Posted by: BY DEBORAH SWEENEY
Welcome to Fantastic B Corps, MyCorporation’s salute to the entity that gives back to business and society. Join us biweekly for a glimpse at the entrepreneurs using their small business to “B The Change” in this global movement for good.
For over 25 years, travelers have been introduced to some of the world’s most fascinating places, people, and experiences through The Road Less Traveled. More than simply exploring the extraordinary that the world has to offer, they are also being educated through the “Do No Harm” social and environmental values taught by the company’s founders Donna and Jim Stein. Read on to find out more about Donna and Jim and their Chicago, IL-based B Corp.
How we got our start: “It has been over 25 years since we began The Road Less Traveled. It was a sunny summer afternoon in Chicago, when we purposefully took pen to an illustrious ‘yellow pad of paper’ at our kitchen table and made a choice to follow a dream. We had no idea where it would lead us or what the future would hold. Our hope as new parents and pioneers of an adventure travel program was to create a one-of-a-kind, life-changing experience for youth that would transform lives around the world. We were young, passionate, and convinced we could make a difference.
My love of the outdoors began while growing up in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, during the turbulent ‘60s, I escaped the hot summers of the city and found respite in the north woods of Michigan. It was there that I discovered independence and solace in the outdoors. To this day, I believe it saved my life. In my late teens, I moved to Chicago with the idea (not dissimilar to Mary Tyler Moore in the opening scene of her show) that I ‘just might make it after all.’ I worked days and put myself through school at night. After graduating, I was fortunate to gain extensive business experience in corporations and non-profit organizations. Today I manage all development, operations, programming and marketing, and uphold the rigorous standards that support the mission, training, and policies of The Road Less Traveled.
“ Our goal was and remains to support young people learning to view the world in a new way. Our programs take young people outside to seek adventure, experience challenge, make new friends, build community and understand the world and its people in a new and different way. We were clear, the most important gift we could give the developing minds and hearts of teens was a deeper sense and understanding of the world — first hand. One that was not conveyed through media, Facebook, or YouTube clips. One formed for themselves – outside themselves.”
For the love of a mission-driven business: “On January 2nd, 2013, RLT became the first business in Illinois to be recognized as a Benefit Corporation (B-Corporation). Purpose driven, RLT meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency for the benefit of all. We love being a B Corp because Benefit Corporation legislation creates the legal framework to enable mission-driven companies like ours to stay mission-driven. Making our mission explicit in its legal structure, institutionalizing the values, culture, processes and the high standards we put in place over two decades ago as founding entrepreneurs means that we can ensure our work is done and will continue in the spirit in which it was intended – to ‘Do No Harm’ – now, and well beyond our lifetime.”
On growing as a family business: “As we look back over the past 25+ years, we realize we could never have anticipated what was being created that summer afternoon. We have grown into an internationally recognized and highly respected company with educational programs in adventure, service learning, language, leadership, and global perspectives in over 20+ countries around the world. Thousands of young people have joined us on “The Road.” I think that our biggest success story has been the impact we have been able to provide through our programming for so many young adults and future leaders. We have been fortunate enough to successfully grow and adapt our company over many changes in the past 26 years while still remaining happily married and raising three incredible children. It still holds true for those in family businesses that working with your spouse counts as double-time when anniversaries are celebrated!”
How we were able to “B The Change” with bees — literally! “This year, RLT has made some big changes. In the spring, we decided to take action to help save the pollinators after learning that bees are dying at an alarming rate and that colonies are being weakened by mites, pesticides, and chemicals. To do our part, we sent our office staff to ‘Bee School’ to learn best practices of beekeeping, and we now have two hives on the roof of our office. Our worker bees and two queens, Ramona and Ophelia, have been working hard, and this July, their hard work has paid off in the form of our first honey harvest! Given the success of our first two hives, we decided that we wanted to expand our bee population beyond the roof of the office. We are currently in the process of trying to acquire the vacant land around our office to grow our apiary and start an urban community garden. We are transforming what has previously been considered a brownfield zone into a more vibrant, lively, and healthy environment for all.”
If you want to become a B Corp… “Just do it! Becoming a Benefit Corporation has allowed us to continue pursuing our vision for a company that allows young people to change their lives through travel, adventure, and service-learning while also formalizing our commitments to educate on corporate, social and environmental responsibility. One of the sessions we hold during our training is titled: Knowing Who You Work For. I can’t think of any better advice for the next generation. Becoming a B-Corp has truly allowed us to ‘Be the Change,’ and we highly encourage others considering B-Corp status to do the same!”
How the Benefit Corporation movement inspires hope: “We are definitely optimistic about the future of the B Corp movement. The movement was initiated by some of the most the most influential companies that exist today. We are the pioneers who founded our companies on the tenants of what it means to be a B Corporation. Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, Warby Parker, and The Road Less Traveled inspire the next generation to keep pushing forward with a mission and values that make a difference. “ This is what brings hope, this is what will sustain the future of the movement. As entrepreneurs we have brought social and environmental change into our industries and served as examples for future generations.”
About Jim and Donna Stein, Owners of The Road Less Traveled
Donna Stein has been seeking adventure, perfecting travel, and teaching youth over 30 years. In 2013 she brought new life to Geography of Hope: reestablished the organization in Chicago and refueled it’s purpose with her passion. Donna’s love of the outdoors began while growing up in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, during the turbulent ‘60’s, Donna escaped the hot summers of Detroit and found respite in the north woods of Michigan, where she discovered independence and solace in the outdoors. Donna gained extensive business experience in corporations and non-profit organizations before leaving the corporate world to found The Road Less Traveled, with her husband Jim Stein. She manages all development, operations, marketing, and upholds the rigorous standards that support the mission, training, and policies of RLT. Donna is most happy during RLT’s intensive and in depth 10 day staff training in MI and anytime she can play with her three children: Ben, Callie and Emma.
Jim Stein discovered his lifelong commitment to education and leadership in the wilderness at an early age. When he was 15, he participated on Man and His Land, a nine-week wilderness experience with Nelson Wieters, founder, director, and pioneer of the first wilderness adventure program offered in the western United States. Jim led and directed expeditions for Nelson for nearly a decade. With his extensive experience, Jim is involved in all aspects of expedition safety, management, program design and training at The Road Less Traveled.