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.

18 January 2019 ~ 0 Comments

Four Question Tool

I rarely use this blog any more, but I wanted to share a useful resource. When I facilitate workshops, I often start by conducting a four question exercise, and as I often need to explain it, I thought I’d type it up so that I can easily share it.

You can use a regular sheet of paper divided into four quadrants, or a worksheet, such as this one. I adapted this activity from one in the book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This by Dick and Emily Axelrod.

  • Ask students to take a sheet of paper, divide it into four quadrants (or use the printout provided) and write their name on the top.
  • Then they must find a partner for their first conversation – ideally someone they don’t know well already.
  • The students exchange papers – so they are now holding the paper adorned with their partners’ name.
  • Ask one person on each team to raise their hands, and then instruct that person to “listen first” or “speak first.” (I like to mix it up – so the person raising their hand quickest isn’t always the listener or speaker.)
  • The listener is asked to take notes (currently just in the upper right quadrant). They do not need to capture EVERYTHING that is said, just some key words or phrases. The listener is not allowed to say anything apart from “Thank you.” and “Anything else?”
  • The speaker is invited to answer the first question, which should be about their current understanding of whatever topic you are addressing as a group. For this example, I am going to use the questions an educator might use when offering the Map the System contest at their institution. It is a contest I helped to launch, based on the systems understanding tool I designed, the Impact Gaps Canvas. These questions will help students think about what challenge they might want to focus on. The first question could then be:  “What local or global challenges are you interested in and what is your current level of understanding about those challenges?”
  • The facilitator rings a bell and sets their timer for ~2 minutes (anywhere from 2-3 minutes per person is probably a good amount of time for this activity).
  • Once the timer goes off, ask the members to switch roles, so the person who was listening is now speaking and the person who was speaking is now listening and taking notes.
  • When the timer goes off again, ask the participants to thank their partner, get their own paper back, and find a new partner.
  • The new partners now exchange papers again and one person raises their hand. Let them know if the hand-raisers are listeners or speakers. Reminder the listeners of the rules (It is not a conversation. They can only say “Thank you.” or “Anything else?”). Set the timer and invite the speakers to answer the next question with the listener recording notes in the upper right quadrant. This could be anything about their future goals, and in the case of Map the System participants, the question might be: “What would you like your future understanding of your chosen local or global challenge to be like in the future? What would you want to know then that you don’t currently know?”
  • Timer goes off. They change roles. Timer goes off. They thank their partner, get their paper back, and find a new partner.
  • Now they are in the bottom left quadrant. The round repeats as per before. The new question is about relationships – the quality of the relationships they would need in order to fuel that future. I usually suggest starting the question based on the people in the room, and then expanding out. For Map the System participants, the question might be: “In order to achieve that future you just described, what quality of relationships would you need with the people in this room? What new relationships might you need to build with people outside this room to learn the information you want to learn?”
  • Timer goes off. They change roles. Timer goes off. They thank their partner, get their paper back, and find a final partner.
  • The final question, in the bottom right quadrant, is about courage. Generally speaking the question should ask them what courage it would take to achieve the future the described and relationships they described. For Map the System participants, the question might be: “What courage would it take to achieve the future you described – in terms of your future learning and future relationships. What would you need to do differently, start or stop doing, be brave about? Once again, what courage would it take for YOU to achieve the future learning and relationships you described – not what someone else would need to do – but what YOU would need to do?”
  • Timer goes off. They change roles. Timer goes off. They thank their partner and get back in a circle.
  • Now you can proceed with an open discussion if you like. Simply throw out the question, “How was that?”  Hopefully people will have had a chance to think about their learning goals, issues they care about, and things they would need to do to achieve those goals. At minimum, they will hopefully have connected with four people in the room and be more open to future conversations.

I hope that is useful!

21 October 2017 ~ 0 Comments

An update – and sorry about the spam!

Hello lovely people –

Thank you to so many of you who reached out to let me know my blog had been hacked. No, it was not me who wrote about football and other odd things!  I have changed the password, and hopefully you wont get other strange emails from this blog!

My talented friends, Luis & Dur, had made an updated version of my blog years ago, and I never made the final changes to make it live – so perhaps this is a reminder to get that in motion.

Since I am writing anyway, I probably owe a little update!  It turns out, life is very busy with a little human in it!  Our son recently turned one, and the last year seems like both a blur and a century. He has amazing energy, and is certainly the focus of all of my most recent lessons learned.

