I met Anina Monteforte, world traveler, gender equality advocate, and Founder of The World Within Us, through another fellow Shine On feature, Abby Gibbons. And let me tell you, Anina is the coolest. Born in New York City of Mexican, Cuban, and Italian descent, Anina has traveled to 43+ countries in the last five years. Her international nonprofit, The World Within Us, cultivates responsible and sustainable travel experiences that directly align with the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which she champions.
Anina also works full-time on the Purpose and Brand Experience team at SAP, driving creative content and storytelling. She works closely with key partners like the United Nations, Global Citizen, Female Quotient, and more on purpose-driven projects. Oh, and she is currently obtaining a Master’s degree in International Development at NYU. This woman is crushing it! What I love about Anina is that not only is she incredibly genuine, kind, and humble, she’s also striving to make her mark on the world. You won’t want to miss this interview. Read on below!
KN: Anina, I am so excited to get to know you more. Thank you for being a part of this series. Can you shed some light into your story and how you got to be where you are today in your career and with The World Within Us?
Anina Monteforte: My life was building The World Within Us before I even knew it. I studied abroad twice during my undergrad, the first program at the American University of Paris. Then in 2016, I was fortunate enough to join Semester at Sea, a five-month voyage with 600+ students from around the world traveling through 13 countries across Europe, Africa, and South America. These two experiences really changed the trajectory of my life!
After graduation, I moved back to New York City and took a contract job, determined to solo travel, and explore South East Asia and Africa for five months. I was then accepted to NYU’s Global Affairs Masters program to study international development. A major blessing! Afterward, everything began falling into place. I started working with Smart Flyer, a luxury travel company, and then received another opportunity to join the SAP Next-Gen team a few months later!
At SAP, I’ve had the opportunity to lead our global efforts with social media and creative content. I’ve worked on projects with organizations like the United Nations, Global Citizen, Female Quotient, Beyond Sport, and so many more. It’s been incredible to work so closely with the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this capacity!
It’s crazy to look back now to see how all of the pieces have come together. All of these experiences have helped me to grow my knowledge of international development, partnerships, program-building, and helped me to build a strong supportive network!
KN: You are the coolest! What an amazing story. So from all of that, how have you built The World Within Us and ensured what you wanted to do with it was successful? What rewards and challenges has it brought you?
AM: The World Within Us was built to host small group travel experiences that have a strong social and economic impact at its core. Our success really comes from our local grassroots nonprofit partners in each destination, ensuring we are successful in empowering local initiatives to fuel the community. We also educate travelers on the UN 17 SDGs and aspects that relate to tradition, culture, and history prior to our departure. Success to me is ensuring travelers have a once in a lifetime experience and that the local community economically benefits from our experiences.
The major challenge has been, similar to many other small businesses, is adapting to the current pandemic. To ensure the safety of our guests and local staff, we’ve updated our travel policies that allow travelers more flexibility to postpone trips, and received a voucher for future trips that never expire! We also closely monitor all updates to our five destinations. That has been essential to ease the minds of travelers but also provide tourism the opportunity to restart when it can be done safely. The bonus is that the world is easing back into safer ways to travel than ever before.
KN: I love that The World Within Us is not only a travel opportunity but also a way to make an impact on the community of the cities you are visiting. Can you expand on why you believe social impact, sustainability, and supporting the local community is so important to the travel experience?
AM: Tourism is such a key element to sustainable development that’s never really discussed! Tourism reaches all developing nations and brings wealth into each destination. If we intentionally use our money to support the local community, we create opportunities for employment, which leads to educational opportunities for children, medical care for families, better sanitation efforts, and so much more. It all has a ripple effect!
Same with sustainability, we need our world to transition to a more eco-friendly world. By selecting accommodations that utilize solar energy, refrain from using plastic, and have local businesses within their supply chain, you create a positive impact on the destination. In addition to accommodations that operate sustainably in every The World Within Us travel package, we also include carbon offsetting packages to minimize our carbon footprint.
It’s really about being conscious of where your money is going. Is it to a hotel chain’s gift shop or a local market? International tour operator, or freelance female guide? Is it to a huge resort or an eco-friendly hotel? Small decisions like that make a huge impact.
KN: That’s incredible how you’ve been able to infuse that into every trip. What has been your most favorite trip so far?
AM: The one country I desire to go back to the most is Tanzania. Tanzania was the one country, even though I was half-way around the world, I felt at home. The kindness and hospitality of the local people was so welcoming; every time you drove by, children and families were eager to greet you and say ‘Jambo!’ Also, the national parks, wildlife, and nature are untouched and tranquil. The Maasai Lodge, to this day, is my favorite place on earth. It’s a sustainable lodge, operated by Maasai in the community, and overlooks the hills leading to Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’ve never felt so connected to the earth. There is such an incredible energy to it. It’s a place that I think everyone should visit in their lifetime.
KN: I recently traveled to Zanzibar before volunteering in Rwanda earlier this year and am kicking myself we didn’t spend time in Tanzania! It sounds magical. Switching gears a bit, how do you manage to balance your work and your well-being, when you are currently working full-time, going to grad school, and building The World Within Us? You’re a busy gal!
