Adam Stewart | The Sandals Foundation
Adam Stewart may be the son of Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, founder of the hotel empire Sandals Resorts International, but he is a pioneering entrepreneur in his own right. He has grown and evolved the Sandals empire through constant innovation and a determination to exceed expectations, earning multiple awards both personally and for the Sandals and Beaches Resorts brands. But he is also a committed philanthropist.
Words by Natasha Were.
Born the same year that the first Sandals resort opened, Adam literally grew up with the business. As a child, he lived and breathed hospitality, experiencing it from the inside. It was perhaps inevitable that he would go on to study Hospitality Management and then return home to work in the family business.
By age 25, he had been appointed CEO of Sandals Resorts International – one of the youngest people in the world to hold such a position. For twelve years he steered the business together with his father, Founder and Chairman, raising it from the middle market to the luxury sector and rebranding the all-inclusive concept as 'Luxury Included'.
But alongside this, he also formalised the Sandals Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the company, which over the past decade has raised over $11 million and helped 850,000 people through its social and environmental projects.
The Foundation’s goal is simple, Stewart says: to unite the Caribbean region, elevate its people and protect its delicate ecosystem. It implements some 120 projects each year across Antigua, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos that address the needs of local communities in the areas of education, community engagement and conservation.
The Foundation’s projects are hugely diverse, ranging from improving literacy in schools and awarding scholarships to providing free healthcare, employment training and creating marine sanctuaries.
Even ten years ago when the Foundation was formed, it wasn’t something new, Stewart says. It merely created a more structured approach to what Sandals had always done: to give back to the community.
Both his parents had, in their own ways, been dedicated to serving their community. “They planted the seeds for the Foundation when I was growing up,” he says. “But they did it very differently. Dad thought he needed to build a successful business in order to give.... more guests meant he could create more jobs and meet more needs in our challenged communities.”
His mother, on the other hand, took a more grass roots approach, sewing clothes for those who couldn’t afford to buy them and volunteering with local charities.
His parents’ philosophy was to help quietly, without fanfare. “Dad would block off certain days at a Beaches Resort and bring busloads of children from underserved areas to enjoy a little vacation and learn about tourism,” Adam says. “He still does that. And he would only hire independent drivers for airport shuttles so the resorts would be providing jobs rather than taking them away. Only recently have people known that 96% of the produce in the restaurants comes from local farmers.”
For Adam, going away to boarding school in Florida was a wake up call: it made him realise how much he loved the warm breezes, the natural beauty, the food and the friendly people at home in Jamaica – but it also opened his eyes to the inequalities that existed. It is this deep, personal connection to the community, Adam says, that sets the Sandals Foundation apart from other outreach organisations.
“These are our friends and families. We’re all part of the tapestry of the islands,” he observes. And that extends to resort guests: “We want people to come and enjoy the beautiful places we’re so proud to call home, but also to recognise that among the beauty, there is the need for a helping hand."
Resort guests are therefore invited to support projects through donations or directly through voluntourism: they can join a Reading Road Trip to visit local schools and read to kids, they can bring up to five pounds of school supplies with them through a Pack for a Purpose Partnership; and they can watch turtles hatch in their natural environment. The Foundation also leverages Sandals’ connections with travel agents and corporate partners to promote and support its activities.
“One of the coolest things we’ve been part of is healthcare for children,” Adam says. “Sadly, without proper technology in the Caribbean, children with blood disorders and juvenile cancers are often misdiagnosed. Guest donations have allowed us to partner with Sick Kids in St. Lucia. They’re now connecting highly regarded doctors in North America with doctors on the islands though telemedicine. It’s literally saving lives.”
The Foundation is also providing training in paediatric oncology for a Barbados-based doctor: when she completes her fellowship, Dr Chantelle Browne will be one of only two such specialists in the Eastern Caribbean.
Today, Adam serves as the Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International and President of the Sandals Foundation. As it enters its second decade, the Foundation is redoubling its efforts to protect and conserve the environment, through raising awareness, establishing protected areas, creating coral nurseries, protecting endangered species and more.
A father of three, it is his children, he says, that drive him to keep building and increasing the reach of the Foundation. “My children give me a clear vision of why we’re doing this,” he says. “I mean, what if my children were in the shoes of those in need? That thought motivates me every day.”
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