Debbie Robinson: “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

To me, being a hero is a simple thing, it’s going above and beyond and putting as much effort as you can into helping others. It might be the person who helps a neighbor with their shopping every week come rain or shine and never lets them down, or it could be the billionaire that […]

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To me, being a hero is a simple thing, it’s going above and beyond and putting as much effort as you can into helping others. It might be the person who helps a neighbor with their shopping every week come rain or shine and never lets them down, or it could be the billionaire that starts a philanthropic organization that helps millions of children. Either way, they’re doing what they can to help.

Heroes are also those that may face a hundred challenges every day just to stay alive, but manage to keep a smile on their face, or listen to others despite how they are feeling. Heroes also put aside their own needs for the sake of others, think of a family member that donates a kidney, or family members that care for a sick relative. These are all heroes in my book — they go about their work quietly and every day and they don’t do it for any kind of reward. There are many quiet unsung heroes, just doing what they can.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Robinson, the founder of 10 or More–Hotels for Groups. The company was born after many years’ experience managing travel for large groups and a long list of high profile clients (many of whom will appear somewhere on your Spotify playlists or TV screens).

Debbie has previously been a senior manager and managing director of a large specialist business and entertainment travel management company, and early in her career won the national ‘UK Business Travel Consultant of the Year’ award. Over the years she has meticulously looked after countless high-profile clients from the worlds of music, TV, entertainment, and business. More often than not these clients have complex and unique requirements.

Debbie has also worked in TV production for a well-known production company and has first-hand knowledge of the priorities of production managers and coordinators when it comes to organizing location accommodation for both Talent and Crew.

Debbie was exposed to many new countries and cultures early in her travel career, including some special memories spending time with indigenous Zulus in South Africa, in the rainforests of Malaysia, visiting local communities in rural India. Through these experiences as a young adult, Debbie witnessed poverty on a scale she had not been aware existed in the world as a child. It stirred a deep awareness of the unfairness present in the world, and Debbie has remained passionate that travel can be a force for good. She believes that those who are well-traveled have had the best form of education — it instilled a sense of compassion and tolerance, and a wider sense of our own place in the world, as well the urge to make it fairer for everyone.

10 or More donates a percentage of its profits to the sustainable travel charity, The Travel Foundation.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic back in March, Debbie launched the campaign #HotelsThankTheNHS and has collected hundreds of free luxury hotel breaks for frontline Covid-19 health professionals who have been working so hard to save lives throughout the pandemic.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I was born in the Seventies, growing up in the UK on the outskirts of North-West London, in the small commuter town of Pinner. A fairly regular upbringing with hard-working parents, I grew up around an older brother and younger sister, so I guess I sometimes felt like a more independent spirit as the middle child. My father ran his own small business, and to this day I think my strong work-ethic is inspired by his consistently hard-working attitude. We were lucky, although living so close to London we had a huge garden, so I spent a lot of my time as a child outdoors and in nature. I remember being woken up at first light all through the summer months by the sound of birdsong outside my bedroom window, a sound I still cherish today. When I want to reflect or be mindful even now, I sit in my garden with a cup of coffee and just listen to the birds.

We had limited technology available to us in those days, so I would spend long summer days outside watching my parents tending to the garden creating amazing floral displays, or I would pick vegetables and shell peas for dinner, or perhaps collect fruit from the fruit trees to make jam with my mother and sister Paula.

I feel extremely lucky that I’ve known my best friend Sasha since I was 5, she features in many of my childhood memories and has been a constant rock in my life through every twist and turn. I appreciate that it’s a rare and invaluable kind of friendship.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Michelle Obama — Becoming.

If anyone represents the struggle for fairness in the World, it is surely Michelle Obama. I have followed her for years, and especially her inspiring work campaigning for education for all girls worldwide. I find her story fascinating and so inspiring, she was passionately determined to break free of stereotypes and boundaries by getting her head down and working hard, and in later years using her position relentlessly for the good of others. This book describes the challenges she has faced in her life story, and how they were overcome or tackled head-on by her unwavering determination and belief that things can and must be fairer. A truly inspirational book. I was sad when it came to an end, I wanted to read more of her unfailingly positive and optimistic mindset.

This quote sums it up for me:

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?” Michelle Obama

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”. Mark Twain

It’s a well-worn quote, but it rings true. I am not one to always take the easy path in life, preferring instead to push boundaries and take myself out of my comfort zone. It speaks for my curiosity, my love of adventure, my urge to always know and experience more. I’m always striving to be the best I can, to create something, to be more. I try to teach this to my children also. Life is for living, and also for making things better for those around us and for the wider world.

