Giving Back Globally with Zipcar’s Lesley Mottla
Lesley Mottla thinks big, and she thinks disruptive. As Executive Vice President of Product and Member Experience, she’s always working to improve, design, and innovate Zipcar’s driving experience and technology, from the moment when you reserve a car to all your time inside. She’s led the charge on our mobile app, the very first in the car-sharing field. And across the pond, she spearheaded Zipcar’s international integration with the largest car-sharing services in Spain and the UK.
Lesley’s big thinking (and doing) isn’t limited to the workplace. For years, she’s taken her husband and three kids on community-service-based trips around the world, giving back as much as she’s taking in.
We’re constantly amazed by Lesley, so we sat down to learn more about her altruistic motivations and experiences.
Zipcar: How did you catch the travel bug?
Lesley: My parents didn’t travel much, but I was able to spend a college semester in Switzerland. That exposed me to a whole other world I hadn’t seen, and made me realize I had to make an effort to get out there as soon as I could. So in my 20s, post-college, I went on a terrific volunteer trip to Ecuador to work in a school. Then I went on a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) outward-bound course in Kenya, which was transformative from a travel and leadership aspect.
How did you accommodate your passion for travel once your family and career developed?
Once I got married and had kids, I knew I wanted to continue. I talked to my husband about how every year, I’d like for us to try to do an international volunteer trip. We found the organization Cross-Cultural Solutions, which made it easy to take short-term, flexible, and contextual volunteer trips all over the world, and were able to make it work.
What places have you gone to, and how have you pitched in?
On our trip to Guatemala in 2007, one of my daughters and I worked together in a special-needs school to play with the kids, as well as build a greenhouse for the kids to plant flowers and vegetables, which the school could sell.
On another trip in 2010, we went to Lima, Peru, where my then-8-year-old son, husband, and I worked at a social service center, helping in the kitchen to provide food to kids who were suffering from malnutrition.
In 2011, we went to Ghana, where we taught in a school for orphans. Their teaching style is very much “communicate and repeat,” so we taught them some conceptual learning, like basic math and shapes, as opposed to just repetition.
Where did you go this year?
The latest trip was to a slum area of Delhi, India, in March. We worked in a school that didn’t have supplies—maybe one piece of chalk, no desks, no paper. We taught the kids the alphabet, shapes, and basic English words and math.
Even though the children had recess, they had nothing to play with, so we brought bubbles, and they went crazy! We also gave them star stickers, which they put on their hands, and which the older kids wanted put on their papers when they asked my husband to check their work. It was all really simple stuff, but they hadn’t ever seen it before. They were smart, wonderful kids, and it was just an amazing experience.
What do you appreciate most about your experience abroad?
These experiences take you out of your comfort zone. Being exposed to what the world is like, to see that the majority of the world is actually quite different from what my children and I see every day, really expands your horizons.
To see that even when people don’t have the basics, they can seem very happy—it makes you think about what life’s like here, and to culturally compare what people have, how they value family and community, and what that means.
What kinds of Zipcar connections have you observed while on your trips?
In Guatemala, many of the people we interacted with are not about pleasure trips, and they don’t care what kind of car it is, they just need access. And in Bombay, there’s actually a new car-sharing company that just got funding—but driving there would be crazy!
The foundational element we’re trying to understand with our service here is all about people and their behaviors—not just what do you like, but how do you use it, why do you use it. All people are different, as is what’s important to them. So there’s a lot of observation that’s almost anthropological.
How does that motivation play into your work at Zipcar?
I like what we’re trying to do from a social standpoint, how we’re trying to make significant changes with transit, and have an impact on lives, wallets, and cities. That mission, and seeing that disruption happening, has been a big draw.