Ep 80: Using Your Talents To Help Others With Cotopaxi CEO Davis Smith (Part 2)


In part 2 of this podcast, Davis Smith shares how his passion to help others lead him to develop a company based on values that were important to him, such as giving back.  He shares an incredible story about the impact we can have when we go out of our way to help others in need. Listen to part 1 here.

Guest Bio

Davis Smith grew up in Latin America and lived for several years in Ecuador. When he wasn’t in school, Davis was exploring and camping in Cotopaxi National Park. It was here that he developed a lifelong reverence for the strong, hard-working people of the Andes. His time in Latin America also showed him the plight of those in abject poverty.

Davis later moved to the United States, where he pursued advanced degrees in business and international studies. He started several successful e-commerce businesses, two of which took him to Brazil, where he lived from 2010 to 2013. Despite his success, he wanted to do more to make a difference in the world. For his next venture, he decided to merge his love of travel with a poverty-fighting business model. Each customer’s purchase would give to those living in the world’s poorest regions. He named the company Cotopaxi to represent the spirit of adventure, optimism, and determination that he’d experienced during his time in Ecuador.

Kati: [00:00:00] Hey listeners, we're coming up to you again with another Davis Smith podcast. This is picking up where the part one left off. So if you haven't listened to that episode, we would start there. And I mentioned before, this comes from our Team Training Institute retreat. Now, if you want more information on how you can be involved with these, come check out our podcast page at www.theteamtraininginstitute.com/podcast. Thanks guys. And enjoy the podcast.
Davis Smith: [00:00:34] I've, I'm so grateful for these opportunities that I've had to to enjoy the outdoors and to learn how it is, how to adapt in crisis. And I've found that it's been so helpful for me as a leader. And I thought a lot of that came from my childhood growing up in those, in that kind of environment.
But the thing that I think impacted me most was not the exposure to the outdoors. It was a development of empathy for others. Seeing, as a child, my very first memories as a four year old were seeing children that were completely naked on the sides of the street. And I didn't come from a wealthy home.
We didn't have, we didn't have a whole lot, but I had opportunities that I knew these other people would never have. And not because I was smarter or better or more deserving. It was only because of where I was born. And so from the time I was a child, I've always known my entire life that I wanted to use my life to help others to give back and serve.
And my last business was I became an entrepreneur out of college, a mentor of mine who was a philanthropist. I tried to convince him to let me go work for his nonprofit. And he had said convinced me that I should become an entrepreneur. He'd been a successful entrepreneur. And that's how he was having an impact in the world.
And he said, David's what I see in you is you would be an entrepreneur. You would be a great entrepreneur, go find a way to make a difference through entrepreneurship. And my last business was in Brazil. I was desperately looking for a way that I could make an impact. And I ended up having the idea of building an outdoor brand.
That could inspire people and move people to do good with us. Or we could use our profits to sustainably alleviate global poverty. I wanted to show that there was a new way of doing business. A better way of capitalism. Capitalism has been an amazing tool that has lifted billions out of poverty. In just 200 years ago in 1820, 94% of the world was living in extreme poverty under a dollar 90 a day.
When I was born in 1978. That number was 40%. When I graduated from high school, it was 20% last year, it was 8%. We have an opportunity to eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetimes, and I want to be part of that movement. And I want to show that business has a key role in helping do that, that we can't rely on government and nonprofits alone to do it.
And what really? One of the experiences that really shaped me to do this was an experience that I had in, in undergrad. I did an internship in Peru and I met. A little boy named Edgar. I was in the main Plaza my first day in Cusco, the city near Machu Picchu this beautiful city. I bought my first meal instead of eating it in this little restaurant by eight on a park bench.
I want it to soak in the magic of the city. And if anyone's been to Cusco, you know what I'm talking about? It just ruins everywhere, just the most amazing place. And as I was sitting on this bench, all these little kids ran up to me. And they started trying to sell me things, finger puppets, and postcards and candy.
And I immediately connected with these kids having grown up in Latin America after a while they all ran off. But there was one little boy that sat next to me on a shoe shiny kit, and he kept insisting to shine my shoes and it took me a while to convince him it's not possible to shine tennis shoes.
