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.

30 April 2013 ~ 0 Comments

We’re writing a book…. want a copy?

Since the end of last year, I have been part of a team of four authors working on a new book about “Learning Service”. Yesterday we launched a campaign to raise funds for the publication of both the book and the second half of an educational video series we’re working on…. so if you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of the book (!!! :-) !!!), please click here.

For the last few years, the PEPY Tours team has been promoting a concept we call “Learning Service”. It is based on the key lesson we learned in our work in Cambodia: you have to learn before you can help. Though PEPY Tours started via a volunteer trip in 2005, since then we have shifted PEPY Tours from volunteering (“Come help in a place you might have never been before!”) to “service learning” (“Come help in a place you might have never been before, and yeah, you will learn a lot!”) to “learning service” (“Come meet people in a place you might have never been before, learn from THEM, and they will give YOU the opportunity to learn how YOU can be of service, now and in the future”).

Last year we worked on a Learning Service charter and guidelines, which are designed to help would-be volunteers make responsible, informed choices about how they donate their time. This year, we decided that if the concept was going to get more wings, we’d need to move it out of the PEPY Tours umbrella.

We’re now working with other advocates for development education, researchers, designers, and authors to build a wider movement around the Learning Service concept.

I was lucky enough to be contacted by Zahara Heckscher and Joe Collins, who had co-authored a book about volunteering more than a decade ago. They were interested in writing a new book about volunteer travel, and invited me to join them, and lucky for all three of us, we were able to convince Claire Bennett, to join us )with her many years of development education work from leading a DIFD project to add development education to the UK curriculum to leading the creation of PEPY Tours development education toolkits). Together, the four of us have been working on this book, along with a handful of other experts who are lending their contributions to this how-to-guide for responsible international service.

In addition the PEPY Tours team have completed three out of five videos for our soon-to-be-released Learning Service video series and just released the beta version of a Learning Service website (www.learningservice.info). We need to raise more funds to bring the book, website, and video series to completion, so if you are interested in sponsoring a video, buying a book, or donating to our efforts, we’d be so grateful! The fantastic people at KEEN & Eagle Creek have also donated some fantastic gear to sweeten the pot – so check out our Indiegogo page if you are interested in learning more.

I’ll be following up in the coming weeks with little bits of the book, a general overview, as well as chance for anyone interested in or working in volunteer/educational travel to give us feedback on our thesis/organization of the book to make sure we’re not missing anything before we wrap it up.

In the meantime, check out this fantastic video made by Luis, Dur, and Sarah of the PEPY Tours team, and please pass it on to others if you like it!

12 April 2013 ~ 1 Comment

Social Fiction: Muhammad Yunus Asks Social Entrepreneurs to Write the Future

I just wrote a short piece from the Skoll World Forum on the Huffington Post about “social fiction” – a term Muhammad Yunus used in his talk at the forum.  For you, if you are interested!


04 March 2013 ~ 1 Comment

Voluntourism Prezi

Katie Schneider at Vancouver Island University made this Prezi on voluntourism. It quotes a range of people on the topic and is very well done – check it out!



08 February 2013 ~ 1 Comment

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I posted a new blog entry on Huffington Post called “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” – suggested an altered look at how we view non-profits. Check it out if you are interested: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniela-papi/non-profit-success_b_2628686.html

20 November 2012 ~ 4 Comments

Why You Should Say No to Orphanage Tourism (And Tell All Tour Companies to Do the Same)

I just posted a new piece on Huffington Post Impact about the orphanage tourism issue in Cambodia. Check it out below:

Why You Should Say No to Orphanage Tourism (And Tell All Tour Companies to Do the Same)

The piece relates to a new website released by Siem Reap residents who are upset at the increase of orphanage tourism, orphanage corruption, and the proliferation of the institutionalization of kids in orphanages (when child rights documents globally & in Cambodia state a focus should be on family-based care as a first resort). The new website is called orphanages.no – please read it, share it, tweet it, etc. This piece comes after Unicef’s report this year that 76% of Cambodian children living in “orphanages” have one or more living parents.

Help stop well-meaning tourists from fueling the separation of children and their families!


09 October 2012 ~ 0 Comments

5 Tips for How to Solve the World’s Biggest Problems (and Maybe Make a Billion Dollars Along the Way!)

I recently wrote a follow-up piece to my last blog about Off.Grid:Electric on the Huffington Post. If you want to read about the lessons I learned, and how the CEO plans to grow a billion dollar company with the hopes of a Nobel Prize, check out the post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniela-papi/5-tips-for-how-to-solve-t_b_1940980.html

04 October 2012 ~ 1 Comment

My Summer With Solar in Tanzania

Over course of the last year, I’d met with dozens of start-up founders and examined a range of business models looking for something that struck me as “paradigm-shifting” or “game-changing” or whatever other exaggerated and over-used term you’d like to put forth. None struck me as much as a team I met that was committed to designing a solution to one of the world’s most pressing problems while growing to be a billion dollar company. That was something I was intrigued to learn more about!

From having lived in Cambodia for six years I understood a bit about the reality of the problem they were trying to solve in off-grid communities: lack of access to electricity often led people to use kerosene for light, which was bad for the eyes, for the lungs, and for the safety of those living in highly flammable homes. Wealthier people could afford generators, which was often the most polluting, wasteful, and expensive way to produce electricity. Grid power was not arriving fast enough or was to expensive to connect to when it arrived and solar was a liability few wanted to take on after seeing systems break or get stolen in their community. The choices in an off-grid community seem quite bleak.

Enter Off.Grid:Electric, determined to figure out a business model that makes the constantly improving offerings of solar power accessible to those who need it most, thereby preventing further environmental harm, providing brighter and cleaner light, and ideally saving people money while making some of their own. Seems like quite a tall task! Match that with a CEO who has already formed two mult-million dollar companies and a founding team’s determination to create a business that can “Light Africa”, and I was sold. Sign me up please!

I spent six weeks in Arusha, Tanzania, with the Off.Grid:Electric founding team, conducting a user insights consulting project: interviewing and sitting in the homes of more than 35 of their current customers and drawing out ideas for product, service, marketing, and operations improvements based on member feedback and observations. What I learned was incredibly interesting for me, and hopefully valuable for the Off.Grid:Electric team and their customers.

An Off.Grid:Electric member. Photo by estherhavens.com

If you have jumped ahead and already checked their website, you might be confused. It’s a little behind the times in terms of what Off.Grid:Electric is up to these days, and that’s ok: most of their customers have never been on the internet. The team didn’t even have a twitter account before I arrived and that’s ok too: less that 5% of their current customers own a smart phone, and only a few have ever heard of a Facebook status, let alone a tweet.

The Off.Grid:Electric team won a business plan competition in Oxford last year for their original idea: producing and selling solar power off of remote cell phone towers that were currently being powered by inefficient generators. The idea was a solid one, and with many supporters, they headed to Tanzania to try out their idea. Fortunately, they didn’t get married to their original model, and were open to the realization that their might be other, more efficient and scalable ways to “light Africa”.

Coming soon: a piece on the Lessons I Learned from working with Off.Grid:Electric