When the Mission is Your Business

There’s a lot of talk these days about mission-oriented businesses. Indeed, the nascent but growing Impact Investing movement might lead one to believe that the concept of businesses mixing a “mission” or a social return, together with a financial return, is a new idea. But in reality, mission-based, for-profit enterprises have been with us for a very long time.

My mind has turned to these types of businesses this week as I travel to Antarctica with one such business: Lindblad Expeditions. Through a partnership with National Geographic, Lindblad Expeditions inspires the world through expedition travel. The collaboration in exploration, research, technology and conservation means that thousands of people each year can head to remote places to expand their geographic knowledge and be inspired to better understand the fragile state of our planet. A portion of what they pay for the experience is donated to local cultural and conservation groups, working to ensure a future for the very people, places and habitats experienced as part of the expeditions.

I’m traveling with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer, a remarkable, top of the line ice-class ship that has taken us from the tip of South America to Antarctica. This morning we crossed the Antarctic Circle. The days spent en route are filled with lectures by scientists, experienced naturalists, explorers and others who bring their insights and wisdom to help us gain knowledge about the remote and rugged lands and habitats we are about to explore. I come to Antartica as a student, wanting to know more and better understand the ecosystems that make up this amazing continent, and this partnership between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions perfectly fits the bill.

The scientists and the naturalists have shared their depth of knowledge about seabirds, whales, seals and yes, penguins. We’ve learned about the ocean habitats here, and we’ve had daily excursions to witness the abundant wildlife firsthand. From our beach walk observing the elephant seals, to our zodiac cruises that have enabled us to get up close and personal with the icebergs that dot the waters here, to the killer whales we observed right off the bow of the boat, to the many penguin colonies that are so emblematic of this continent — I can’t imagine a better way to learn and engage with the natural surroundings. Most importantly, extreme care is given to ensure absolute minimal impact on the fragile ecosystems here — efforts that go way beyond the simple “leave no trace” common in park settings.

On this trip, we are also joined by the renowned Tim Jarvis, a modern-day explorer who has retraced the steps of storied explorers who came to Antarctica a century before him, including Mawson and Shackleton. Tim marked the 100th Anniversary of Shackleton’s expedition by retracing his harrowing rescue excursion between Elephant Island and South Georgia. Tim and his team replicated all they could to ensure the expedition mirrored that of Shackleton’s in every way — sailing in a 23-foot wooden boat without a keel, donning the clothes of that period, and operating without electronics or modern navigation across the most dangerous waters on the planet. It’s quite a “Be Fearless” tale and one that serves to remind us that sometimes the seemingly impossible can be possible, as like Shackleton’s, Tim and his crew survived the journey and later a book and film followed to share their tale.

This form of travel isn’t for spectators, it’s for all of those who want to “get in the arena” — those who are explorers in our modern world in their own right — seeking knowledge, seeking adventure. A rugged climb up an icy, snow-covered mountain, a thrilling walk across a vast trek of sea ice, and yes, a polar plunge. These are the deep and rich experiences that Lindblad Expeditions, together with National Geographic, offer. For 129 years, National Geographic has been funding important science and exploration on every continent, and for more than 50 years Lindblad Expeditions have been enabling the rare opportunity for people everywhere to come and experience this remarkable continent.

As I began preparations for this expedition, I carefully reviewed the materials provided in advance. The first item tucked into the portfolio of materials we carry with us? The statement of purpose and guiding principles from Lindblad Expeditions. Things like a shared commitment to exploration and discovery, to science and research and to demonstrate leadership, excel in knowledge and inspire others. These are the values of a mission-based enterprise. And Lindblad Expeditions is making a contribution that will last far longer than this short trip as they are bringing this generation to the front lines of the unknown so they can carry back with them a passion to assure it is there for the generations that follow.

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