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'Slum Tourism' for Impact?: Reality Tours couples education and social change

Besides the goal of providing visitors with a deeper understanding of Dharavi, Reality Tours has also dedicated 80 percent of its profits (about 30 percent of gross revenues) for social projects. Most of these resources are used by Reality Gives, a sister organization that performs social projects focused on the community's youth. These include providing classes in art, English, computing, vocational training, skill development and personal health programs. The last stop of the tour took place at the community center built by Reality Gives, where we observed a classroom of 16-year-olds learning English. This is a perfect example of a hybrid organization. To avoid possible distractions related to the dual purpose as a social business, Reality Tours is responsible for business activities and the generation of revenue, while also taking account of activities that generate direct social impact for the population of Dharavi. So as the capital for social projects is directly related to the company's profitability, the ability to generate impact and social change grow at the same pace as the business. 

Reality Tours can also serve as a case study of another issue relevant to any social business: transparency and accountability. The organization has posted its goals for social transformation on its website, as well as some of the results achieved so far, such as the 142 students who are now educated in English. In addition, all financial reports since the company was established in 2006 are available to download. As consumers, having access to financial reports and actual numbers of young people impacted made us more relaxed about the objectives and the legitimacy of this organization.

Tourism is just another industry that can combine financial return with social impact and therefore offers incredible potential for social entrepreneurs. There are numerous private organizations with social transformation in mind that are operating in this sector; some examples include Aoka and Raizes Desenvolvimento Sustentável.

However, we were unable to fully understand the social impact of these other companies' activities, at least through their websites. The many economic changes Brazil is facing, including a tourism boom, serve as evidence that business models like that of Reality Tours can find great success and still generate social impact at the same time.

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