I’m Mafalda from Sustainable First and I’m a #WORLDCHANGER

This week on the #WORLDCHANGERS series, we speak to Mafalda, founder of Sustainable First, a platform aiming to make the tourism industry the leading activity sector in implementing sustainable strategies through actions and strategies for moving towards a more sustainable pattern of development in tourism.


Mafalda Borea from Sustainable First

Location: Rome and London

Current job: CEO, Sustainable First

One word that best describes how you work: Efficient

My role model: I am inspired by the everyday woman, all women that relentlessly row against the tide. Too many to mention

My greatest success: Taking the leap and moving to London to study when I was 17

Something I love: My family and friends (it’s the family you choose !)

Something I hate: Lack of efficiency

My favourite country: Portugal, where I grew up.

First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I was born in Lisbon and moved to London to study Dance, growing up I attended the National Ballet School and took dance training very seriously from age 9. I finished my degree, even if half way I decided I didn’t want to make a career out of performing, and completed a Diploma in Arts Management at UCL at the same time. Once finished I sent out 100 CVs asking for internships and CNN was one of the few companies that called me back. I started there as an intern and stayed for 13years! I developed a passion for the Tourism industry while working at CNN building our client portfolio of advertisers and sponsors from Southern Europe & CIS and travelling to these regions on a weekly basis. After leaving CNN I slowly fluctuated towards working in travel & tourism and I am thrilled to be finally 100% dedicated to this fascinating, ever evolving, industry.

When did you have the innovative idea about Sustainable First?

The idea came from one of many brainstorms with whom is now my business partner, Bernard Metzger. We had it in Saint Petersburg while attending the General Assembly of the UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organisation) where we were asked to join a panel of judges to choose winners of a tourism video competition. The sustainable tourism category had the most amazing stories that we had never heard of, of projects having a real impact in their local communities. At breakfast, the day after the judging, we started brainstorming about how to bring those stories to a wider audience… and Sustainable First was born.

How was the process to find partners and get the Sustainable First platform live?

I was lucky that my business partner had already registered SustainableFirst.com over 20years ago “just in case” he wanted to do something with it one day… he’s a visionary really. So, we had the domain, and from then on, once the look and feel was right and the interface was up, we have been building content ever since. We have the most amazing partners, they are organizations who’s work I have admired for years. Some of them I already knew the CEOs, some others I reached out to explain what we were trying to build and our vision and they were amazing to come on board and support what we are trying to do. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goals.

How did you adjust your business in this unusual time?

As most of the team is based in Asia, I was already working remotely so that didn’t change much. What did change is that I have young twin boys that were suddenly at home, the whole day, when London went into lockdown and schools shut. That wasn’t a smooth transition – it can’t have been easy for anyone! I am blessed that they were old enough that I could slowly empower them to be more independent (instead of calling out my name every 10minutes) so that we could all get on with our work. I will be forever grateful to the teachers that tried to keep some sort of normality and managed to keep them engaged and teach them something while working remotely…

How do you see the tourism sector reshaping in the next few years?

I see such a massive change already taking place, this pandemic has created a need for everyone to take a look at their lives and their relationship with the world that surrounds them. Sustainability was already in the mind of the industry and the traveller but this was accelerated by COVID19. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do already see a tendency for “back to the roots”, more interest in authentic “real” experiences where travellers are more curious and interested in local communities and leaving little impact behind.

How can Sustainable First contribute to the reshaping of the industry when we will be able to travel again?

We feature truly sustainable tourism businesses and destinations, we tell the story of the impact these have in their local communities and link that with the UN Sustainable Development Goals they are working towards. We want to inspire travellers and the industry with these amazing stories, making them lead by example.

You are very active in defending women rights, fighting to have full and effective participation in public life, what is your involvement?

Thank you, you are very kind. I always feel that we never do enough, there is SO much to be done and I truly believe that together, we can make a difference. I have been involved with women’s empowerment NGOs for some time and am now focused on UN Women, where I am a Special Advisor to the UK Executive Director, Claire Barnett, a fierce leader who I truly admire.

How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?

I meditate for 20 minutes every morning and feel that doing so really energises me for the day. I used to hate meditating and used to end up doing to-do lists or falling asleep every time I tried… I didn’t know how to do it and once I’ve learned how to do it and have introduced it in my routine, I love it.

What is your daily action to preserve the environment?

I am a big believer in education, and focusing on giving our youth the tools, the data, the facts they need so we can empower them to imagine the world they want to live in. Once they do that, they then have something to focus on and work towards. I spend a lot of time talking about different environment related issues with my 9 year olds. It is fascinating to hear their thoughts and I learn so much from them and from the questions they pose and how they look at things. That goes beyond the usual avoidance of single use plastic, energy saving, waste composting etc…

Last but not least, what is the best place you would recommend for a relaxing and sustainable holiday?

So many beautiful places to escape to! I don’t think I could choose one… Instead I would recommend that the next time you go on a break, no matter how close or far you travel to, go with a different attitude and an open heart and mind. Talk to the locals, if you’re staying in a hotel, go and try the local restaurants. Try the local produce and help the local economy. And be mindful of local cultures and the environment, try to leave no trace behind. Sustainability touches all aspects of our lives and we’re all in this together, aiming to preserve the world we live in.

You can follow Mafalda on Instagram , Twitter and LinkedIn.

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