In other not so recent news, I did a TEDx talk on moving from the focus on social entrepreneurship to the leadership skills required for systems change (as we certainly need a lot of systems changed right now!). I realize I never posted it here – so here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdrfMqBRfEQ

About a year earlier, I gave a talk on Tackling Heropreneurship at the DO Lectures in Wales, and the video from that was only recently released, so here that is too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AF94UDEaIY

Some of my more recent work – and the Impact Gaps Canvas tool I designed are noted or downloadable here: http://systemchangeleadership.com/

So, that’s it from me! Sorry again about the spam! I’m not sure if blogging will be on my radar too much in the near future…. but you never know! All the best – Daniela

17 November 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Writing Guidelines for International Development (an internal document at PEPY)

This is a presentation I made in 2011 before I left the Director role at PEPY, an education and youth leadership organization in Cambodia. It combined a few documents we had made over the years to help staff and interns align their writing style with our views on international development.  Another former PEPY staff member recently sent it back to me (Thank you, Anna!) and I realized that a lot of the messages in here were still relevant in my current job.  I thought I’d post it here in case this is useful for anyone else in their own international development related writing or for those creating similar guidelines for their own organizations.

In a time when the US is reeling from the recent elections and when the veracity of news publications, as well as ego, are being called into question, some of these guidelines might hit home.  Hope you find it useful!


23 February 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Tackling Heropreneurship


For the last two years, I have been a part of an incredible community: the Clore Social Leadership Programme. As part of their Fellowship, we each had to conduct research into a topic of interest, and publish it in some way. It didn’t need to be academic research and didn’t need to be published as a formal research report, but it needed to provide some value to the social sector.

My research is called “Tackling Heropreneurship” and it launches today on www.tacklingheropreneurship.com

Check it out…. It includes a report written in a very colloquial style, life maps of nine people who have designed social impact careers from which we can learn, and a tool called the Impact Gaps Canvas.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 09.34.32

The premise of the work is that we are entering an age of Heropreneurship where everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. There is an unspoken social hierarchy with students considering founding a start-up more aspirational that other careers. And when it comes to social impact roles, the myth of the social entrepreneur makes founding a social enterprise more attractive to many students than joining an existing one or working as an intrapreneur in a larger organization.

But wanting to “be” a social entrepreneur is like wanting to be a toothbrush. We don’t need more toothbrushes, we need more clean teeth. People have gotten married to the means rather than the ends. We don’t need more people wanting to “be” social entrepreneurs, we need more people solving global challenges, and that takes a whole range of roles and skills.

The report and accompanying website explore those skills, offers a look at a possible impact career flow chart, and include quotes from some of the 40+ people I interviewed in my research. Dig in and enjoy! I’d love your feedback!

31 July 2015 ~ 0 Comments


I just wrote a piece on the Huffington post about Sabatic-ations – yes, another made up word I use – but even if you don’t like the word, you might like the idea discussing the confluence of the future of work and travel.

Sabtications – coming soon to an business near your: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniela-papi/sabatications-and-sociall_b_7913244.html

27 June 2015 ~ 0 Comments

We made an app-less app

This is the story of a little app. An app some friends and I made a year or so ago, and then did nothing with. What a lonely little app! No one, apart from those of us who worked on it have probably ever seen it or downloaded it… and here’s why.

It started with a brainstorming day — my friends Kit, Tim, and I were all working as consultants in various capacities, had worked together in small ways on some projects, and decided to put some time into thinking about how we might work together on more things in the future. During the course of two days in London, we conducted a number of brainstorming and ideation sessions over coffee and teas (non-caffeinated for me, as those who know me will be relieved to hear, as caffeine can be dangerous for those around me). Even when non-caffeinated, there was often too much energy and excitement about these new ideas that needed to be contained – and as we had so many topics that we wanted to go through in those two days, we needed a system of how to manage our time so that we didn’t get carried away on one topic and miss the others.

We had each experimented with the time keeping tool, Pomodoro, and so we decided to try to use a Pomodoro app to manage our brainstorming, For those unfamiliar with the time management tool named after the red tomato timers sometimes found in kitchens, I’ll save you from having to read a book about it and give you the two sentence summary of the idea: “Pomodoros” are 25 minute blocks of time followed by 5 minute breaks. The idea is that, if you break up your work into 25 minute uninterrupted chunks, you will get more done, knowing that the break is forthcoming, and you’ll be more efficient if you limit yourself to completing a task within the allotted time.

We had each used the Pomodoro timer previously in our own solo work, but this was the first time we were trying it in a group brainstorming session. We found that the fixed 25 minute slots weren’t going to work for us and we needed to modify it a bit: for most sessions we’d allocate some period of time, say 15 minutes, to flush out the high level info about the topic we wanted to discuss, then spend about 5 minutes to break that topic into 3-4 key areas we wanted to tackle in that area, and then do about 10 minutes of deep dive into each of those sub-topics.

