“Travel is not just about seeing the beauty of the world but also the needs out there,” says Expedia Group’s Director of Global Product Management, Ms Shyn Yee Ho-Strangas.
“We need to be a force for change — to create a more compassionate, peaceful and just planet,” she adds.
Touching lives in the communities they are in is becoming more of a priority for the global travel platform.
Last year, Expedia appointed a new head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Asia to spearhead more than 28 CSR-related events across the region, which engaged more than 720 employees and impacted close to 6,000 beneficiaries.
A desire to drive even greater impact through collective action also led the company to join the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre’s (NVPC) Company of Good (CoG) programme as a founding member in June 2016.
Ms Ho-Strangas, 37, was invited to join the Company of Good (CoG) Fellowship’s inaugural talent development programme in 2016-17, which seeks to develop a community of corporate business leaders who will strengthen the ecosystem of corporate giving in Singapore.
“I joined the Fellowship with keen interest to learn how to develop initiatives that are sustainable and impactful. I also thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to meet, learn and gain insights from like-minded individuals, who are similarly driving CSR initiatives within their organisations,” she says.
Renewed vigour ignited by the Company of Good (CoG) Fellowship
Since its inauguration, the programme has attracted 72 fellows from over 70 multinational companies (MNCs) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across industries, ranging from professional services and technology to food and hospitality.
Ms Ho-Strangas says, participating in the five-month Fellowship programme injected renewed energy into her CSR committee’s efforts to create and drive initiatives for the business to give back.
As part of the Fellowship, all Fellows were tasked to initiate, conceptualise and execute an Action Project. After weeks of fine-tuning her idea with the programme facilitators, the Expedia Early Explorers programme for Daughters of Tomorrow’s (DoT) childminding scheme was born.
The aim of the programme is to engage the children and educate them on geography and global awareness on different countries and culture. A basic kit containing materials such as travel guides, world atlas, and colouring materials was put together for the children in the Expedia Early Explorers programme. The team even created an Expedia Early Explorers passport, in which the children could “earn” and collect stamps for each activity and week they participated in.
DoT, a registered charity in Singapore, facilitates livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged women. One of its initiatives includes a childminding programme that caters for after-childcare hours and provides contingency support, so the women can access and hold jobs in the retail, food and beverage, hospitality and service sectors, which often require shift work and working on weekends.
Over eight weeks, the children get to learn about a new country every week through an array of activities. For example, in Week 4, they learnt about Japan through an Expedia Travel video on Tokyo and basic Japanese greetings. They also got to smell Japanese teas, taste Japanese rice crackers and seaweed and have a go at creating Japanese origami.
Says Ms Ho-Strangas, “The programme has allowed Expedia to expand on our mission and vision to help people go places. We hope to evolve this programme over time and expand it beyond the initial first eight weeks.”
Change from within
Doing good has brought Expedia’s employees closer together. “Volunteer programmes create a sense of camaraderie amongst our employees as we come together to learn and share emotional, meaningful moments,” says Ms Ho-Strangas.
As many have shared positive feedback on the Expedia Early Explorers programme, the team is now planning to conduct a second run with DoT. They are also considering using this same concept in other CSR activities within Singapore, such as an upcoming Day of Caring event in September, during which the team plans to conduct a one-day event at a local school or children’s home.
Given the ease of implementation and scalability, they are currently looking to launch Expedia Early Explorers in other global locations such as London, Toronto and Buenos Aires, with the plan to invite corporate partners on board the project.
“Programmes like the CoG Fellowship give us the opportunity to continue our endeavours to help the communities we work in, in Singapore and across Asia-Pacific.” says Ms Ho-Strangas. "It has imbued in us a greater knowledge of the communities that are in need of help around us.”
On a personal level, she also finds herself more conscious about her daily decisions. “I know now that every little bit counts, every little act has a consequence, and everyone can truly make a difference.”
“Getting to know the fellows and mentors, their motivations and the impact they create, has been both inspiring and humbling. It has made me deliberate the onus of my leadership - where I’ve realised that a greater, collective purpose makes the marathon worth the run.”