It all started with a scribbled note on the steps of Angkor Wat in 2007. It was onthisnote that friends Robbie Reese and Garrett Gravesen, graduates of the University of Georgia, conceptualized their big idea for transforming study abroad. Their vision – to lead transformative experiences – would be the foundation for Global LEAD, an innovative, purpose-driven organization, focused on leading life-changing experiences for youth, at home and abroad.
Armed with this vision, Robbie and Garrett returned home to Atlanta to build a team and carry out their mission. They recruited Courtney Doran, who recently returned from a year in the Marshall Islands teaching impoverished children and spearfishing for her dinner. They also recruited Kevin Scott, a US congressman’s team member who was looking to pursue his interest in serving people before politics. Creating a holistic experience that combined the service component of an international volunteer project, the adventure of a backpacking trip and the course credit of study abroad, this team believed they would change lives.
To put their vision to the test, the foursome planned a trip to Africa. For 100 days, they traveled across Africa, from Kenya to Cape Town. Along the way, they spoke alongside the Prime Minister of Kenya and were bruised and beaten whitewater rafting on the Nile River. They served in both the slums of Kibera and an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi. They spoke at countless African universities, primary schools and conferences, and they stared a 500-pound Silver Back Mountain Gorilla in the eyes in the forests of Uganda and Rwanda. According to Robbie, Global LEAD’s future CEO, each day was a new opportunity to serve and to understand the world, each other and the organization they were creating.
Upon returning to the U.S., they launched Global LEAD in 2009. Fueled by Ramen Noodles and hope, they delivered their first transformative experience to 48 University of Georgia students and one Wake Forest student. Program participants lived off a dollar a day in the townships of South Africa, listened to powerful leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela’s former cellmate and discovered what it means to be a leader in their own communities.
While expanding their presence in universities all over the Southeast, the program doubled in 2010, and Global LEAD took more than 100 students abroad to Cape Town and Greece. By 2012, the program doubled once again with students traveling to Cape Town, Greece and Ecuador, their newest location. Robbie said, “It was incredible to see the tangible effects the program had on the students who participated – from launching their own nonprofits to deliver shoes to children in Guatemala, providing microloans in India or revolutionizing the media industry in LA.”
As the program continued to grow, Robbie and the Global LEAD team realized their business processes, a mix of QuickBooks for accounting, email for CRM and Excel spreadsheets for budgets and dashboards, were no longer sufficient to meet the needs of their company. Without formalized business procedures, the company had no method in place to create drip marketing campaigns and organize and track sales leads. Additionally, in order to compete with much larger study abroad programs, Global LEAD needed to deliver an optimal digital experience to its customers – 18 to 22-year-old students and their parents.
When it came time to select a business solution to help them grow into the next phase as a company, Robbie and the team wanted a solution which would enable the company to analyze all costs to aid strategic decision-making and to determine how best to increase top-line revenue at a faster rate than expenses. Global LEAD was only able to accept payments by check and was eager to move to a system which could also support the online processing of credit card payments. After looking at other systems, the company chose NetSuite and applied for a software donation through NetSuite.org’s SuiteDonation program in 2010.
Since implementing NetSuite, Global LEAD has increased its customer base by 118 percent and revenue by 91 percent within a five-year period. On an average annual basis, the company is growing its customer base by 24 percent and revenue by 18 percent. Additionally, Global LEAD has automated and streamlined business processes company-wide boosting employee productivity. With its prior heavily manual systems, the company would have needed to hire one to two additional staff to achieve the same goals it can now realize running on NetSuite.
As a grantee of NetSuite.org, the corporate citizenship arm of NetSuite, Global LEAD has successfully engaged in multiple beneficial projects with SuiteVolunteers, NetSuite’s pro bono volunteer program. NetSuite employees have helped Global LEAD on a variety of workflow and customization projects such as automating the upload of important student documents including passports.
In 2014, Global LEAD launched their GO and Direct programs, designed to share the power of international travel with more students. GO: Rome offers a five-week study in Italy focused on personal, cultural and academic engagement. Cape Town Direct provides a two-week experience for students who only have a few weeks to travel and explore another country, but the students do not need collegiate credit. Summer 2015 marked Global LEAD’s seventh summer abroad, and 1,176 students have participated.Running on NetSuite, Global LEAD is on track to achieving its 2030 goal of being able to take 2,000 students per year from 200 universities to programs in 20 different locations.