We left those two days with many ideas for how we might work together – and the timer had nothing to do with it – it was just a tool we’d used in the process. But once Kit and Tim left, I got really excited about the idea of making a programmable timer app. As the over enthusiastic one, I convinced Tim and Kit to get excited about the idea too so we started checking out other timers that existed but none seemed to do exactly what we were looking for: a programmable timer where you could allocate different time amounts for each section of a meeting or work flow along with the title of that section and perhaps instructions or tips for those actions and the timer would automatically flow to the next section when your pre-programmed time slot was complete.

We reached out to an MBA classmate of mine, Saket, who had built a tech team for his new start-up, MealTango (an AirBNB of meals – so when you travel, you can have a local meal in someone’s home, try new types of food, and meet local people). His team had spare capacity at the time, and he agreed to take on the design work.

In the end, we ended up with a beta version of an app that was done more than a year ago… and we did nothing with it. The key feature we had been missing in the other apps we had seen (the ability to programme the amount of time and title/tips for each section) was out of our budget and initial time frame, so we ended up with a beta version that has three fixed timer tools (one being a “15 Minute Meeting Tool” which can be used for the morning huddles I wrote about recently). But it has flaws (the timer stops working when the screen goes to sleep!) and we had it designed only for iPhones/iPads (at the time my phone was too old to add new apps, so I never even used it myself, let alone shared it with anyone else). It was a beta idea that had used up some of our valuable time and money, and it sat there in the “fun-ideas-that-didn’t-go-anywhere” graveyard.

But not any more! I decided that, with this final blog in my “Monthly Resolution Club” goal of reviving my train-of-thought blogging, I would finally explode the on-going guilt I have carried around about this darn app-less app by transforming the experience mentally from a “total waste of people’s time and money” project to a “learning opportunity for myself and, hopefully, others.” So here goes… this is what I learned from making an app we never used:

  • For projects to transform from a fun side project into something real, it needs to have a champion who is really passionate about it. I had put the initial energy into the idea, but I wasn’t passionate enough about it to keep sustaining that momentum. I have seen this time and again in my own work and the projects of other people: something might seem like a fun idea in the moment, but to make anything last past a few initial meetings, someone needs to REALLY care about it. Ideas are a dime a dozen – execution takes time and isn’t always as “fun.” In order to be willing to execute through to the end you have to allocate the time, be willing to prioritize it, and care enough about it to want to do those things. (Images of the chapter of our Leanring Service book I am mid-editing are flashing through my mind right now! I’ll get there on that one though – because I do care about it and I think it does have more social value than a lonely little timer app… but indeed, this too is a case of prioritising and sustaining momentum for something to the end without moving on to the “new” thing… something I am clearly working on!)
  • There is a difference between a “fun idea” and a real “problem to be solved.” In working with dozens of students, and dozens of my own ideas, I have seen this time and again: we often get wrapped up in a fun idea and can sometimes disguise it as a “problem we are solving.” When someone really cares about solving a problem they really learn about that problem, all of the current solutions that are out there, and what the gaps are to solving that problem. This relates to the current research and work I am doing in my job around “apprenticing with a problem” – which I’ll also get into in a future blog. In the case of this app, sure, we did some skimming around for other apps that might solve our problem, but the fun that were exploring was more about “Let’s see what it’s like to make an app.” rather than “Let’s see how we can really solve this problem of having a timer that works for our needs and the needs of other people.” I don’t think it’s a problem to do things for fun, but the important thing is to be honest with ourselves about our goals.
  • Spare capacity can dry up. Since we were doing this as a fun side project, we didn’t put extensive dedicated resources and funding behind it, and instead paid a small amount to an already busy team to play with the idea with us. In the end, when Saket’s company had an investor looking to work with them, that investor rightfully didn’t want to see the staff being pulled off to side projects and our already side-lined side project got moved all the way to the actual line of the side line…. Poor little app – we didn’t give it all the love and time it needed to thrive.
  • It’s ok to play with fun ideas and it’s ok that they don’t all work. But the key part of my reconciliation with this latent app abandoning guilt is to get over myself and remember that it’s OK to play with ideas, try different things, and leave some apps out to dry. It might not be a “poor little app” after all – but rather a little life lesson in the form of an app. It’s in Beta, but hey, aren’t we all? I’m on the same page as Buddha in thinking that we’re all a work in progress…. And this app is therefor no different than you and I – it can certainly be a lot better, but it’s proud to be here as it is right now, sharing the lessons it can! (Sorry I called you a “poor little app”, little app!)