I also love this Maya Angelou quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

I try to live by this, we know that everyone is fighting their own battle, so be kind always.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

10 or More is a hotel booking agency which specializes in group-stays at hotels across the globe. Most of our clients are from the worlds of TV production, music industry, events of all kinds, and business travel in general. Most of the work we do has its own set of unique requirements, and we are seasoned at ‘making things happen’. We are a small independent company which prides itself on giving a very personal, hand-held service to our clients, and we give so much more than just a booking service. We love what we do and we work closely with our clients to make sure everything is perfect for them.

We are very mindful that we wish to play our own small part in making travel a force for good, and so I decided right from the outset of launching the company that for every booking made with us we will make a percentage donation to The Travel Foundation. The Travel Foundation does some really important work in tackling the environmental and social challenges that global tourism brings. Tourism brings much needed economic opportunities for local communities and funds for conservation, but it needs to be well managed. At The Travel Foundation, their work aims to reduce the negative impacts of tourism, and harness opportunities for local livelihoods and conservation.

It’s very important for us to give back to the industry we love and to make travel sustainable for the future — not only for the world and its environment but for the communities within it.

When the coronavirus hit it hugely affected the travel industry. I’ve worked with so many hotels over the years, and the best of them are dedicated to giving us an experience that makes our lives a little bit richer. The hospitality industry is full of people who are passionate about what they do and giving to others. But with the pandemic, so many of these amazing hotels were going to suffer.

Whilst I often spend my time working with hotels to organize the intricate details of a stay for a TV location shoot, a music artist and entourage, or an event, I wanted to immediately divert my energy to using my hotel contacts to help those who are most in need of a relaxing break. Invaluable health care professionals who we all appreciate so much — those who have been saving lives daily and surviving in a state of high-alert and adrenaline for many months now.

We all know how critical our emergency services have been, in particular our NHS frontline workers. I knew that there were amazing people behind these hotels and I knew they would want to help. I also thought, how lovely would it be to give some frontline workers an amazing weekend away in one of these gorgeous hotels I have the pleasure to work with every day, the kind of hotels that entertainment industry clients would usually stay at — a bit of glamour and luxury to make them smile. I thought I might get 20 or 30 hotels interested in the #HotelsThankTheNHS campaign, but we now have hundreds, and many have thrown in spa treatments, dinners, afternoon teas, and other treats. I’m so surprised and delighted, but in some ways actually, I’m not surprised at all, as, in times of crisis, people really want to help others.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

To me, being a hero is a simple thing, it’s going above and beyond and putting as much effort as you can into helping others. It might be the person who helps a neighbor with their shopping every week come rain or shine and never lets them down, or it could be the billionaire that starts a philanthropic organization that helps millions of children. Either way, they’re doing what they can to help.

Heroes are also those that may face a hundred challenges every day just to stay alive, but manage to keep a smile on their face, or listen to others despite how they are feeling. Heroes also put aside their own needs for the sake of others, think of a family member that donates a kidney, or family members that care for a sick relative. These are all heroes in my book — they go about their work quietly and every day and they don’t do it for any kind of reward. There are many quiet unsung heroes, just doing what they can.

‘Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the little voice at the end of the day that says ‘I’ll try again tomorrow’’