AM: Balance is a funny thing! Sometimes I feel like I have a great grasp on it; other times, things are chaotic. Like other entrepreneurs, I sacrifice social life and sleep primarily, but it’s something I’m passionate about, so it never feels like work! I always feel so grateful for that.
Personally, I’m not a night person, so when things need to get done, I’ll get up around sun-rise and start my morning with partner calls for The World Within Us in the European/African time zone. I’ll do that to also finalize some tasks before my formal workday begins at 9 AM. Then when school begins again, I usually dedicate Sundays to my grad work and bang everything out on that day!
In terms of wellbeing, I usually take the morning to read a chapter from my book which is currently, You Are A Badass (thoroughly enjoying that!). Then in the evenings after 6 PM, I’ll close my laptop and take time for myself. I’ll either exercise or go for an evening walk along the Hudson River. That time outside is so sacred for me, it’s the perfect reset.
KN: I feel you there. There’s just a calming aspect to being outside. What would you say you credit your success to?
AM: Every single woman who has empowered me on this journey! I’ve had so many incredible women in my life who have lifted my confidence, amplified my voice, or gave me an opportunity to share my talents! I’ve had female managers from my first job at Sterling National Bank and now at SAP who have empowered me to lead with purpose and creativity. I also have incredible friends who keep me grounded and support all that I do.
Most importantly, my mom and my grandma have been key to all my successes! I come from a strong line of independent women. My grandma immigrated from Mexico in the 1960s to New York City and worked really hard to ensure my mom and uncles could get a solid education and rebuild a life here in the United States. The only reason I have any of the opportunities that I do is because of her sacrifices. My mom too has always provided me financially and shared her wisdom. They both have never clipped my wings and I’m eternally grateful for that. Every achievement I have is really for them to celebrate!
KN: What amazing women! I’m so glad to hear you have powerful women to look up to in your life. What gets you excited to wake up in the morning? What keeps you motivated?
AM: I’m energized and excited to be among millions around the world committed to creating global change. I stay motivated by those interested in traveling with The World Within Us too. It’s been an incredible journey!
KN: Love it. This Shine On series features women who are inspiring and blazing their own trail in their career and life. Who would you say inspires you and why?
AM: One woman I’ve been extremely inspired by in recent months is Jacinda Ardern. She’s taken the role of Prime Minister of New Zealand and blazed her own trail of what holding the highest position of power can look like. She’s both strong and kind. She’s the epitome of what open, honest, and authentic leadership is. She’s also successfully navigated the pandemic, being the only country to effectively eliminate COVID-19. On top of that, she prioritizes global issues like gender equality and climate action. I aspire to lead with those same attributes and values!
KN: I am in awe of what she’s been able to do these last few months! On another topic, given the state of the world that we are currently living in, what actions would you recommend for women who want to get involved and help fight against racial inequality and injustice? What actions have you personally taken?
AM: There’s no better time to get involved than right now. It’s so important to keep the momentum going – we all need to continue sharing content on social media daily that educates people, promotes Black entrepreneurs, and reminds people to raise their voice for Breonna Taylor!
My best friend and I every Tuesday (Since Blackout Tuesday) make it a point to go to different Black-owned businesses in the Tri-state area, whether that’s Harlem, Brooklyn, or Jersey City! It’s a great way to support during these challenging times of COVID-19 and intentionally decide where we spend our money. Some of the other actions I would also recommend are signing petitions, marching in a local protest, and nominating Black-owned businesses for corporate grants! These are all things that make a large impact to ensure this movement continues.
KN: Thank you for sharing those! Super helpful and love how you are making it a priority in your life. If you had one piece of advice for fellow career women, what would it be?
AM: “When you are more than your job, you bring more to your job!”
A mentor and colleague at SAP, Sandra Moerch Peterson, said those words and that’s the best piece of advice I can pass on. Don’t be afraid to share what you’re doing beyond the office, whether that’s building a project, nonprofit, volunteer work, travels! All that you do gives you newfound experiences that will actually benefit you and elevate your career.
KN: I could not agree more and that quote is so good! I just recently wrote a post about bringing your personality into the workplace and how it’s more important than ever! So, Lipstick & Ink is all about encouraging women to make their mark on their lives, the lives of others, and on the world. What does “making your mark” mean to you?
AM: “Making your mark” to me means inspiring others to lead with the knowledge and experiences I’ve shared. Building new leaders that desire to make a change in their unique way! It’s not really about me specifically, but creating a large collective of people who will help to empower our world. That’s success to me.
KN: Amazing! Thanks so much for your time, Anina. Do you have any parting thoughts or advice?
AM: Do all things with purpose, and set out for the things that you want! That’s the main parting words I have. If Tanzania, Egypt, Nepal, Indonesia, and Brazil are also places of interest, be bold enough to create memories that will last you a lifetime! This is your personal invitation to join The World Within Us on our upcoming travels in 2021. Also please stay connected with us on social media at @TheWorldWithinUs_!
To get in touch with Anina, you can find other ways to connect below!
- Website: www.theworldwithinus.org
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @theworldwithinher + @theworldwithinus_
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.