Ila Asplund is the founder and CEO of Half Sky Journeys, building a global network of changemakers who travel with a purpose: to boost the impact of women-empowering programs worldwide.
What’s different about Half Sky Journeys?
Ila: “When I was three, my mom had a stroke that left her unable to form words, like a circuit severed from her brain to her mouth. After recovering (she is alive and well!), she told me that losing her voice—her ability to communicate—was more devastating than having half her body paralyzed. When I was older, a study abroad to Indonesia sparked my wanderlust, and since then I’ve always jumped at any cross-cultural opportunity. From ‘getting by’ where I don’t speak the language, to becoming an English teacher for people hungry to learn—it’s really through travel I’ve learned again how important our voices are. No matter how great our ideas or how deep our pain or joy, if we can’t communicate it, we are alone. I’ve met brilliant heroes committed to solving the challenges of poverty and gender inequality, but they must be HEARD in order to make an impact. It’s what inspires my vision of joining powerful advocates across borders, through Half Sky Journeys. Through journey experiences, we strive to connect nonprofits and social business leaders in need of visibility and support, to leaders with the passion and resources to help them succeed”
Ogunte: Tell us about a pivotal moment in your life as a woman social entrepreneur?
Ila: A few years ago I was in a car accident—a van “t-boned” my little car, it sounded like an explosion! I saw a giant metal post coming at my face, and everything became slow. I instinctively tried to steer, but I was airborne! I remember thinking three things: ‘I’m gonna die.’ And then, ‘If I don’t die, this is going to hurt.’ And then—a feeling of calm relief, and a message: ‘Nothing will be the same.’ I hit the pole, the airbag bloodied my face, and my car caught fire, but obviously I survived relatively unscathed. (The doctor did say that I had a “myocardial contusion”—translation: a bruised heart!) And nothing was the same. Weeks later with my bruised heart, I left a wrong-for-me relationship, I bought a one-way plane ticket to India, and I started my business! I’m a believer in what Homer Simpson calls the “crisi-tunity,” when crisis and opportunity meet. As a social entrepreneur, you can’t just let fate take the wheel all the time, but sometimes the universe thankfully (if a little painfully) kicks your butt into action!
Ogunte: How does your world look like in 2030?
Ila: Meaningful service abroad is required at universities, and the next generation identifies themselves as global citizens. Every major business has a stake in global women’s empowerment, and women occupy equal seats at the executive table. “Corporate Social Responsibility” is no longer a “thing”— because it’s a foregone conclusion that social justice is not just a moral imperative, but is essential to success. The US catches up with countries like Rwanda (yes, Rwanda!) in having equal representation of women in government roles at every level. The underlying idea represented by the word “mankind”—that men are the default humans and women a dot within that circle—ceases to exist, because boys and girls of this new generation have a deeper and more natural concept of gender equality than even the most dedicated feminists of my generation are able to imagine. Ok, this maybe be ambitious for just 15 years from now, but “today’s dreams are tomorrow’s reality,” right?
Learn more about this Journey in Rwanda here!