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Courage — standing up for what you believe in even if it attracts criticism. The courage of people — who on their own—can achieve great things, but the courage of people coming together to make things happen can be even more meaningful. I think immediately of the Black Lives Matter campaign which has ignited something important worldwide, and I am confident this will represent a sea-change in the course of history.The power of a collective coming together for the common good, showing real courage and conviction to stand up for what is right, for future generations.
    Back in the early Nineties, whilst in a store in apartheid South Africa, I witnessed a young black female shop worker being physically and verbally abused by the white store owner in the back office of the store — the door had been left ajar. I was young myself, only 18 or 19, around the same age as the girl. I was horrified to witness it and I felt helpless to stop it. I have never forgotten that moment or the words that were used, and to this day I wish I had stood up and intervened instead of freezing and not knowing what to do — it was a life-defining moment for me. I had grown up in a safe and sheltered place, and it was a shocking first-hand life lesson to learn that some people do not regard all as equals.
  2. Take risks — they do things without worrying about what people will think, but because they think it’s right. In the UK we have a Premiership footballer, Marcus Rashford, who has lobbied the government to provide free meals throughout the summer for underprivileged children. This is clearly outside of what is expected of a professional sportsperson, and it would have been easy for him to do nothing, but he was obviously very passionate and felt that he could do something to change things, and his outspoken work has resulted in the UK government making a U-turn on this issue. This would not have happened without the courage to take a risk and potentially open himself up for criticism — he used his platform for something he believed in and showed real conviction which has ultimately achieved a great thing for the families of 1.3 million children in the UK. One of the great things about someone like Marcus Rashford speaking out is that he is setting a fantastic example to all his fans and young people all over the country. Actions like this by young people in the public eye will hopefully inspire other young people to want to become more engaged in issues they believe in.
  3. Selflessness — putting others’ needs before your own. There are thousands of campaigns across the country and no doubt across the world at the moment, where individual people have instinctively stepped up and committed their own time to run charitable projects, raise funds, or help locally where they are needed. In the first days of the pandemic, a huge wave of people wanted to stand up and do something to help.
  4. Bravery — the instinct to help others no matter how dangerous or daunting a situation. This is an easy one. We all think of heroes as being brave. Think of the firefighters who run into burning buildings. Or those who perform dangerous mountain rescues, or rescues at sea. Instinctively putting their own lives at risk for the sake of others. Often saving lives. But bravery takes many forms and means something different to all of us. There are many brave people who do not think for a second about their actions, they just know they are doing the right thing without a moment’s thought.
  5. Moral Integrity — living by their values. True heroes feel it’s their moral duty to contribute to society and do things for others, and don’t expect anything in return. Doctors, nurses, first responders of all kinds. Philanthropists who create and fund life-changing projects for the common good or to benefit the masses. These people are so inspirational and live and breathe by their values, often willing to endure personal sacrifice or risk. It would be fantastic if we all used our own personal values to spur us on to help others, even if in a small way.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

I think they are driven by a realization that life needs a purpose and ultimately, our life’s purpose is to help others whenever and however we can. It comes down to living your life with empathy, and recognizing when you need to act on something which moves you, for the good of others. This often requires stepping beyond your comfort zone and recognizing where you can have some impact or influence to make life better for one person, a few people, or a whole community. When faced with the sorts of challenges like we are now, people have realized the power of the community and how supportive we can all be towards each other. Heroes often take it that step further and act in much bigger ways. What they do is so inspirational, and I’m hearing stories on a daily basis of true acts of selflessness and heroism. I hope that continues beyond the pandemic, and that acts of heroism and kindness continue to be reported on by the media, to inspire us all to do more.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

I wouldn’t call what I did heroic at all! All I did was think about those that were putting their lives on the line to save the rest of us, and what could I possibly do to use my contacts to help? Then I thought about all the fantastic people I’ve worked with over the years and thought, together, we can make a difference. It may only be 2 or 3 days away but to that person it could be the break they need to gather their strength, reflect, re-calibrate, and enjoy some peace. A small but meaningful moment in which they will know their hard work and dedication has been appreciated.

Many people have acted in similar ways. I have been contacted recently by several other campaigns similar to mine: #OperationRecuperation and #TreatOurNHS. I’ve been truly encouraged by two wonderful ladies, Rachel Sherwood and Sarah Bowman, who unknown to me until recently, are two other businesswomen who have both independently been running similar campaigns, and between our three campaigns, we have achieved thousands of free stays for health workers. These campaigns have been run at a huge time cost to them, working all hours of this pandemic to make their campaigns a reality, with smiles on their faces, all for the good of others and the end goal always insight — to provide as many free vacations for health workers as possible, despite any personal challenges the pandemic has brought them.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

From Michelle Obama to everyday people who put their needs above others, I’m inspired by others’ acts of selflessness all the time.

I have never forgotten a speech Michelle Obama gave to a group of schoolgirls from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School while in London back in 2009. This speech had a truly profound effect on me, and I have no doubt she changed the course of many of those girls’ journeys just by that one speech. It was a supreme example of someone using their knowledge and position to inspire others. Sending the ladder back down to help others. Those girls will be in their mid to late twenties now, it would be wonderful to hear how the rousing speech affected them, inspired them, made them feel anything is possible despite their backgrounds or personal circumstances. I have watched that speech on YouTube a number of times over the years. I challenge you to watch it and not cry!

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

I think the not knowing — there is all this scientific advice but in the end we don’t really know what the real death toll is, we don’t know if there will be a second wave that’s worse, we don’t know who if those closest to us could be affected and how. It also frightens me that so many people could lose their livelihoods, that children could lose their education. Sadly we are going to see a lot of mental health issues arising across the globe as a result of the pandemic, and we all have to work hard to ensure those around us have a safe place to talk if they are suffering.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why?

