Author: Sanjana Patel

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest, located in the south-west region of Bangladesh, is the world’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearly three million people live in and around the Sundarbans. Generations of this population have become highly dependent upon the forest for its environmental protection and nature-based economic opportunities. Conservation of this high-biodiversity and sensitive forest is vital for the livelihoods of the people of the Sundarbans. 

Solimar International is currently leading implementation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance (BECA) project. By forming BECA, or the Alliance, private sector members in Bangladesh are united to generate sustainable development activities that protect both the Sundarbans Reserve Forest and the people that depend on it. The desired outcome of this project is to maximize tourism as a tool for both poverty alleviation and conservation. Solimar aims to achieve this outcome through tourism development efforts centered around community capacity building. 

This article will highlight the significance of capacity building in tourism development, and how it can serve as a mechanism to transform the socioeconomic standing of women. 

Why Capacity Building?

USAID identified the need to utilize tourism in Bangladesh for social and environmental benefits, but in order to do so, Solimar will find ways to stimulate the tourism industry and tackle the barriers hindering its growth. Some of these barriers include, but are not limited to, a lack of industry knowledge, weak governance, and a lack of organizational strength. The overarching issue at hand is the lack of collaborative capacity within the tourism sector in Bangladesh. 

To overcome this challenge, the Solimar team has devised many opportunities for capacity building. For example, the Alliance hosts tourism planning workshops across Bangladesh so that local stakeholders can network and learn about tourism innovations. The Alliance also supports the business development of local enterprises by providing shared resources. To improve local governance, Solimar engages community management organizations and institutions to consolidate viewpoints and strengthen impact. 

Evidently, capacity building is a central component of the Bangladesh project. However, I want to highlight its relation to a foundational goal of this project – gender equity. 

Capacity Building for Female Empowerment 

Gender equity is a thematic element noticeable across several project activities. The living conditions of women in Bangladesh are in constant struggle despite government initiatives. Women’s participation in the workforce is limited to low-paying sectors, such as the dangerous, labor-intensive garment industry. This economic inequality stimulates numerous social issues, including gender-based violence and child marriage – where 59% of girls are married before the age of 18 (USAID). 

Tourism opens doors for women in Bangladesh. The range of employment opportunities the tourism industry provides can help women break into the workforce. Globally, 54% of people employed in tourism are women; yet, it remains a rather male-dominated industry due to gender discrepancies in earnings. Solimar and the Alliance aim to equip women with the skills and resources necessary to not only reach employment opportunities, but also to grow within the industry. This effort does not stop at conventional job growth but further assists women with financing opportunities, network development, and individual capacity building. 

Here are some examples of programs that demonstrate these actions: 

1. Network Development through the Women in Tourism Club

As in any enterprise, it’s crucial to create peer networks to be able to grow within that industry. Working in a male-dominated space, women in the tourism industry across Bangladesh, particularly around the Sundarbans, lack skill-building and networking opportunities. To resolve this concern, the Alliance established the Women in Tourism Club to bring together female professionals looking to enter or grow in the tourism sector. From tourism marketing to tour agencies to hospitality management, women from all backgrounds in tourism have joined. The club has both online and in-person opportunities. Virtually, club members can connect on online platforms to support one another and access educational material. Offline, the Alliance hosts in-person meetings and workshops where women can receive training on leadership and entrepreneurship as well as share their experiences and ideas for collaboration. The club also promotes women-led national advocacy to break additional barriers that these women may face. 

Women in Tourism meeting led by Solimar’s Director of Community Development, Chloe King

2. Individual Capacity Building for Women in the Sundarbans 

The communities living on the edge of the Sundarbans Reserve Forest are incredibly dependent upon the forest for its environmental protection and economic opportunities but primarily live below the poverty line. Through its Student Research Placement Program, Solimar sent researcher Catherine Padgett from the University of Edinburgh to the Sundarbans to assess the relationship between the food security and regional stability for the Banojibi people, a community living in and around the Sundarbans, and conservation efforts that take place in the mangrove forest. During her time in Bangladesh, Padgett worked with the Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS), an Alliance member, to study the deeper impacts of their current initiatives.  

