Scott Wilhelm ’01
Va Va Vayando
Scott Wilhelm ’01 (third from left, above, with Poppin’ Chris [Hirwa Christian], Aminatha Murekatete, and Grace Mukeshimana) has a knack for collecting eclectic experiences abroad. Not long after he began volunteering with the Peace Corps in El Salvador, his town had to be evacuated when a neighboring volcano roared to life. He’s also got a small and underperforming investment in a herd of Kenyan sheep.
Now he’s in Rwanda, curating your next adventure with his startup, Vayando.
In the Peace Corps, Wilhelm and another volunteer, Jason Seagle, would meet on their days off to share beers and the comforts of English conversation. They saw tourists, but only on the well-worn paths laid forth in the Lonely Planet guidebook. These paint-by-numbers travelers had no idea what they were missing, so what if Wilhelm and Seagle could connect them with the ingenious entrepreneurs back in their villages?
After the Corps, the pair kept up a dialogue across continents, and it kept circling around their passion for unique travel experiences. In late 2014, they raised $15,000 through Indiegogo to launch Vayando.com, a website that connects travelers with small farmers and local craftspeople. Wilhelm left his steady paycheck and boarded a plane to Africa.
Now he’s built an enchanting itinerary for the curious traveler. Fashion design in a small, urban tailoring shop? Take in the local boxing scene or get a lesson in African hip-hop dancing? Learn how coffee gets processed or get buzzed while beekeeping with traditional log hives? Travelers can do all of that and more.
The online startup is potentially life changing for microentrepreneurs such as Samuel Muhayimana on Kumugongwe Island in Lake Kivu. Now twenty-eight, he was orphaned during the Rwandan genocide but grew up a dairy farmer like his parents. A few $20 Vayando bookings double his income for the month.
“I’ve seen the silverback gorillas that most tourists come to see, which is $700 for one hour,” says Wilhelm. “They’re spectacular, but I had just as much fun hanging out with Samuel, who has cows. And they swim across the lake!”
While Vayando feeds a burgeoning interest in traditional home economics, it also balances modern and traditional livelihoods. By day, travelers can see what it’s like to be a web developer in a thriving African city. By night, they can experience moonlight fishing in a handmade boat.
Vayando is currently booking experiences in Costa Rica and Rwanda, but Wilhelm hopes to grow by opening it up to Peace Corps volunteers and spreading the word among local artisans. “It’s my job to find really neat people doing neat things,” he says. “It doesn’t get better than that.”
Published in the Spring 2016 issue