PS – Here’s the link to the free app, if you want to check it out. If you happen to be an app developer, or want to be, and you want the code for this app so you can build upon it and make it better, we’d be happy to give it to you for free so that this little app might gain new wings. Just drop me a note.

PSS – If you do download our free little beta app, you might notice that it’s part of a wider “Free-the-ideas” website we made and never did anything with either…. But that to is a blog post for next month I guess! Yet another idea looking for a happy home….!

24 June 2015 ~ 2 Comments

15 Minute Morning Meetings

Lots has been written about the value of morning “huddles” and many articles about entrepreneurship or “lean start-up” models are giving even more press to the concept of the morning team meeting. I had no idea it was a “thing” when Doug Beacom (now somewhat of a kraut tycoon) brought our first morning meeting to PEPY. Doug was one of PEPY’s first interns in 2006 (back when we had more interns than staff!) and I believe he had learned about morning huddles when working in a summer camp during his younger years. He brought us the morning meeting framework, which we adapted for our work in Cambodia.

Every work day (yep, 5 days a week!), we used to have a morning meeting, standing in a circle, which consisted of:

  • 5 minutes of updates: You would share something if you thought it was important for everyone to know or if you had a blockage in your work and you needed to ask for support that dayin order to move forward.
  • 5 minutes of logistics: Dates we needed to put in the calendar, timing of things (in Cambodia, it was often about the timing of the truck that would be going to or from our partner projects), the movement of different people so we knew when they would be out or where to find them, etc.
  • 5 minutes of acknowledgements: Thank yous, gratitude, respect, and love. This was a strange one at first as I am sure many wondered if we were really going to have people to thank for five minutes each morning. In the end, it was one of the best parts of setting our group culture and connecting us to the small wins each day. Even when we weren’t great at sitting back and reflecting on the bigger picture of our work, we could give thanks and high-fives to the daily steps it took to get there, and our morning meetings would sometimes involve thanks and gratitude to people outside of our circle: the man at the ministry of foreign affairs who finally granted a visa we needed or the guy who fixed the truck when it broke down (again!) the day before, etc. It not only kept people in the loop about the wider network of support that was fueling our progress but also left us all with a really happy feeling as we walked into the rest of our day.
  • A quick “Go team!” (with the requisite fist-pump) to close out the meeting. No explanation necessary :-)

Not everyone needed to share something every day – that was the point. It wasn’t a laundry list of “this is what I am working on” but rather a chance to speak up if you had something you thought would be useful to share that day, and a chance to listen and get caught up on the wider ecosystem of the groups work even if you weren’t speaking.

It wasn’t always 15 minutes (we needed the timer app which I’ll write about in my next post!) – but we created practices that helped keep us more on-track, like putting things in a “sidebar” if the conversation was getting off-track. To rotate the responsibility of keeping us on time, we would periodically change the time keeper/facilitator. Once we hired a lovely woman called Bopha we decided to stop rotating the facilitator and just asked Bopha to do it each morning, as her “Goooooooodmorning everybody!” was so joyful that no one could compete with her ability to deliver an upbeat day. (Yes, this is coming from me, the optimistic American – Bopha’s morning positivity had me beat by miles.)

Nearly every work-day morning for almost five years we had a standing morning meeting, and though I might not have realized it at the time, it was a cornerstone of our team’s coordination. It was not only how we shared little bits of joy and gratitude, but how we kept up to date about the wider workings of the organization, the upcoming needs, and the networks we were working within. When PEPY’s staff size was at its height, we were nearly 50 people, so keeping the morning meeting culture alive got push back from time to time, but I believe it was a fundamental tool for our work. In my final year in Cambodia we moved to only doing the meeting a few times a week, as we had multiple office locations, and though I know it continued for a bit after I left, I’m not sure if the tool is still part of the PEPY team culture. Perhaps it was replaced by any number of other useful tools for keeping a team connected and moving forward.

In my new role in Oxford we have been trying to figure out how to keep a wide networked group, spanning a few teams, connected and up to date on each other’s work, and have instated a weekly morning meeting across our Centres (Centers for you Americans). This one is less sweaty than those in our air-conditioning-free Cambodian office, and has less languages being spoken at once, but it’s a good reminder to me that it is a really useful tool to keep up momentum and communication.

If you are reading this far (thanks!), I’d love to hear other ideas for tools, ways to keep meetings efficient, or any other tips you have on building effective communication, efficiency, and momentum in teams. Books are useful, but it’s sometimes even more useful to hear from your network about what people are really trying and how it is working. By sharing these tips, the tricks of running an effective and safe summer camp can lead to more productive work around the world. (Thanks again, Doug, for this valuable gift so many years ago!).

What tools are YOU using – or what reflections do you have on “huddles”? Thanks for sharing!