Student Researcher Catherine Padgett at a BEDS program in Bangladesh

BEDS’ current programs provide a platform for the Banojibi people to share the profound knowledge of the Sundarbans they possess to visitors while simultaneously promoting conservation. By creating nature-based income opportunities such as community-based nature education programs and conservation efforts like mangrove nurseries, women are given a chance to hone their skills and transition from home labor to an alternate livelihood. Padgett found that providing women with a chance to develop their individual capacity serves as a holistic solution. These initiatives not only strengthen food security and regional stability, but also provide women with more agency to control their finances. 

Solimar and the Alliance continue to promote research and initiatives that look into the needs of women in overlooked communities so that they implement activities that build capacity within these communities.

The Future of Women in Tourism 

Though women stand as the majority of the global tourism workforce, they earn almost 15% less than their male counterparts. By creating the aforementioned models of capacity building for women, Solimar is helping the industry bridge this gap while also promoting social and economic empowerment by creating innovations for women in tourism. Beyond Bangladesh, there are many examples of how community-based tourism is utilized to build capacity for women. Check out how the Artisan Development project in Southern Morocco promotes the business of hundreds of female-owned stalls in artisan markets. 

To many, the positive impacts of the tourism industry at first glance seem limited to leisure and economic development. When you take a closer look, you see the immense social change tourism prompts when people are equipped with the right tools. 

Solimar is here to create those opportunities. Contact us to learn how you can be a part of that mission. 

What Field Research with Solimar Looks Like

Insights from Our First Student Researcher in Bangladesh

The efficacy of our projects – many of which are based in widely unexplored destinations – relies upon the innovative findings of the research community. That is why Solimar is committed to supporting prospective researchers every step of the way. Through our Student Research Placement Program, we guide student researchers looking to conduct field research in our destinations by utilizing our connections with project partners all over the world. We provide students with connections to local research institutions and networks, access to accommodations and transportation, mentorship from an assigned manager from the Solimar team, and so much more.

The research possibilities with Solimar are endless, with opportunities in Timor-Leste, Armenia, Liberia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Tunisia, and more. Whether you’re studying conservation or cultural anthropology, or global health, we can find a research placement for you. Read more below or apply to join us today.

One student researcher’s recent visit to the Sundarbans in Bangladesh

Catherine Padgett recently spent a month as a field researcher in the Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh, working through our student research placement program. As a student at the University of Edinburgh earning her Master’s in Food Security, Padgett reached out to Solimar International interested in completing her thesis in the Sundarbans, interested in exploring the connections between mangroves and food security. 

With our assistance, not only did Padgett successfully collect impactful data, but also encountered a much more intimate exploration of the Sundarbans than she expected when she first began her research journey. 

Project Overview 

The Sundarbans Reserve Forest is a national park in southwest Bangladesh. It is the world’s largest continuous mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With nearly 3 million people dependent upon it and the resources it provides, its conservation is crucial for both nature and communities.

Solimar has recently begun the USAID Ecotourism Activity, implementing the Bangladesh Ecotourism & Conservation Alliance in the Sundarbans to utilize tourism and conservation to generate sustainable development activities that support both the forest and the population living in and around it. The goal is to maximize tourism as a tool for both poverty alleviation and conservation. 

The Sundarbans contains many unexplored facets, and that is where our student researcher steps in. 

“The team at Solimar helped me to navigate the logistics of travel to Bangladesh and equipped me with project support and valuable connections in Bangladesh. BEDS provided accommodation, Bengali translation, local connections, and cultural guidance. This experience has cemented my drive to pursue research as a career path, supporting projects that center smallholder livelihood development, local perspectives, and community-based initiatives. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.” – Catherine Padgett

The Start of Padgett’s Student Research Journey 

Padgett’s initial interest in the Sundarbans began with her fascination for understanding how mature mangrove forests can provide essential tools to strengthen food security in coastal communities. While there is an abundance of literature on how mangrove conservation projects can support livelihoods along the world’s coasts, Padgett noticed the lack of defined evidence on how mangrove conservation interventions can support food security specifically. In order to fill this gap in academia and in practice, she looked to the communities of the Sundarbans. 