So I wasn't going to give them any business, but he kept sitting there and I realized, maybe he's sitting here watching me because he's hungry. So I offered him the rest of my lunch and I had never seen somebody like that before ever. He absolutely devoured it. And I decided that I needed to look for this boy again.
So that night as I ate dinner I saved some of my food. I went out into the main Plaza and sure enough, I found him straight away. He had he always wore the same clothes every day and he had a hole in the butt of his pants with no underwear on. So you could always. Spot him from a distance. And but I found this, I found little Edgar he's nine years old, just the cutest little guy.
And he took this food and he was so shocked that I'd come back to find him. And he took the food and he ran over and he started sharing it with all of his friends and they were all eating this food with their hands. And it was just so touching to me. I decided that this would become my daily ritual every day.
The highlight of my day was looking for little Edgar. My last night in Cusco, as I was walking back to my place this is, it was close to midnight. It was cold. You could see your breath in the air. And I saw two little boys cuddled on the side of the street, trying to stay warm, sleeping together.
And as I got closer, I recognized that one of them was my little friend Edgar, and I woke him up and I asked him why he was sleeping on the street. And he told me that someone had stolen his shoe shine kit. And he was too afraid to go home. You said his dad was an alcoholic and his mom depended on him to help feed his family.
So I gave him the little bit of cash that I had. It wasn't much. And that night I could hardly sleep. I was just so worried about this little boy. The next day I got on a bus and I was leaving Cusco for the last time. The bus did a little loop around the main Plaza to let of people on and off. And as I looked out the window, I saw her and he saw me and he ran up to this bus and I just enough time where I slid open the window of the bus and he ran next to me, waving goodbye.
With this big bag of candy in his arms that he bought with the money I'd given him. And he was now selling that candy in the streets. He was an entrepreneur which just tickles me today. I love, love that thought. And made a commitment on that bus that I was going to use my life to find a way to help children like Edgar.
And so building this brand Cotopaxi around that mission has just been one of the most fulfilling things I've done in my life. We'll use our profits to support poverty alleviation around the world. And some of the poorest communities in the world, we focus on education, healthcare, and livelihood training.
If you order something on our website, you get a handwritten thank you card. That's written by a refugee, and you can see that some of these refugees are from Syria, others from Sudan, others from Venice swell, but we've had over a hundred refugees participate in this thing in this. In this program, we created a job club where they joined this job club and they they get their first job with us.
And they are still learning English. So they write the thank you card in their native language. And every customer receives one of these. This is one of the applications for one of the card writers. She said, my name is Mo K bow. I'm from Thailand. I speak four different languages.
I was born in Thailand. I like to play soccer. I am strong woman. And anyone that's met a refugee knows how strong they are. This picture was taken in Syria a few years ago. One of the largest humanitarian crisis in our lifetimes, since world war II, millions of people have been displaced.
Many of them that had any kind of financial resources used all every dollar. They had to pay smugglers to, to get them out of the middle East to try to start a new life. Sadly the journey doesn't end well for many of them, and many of the most vulnerable are those that are impacted the greatest.
And when they escape their homes, this is where they arrive. They arrive to a refugee camp. This is a refugee camp at the border of Syria in Jordan. There's a long walkway, a long road that kind of cuts through the middle of the camp, which you can see there. And I had a chance to visit this refugee camp is that he refugee camp.
And I was just so impressed by these people. That street is now filled with 1400 small businesses little restaurants, a woman making sewing wedding dresses, men making furniture out of scrap pieces of wood. Finding ways to contribute to their communities to start new lives. One of the highlights for me Was actually a, at the end of the day, I was on this little Hill to overlook part of the city and all these little children were following me around very curious about what I was doing.
I obviously I obviously stand out a little bit in a place like this, or just about anywhere actually with my, tall baldheaded and very white I don't speak Arabic and they don't speak English, but we could communicate to each other with our eyes and with our smiles. And instinctively.
One of these little boys grabbed my hands and flipped off his sandals and walked up my body and did a little back flip. And many of you probably did this with your own. Maybe your dad, or maybe you've done it with your children. But pretty soon all of the little kids lined up and they all wanted to turn to do this.
And it was amazing. Cause every one of them would take off their sandals before walking up my body, which was so respectful because my kids don't do that. And I. I ended up having these dirty little footprints all the way up my body for the rest of the day. And it was it was a beautiful moment because these children for a few minutes were able to forget that they were in a refugee camp.
