When giving back means getting out

Volunteering and travel go together for Ashley, head of corporate responsibility.

When giving back means getting out

I am a naturally curious person, always asking “why” probably more than the other person wants to hear. I also rarely settle for the status quo answer, because that’s seldom the way to create a more connected, whole, and sustainable society. That’s at the core of what I do, who I am, and what I stand for. Volunteering and travel go together for Ashley, head of corporate responsibility.

I also love kindhearted rebellion: If what we’re doing doesn’t benefit the whole ecosystem of voices, then why are we doing it? Is there a better way? Usually the answer doesn’t come from me, but from those impacted by decisions others make.

I lead Cole Haan’s global corporate responsibility, spending large amounts of time around the world with the communities who make our products. I also spend a lot of time traveling and volunteering.

I do this because I believe that something incredible happens when we empower diverse points of view. When they’re respected, heard, and valued for their differences, we get a more complete view of a situation, our impact, and of the world. Together, we can generate new forms of value for each other.

I travel and volunteer not only to support communities and causes I care about, but to learn about myself. I want to expose my own blindspots and potential biases by seeing the world through another’s eyes. Recognizing and celebrating our differences gives me a unique lens on problem-solving and co-creating solutions for all to thrive—not just the brand or an end user.

When giving back means getting out

Learning about the world and other cultures through travel and volunteering has been the single richest educational opportunity I’ve experienced. I’m a different, more whole, person for it.

If we allow ourselves to get lost and ditch our preconceived notions of self or others, we transform for the better. In the past year I’ve volunteered with three international organizations for these reasons. I’ve worked with Planet Water Foundation in India since 2015, partnering with Cole Haan’s manufacturing communities to bring access to clean water and hygiene education to schools. I have worked with Soles4Souls for almost a decade. I am a member of multiple board advisory committees, and volunteered most recently in Honduras to bring new shoes to schools in rural communities. In the past year, I met a newly founded non-profit in Sri Lanka, my home away from home, called Sea Sisters, which helps to empower Sri Lankan women through swimming and surfing. I volunteered as a swim instructor, harkening back to one of my very first jobs as a teenager. I plan to return to Sri Lanka and Sea Sisters in early 2021.

I could not be more grateful for the experience, knowledge, perspective, love, and wisdom gained through my travels and volunteering.

“…if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.” – Pico Iyer, Why We Travel.

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