How do mangrove conservation interventions increase short-term food security for the Banojibi villages, while working towards long-term regional stability, in the Sundarbans Forest of Bangladesh? – Padgett’s Field Research Placement Question 

To gain insight into local mangrove conservation interventions, Solimar connected Padgett with a core Alliance parter, the NGO Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS). BEDS is a community-based non-profit organization working to solve complex environmental and social issues in Bangladesh by bridging the gap between humans and nature. The Sundarbans mangrove ecosystem is one of their many action areas, which include improving water and sanitation systems, gender equality, workforce development, and more. Their current initiative implements community-centric nature education programs that provide the underprivileged population living in and around the Sundarbans – the Banojibi people – with the opportunity to share their extensive knowledge of the mangrove ecosystem with the rest of the country. This project enhances environmental education while simultaneously providing livelihoods to the local people, who are heavily dependent upon the forest. 

“Through this internship opportunity, I was able to travel to Dacope, a sub-district of Bangladesh’s Khulna district, to research the impact of local mangrove conservation efforts on regional household food security. Here, I worked with one of Solimar’s project partners, the Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS), to conduct in-person fieldwork, including focus group discussions and interviews with local stakeholders.” – Catherine Padgett

Beyond Data Collection: Research Placement Opportunities

Padgett headed to Bangladesh for three and a half weeks to examine the many impacts of the BEDS projects. However, BEDS equipped Padgett with much more than a look into mangrove conservation interventions. During her time in Bangladesh, BEDS provided Padgett with housing in their living facility equipped with A/C, a private bathroom, and delicious Bengali dishes. More so, the organization went out of its way to ensure Padgett was able to navigate cultural barriers and experience the Sundarbans community up close and personal. With the assistance of three, rotating female interpreters, Padgett had the opportunity to visit homes, connect with local stakeholders, and develop strong relationships with the BEDS team. BEDS ensured Padgett’s first experience with field research went seamlessly. 

Enabled with the opportunity to conduct such an intimate investigation, Padgett was able to take a deep look into how mangrove intervention programs contribute to a much more holistic problem. Padgett has found that the impact of these programs not only improves food security but also extends its influence to gender equality. The BEDS initiative has allowed many women to shift from household labor to the workforce, improving the food security for their families while providing women with more agency to control their finances. 

One of the most memorable takeaways Padgett returned home with was the ability to witness the strong connection the people of Bangladesh have with the Sundarbans. Padgett notes how inspired she felt by the palpable respect and protectiveness people had for the forest. Local communities were extremely knowledgeable about habitat conservation needs for the area, underscoring the importance of centering Indigenous ecological knowledge in any conservation endeavor. The Sundarbans directly or indirectly impacts every person in Bangladesh, even those living far from the edge of the forest. The country’s communal sharing of knowledge makes Bangladesh well-suited for mangrove conservation, Padgett says. 

Solimar’s Commitment to Student Researchers and Communities

Padgett’s research equips our project in the Sundarbans with further discernment to extent of the forest’s impact. With Solimar, researchers are able to work directly with the goals of global and local initiatives and witness the real-world implications of their findings. Padgett’s work overlapped with many of our objectives, including capacity development in sustainable landscapes and female participation in intervention programs and the workforce. Her work will directly inform business planning for BEDS, expanding their important work to more areas and directly influencing policy recommendations that the Bangladesh Ecotourism and Conservation Alliance will be working for the next three years to achieve.

The student research placement program provides students with the distinctive opportunity to conduct immersive investigations in locations that are undersaturated within the research community but contain an abundance of valuable information. Uniquely, we want to ensure that research projects are crafted in collaboration with–and ultimately benefit–the local communities who graciously host our researchers. As our project moves forward, we will continue to equip scholars like Padgett with a platform to use their brilliance toward the vitality of the Sundarbans. 

Interested in becoming one of those scholars? Learn more about the Student Research Placement Program here

travel writing internship

Solimar International is proud to introduce our Summer 2022 Virtual Travel Writing and Sustainable Tourism Internship Cohort! This semester’s cohort features 18 talented individuals with a shared passion for sustainable development and tourism. As you’ll read, each intern possesses unique backgrounds and experiences that will be incredibly impactful to our work. By providing these interns with real-world experiences across several of our current projects, we hope to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to go forth as leaders of the industry. 

Meet Our Interns:

photo of Hannah McDonnell Solimar International virtual travel writing and sustainable tourism internHannah McDonnell is a Masters of Politics student at University College Dublin, specializing in European politics and integration. She has also studied these subjects at Charles University in Prague. She is extremely passionate about researching and writing, and hopes to pursue a career in research after graduating this summer. She loves to travel and learn about the cultures of the countries she visits. 





