Meet our Zumbee …
Zumbee is a dedicated and long-term member of our EL family – one of our team of female Mongolian trip assistants. Zumbee is from a herding family in Dungobi Aimag in Mongolia’s Middle Gobi although she is currently based in Ulaanbaatar (UB – Mongolia’s capital city) where she moved to start university. Zumbee came to us when she was just starting out on her future career path of being a GP. She wanted to work in tourism as she needed financial support for her extensive studies but also wanted to expand her horizons and improve her life skills and prospects through working in tourism – not just through her own self-development or through learning English but also coming into contact with different nationalities and cultures. She joined our (at the time, fledgling) free low season training programme and as the programme has developed, so has our Zumbee – leading up to her graduation this week.
She’s faced difficulties and challenges – including balancing studying fulltime whilst looking after her younger siblings and, during her final year of study, becoming pregnant and giving birth to a beautiful daughter. Zumbee has also faced criticism when working as a trip assistant – especially being faced with comments implying that she is either too young to work in tourism or that she shouldn’t be working in tourism if she has no intension to pursue a career in tourism. But she’s faced those challenges and criticisms face on and look what she has achieved. Her well-deserved congratulations came not only from friends and family in Mongolia but from the UK, Australia and South Africa.
Zumbee is what the philosophy of EL is all about. We believe we have a collective purpose and we’re not motivated by profit or by trying to be number one on TripAdvisor. We’re a registered social travel enterprise driven by a set of ethics and values. Being a social enterprise means that we’re a social business with a social conscience. We’re proud of our commitment to making a positive difference in Mongolia – supporting a wide spectrum of Mongolia’s society – and to breaking down typical tourism stereotypes and clichés of Mongolia. One of the ways we provide support is with our free low season training and development programme for Mongolian women which also includes us creating employment opportunities for them through the Mongolia trips and experiences we offer to our international guests.
From my own experience of working in tourism, I noticed that there was very much a ‘circuit’ with the same guides or leaders being employed across a range of companies. Or, western leaders being used instead of local Mongolians. But how do those who are local to a country and that want to work in tourism but have limited experience or qualifications get the chance to do so? As part of our philosophy of making a difference, we don’t employ those considered the ‘best’ guides by other companies who already have guaranteed work and move from company to company. Instead, we want to show that everyone has great potential, a fact reflected in the free training and support we provide to those that want the opportunity to aim to be the best they can be.
We know the personal reasons as to why each member wants to work in tourism but whether they want a future in tourism doesn’t matter. What’s important are the personal reasons as to why they want to work in tourism – whether that’s gaining confidence, new skills or economic empowerment – and what they can bring to EL. Not only do we invest, train and then recruit but we also retain as well. Our team of trip assistants are young, dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train and develop – they’re the future of Mongolia. Or, as some of them are teachers and lecturers, they’re inspiring the future of Mongolia and leading by example.
Yes, providing opportunities for Mongolian women does tick a couple of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. But do we provide opportunities to Mongolian women to tick the equal opportunities box? No. It goes deeper than that. I am lucky enough to be in a position to run my own business and, as a woman, it is important to me to use my skills and influence to improve the prospects for other women.