Annessa Kaufman is the executive assistant at Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) in Washington, DC. She has worked as a SCUBA instructor in Honduras, Thailand, and Indonesia, and as the marketing coordinator for Solimar International, where she led creation of a marketing toolkit for tourism enterprises. After earning a Masters of Tourism Administration from George Washington University School of Business, she accepted a year-long MBA Without Borders volunteer assignment, part of an USAID-funded project, in Sri Lanka as a tourism advisor.
Fully committed to seeing the tourism industry succeed, Annessa took the initiative to build cooperation between tourism enterprises. Distrust within and between communities bred by the 30-year civil war kept people from working together. Getting 30 tourism entrepreneurs – all at different stages of business development – to meet together was transformative in fostering the collaboration needed to attract more tourists to the area. Annessa laid the foundation for and helped to launch a National Geographic-branded Geotourism program (tourism that sustains a place’s environment, heritage and culture). She engaged with local stakeholders to guide creation of a locally crowd-sourced destination marketing website, www.easternsrilanka.com, working with them to envision and identify the Eastern Province’s brand and sense of place, as well as stakeholders’ hopes and goals. Annessa also identified small tourism enterprises that could benefit from technical assistance offered through the USAID-funded BIZ+ project. One new social enterprise, Ecowave, more than doubled its revenue in its first year of BIZ+ assistance by implementing new marketing and sales tactics that allowed it to increase its cooking class offerings.
Annessa’s time as a SCUBA instructor helped her develop credibility with local entrepreneurs, who were, for the most part, young and interested to talk with someone with comparable experiences. She wrote blog posts and introduced visiting friends to communities and families, nurturing cross-cultural exchanges. Her experience helped her develop patience, active listening, and collaboration skills, accounting for social and gender biases. Two years later, she still keeps in touch with Sri Lankan friends and colleagues, and was thrilled to see the Eastern Province highlighted in the New York Times’ “50 Places to Visit in 2016.”
There was a shift from the beginning of my assignment to the end in ways of collaboration. It took a while to understand how to operate in the Sri Lankan context, so I had to listen a lot first and try not to make assumptions.
– Annessa Kaufman, volunteer