The human spirit is unconquerable. And sometimes, hard situations bring out the best in us.

I have three teenagers who are determined to make the future bright. It’s a cliché but the future belongs to them. The younger generation is so passionate, well-informed, and interested in coming together to right the wrongs in the world today, whether they be unjust famine and poverty, working for equal education for all, ending discrimination of all kinds, or the huge and undeniable challenges faced around environmental issues. I am hopeful that as things get handed over to the next generation they will ensure they treat the world in a compassionate and sensitive way, and come up with creative solutions to not only ensure it survives but that it thrives for all.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

The best behavior has been shown in all the true acts of kindness going on everywhere. A positive impact being made on every street in every village, town, and city. The #HotelsThankTheNHS campaign really demonstrates this kindness, particularly in the hospitality industry which despite it taking a huge hit this year, is still giving back to the amazing NHS workers who deserve a much-needed break when the emergency is over.

The worst behavior has been shown by those who have disregarded the advice, thinking the rules for the greater good have not applied to them. A kind of ‘who cares — I don’t want to live my life under restrictions’ attitude to it all. Everyone who has stuck to the rules has made a personal sacrifice, which at times has been tough, so it felt a little difficult to see people flouting the rules and meeting in groups at the worst time during the pandemic while we were all supposed to stay home.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

It has actually, it has made me think about local communities, buying locally again, supporting the high street and small independent businesses. There is a rich community spirit that sometimes in the rush of our daily lives we forget is there.

It’s also reaffirmed my view that we are all connected, the world is small. There’s barely been a country in the world who has not been affected by Covid-19 — we are all experiencing similar challenges, no matter where we come from or live. A kind of global community, and with scientific collaboration being seen across the globe, there may well end up being a truly globally-led solution to this dreadful virus.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

Less of the rat race — do people really need to commute every day? Can we work from home with more flexible hours more often? Could this experience give us the gift of time? Time instead of spent commuting spent with our friends and family.

My three children are teenagers now, but when they were small I was the managing director of a large global travel management company in London. I worked long hours, and working from home or flexibly was virtually impossible back then. Although I held a senior position, even then a huge part of my income after commuting and tax went on childcare, and I never felt like I had enough time for my children. This frustrated me to the point of resigning from a great career job I loved to be closer to my children and have more time with them. I felt like I had no option but to take a part-time job locally to home, and a change of career-path to something less demanding, which back then was the only way for me to realistically achieve more time with my children. Somewhere along the line I also became a single parent, which made the difficult balancing act even more challenging. The world was not set up for working mums, who I champion at every opportunity. I feel strongly that the scales have been imbalanced in this area for a long time, and now maybe with the enforced experiment of many working from home as a result of Covid-19, I feel we can now turn a corner for working mums, or in fact, anyone who wishes to work from the home long term.

Any organization that was not previously open to flexible or home working can now hopefully see it has no negative impact on productivity, and I would argue it actually has a positive impact, with conscientious workers working even more effectively from home. And many will have achieved this despite the added challenge of having to participate in home-schooling their children. I have always said working mums are extremely engaged, productive, and reliable, as well as being superstar multi-taskers, so I am excited to see flexible and home working is finally considered as a viable option for many more organizations. That’s real progress.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Live life with empathy — as often as you can try to put yourselves in others’ shoes, and try to understand both sides of a situation. Once you can imagine walking in someone else’s shoes, you will be more likely to want to help and do your bit to make the world better in your own small way.

Work with your friends collaboratively to make your mark on the world –: ‘Alone we can do a little. Together we can do so much’.

We should all strive to leave a positive legacy, this is something I am becoming more aware of the older I get. If we all work in our own small way to leave our mark of kindness on the world, the world will most certainly be in better shape. I know this sounds like idealism, but I believe it passionately.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would start a positive news movement. Something which shares the good news and inspires others to stand up and stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone to help others or a cause. If we all went to bed with positive news stories in our heads, instead of dwelling on the doom and gloom we are fed by the news daily, I’m convinced we would wake up every day wondering how we can spread some joy, change just one person’s life in some way, or something bigger than that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve already mentioned her a few times, but it would have to be Michelle Obama. Her work with girls’ education across the globe inspires me constantly, and I can’t wait to see what she does next as a force for good.

How can our readers follow you online?

IG — @10.or.more

FB 10 or More Ltd — Hotels for Groups

LinkedIn ’10 or More Ltd — Hotels for Groups’ and ‘Debbie Robinson’

Twitter @10ormore_hotels

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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