Seth Godin’s latest book, Tribes, describes the culture-altering impact leaders have by simply building tribes of like-minded, passionate people eager to contribute. There is perhaps no better example of this than Hotelie Ben Justus ’08 and his organization Everything’s Gonna Be OK (EGBOK). EGBOK, a nonprofithospitality training school that is changing the face of the hotel industry in Cambodia, owes its creation, in large part, to the network of Cornell Hotel Society alums eager to help Ben turn his vision into a movement — one that’s impacting lives across Cambodia.
From the beginning, Justus knew attending Cornell was a privilege and developed a deep conviction that he wanted to use that privilege to give back. Although he originally wanted to work with underserved kids, visiting Cambodia on a Spring Break trip inspired him to modify his vision. He noticed how often people are inclined to help children in need, but the young adult population is mostly ignored. This shifted his focus to helping 18-22 year olds get practical, real-world training, creating distinction from other NGO schools set up to serve the country’s youth.
Cambodia, a country torn apart by civil war and genocide, desperately needed regeneration in its hospitality industry. Moreover, its people are exposed to human trafficking and have few opportunities for education or advancement.
After failing to find a organization worthy of donating the $36,000 he raised while at Cornell by selling t-shirts, and then realizing that teaching hospitality classes in a Cambodian orphanage didn’t equip students for independent life and work, Justus decided to found his own hospitality vocational school: EGBOK. Taking a holistic approach, EGBOK recruits Cambodia’s must vulnerable and trains them not only in hospitality but in life skills; it then finds them internships and jobs and continues to offer professional development to alumnus who are working in the hospitality industry.
What’s been truly amazing about the success of EGBOK is that it was built on the backs of volunteers, many of whom are Hotelies. Justus’ passion to see his students succeed has inspired countless others to not only give financially but to contribute their time and skills to equip the school and students for success. His model is impressive: many people — because they have no experience with educating children in a third-world country — feel they have nothing to give. But Justus invites them to use the knowledge and training they do have to give to the school in unique ways, from helping out with accounting to creating the organization’s website. Over two dozen Hotelies have volunteered since the school’s creation — a fact even more impressive when taking into consideration the requirement that all volunteers must give at least three months of their time.
EGBOK’s continued and growing success is thanks in large part to the CHS alumni network, as well. Several of the people sitting on EGBOK’s Board of Directors are Hotelies including Marge Ferguson and Barry Bloom ’86. And the school simply would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the CHS Asian Pacific Regional Conference in Singapore. This conference enabled Justus to meet many people who had insight into the region and were able to provide invaluable advice and contributions. One such person is Osman Khawaja ’01, another Hotelie.
When Justus met Khawaja at a CHS conference in Siem Reap, Khawaja had already heard about EGBOK from another MMH volunteer, Kathryn Miller ’11. And, once he met Justus and volunteered at the school, he decided to fully commit himself to the school and served first as its Country Director and now serves as its Executive Director.
“The CHS chapters are a great way to stay connected with fellow Hotelies and hear about all the remarkable things happening in the world of hospitality. It was there where I found the links to make the move to the non-profit sector and where we continue to find the much needed support for EGBOK.”
— Osman Khawaja ’01, Executive Director, EGBOK
Justus, when asked about CHS’s impact on EGBOK, said that the alumni network has been incredible; that it’s been great to be a part of a worldwide group of people who are willing to throw their talents into a growing nonprofit.
Godin claims that, “great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate [and] to make connections.” This is evident in Justus’ work; particularly in the way Hotelies across the globe have joined his movement to empower the people of Cambodia.