Morrocan entrepreneur plans new wave of cultural exchange

The social entrepreneur who wants to connect like-minded travellers worldwide and build friendships across borders

Yasmine El Baggari wants to change the world, one face-to-face encounter at a time.

The 22-year-old Moroccan social entrepreneur is the brains behind Voyaj, an enterprise intended to match like-minded travellers worldwide, with the hope of helping them to share experiences, cultures and beliefs.

Based around an online platform, the idea was inspired by El Baggari’s own time as an exchange student in the US, when she says she was given the opportunity to meet with and learn from many people.

“I believe that hospitality can bring the world together,” said El Baggari. “At 17, I first came to America as a US State Department sponsored Youth Ambassador, from Morocco. The programme’s mission was to facilitate a cultural exchange, whereby I would gain an experience of America, while sharing my culture with Americans.”

Initial funding for the platform’s development has come from Hampshire College Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which provided $60,000 in seed money to El Baggari, who studied at the school.

Voyaj was created in 2014 and testing has been completed on the first version of the platform, which is expected to launch in August this year. Once up and running the site will pair vetted travellers and hosts to see if they can provide each other with what El Baggari describes as an ‘authentic travel’ experience.

“The mission of Voyaj reflects my personal mission, which is to help create a more peaceful caring world by building meaningful connections across geographic and cultural boundaries, person by person – heart to heart,” she said.

The idea has already proven its worth in successful trials held over the past year, with Morocco and the United States being the first destinations for members.

“We’re ready to expand to more countries. We have built a network of hosts who are eager to offer their hospitality to travelers, and we managed families from New York and Kansas to Morocco with Voyaj in March,” said El Baggari.

Voyaj facilitated the visit of a group of 12 philanthropists to Morocco for a meeting with Eve and Sir Richard Branson in April this year. The company provided hospitality across Morocco for a few of the group, who were accompanied by El Baggari. If successful Voyaj could help to achieve some of its founder’s personal aims: to connect people, bridge cultures and break down stereotypes.