Meet the entrepreneurs of the Booking Booster programme. Get to know Scott and Aziz from MEJDI Tours. MEJDI Tours was founded by these two friends, one Jewish and one Palestinian. MEJDI’s mission is to utilize the power of travel to build intercultural understanding through socially conscious, customized tours in destinations around the world. By utilizing their unique, multi-narrative guiding approach, they leave travellers with a much deeper understanding of the regions they visit and the people that they meet.
Scott Cooper - Co-CEO
“I focus on strategy, operations and company culture. I previously worked at the United States Institute of Peace on a project focused on evaluating peace-building programs in conflict zones, and have advised numerous NGOs on sustainable models for organizational growth. In a previous life, I waited thousands of tables and then worked in a retail bank until a life changing trip led me to abruptly quit to pursue my passion. I hold a degree in political science from Arizona State University and a Master of Science degree in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University. I try not to take life too seriously, and love watching stand-up comedy, playing ice hockey and engaging in ‘intense’ ping pong matches at the MEJDI office.”
Aziz Abu Sarah - Co-CEO
“Growing up in Jerusalem, I always loved meeting new people and exploring different cultures—to the extent I fell in love with country western music! Although my fellow Arabs thought I was a bit odd for my cowboy hat and boot collection, my passion for exploring human difference has grown into an exciting career as a National Geographic Explorer, Cultural Educator, and TED Fellow. Always looking for new ways to promote intercultural understanding, I’ve further explored ways to carry my passion for people into the business sphere. The result has been a rewarding career of over 15 years in the tourism industry (you can see my TED Talk about redefining tourism here) and several awards for my work, including the Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East from the Institute of International Education, the European Parliament’s Silver Rose Award, the Eisenhower Medallion, and the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Middle Eastern Journalism.”
How did your MEJDI story begin?
In 2009 Aziz (Palestinian) and Scott (Jewish) were leading projects bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. We realized that non-profit work was often unsustainable and unscalable so we decided to get creative and look to business models to scale our impact. We chose tourism for its reach, and tested the idea in Jerusalem where most tours were polarizing groups against one side or the other. To solve the problem, we began offering tours with Israeli and Palestinian guides leading tours together, showcasing not just issues but also individual experiences, stories and reasons for hope. In order to create global impact, we expanded the model to over a dozen other destinations in a culturally relevant way.
What is your favourite trip people can book with MEJDI tours?
One of our new innovative programs is in Bosnia/Croatia where we explore different narratives and historical aspects. This is quickly becoming our favorite trip because in one tour a traveler experiences history, culture, dramatic landscapes and access to lesser known communities.
A sample itinerary MEJDI Tour to Bosnia/Croatia may include:
- An interfaith conversation in Mostar with a Christian and Muslim family, once divided by the war.
- A tour with a former general who now runs an educational NGO.
- Photography lessons as you capture the historical sites and local faces of Dubrovnik.
- Boating through Mostar along the Neretva River, stopping for a picnic near a historical Sufi home.
Led and co-designed by the famous, Bosnian photojournalist, Ziya Gafic, a MEJDI Tour to Bosnia/Croatia is all about meeting the most interesting people, leading the most innovative movements.
What is your dream for MEJDI?
We’re on a mission to be the leading socially conscious travel company in the world. The goal we’re currently tackling is becoming the leader in the affinity group travel space and soon it will be FIT. Our dream is to change the travel industry from a consumption model to a conscious model. In the same way that organic produce, fair trade coffee, and renewable energy have become more mainstream, our vision is for socially conscious travel to be the norm and for all travel companies to invest locally as they lead global operations.
We believe that as Ibn Batuta said “Travel makes you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller” and because no country is homogenous, our model focuses on bringing the diversity of each location we visit to the forefront of the trip.
What is your impact on the world? And why is that so important?
MEJDI’s social impact focuses on challenging stereotypes, encouraging independent thinking and bringing together religious, political, and ethnic groups that would not interact, all the while supporting local communities. We take social issues such as inter-communal conflict, environmental degradation, and the impact of consumer industries like tourism, and provide a sustainable solution through social enterprise. We also have a distinctive drive to build and operate inclusively. We seek to connect travellers with local communities, and remedy the socio-economic gap that exists in many tourism destinations. Since we began leading tours, over 15,000 people have taken a MEJDI trip and we know they go home, telling their friends and families about their local experience as they traveled across the world. We build local relationships in every city in which we operate. Our goal is to spur local economies as we travel, using our dollars as a “conscious brand” to invest into communities.