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.

23 May 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Why I don’t have a “list” of places you should volunteer

Over the last few weeks, since the BBC Four Thought talk I gave on volunteer travel went live, I have gotten a lot of requests for a list of places to volunteer. Below is a link to a post I wrote on WhyDev about why volunteer rating systems might not work for exactly right for YOU!


15 May 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Can Marketing Your Social Impact Harm Your Social Impact?

When I was last in Cambodia, I was speaking with Rachel Faller, of KeoK’jay about their marketing – and how they weigh decisions about whether or not to market the impact of their work on their employees. The counterbalance of marketing their “impact” vs their “products/service” is one DDD, a Phnom Penh based data-entry company employing “disadvantaged people” faces as well. Here is a piece I wrote for the Ashoka column of Forbes online about this tension involved in marketing your impact:


08 May 2013 ~ 0 Comments

PhD’s, DPhils, and Masters, oh my!

SO many people in the last year or two have written to me about a volunteer travel related thesis, dissertation, or research report that they are working on or just completed.  The gals at VoluntourismGal have a post up to collect a list of what people have or are working on in this field…. add yours if this pertains to you!!


01 May 2013 ~ 0 Comments

NGegO & the waste we cause by fueling aid hero-preneurs

A piece I wrote a bit ago and had been holding back on posting just went up on HuffPost…. as if I hadn’t caused enough of a stir already today!  Yikes, here we go…. I’m off to bed!  Any posts I put up next month will be about positive things (I really will try!).


01 May 2013 ~ 1 Comment

BBC Four Thought Talk

I was lucky to be invited to do a BBC Four Thought Talk which was recorded a few weeks ago and will air tonight (8:45pm UK Time). The first draft of the talk was about 9000 words, which I cut down to a 3000 word radio talk, and then was boiled down to a 1000 word BBC New article that is therefor a watered down version of my thoughts but which you can read here if you like:


There are a ton of comments on it already…. clearly this is a nuanced issue – where certainly not all “voluntourism” is good, but just as certainly, not all of it is horrible. I do advocate for a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to donating time and money to non-profits, as I feel that generally there isn’t enough research going into the donation or volunteer travel decision making, but that doesn’t mean I think all NGOs are bad. I just think that, if you have good intentions and you want to do go, it is really important to then do research to make sure your time and money are indeed being used as a force for positive change, rather than the opposite!

If you want the LONG version of my thoughts (and those of the other three co-authors), the Learning Service team and I are working on a book, designed to help people more effectively navigate their decisions when considering volunteering overseas.  Our Indiegogo campaign is live here, if you want to pass it on!  Thanks!


Tune in tonight for the talk, if you are interested!

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.lessonsilearned.org). 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!