Natalia Teichmann - Founder & Executive Director
Natalia is a Brazilian law graduate, who happened to turn her career toward the nonprofit sector, so she could live a more simple and meaningful life. After working for two years for an NGO, where she helped organizations improve their volunteer programs, she used her project management skills and experience to start Iris Social. Today, Natalia considers herself both a consultant and an entrepreneur.
You ditched your career as a lawyer to work for an NGO. What sparked your change of heart?
I’ve always been very idealistic. As a child, my dream was becoming a doctor and going to Africa with Doctors Without Borders. I still don’t know why I chose to became a lawyer; guess I thought I could do right by society. In the end, it only brought me frustration. That was when I decided I had to go back to my first dream, but adapted it to my current reality.
How did you eventually come up with the idea behind Iris Social?
I believe in volunteering. I worked with it for two years at a Brazilian NGO giving training to other organizations on how to make the best out of the partnership with the volunteers and building projects with them. With all the critics regarding volunteer tourism, I knew I had to do differently and prove that voluntourism has great potential, especially inside Brazil. That’s how Iris Social started.
Why is the Iris Social mission important in the world today?
I think volunteer tourism is about making connections and creating empathy, which is a very important matter. All great things a human being can do for another starts with empathy. But Iris wants to go a little further and present our travelers with a whole different way of making tourism, highlighting small local communities and putting them as protagonists, and generating income and empowerment. It’s really a win-win situation.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
As Iris Social is a small local agency, I have to do a great number of things, so it’s very dynamic really. I work a lot with communications, creating content for our Brazilian website, where we keep a blog to bring more information about impactful tourism to people in Portuguese. I’m always in contact with the NGOs and prospecting new partners, as well as answering questions about our work. I am also in charge of the legal and financial aspects, so as I said, it’s very dynamic.
How do you ensure Iris Social continues to meet the demands and trends of the responsible tourism industry?
The first thing is to keep questioning what I’m doing. Is this making things better for the local community and NGO? Am I causing any damage on the process? Can I improve my results?
The second thing is to keep informing myself by reading a lot from people doing similar things globally, talking to my customers and partners, and really listening to their feedback. At lastly, I have to be prepared to learn from my mistakes and changing course.
Explain “responsible tourism” in your own words.
Responsible tourism is about consciousness. Being conscious that travelling can be harmful to local communities, being conscious that you are privileged in a way, but your hosts are privileged in a number of other ways (t’s important to look for that), being conscious that there is a better way to travel, one that brings great things to all those involved, and travel is also about an exchange of great things, lessons, culture, and knowledge.
How does Iris Social help convert people from tourists to responsible tourists?
By providing experiences and not just tourism. That is such a great cliché and we all should do it. An experience implies more than just seeing, but doing, questioning, being engulfed on the process and making it your own. If you can do that to the tourist, he’s gonna give you his best and he’s gonna change himself too.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring responsible tourists?
Don’t think you are some kind of savior, cause you are not. You are aiding incredible people and they are giving you so much in return. So, remember to listen and learn from them.
Where do you see Iris Social in the next 5 years?
We’ll have expeditions to five of the greatest traditional communities in Brazil and partner NGOs in the five geographic regions of the country, bringing people from all over the world to give them a hand and to be amazed by the abundance of culture we have in the country.
What makes your daily work more fulfilling than your career as a lawyer?
Purpose. Again, a cliché, but such an amazing one! To feel that what you are doing is bringing joy and prosperity to people is amazing. Learning different lessons all the time is also a plus! I am constantly under the impression that I’m being taught by one of those great life changing lecturers on how to be happier.