Photo of Veronica Santapa Solimar International virtual sustainable tourism and travel writing internVeronica Santapa is from Milan, Italy but moved to England 11 years ago where she has worked in various business operation support roles. Just as Covid-19 arrived, she decided to take on a new challenge and get into higher education. She is currently pursuing a degree in Tourism Management from the University of Greenwich in London, as well as learning Spanish. Since following a course on sustainable tourism in her First Year, she found herself hooked on the topic and wishes to contribute to the sustainable tourism practice whilst pursuing a passionate career in tourism management. She also enjoys traveling to new places and is an outdoors enthusiast. She is excited to join the internship program to learn more about how Solimar approaches sustainable tourism with each project.  



Photo of Bertuğ Kıymaz Solimar International virtual sustainable tourism and travel writing internBertuğ Kıymaz, from İzmir, Turkey, is a candidate for Tourism Development and Culture joint Erasmus Master’s degree at the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, University of Malta, Lund University in Sweden, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands as a European Commission council Scholarship awardee. He also holds another master’s degree in Settlement Archaeology at the Middle Eastern Technical University in Turkey, where he is currently writing his dissertation on Digitization of Cultural Heritage. Prior to his studies, he had worked in archaeological excavations, museums, and as a tourist guide for three years all around the world. His interest in sustainable tourism began after he had seen the grave impacts of mass tourism on his hometown at a young age. That is when he decided to build a career in sustainable tourism. Now he wishes to make a change, and he is ready to translate academic knowledge into real-world expertise with an internship with Solimar International.



Photo of Miles Rieker Solimar International virtual sustainable tourism and travel writing internMiles Rieker was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a rising Second Year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and will be applying to the Business School in the fall. He loves all things outdoors, and his favorite activity would have to be going on his boat either to fish or to ride around and enjoy the scenery. He has traveled to Kenya twice before and hopes to return to the country he fell in love with at some point in the future. In Kenya, he volunteered on a dairy farm that funds the operations of a nearby all-girls boarding school. With this global experience, Miles hopes to add enthusiasm and drive to this Solimar team, in order to develop the economies of the surrounding areas of the projects. 




Photo of Stephanie Romero Solimar International virtual sustainable tourism and travel writing internStephanie Romero is a graduate student at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is currently working for her Master’s in Tourism Development. Prior to working toward a tourism degree, Stephanie was an education major in her native California. She worked as a kindergarten teacher for five years before deciding her calling was elsewhere. This is Stephanie’s second year working with Solimar International as an intern, having loved it the first time around. The experiences gained from working with Solimar helped develop her interest in tourism development as a driving force for benefiting the many.




Intern Ethan BollertEthan Bollert is a recent graduate of Central Washington University, earning his bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management, with a Tourism Management Specialization. His schooling gave him insight into managing various sections of the travel industry including hotels, airlines, music festivals, tour operations, and destination management organizations. Additionally, his work as the university’s marketing photographer gave him the skills needed to understand content creation and digital marketing.  After wrapping up his degree with his thesis on the effects of safari tourism on the communities of East Africa, he recognized the impact that work centered around sustainable and ethical tourism development could have, which has led him to pursue it as a career. He wishes to begin this career by working alongside this group of fellow interns here at Solimar International. When he is not working, he spends most of his free time researching dream destinations, planning fun travel itineraries, or continuing his hobby as a freelance photographer


Intern Izabela SojaIzabela Soja is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in International Tourism Management at the University of Lincoln in the UK. For Master’s, she plans to study Sustainable Development as she would like to learn more holistically about sustainability and environment in general. She is originally from Poland, but moved to the UK almost 2 years ago. She is passionate about all things travel, research, social media and content creation, which is why she is so excited to be joining Solimar International this summer! Her favorite travel memory to date is when she went on a cultural exchange programme with Camp America where she worked for 3 months as a counselor at an American summer camp in North Carolina followed by a 3 week journey around the States. She hopes to make a real difference in the tourism industry and to promote sustainable and responsible travel as the only way forward.



Intern Isaac HerzogIsaac Herzog is a Senior at Cornell University double-majoring in China & Asia Pacific Studies and Linguistics. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Isaac has a deep love for travel and global connectivity and takes every opportunity possible to meet new people. In his travels, he has learned six languages and hopes to continue learning new ones. Eventually, he plans to move to Spain or China to pursue a career in policy, sustainability, or politics. Isaac is excited to learn from the expertise at Solimar and gain a deeper, more sustainable understanding of our world during his internship. He looks forward to contributing to the Southeast Asia team, specifically in Timor-Leste, and hopes to use his knowledge and skills to benefit the community.




