operations, growing, and streamlining their diving / off-the-beaten-track tourism experiences. His blend of service learning and accountability in business leaves a legacy touching thousands at GVI. We hope it spreads to many new populations in Mexico as he ensures sustainability and best practices at all levels of business with the Chilam Group.
Join us for our next Blue Ocean Summit (#BOBS2018) where we connect with more #OceanChangemakers like Daniel sharing their best practices on how to make a living or lifestyle from a sustainable ocean.
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