The second talk also took the form of a Q&A, and Chris Torres asked the questions before opening it up to the audience at the end.
Zakia Moulaoui is the founder of Invisible Cities – a social enterprise dedicated to helping homeless people by training them to be tour guides. We were extremely lucky to have Zakia at our Travel Massive event and we hope the other members enjoyed listening to her story as much as we did.
Zakia is from the South of France and she started her career in Scotland 12 years ago. She got the idea for Invisible Cities when she worked for The Homeless World Cup – a huge sporting event combining football with an awareness campaign for homelessness. The Homeless World Cup inspired Zakia to help people struggling with homelessness and it showed her that it can be paired with football or some other kind of mainstream interest. Then, when Zakia went on a trip to Greece, she discovered that lots of street venders selling the Greek equivalent of The Big Issue were also giving tours in Athens. The idea implanted itself into Zakia’s head and she established Invisible Cities a while later, when she got back to Scotland. Invisible Cities has been running for three years now, and Zakia/Invisible Cities recently won the Tour Company of the Year Award from Women in Tourism and Hospitality.
Zakia stressed how important it was that Invisible Cities is not a charity; it is a social enterprise. This is important because it means that the company is not reliant on government or public funding. Governments change, after all. The professional, money-making aspect of the company also helps to encourage the guides to be professional. However, it is a social enterprise, so all profits made are then reinvested in the company and the tour guides who work for it.
Invisible Cities works with other big homeless organisations — such as Social Bite, Crisis, The Big Issue, etc — when recruiting its guides. While it wants to help homeless people, it takes the quality of its tours very seriously, and this is where the lengthy training process comes in. Many of the people trained to go on to become tour guides, but not all of them do. For some, the training helps them build confidence and it gives them support and a range of skills to pursue other avenues. What was really interesting to hear was that Invisible Cities take training so seriously that they don’t initially ask for money for tours; they ask for feedback so that they can improve their tours (and their tour guide’s skills). Then, when the tour is up to the right quality, they begin charging. This shows the mindset and method of Invisible Cities: it’s not a race to make money, but a slow and sustainable progression. Zakia emphasised the importance of this model as Invisible Cities works with vulnerable people and it needs to ensure it isn’t setting anyone up to fail.
When asked about the best way to support Invisible Cities, Zakia said that we should attend the tours in the different cities and encourage our friends and families to do the same. By taking the tours, leaving reviews, and paying for their products, we are supporting the entire social enterprise, and we’re also getting great tours of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and York — with more cities to be added to the list in the future. Zakia even organised a special tour for the Glasgow Travel Massive: Crimes & Punishment in the Merchant City. The tours takes place this Saturday (29th of June).
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