Crossing Countries was founded in 2014 by Jean Cathro. The organisation offers opportunities for disabled and non-disabled people to volunteer together abroad, as well as Rethinking Disability workshops delivered by people with disabilities that move beyond legislation.
Several years ago, Jean took her first, life-changing trip to Durban, South Africa in which she was inspired to give the same opportunity to disabled and non-disabled. They spent their time volunteering in organisations like township schools, creches and special needs schools. While travelling, it occurred to Jean that those living with disabilities often don’t get opportunities to volunteer and that travel abroad is difficult. This trip had enabled the students to have an unforgettable experience, overcome challenges and increase their self-worth in a way that made everyday struggles feel more manageable.
Jean took on the idea of a social enterprise model rather than charity due to limitations and felt that as a social enterprise, Crossing Countries would allow her to develop an element of progression into the organisation’s model, and that it may be more conducive to various potential routes of future expansion. Crossing Countries’ social enterprise approach already financially supports previous volunteers to join a subsequent trip as a Team Leader. Jean hopes that this may extend to the organisation’s work in Scotland, allowing disabled individuals to be paid as consultants for the facilitation of workshops.
Challenges and Support
Jean feels that the greatest challenge faced by social entrepreneurs, particularly those without prior experience in business, or learning is gaining initial knowledge and people who can support your organisation with functions such as book-keeping or legal requirements. Jean has said that even getting relevant and helpful feedback is a difficulty. Another barrier is starting a business and trying to make a living at the same time. Jean found moving Crossing Countries forward with the limited time she has had a challenge at first. She has found it important not to compare Crossing Countries to the apparent progress of other social enterprises or beat herself up for not hitting every goal at once.
These challenges were made easier with support from organisations such as Edinburgh Social Enterprise and First Port who have been hugely beneficial and important when starting Crossing Countries. The opportunity to gain support, training, promotion and network with other social enterprises and entrepreneurs has been invaluable. Exchanging ideas and experience is an amazing support!
Crossing Countries is driven forward by the success stories of individuals following their involvement in the organisation’s work. Jean keeps contact with former volunteers and witnesses first hand how they are using their experiences in their everyday life. The organisation is making impact both in Scotland and in South Africa, where the individuals they have engaged there are returning to do work with NGOs and changing their ideas about disabilities. As well as ongoing workshops and trips to South Africa, Jean is looking into other destinations for cultural exchange to give even more opportunity to participants.