“Education is the gateway for equalising the playing field”

Employment & Skills | Interview | Leisure & Tourism

Business Leader recently sat down with Jordan Ashley, the founder of non-profit organisation, Souljourn Yoga Foundation, to discuss how her international business is helping female education across the globe.

Souljourn Yoga Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation inspired by seva, the Sanskrit word and yogic principle of selfless service.

Jordan hosts retreats around in places like Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Cambodia – to name just a few. By hosting these retreats, she donates a percentage of sales to local and international charities to help fund girls’ education in developing countries.

Can you give me an overview of Souljourn Yoga Foundation?

Souljourn Yoga Foundation is a nonprofit inspired by seva, the Sanskrit word and yogic principle of selfless service.

Our aim is to raise awareness and funds for girls education in developing countries by teaming up with both local and international non-profits. We create opportunities to explore, practice, and educate through yoga both on and off of the mat by offering a spectrum of workshops and global retreats to continue to promote female empowerment and education to communities where equal opportunities aren’t always readily available.

Currently, over 130 million girls around the world are denied an education, which also means they’re denied the chance to improve their overall health, income, quality of life, and the ability to empower themselves with endless opportunities.  A girl with an education is also less likely to become a victim of violence and child marriage, which are two predominant issues that women face across the globe.

What was the inspiration behind the business?

I returned to New York after living abroad and went to a yoga class where I had an a-ha moment when I realized how everyone was completely isolated by the perimeter of their mats. These women would show up week after week to the same class at the same time and go through an experience of breath, movement, and in many ways, healing together. Why couldn’t we leave our mats and go to places where the luxury of yoga doesn’t exist?

Education is the gateway for equalising the playing field so why can’t this same tribe of women travel, connect, and support girls’ education initiatives on the ground whom I had worked with firsthand to create a global sisterhood?

What is the difference between running a not-for-profit business to a regular one?

As opposed to for-profit ventures, founding and operating a non-profit enables one to focus on service-based work that empowers those on the fringes of society. Instead of being a slave to shareholders, our organization partners with like-minded foundations, corporations and individuals who have come together over a shared belief, and privately invest money to accomplish it.

What are the main challenges you face as a not-for-profit?

I think there is a large amount of fear that plays into the idea of a woman traveling alone/fear of the unknown as we are hosting yoga adventures in destinations that aren’t traditional yoga retreat places.

A man would never be questioned of his safety going to an LEDC (lesser economically developed country), so in that of itself has been challenging. Of course, be safe and smart, but at the same time I truly believe that the best education comes from travel, from having experiences that are challenging both internally and externally as it’s what creates more empathy and compassion.

Can you tell me about your retreats?

Depending on where you travel, your schedule will look a bit different.  We are currently running programming on four continents and in seven countries.

You will be receiving daily yoga classes, to integrate everything you are learning and observing during your retreat. You will also be working with a group of girls in the community to teach them and have the opportunity to play and learn about their lives.

Souljourn yoga retreats don’t only offer the special opportunity to help girls all around the world, they are literally filled with unique activities and a full-on cultural immersion During your days you might go gorilla trekking, visit a floating village, or go on a market tour. During your nights you may go out on the town, have a beach bonfire, or participate in a sweat lodge.

Why have you chosen the locations you have so far?

We choose countries that offer a magical, wanderlust quality of exploration, but that are also safe for travelers and Westerners to go to. Souljourn Yoga strives to make each retreat unique in that we highlight and juxtapose the natural beauty with the gender inequalities and inadequacies. The experience shows the light and shadows of the girls’ organisations that we visit and work with. Our hopes are that the light we bring illuminates these girls so much, the participants return home wanting to share and talk about their “Souljourn.”

Can you tell me about your charity work and how it links to the company?

I either have a personal connection with the charities we partner with, or specifically choose organizations which go deep instead of wide with their impact.

This way, I know they will truly benefit from our partnership. By pairing with these local charities, attendees of Souljourn retreats don’t just benefit from the exotic locations and host communities, they also witness how their donations are impacting lives. You give back to yourself while giving to others.

We include a $300-500 donation per person that goes directly to our sister organization who we have at least one opportunity to meet with. We get to learn all about the girls’ daily life and take part in activities from yoga, making lunch together, art projects, etc to change the way people give to be one of equality as opposed to hierarchy.

What are your plans for while you’re in London?

London is probably my favorite city in the world. Aside from having an amazing group of friends and colleagues there, I will be focusing on press engagements and fundraising events to continue to promote Souljourn and build our UK audience.

What are your plans for 2019?

We currently have programming in 2019 in Morocco, Peru, the Tibetan Plateau, Rwanda, Cambodia and are launching South Africa in 2020. So a very busy year ahead!

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