Socially Responsible Vacation Rentals and the Star Throwers Collective

We all want to do good. In principle.

On a theoretical level, we all agree that social inequalities are NOT fair. World hunger and extreme poverty should NOT exist... We also know that our environment is taking a heavy beating year after year...
And those in power should be doing something to fix this! Pronto!
We are often outraged at how little our politicians are doing to save our planet. Surely they have the means to make the changes that we, everyday people, can’t make!
We’re small insignificant beings, how could anything we do make a difference in this world?
Of course we can make the occasional Telethon donation or give some spare change to a beggar on the street, but that’s just a temporary fix, not a solution, right?
We don’t have the power to influence our world....

In the past two years I learned that nothing could be further from the truth. 

And I’m ashamed it took me so long to realize this!

Before The Star Throwers, I had no idea that I, a small property owner from Budapest, Hungary could do something really meaningful for another human being and benefit my business as well.

For me it all started in Toronto, Canada in May 2017. I was attending the Vacation Rental Success Summit, a very important conference in our business and looking forward learning from the pros.

The very last keynote speech belonged to Matt Landau. For those who don’t work in the hospitality industry, Matt is simply the most successful person in our business. He’s the host of YouTube’s hit, The Vacation Rental Show (formerly Sense of Place) but more importantly he’s been an excellent teacher and mentor to many of us in the VR world.

Matt was presenting his Limited Edition Theory. In very, very simplistic terms, the idea behind this concept is that if you create something unique for your guests to enjoy you not only differentiate yourself from the competition, you become something special (like a rare collectors’ item). And precious items do stand out in a crowd.

Matt then proceeded to give case studies of this concept. One person who had successfully managed to stand out from the crowd was Henrietta Kiss of TreasureRome.

Henrietta or Hena, (as most people in our business call her) is a Hungarian expat who created an exclusive collection of vacation rentals located in the most beautiful neighborhoods of Rome. She’s a highly intelligent and deeply caring woman with a natural talent for business.

Matt introduced her as an example of how to give guests a “limited edition” parting gift.

This subject was particularly of interest to me.

I was just looking for the perfect gift to give my guests. I wanted them to have something they would remember us by. But everything I tried seemed rather dull to me: keychain, pen, fridge magnet, notepad...you can get these at any cheap hotel around the world....

Hena’s idea grabbed my attention because it was the perfect way to give guests an unforgettable memento and most importantly, do some good...all at the same time.

Hena works with the Real Pearl Foundation of Hungary that helps children in very poor areas of the country.

For each donation the foundation presents her with a beautiful handmade gift box. She makes the donation in her guests’ name and gives them the box as a last gift before they leave.

I was stunned! I had never thought of this!

It was a wonderful way to help children in need and solve my parting gift problem.

What could be more meaningful than giving guests the knowledge that their stay had contributed to improve the life on another human being? No plain object could ever, ever accomplish that...

But how could I set up a project similar to Hena’s? And where? How could I make sure that my donation would really reach those in need and wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands?

The answer was my old friend Giada Gattobigio. Giada is an Italian expat in Cameroon. She works with the Italian Embassy and with various local and international businesses in Yaoundé.

She and her husband Diderot have always been involved in charity projects. Diderot is Cameroonian businessman and for him helping his people has always been second-nature. Giada and her Italian family have always been involved in giving back to their local community in Velletri, Italy. Put simply, they both care about making things better for others and try to help with every chance they get.

I was actually ashamed of myself! How could I have not thought about this before? Through Giada and Diderot I had the opportunity to set up an initiative similar to Hena’s and be sure that the money was actually going to the people who really needed it.

Sure I had made donations to Amref and other charity organizations in the past but this was something entirely new...

Most historians agree that the root cause of Africa’s economic backwardness is colonialism. I have no association with anyone involved in colonial expeditions (in Africa or elsewhere).

However I always believed it is my duty (as a citizen of the Western World) to do my part and support those who aren’t lucky enough to be born on the “privileged side” of the globe.

So setting up a charity project in an African country was the natural choice for me. 

In the beginning, I had no idea how to do that. I told my friends to take the money and use it for whatever they saw fit.

A few days before Christmas, Giada called to tell me that my donation had been used in a project sponsored by the Italian Embassy to buy a water pump for an orphanage.

The orphanage (for children under the age of 6) sits on a land with contaminated water. So while a water pump may not sound like a big deal to us, for them it was simply a matter of life or death.

It was an amazing Christmas gift for me.

Knowing that my thousand euro contribution had helped a group of children in need was one of the most incredible sensations I’ve ever felt.

Naturally one of the first people I wanted to tell this to was Matt Landau. After all, if it hadn’t been for his presentation, my project may have never seen the light of day.

Matt was delighted at my progress and asked me to become part of a new group he had just created called The Star Throwers.

Despite the name, the group has nothing to do with spatial exploration or science fiction novels. It actually derives its name from a short story of American anthropologist and writer Loren Eiseley.

(Read the story of The Star Throwers here)

The Star Throwers is made up of people from all over the world who own or manage vacation rentals and are actively involved in socially responsible initiatives.

The members of our group have each identified a problem that is close to their hearts and are actively involved in trying to solve it.

Bob Garner of Casal dei Fichi in Italy is working with a non-profit organization to plant trees and combat the lethal effects of climate change on our environment.

Pat Styles of The Coolwater is collecting and delivering items of clothing, school supplies and food to children in the poorest areas of Thailand, while Chuck Schmidt  of Dancing Bearfoot is involved in saving injured black bears in the Smokey Mountains.

These are just a few examples of the incredible individuals that make up the Star Throwers, an organization we are proud to be members of.

Thanks to the mentoring and guidance of Matt and Bob I too was able to identify the one problem that I really wanted to solve.

As a as a woman and a mother, I was appalled to learn that over 150 million girls in Africa are denied the right to study.

So I decided to very simply to take on small group of girls and help them get an education. I firmly believe that this step will contribute to change and improve the life not just of the girls we’re sponsoring but of their community. And perhaps, one day, of their nation.

International observers believe Cameroon will develop the economic power to become an emerging nation in the next two decades. If that’s true then this new rising nation will be in dire need of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers.

In short, all the people that make a society function and grow. We want our girls to be a part of this change that’s coming. We want to him to become independent, empowered women who will help their country achieve its full potential.

I cannot imagine a more inspiring legacy to bequeath to my kids someday.

Kati Ruotolo - Founder of BudaHome Apartments 

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