Nora Livingstone of Animal Experience International joins the BSuite podcast.

Episode 4: Consent-Based Tourism with Nora Livingstone of AEI

In this episode of the BSuite podcast, Anne Richardson interviews Nora Livingstone, Co-Founder and Volunteer Coordinator for Animal Experience International (AEI), an innovative B Corp business that matches volunteers with ethical animal-related volunteer experiences around the globe. Anne and Nora discuss the origins of AEI, compare notes on their experiences as female founders, and dive into the definition of consent-based tourism. Never heard of it? That’s because Nora coined the term!

Consent-based tourism is the idea that everyone should be consenting to an interaction. If it’s an animal, if it's a person, if it's a community, every single entity should have control over their interactions and should be able to leave at any time, and nothing should be coerced […] Am I actually swimming with a dolphin because I fell off a boat and a dolphin came and saved me, or are these animals trapped in a net and being forced to interact with me?

Key Takeaways

Animal Adventures and Volunteer Opportunities

When Nora’s business partner, veterinarian Heather Reid, first introduced the idea of Animal Experience International to her in 2011, Nora thought that this type of company must surely already exist. When the two determined that, in fact, it did not yet exist and that they could be pioneers in ethical, animal-related travel, Nora jokes that her first question was, “How hard could it be?

Nora has always felt empathy for animals. As a shy child who grew up in a military family who moved around a lot, Nora sought community and companionship through volunteer opportunities such as tree planting and beach cleanups. She draws on her many positive and negative volunteer experiences in her work as AEI’s volunteer coordinator to ensure that AEI provides positive entry-level volunteer opportunities that will draw repeat volunteers. Anne echoes Nora’s idea that professional and personal pivots are part of adult life. A similar quest for change was what led Anne to the B Corp community.

Giving Back to Important Causes and Local Communities

Nora lives on Vancouver Island, the ancestral land of the Cowichan people. Nora serves on the board of the Cowichan Women Against Violence Society, an organization that helps local communities come together to prevent domestic violence and support its victims. Nora loves the diversity of the organization and appreciates that by working together, the group helps all boats rise. Anne and Nora acknowledge that there remains a pressing need for resources and dialogue around topics such as domestic violence and trauma in many communities.

Female Founders Bond Over Workplace Happiness

Female founder to female founder, Anne asks Nora what it was like to open the doors to AEI and not take a salary for the first few years. Nora admits that the experience required a lot of energy, dedication, and income from side jobs, but that the opportunities to travel and volunteer contributed to her happiness in a way that a salary can’t quite parallel. Anne shares that when she began Richardson Media Group nine years ago, she could never have imagined reaching a level of success that would allow her to make a wage, let alone a profit.

Though both Anne and Nora find happiness running their businesses, they also feel an enormous responsibility to their employees. They prioritize compensating their employees with living wages along with comprehensive benefits packages that can help these employees feel happy and secure. Anne describes B Corp as “a strong advocate for pushing employers, even very small ones like myself, to do as much as absolutely possible to make the lives of your employees as fulfilling as possible.”

Consent-Based Tourism: Advocating for Ethical Travel

When Anne asks about the origins of the term “consent-based tourism,” Nora reveals that she coined the term. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when AEI couldn’t send volunteers on trips, Nora did lots of teaching about ethics in tourism over Zoom. She arrived at the concept of “consent-based tourism,” as a guideline for ethical travel, especially travel involving host communities and animals. She defines it as the idea that entities involved should be consenting to any interaction, whether it’s an animal, a person, or a community. They should be able to leave at any time, and no part of the interaction should be coerced. Based on this model, keeping an orca in an aquarium or petting a monkey that is tethered are not ethical, consent-based animal experiences.

To learn more about the volunteer experiences AEI offers, visit animalexperienceinternational.com.