Intern Ece ZivraliEce Zivrali is a professional tour guide from Turkey. Her love for traveling and appreciation of the destinations, nature, and cultures led her to continue her studies on sustainability and responsible tourism. Currently, she is pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Florida as a Fulbright scholar. She hopes to combine her academic background with the practical experience she will gain during her internship at Solimar International to improve the quality of destinations and communities.






Intern Teona ZhuzhunadzeTeona Zhuzhunadze comes from Georgia. She lives in a southern region of Georgia – Samtskhe-Javakheti and manages the Marketing and PR directions of the Destination Management Organization of the Region. Apart from managing social media channels and the website of the organization, she is involved in tourism product development and promoting the region to different stakeholders. She is actively involved in the tourism development activities of the country. Teona changed her career path a few years ago when she moved to her hometown and started working in the industry. After taking the DMO development program led by Solimar International in 2020 she had a chance to continue working with the organization on different projects. She was so interested in tourism development that decided to pursue an internship with Solimar. Before DMO, she was working in the field of higher education administration. She has an MA in higher education administration and currently, she is pursuing her PhD in higher education management.


Intern Dalia HammadDalia Hammad is a Palestinian/Jordanian communications and content professional working with an international NGO that designs and implements economic development interventions, including tourism value chain development. Over the last three years, she contributed to creating new economic opportunities for local communities along the Jordan Trail as well as facilitating local, experiential, and sustainable tourism development by curating new travel experiences and marketing the destination at large. She is an avid solo female traveler herself who really believes in the power of tourism to build bridges and celebrate differences. Ultimately, Dalia strives to employ travel as a tool to improve livelihoods, create new jobs, protect the environment, conserve cultural heritage, and further tolerance, respect, inclusion, and harmony.



Intern Annie CombsAnnie Combs is a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of the Environment. Her journey into the world of sustainable travel began when she worked in Ostional, Costa Rica as a Sea Turtle Research Volunteer for voluntourism company, BIOMA Travel. While living with her host family, she developed a deep love for Costa Rican culture that enhanced her desire to protect the landscapes that her new friends called home. She went on to work for a travel management company where she gained valuable insight to the unsustainable world of mainstream tourism. Her love of travel seemed to promote environmental degradation, but she knew that there could be another way. Annie set out on a mission to make the travel world a better place. She studied abroad in Ireland where she developed a better understanding of sustainability in business and took on a career in tech marketing to hone her communication skills with the goal of one day working to help tourism operations become more eco-friendly. She looks forward to combining her three passions: business, travel, and sustainability, during her internship with Solimar this summer. Annie holds a BA in Environmental Studies with a Minor in Professional Writing for Business from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She is currently obtaining a Master of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of the Environment. Her thesis project explores the importance of destination marketing and management to ecotourism businesses in Ecuador. 


Intern Deanna ElliottDeanna Elliott is a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of the Environment. She became interested in sustainable travel when she took a class on ocean conservation and sustainable fisheries in undergrad at Arizona State University. The trip to La Paz, Mexico that came with that class opened her eyes to the possibilities of locally sustainable tourism as a means of environmental and economic development in travel destinations. Deanna graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University in 2020 with a BS in Biological Sciences focused on conservation biology and ecology. During that time, she did research into the effects of climate change on agricultural pests, as well as whether the accumulation of heavy metals in fish could provide insight into the health of trophic webs. She is currently working on her Master’s of Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School. Her thesis project is intended to generate a tiered system of criteria for environmental, economic, and cultural sustainability based on the level of development and capability of individual destinations. Deanna is excited to gain valuable industry experience during her summer internship with S


Intern Sanjana PatelSanjana Patel is an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Growing up in Panama City Beach, Florida, she has always been surrounded by the tourism industry and has seen how impactful it can be, especially after witnessing her local community recuperate from the BP Oil Spill and Hurricane Michael. Sanjana is the founder of Pathway to Progress, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to combating gaps in rural healthcare and education through various initiatives in India, Malawi, and her local community. Through this internship, she looks forward to learning how to integrate her experiences in tourism and international development.




Learn more about our internship program and apply for the Fall semester here.

“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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