My name is Daniela Papi and I’m writing here about lessons I’ve learned or am learning. I believe that, in order to improve the world, we need take steps to improve ourselves and inspire changes in others. Many of the issues I’m discussing are also challenges to myself and to those around me to help us think about ways to improve the work that we all do.

I believe that education is the key to change, both in the world’s major problems and in the smaller issues we deal with day to day. By sharing what we learn from both the mistakes we make and the successes we have, we can help educate others as they travel their own paths.

I organized a bike ride in 2005 thinking it would be a fun project which would help fund a school building project.  When the building was complete and I came to see it, I realized that, with no investment in human capital there was little need for beautiful school buildings.  I realized a lesson I should have already known: schools don’t teach, teachers do.  I started an education NGO in Cambodia ’by accident’ when I knew very little about development, Cambodia, or NGO management. I made a lot of mistakes and recognize that I would scoff at myself if I met me on the street five years ago. Perhaps I will say the same in five more years but I realize that, though we were clearly not qualified enough to start the work we are doing in the first place, we have grown and learned a great deal and built a team of 35 local staff who all have many lessons to share.

The lessons in this blog are reflections about successful and failed approaches to development work that I am learning through our education NGO PEPY as well as lessons about  ’voluntourism’ and traveler’s philanthropy that I am learning through my work with PEPY Tours, and edu-venture tour company.

I wish I could say I won’t make any more mistakes as I navigate the NGO world and the responsible tourism industry, but I know that I will. I appreciate it when others allow me to benefit from the lessons they have learned by giving me critical yet constructive advice. They know that words like “community based tourism” and “development best practices”, which might be viewed in academic studies as black and white rules, often do not apply to the realities of interacting with real human beings. The attitudes and actions of us real human beings can not always be predicted well and we make mistakes. Let’s not brush them under the rug or not talk about them. Let’s admit them, work to fix them, change our behaviors so we don’t repeat our mistakes, and then let’s share the lessons we have learned with others so that they can learn too. Mistakes should not be what we are punished for, but perhaps for not being willing to research, listen, or learn, we should be.

Here is a presentation I gave on “Learning Service” at TEDxOxbridge:

..and here is another presentation I gave at TEDxBKK a few years ago:

I am currently working on writing a book with a team of co-authors on the “learning service” concept, and you can learn more about that here: www.lessonsilearned.org

Thanks for listening, and thanks for sharing. I look forward to learning from you.