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James Thornton, The Intrepid Foundation Chairman, Intrepid Group CEO

February 4, 2019

What does shared value mean to you?

For me, it’s the natural evolution of altruism – to a more sustainable partnerships-based model.

The reality is that while there’s nothing wrong with corporate philanthropy, it can be too easy to give up if there’s no underlying value to the business. That’s why it makes more sense to take a partnership-driven approach, by working with organisations to solve social and environmental problems, whilst also gaining a competitive advantage.

Ultimately, it’s doing good while making a profit; and using that profit to ensure we can keep doing good.

What led you individually to the shared value concept? How did you come across it?

I first came across the concept when I joined Intrepid in 2005 – long before we had a name for it.

Almost 30 years ago, our founders recognised that to succeed as a sustainable business, we needed to ensure our travellers had the best experience possible, while also benefitting the people and places they visited. We had a clear understanding that the only way to build a genuine, reciprocally beneficial relationship between travellers and local communities was to become long-term partners – where the more we grew as a business, the more we could help them thrive.

To this day, this feeds into how we create our trips, our employment process, our responsible travel iniaitves and the causes we support and advocate for.

What does shared value success look like at your company and where is your company on the journey?

To us, it’s all about continuing to grow with purpose. Intrepid returned to independent ownership in 2015 to focus on purpose beyond profit, and we’ve just celebrated our third consecutive year of record growth. The best part is that as our resources and our influence grows, so too does the impact we can have on benefitting and preserving our planet.

We do this by supporting local organisations through our not-for-profit The Intrepid Foundation, and by growing the demand for sustainable travel. This means forging partnerships that help us to create a positive impact socio-economically, culturally and environmentally. From there, it’s ensuring that each stakeholder benefits from the relationship, so they continue to work with us on mutually rewarding projects.

What is your role as a leader in supporting shared value within your organisation?

My role as CEO is to embed a culture of creating shared value across our global multi-brand business. As Chairman of The Intrepid Foundation, we’ve reviewed our focus to target the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 – which is about fostering decent work and economic growth.

By supporting partners that create jobs in tourism, or training people to work in the industry, we’re aiming to enhance sustainable employment opportunities and economies in the local communities we visit. We know that tourism accounts for one in 10 of the world’s jobs today, and so we want to use this power to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable individuals; particularly women, youths and minorities.

For example, in 2017, we partnered with WWF and DFAT on a community-based tourism (CBT) project in the Madi Valley of Nepal. We worked with the local community to help turn its problem of human-wildlife conflict into a sustainable wildlife and cultural tourism opportunity. This helped us to empower local women through employment, while offering travellers a new and immersive experience.

How has practicing shared value helped you individually in your role or career more generally?

I believe it’s made me a stronger CEO. By operating our company through the lens of creating shared value, I’m better able to balance purpose and profitability long-term.

Creating shared value also makes our business more resilient and innovative, as we explore solutions to combat commercial challenges, and some of the world’s most pressing problems.

What do you think are some pertinent issues in Australia that could be solved through creating shared value?

Of course, climate change comes to mind. But equally important is the diversification of our economy, and how that could help us to achieve reconciliation between our First Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

As an Australian-owned business, we recently completed our first Reconcilation Action Plan, which formalises our commitment to increasing our support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, through innovative partnerships and employment opportunities. This way, we’re spreading the benefit of tourism whilst delivering more authentic cultural experiences for our travellers.

This year, we’ve partnered with Mission Australia on a program called Café One, to give at-risk youths in Darwin vocational training. We’ve also committed to helping reduce the greenhouse gas emissions created by savanna fires in Arnhem Land, as one of our six key renewable energy projects over the next three years.