The average person lives in a camp for 18 years. Only 1% of refugees ended up being resettled somewhere else. I went back to my hotel that night in Amman. And as I was getting ready for bed, this, the thought of these children was weighing heavy on my heart. And as I was getting ready, I had the TV on, in the background playing some news just to fill the void in the room.
And I ended up seeing this breaking news story that I'm going to share with you all here today, the United nations is asking for 48 hours of relief in the fighting to break. I break from the violence between the government regime and rebel forces in five years of warmer than 250,000 people have lost their lives.
That includes 4,500 children in a level alone, millions more displaced without a home. Now that includes Oman. And what strikes me is we shed tears, but there are no tears here. He doesn't cry once that little boy is in total shock, he's stunned inside his home one moment. And the next. Lost in the flow and the flurry and the fury of war and chaos, at least three people were killed by this bomb in this neighborhood.
This is Omran she's alive. We wanted you to know.
As I watched that video, it just broke me inside. Many of those children that I played with earlier that day were also from Aleppo from the same city. And it's hard for me to understand how humans can be so cruel to each other. But what this did is it, for me, it reinforced the urgency of the work that we each have to do.
One of my favorite quotes is by a man named OSI caner any, he said one way to describe a life. A life of service would be to understand that for every white we claim, there was a corresponding duty for every privilege or responsibility he says yet it is more it's more than that. It's a heart filled with love and gratitude, such that one feels he could never repay the debt.
He owes. The only way to free ourselves from the prison of selfishness is to pour out our lives in love and service to great causes and noble ideas.
And so that's that's my challenge to each of you is to find ways to pour out your lives in love and service to great causes and noble ideas. We need to remember that success is not how much money we make or how big our home is. It's how many lives we can touch along the way. And I found that is the most fulfilling thing that we can do with our lives.
Some of you may be wonder brain, whatever happened to that little boy, Edgar in, in Peru, and I've wondered the same thing for years. And after nearly 15 years, I had the chance to go back to Peru. And I went back with the hope of being able to find this boy who would now be a man knowing that was likely an impossible task.
I I only knew his first name. I knew he was nine years old in 2001. I knew was shine shoes. That's it. I, I had to, I had a little picture of him sitting on his shoe, shiny kit, and I had a little 13, second video of him running next to this bus, waving goodbye. And but I went into Cusco and through a series of small miracles, I ended up finding Edgar.
And this is Edgar today. When I found him we embraced and I just couldn't believe that I found it and he was he was so proud. He wanted to show me this little home that he built his home. And so we took a little class up into the Hills and we walk up the side of this mountain.
And as we did, he told me his life story, that his mom had died giving birth to his younger siblings. And he was now raising those younger siblings at the time. He was 11 years old. His dad died of alcohol abuse a couple of years later when Edgar was 13. And so we'd been orphaned. And when we got to this house, he was so excited to show it to me.
And when I saw it, it was a house made of mud and there was a hole in the ground for a toilet. And there was a part of me that was so discouraged to see how this young man was living. And then there was this other part of me that was so how'd I was bursting with pride because I knew he was so proud to show me what he built on his own.
And so we discussed like what he wanted to do with his life. And he wanted to be, he said, if I could do anything, I'd want to be a tour guide. I've worked my entire life on the streets. He still sells paintings in the streets to tourists. He's learned some English because he's spent so much of his life's work life working with tourists and he knows Cusco better than anyone.
He's known those streets, his whole life. And so we found a program a four year, sorry, a three-year program where he has it been able to learn how to be a tour guide and agreed to help him with the cost of the program as long as he did well. So he sends me these pictures of his report card and he does well most of the time.
And I'm just so proud of him. This year was supposed to be the year of his graduation. I was so excited to be flying down to his graduation ceremony. And then of course COVID happened and everything was put on hold. His schooling was put on, hold graduation was put on hold. Tourists were no longer allowed in the country.
Uproot was in complete lockdown for six months. And one night I got a note from Edgar on Facebook, a message. And he said I am I'm in desperate need of help. I'm embarrassed to even ask, but I can't feed my family. There's either is no work I have, there are no tourists, so I can't sell anything to anyone.
