I called this blog ’Lessons I Learned’, but really it would be better titled ’Lessons I’m Learning’. I believe in sharing what we learn to help others avoid our same mistakes and also exposing ourselves to the criticism and questions which might help us improve. I am skeptical of the popular approaches to both voluntourism and development work, though those are both areas in which I have worked as I’d love to be part of learning how we can do them both better. I think we need to learn before we can help, so I believe “service learning” should be “learning service”. I feel like I am learning more every day about how to help create the world I want to see my future kids and their future kids living in, and sometimes what I learn contradicts what I thought I knew was true. I have learned that good intentions are not enough and that the only person you can “improve” in the world is yourself, so I had better start improving the world by starting there. I hope the dialogue generated through this site will give me more chances to do that and to share the lessons I am learning with others who could benefit from avoiding my mistakes.

15 May 2014 ~ 0 Comments

“Leading from behind” – from tourism to start-ups

Here is a piece I wrote for the Pioneers Post about “leading from behind” – a concept I learned from the founder of Where There Be Dragons.

Read the piece here if you like!


24 April 2014 ~ 1 Comment

Is “Voluntourism” Itself Being Exploited?

Here is a piece I wrote this week on the Huffington Post about how our focus on “voluntourism” as the culprit could be doing us a disservice: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniela-papi/is-voluntourism-itself-be_b_5197390.html

26 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Personal development and global development are entirely interlinked

I was part of a radio piece for ABC radio in Australia. Of course, as usual, they gave it a very “catchy” title – ”

Is ‘voluntourism’ the new colonialism?

I would have rather had something more along the lines of “how do we make volunteer service more humble” or something…. but such is life.  If you want to read the article they made for it or hear the piece, here you go!


18 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

What your grandmother got wrong

A random little post I wrote on Huffington Post…. in case you are interested!


06 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

What part of your start-up are you married to?

I recently wrote a piece for Unreasonable.is about “getting married” to parts of your start-up… and hopefully getting married to the “right” thing!  Check it out if you are interested: http://unreasonable.is/opinion/what-part-of-your-start-up-are-you-married-to/

15 February 2014 ~ 7 Comments

Thoughts from students

I am speaking at a few universities which happen to all fall around the same time, and I thought I would try something new. I posted this blog before heading off to the first talk, and at each talk I will mention to the students I speak to that this space is here for them to add their thoughts, questions, and ideas to further or challenge the topics we discuss. The topics are: Youth in Development (Imperial College London), From Service Learning to Learning Service (SOAS), a Voluntourism Debate (National University of Ireland), and social entrepreneurship TiasNimbas.  I will largely focus on the key question I think many of the audience members, and us panelists, are struggling with: “How can I do good in the world?” We’ll probably talk about “development schizophrenia”, a term my colleague Claire Bennett often uses to refer to the highs and lows, ups and downs, and constant 360 analysis you have when working in and critically analyzing development work. I’m going to relate that question to the “savior” mentality sold in international volunteering, as well as the sometimes inaccurately perceived bifurcation of business and development career paths. Each talk is different, but overall I will hopefully touch on social entrepreneurship, some organizations I find really interesting, lessons from my own work and experiences, and some of my favorite quotes and tips.

Let’s see how it goes! If you were at any of the talks, share some comments below – How did my talk relate to or stray from the current reality of the decisions you are making and things you are thinking about? What was really relevant to you, and what could I have done to make my talk more useful? Is there anything I mentioned that you want to add to? Want to challenge? Want to question?

I look forward to hearing from you!

22 January 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Learning Service Video Series & Contest


Anyone who has been following me on Facebook or Twitter already knows about this, but here is another little plug:

After about a year and a half of work on the Learning Service guidelines, videos, and website, we’re finally launching the six part Learning Service video series…. hooray!

To gather interest and momentum, and give people a chance to digest one video at a time, we’ve decided to release one video per week for six weeks. We’re on week three now, so there’s enough content up there for you to take a peek at!

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I made a cameo in this third video, so if you want to see my bloopers and outtakes, take a look! Plus, you can answer one question about each video, and each time be entered for a chance to win gear from KEEN & Eagle Creek, as well as a stay in Cambodia!

For those of you who:

– Know of people who are considering taking a volunteer travel people

– Work with schools, travel companies, or other groups that interact with groups of people who might be considering international service

– Have gone on or considered volunteer travel yourself

… we’d LOVE your help!  We spent so much time/energy/resources on making these videos, we now need your help to make sure people SEE them! If you have ideas for ways we could promote them, groups we should reach out to, people we need to speak with, or just general tips, please write a comment below or reach out to us on Twitter (the Learning Service team @learnser or my personal account @danielapapi)

Thanks for helping us to create more global conversations around responsible volunteer travel!


The videos were made by an AMAZING duo from Colombia, Luis & Dur. I highly recommend them for any filming/website needs! More info below:

Luis Barreto and Dur Montoya are a multi-media savvy couple who are passionate about exploring the world and sharing the lessons they learn along the way.

Dur and Luis were born in Colombia and have traveled around the world helping community-based organizations and NGOs spread their message using multi-media, videos, photography, and online/print advertising material through their online magazine Look At the World and their consulting company Zoom In Projects.

Luis and Dur are currently based in Siem Reap, Cambodia where they have provided youth media workshops in partnership with PEPY Cambodia and coordinated a collaborative youth photography project for Anjali House in partnership with UNICEF Cambodia. They have also helped to develop, design, and launch the trailblazing online resource Learning Service: Re-thinking Volunteer Travel Through Education

Luis Barreto’s photography project Faces of the Road has been featured multiple exhibitions including Kensington and Chelsea College, London – UK 2010, Botanical Garden of Medellín, Colombia 2011, Café Zorba – Medellín, Colombia 2012, and as part of a collective exhibition in New York – Art Takes Time Square 2012. View Luis’ work at: www.luisbarreto.com.