The Road Less Traveled is a B Corporation based in Chicago, Illinois that is centered around providing young people with a chance to explore the world through community and environmental service. The Road Less Traveled was founded 30 years ago by Donna and Jim Stein with the sole intention of “creating something they believe in.” Since then, the two have been giving youth the opportunity to spend summers abroad to engage in community outreach and sustainability. On these trips, The Road Less Traveled hopes its travelers will gain real-life leadership experience, enhance self-confidence, and make meaningful connections. The lessons and experiences that one gains on these trips cannot be supplanted with standardized tests or homework. These priceless experiences are formative for young peoples’ outlook on the world and are influential in determining the future of our earth. While the company goals and mission have stayed the same, it has recently undergone some management changes. After nearly thirty years, Jim and Donna have announced their retirement and have welcomed Michael Breen and Andy Shlensky as the new owners of The Road Less Traveled. Despite the change in management, Andy and Michael both plan on maintaining the organization's core values and exemplifying a company that does no harm.
Mia De La Rosa
Loyola University Chicago
The company website states, "With sensitivity, compassion, curious minds and open hearts, our alumni and leaders are contributing throughout the world in powerful and significant ways." The travel programs seek to help youth connect with the larger world, make contributions to society, and realize their fullest potential. Each travel program incorporates both environmental conservation and community service work. "As we encounter a range of issues – the environment, poverty, health, immigration, conflict resolution, education, and more, – we learn. As we speak out for justice, working alongside young and old, rich and poor, disadvantaged and weary, we contribute and see how our actions impact the world – and ourselves... This ability to cultivate, nurture and use our humanness to meet others' needs is what distinguishes RLT."
The founders of The Road Less Traveled – Donna and Jim Stein – have an undying commitment to their company, the process, and maintaining exceptionally high standards. This is proven in the business model, becoming the first B Corporation in the state of Illinois in January of 2013. The Road Less Traveled takes pride in the “do no harm” approach which is apparent across all operations. Furthermore, the company provides youth with an opportunity to travel the world, immerse themselves in different cultures, and make a sustainable impact through service.
To become a B Corporation, a company has to prove its transparency, accountability, sustainability, performance, and adherence to their core values. The Road Less Traveled has proven it knows how to incorporate sustainable practices into every area of the company, meeting the rigorous and stringent qualifications to become a B Corporation. Even with this accomplishment, Donna states that there is a looming pressure to maintain the status of a B Corporation. However, she says they have recently passed the B Corporation recertification process, proving the desire to maintain these company values time and time again. She attributes her success to the company’s consistent and clear philosophy and vision – which has not shifted much since its beginning. The Road Less Traveled continues to instill change in the world while maintaining the same values and dedication in an ever-changing environment.
The inspiration for the business was drawn upon an “illustrious yellow pad” almost three decades ago in Chicago, Illinois. That yellow pad was the start of a dream for the owners and directors Jim and Donna Stein. At the start of their adventurous journey, they had just become parents with a miraculous idea to start their travel company. Donna recalls their goal: "do no harm in the world.” That goal inspired the two to change people's lives and to create a more sustainable world for future generations. Whether their programs were in across the globe or in a neighboring state, Jim and Donna knew they wanted to help save the environment as much as they could while making a difference with the younger population. When envisioning the best way to save the environment, Jim and Donna wanted to incorporate youth believing that this generation can change the world. The vision for TRLT was simple to the founders, “help [youth] see and believe in themselves and their individual and collective abilities to impact and shape our world and the future of the 21st century.”
The impact that Jim and Donna have made on youth has been a constant reminder that what was once originally a dream has now become a reality and an eye-opener to the younger generation. The Steins are proud to see their students “return home with excitement, new ideas, and something more to offer --- to their schools, communities, and to the world. They have an adventure to share, a story to tell, inspired by a world and people they never knew existed.” Both Jim and Donna have said it is a privilege to be able to educate the youth on the environment while allowing them to value the experiences that they encounter throughout their excursions. Their greatest impact has been able to “empower young people to achieve their full potential and become agents of change, no matter how large or small.” A particular example comes from Dayna Splanksy who was a recent participant with The Road Less Traveled. Dayna describes her experience as a crazy idea, but the "best kind of crazy". During her high school career, Dayna made the momentous decision to attend a program through The Road Less Traveled, which changed her life. She believes it has shifted her outlook on the world, the way she saw herself, and the way she thought about others. Dayna wrote to Donna and Jim:
“I often miss the person I used to be on these trips. College, jobs, and growing up in general have definitely had an impact on my confidence and my outlook on the world. I reread my journals of these trips and I am envious of who I was and how happy I was. I miss my open-minded, free soul that RLT empowered and encouraged me to be. Being abroad has brought me some of this soul back and I look forward to new adventures that will allow me to feel whole once again. For helping create this whole version of myself, I thank you.”
Donna Stein, one of the owners of The Road Less Traveled has a very specific attitude towards the business aspect of her and her husbands’ company. When asked about the business aspects of The Road Less Traveled, she said that it was never about profit. Even though they are technically “for profit,” this is not something that they prioritize in the management of their company. They didn't do it to be the largest company nor to achieve a higher status, they did it to change as many lives as they could. However, they do have a non-profit arm of the organization called “Geography of Hope,” which is a scholarship program aimed at promoting diversity and providing opportunity for all children hoping to see the world. On the website it states that Geography of Hope “supports nearly 20% of our travelers each year.” So even though they are a for-profit company, this is not a motivation for any specific courses of action or at the forefront of their company model. They do it to provide the best experiences for all those involved in the process: the parents, the staff, and the children.
The Road Less Traveled invests 10% of revenues in local economies. The company also actively aligns with several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): (1) No Poverty, (4) Quality Education, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, and (13) Climate Action. By giving youth the opportunity to make a change abroad, this can spark a new generation of sustainable innovators. For example, one of the environmental programs for The Road Less Traveled involves growing coral in places where fishing and climate change have caused degradation to the coral. Donna explains that some programs allow students to receive scuba diving licenses, go to these destroyed reefs, tie wire Christmas trees to Staghorn Coral, and let the coral grow on the trees. After a while, they remove the coral and replant around the various degradation/destroyed seabeds in an effort to rebuild the ecosystem. This aligns with SDG 13 Climate Action which focuses on restoring environments and combating the impacts of climate change. This activity also aligns with SDG 14 Life Below Water and SDG 4 Quality Education as students learn about the environment and natural processes. TRLT's service programs, such as the one in Tanzania, Africa, focus on rebuilding facilities, learning about the HIV/AIDS prevention effort, and visiting the Maasai community to plant trees within the community. Programs like these are aligned with SDG 1 No Poverty, SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, and SDG 4 Quality Education. Overall, The Road Less Traveled broadens worldviews, works with local communities, and actively breaks down barriers. These programs allow youth to break out of their comfort zones and make change in communities, whether that is restoring coral reefs in the Florida Keys or rebuilding homes in Costa Rica. Regardless of the program, The Road Less Traveled takes a sustainable approach to not only make an impact in communities abroad but also in the youth. They are training youth to reach their full potential and to become agents of change.
Donna Stein, Former Owner
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Chicago, Illinois, US
Business Website: https://www.theroadlesstraveled.com
Year Founded: 1990
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
The Road Less Traveled is a Certifed B Corps adventure travel program that creates summer opportunities for teens to explore the world through adventure and service. Through these explorations, participants are educated on the various environments and cultures around them. The goal of the business is to give our youth a different view of the world through service in communities and the environment.