There is no way for me to make money, to provide for my family. I am scared. I don't know what to do. And that night I went to bed. I'm just so worried. And I had a sleepless night where I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to be in a situation where anytime he had financial problems, he was coming to me for help.
And about five in the morning, I woke up with this idea and idea of helping Edgar help himself, which was I called him up and said, I have this idea. What if you recorded? A 30 minute walking tour of Cusco Americans in the whole world. They're desperate to see this amazing city, but no one can travel.
They're all stuck in their homes. So what if we created this wa this virtual walking tour and we could get my friends and anyone I knew to support you, they could pay $10 for this 30 minute walking tour. And so he loved the idea. We posted it on social media and. We ended up with a thousand people.
At first people I knew friends relatives, and then pretty soon it was people that I had no idea who they were and people that were just jumping in to support this amazing young man. And it's been so beautiful to see, he ended up getting enough funds. It's three years of his working salary and we've created a little bank account, a business bank account where he takes a small salary.
Every single month to support his family. And in the meantime, we're working on a business plan that will help him go build a business that will allow him to go support his family over the longterm. And so what I love about this story is that it took me nearly 20 years to figure out how to help this young man.
But it was something that was, I thought about every day. I have not gone a day in 20 years without thinking of this young man about thinking of Edgar and. The whole community chipped in to help people that didn't even know him during any time of crisis when others are hurting themselves they found a way to help and lift someone else.
I'm an optimist, I believe in a world of goodness. And I'm so grateful that as humans, we have such, that's what makes us special different from everything else on the planet is this empathy and compassion that we have for others. And so my question for each of you is who is your Edgar, who is the person who.
Can help you look beyond yourself. And Wendy we'll share a link with that talks a little bit about the story and the bottom. It gives you some details has a little video of him thanking everyone, but if you'd like to support Edgar and his tour you're welcome to participate. You can, it's again, $10.
You can if you want to leave him a tip, you can, but we'd love to have your support. It's taken a little longer to do the video than we thought, because Pru just opened up for the first time. This last week, they started opening things back up tourists aren't allowed to come, but some of the archeological sites are back open.
So we're working on this 30 minute walking tour. Be a little patient as we work through some of those details, but we're so excited to get it to you. And Edgar's just so grateful for this life-changing experience. It's been great. Great to chat with you all. I don't know. When do you, what your plan is?
I'm happy to answer a question or two, if that's, if there's time, if not. And I'll let you guys carry on.
Wendy Briggs: [00:17:48] For sure. Thanks so much, Davis, always powerful to hear from you. For those that want to participate in the tour, the link is in the chat right now. So you can click on that or copy and paste it for later on.
But I remember you first posting about the virtual tour and I was one of your buyers, right? Because my parents live in Peru. At that time they were actually living there. At that moment. They actually left right before they closed the country for COVID. They were there doing a mission at themselves.
So my daughter went to Peru when she was in, in college. And so we have a connection to Peru as well. So I remember that's why that story spoke out, spoke to me in that moment. But I can tell you that all of the stories that you share speak to people. When you showed the picture of Edgar, after you had found them, I looked at our attendees and everybody was smiling.
It's such a heartwarming story. And so I so appreciate you sharing his story and I appreciate the mission of Cotopaxi, gear for good. And by the way, if you haven't bought any Cody Cotopaxi gear a few years ago for our salt Lake summit, everybody got a backpack. My boys still it's one of their favorite Christmas gifts every year is whatever is new from Cotopaxi.
So we love the products too, but I so appreciate you sharing that with us. And I think we probably do Dr. John, do you think we have time for a question or two? If somebody has a question about Davis's stories, first of all, I can say. I'm glad I'm not a survivalist because I think being in the water with those sharks, I would've just let them have the fish.
So I probably wouldn't be a survivor in the same vein that you are so well, I will say too, like normally I think I would have given the shark, the fish too.
Davis Smith: [00:19:29] I cannot tell you how hungry we were so hungry. Yeah. And I think Wendy, thank you for supporting Edgar. It means so much to me.
I remember you were one of the very first people to support him. So thank you. Yeah, our pleasure. And of course we've talked about it and TTI will be helping with that project as well. So our team talked about that this morning and we're all super excited to be involved in that effort. Thank you.


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