Papi Leaves PEPY – 20 Lessons Learned

Daniela Papi is leaving the Exec Director role at PEPY Ride after 6 fabulous years – she has always been among the best at sharing mistakes and helping others learn, below is a great post, read the full thing here:

About two years ago I made a decision and announced to those I worked with at PEPY that I would be leaving Cambodia in two years. Now, as I near leaving a job/life/family I have spent the last six years building, part of me wishes I had said three years instead of two! But, I know it is time to go. I have known for a long time that I was not wired to sustain an organization in the long run, and that I certainly am not qualified to run an education organization in Cambodia for many reasons, one of the main reasons being that I am not Cambodian nor do I plan to try to be.

The timing will never feel 100% right – there will always be a long list of things I still want to accomplish, holes I want to fill in our organization, improvements I want to make, people I want to spend more time with, places I still want to visit or go back to, lunches I want to have a Sam Sok or Ban Chao with our great team, etc. I will always wish I had a few more months to get things in line, which is how I feel now. But, I am THRILLED that we have two fabulous new Khmer members of our senior management team (Layheng Ting and Samal Khath) who bring a broad range of experiences to PEPY’s programs and who are much more qualified to run PEPY into the future than I am.  Yet it still is hard to leave…

I might be leaving Cambodia, but I am surely not leaving PEPY, as I will be in the board, but more than that, it will be in my heart and mind every day. I will still be involved with PEPY Tours though the fabulous Anna, Chor, and Sela are now running the show by themselves as it is and will continue to do great things in the field of development education tourism. Gosh, there is just so much I want to stay and be a part of! But continuing my own education calls, and it’s time to listen.

So, I decided to write down 20 things I learned here in the last 6 years. I could probably write to 100, and these surely are not in any order of importance, but they are reminders to myself of why it is hard to leave, and how much I have grown through this process.

Through my time at PEPY, I have learned (In no particular order):

1)   While ideas are fun and passion is contagious, action is what achieves goals.

2)   As someone focused on “doing”, planning can sometimes seem like a waste of time, a distraction from progress, and a bit like drawing a map to somewhere you have never been to… you know you are going to draw it wrong. Yet, I’ve come to learn that planning helps us “doers” achieve goals faster, avoid mistakes, and cause less chaos.  Hence, every “doer” needs a plan. (Thanks to all those who have helped me realize this and helped me become better at planning! Still a work in progress!)

3)   Failures are inevitable. If you don’t talk about them, they become the elephant in the temple, and elephants in ancient temples are hard to hide. Admitting failures, learning from mistakes made, and sharing those lessons with others so they can learn not only helps us better achieve our own goals but can help others achieve theirs.

4)   Complaining can ease your frustration for a little while, much in the same way that chocolate can help a bad mood. But then it wears off. Working through a problem, partnering with those you might previously have considered “wrong”, and seeking to understand (as a wise friend always reminds me), achieve more than just stamping your feet.

5)   It’s the TEAM that matters. Leaders can only stand alone if they are Atlas, but even he got tired. Real humans need really great teams to achieve success.

6)   Leadership is more about building a team, sharing inspiration, and holding strongly onto shared core values than it is about holding a flag and walking a group of tourists off a plane.

7)   Changing attitudes and actions takes time…. LOTS of time. We don’t change our behaviors and our opinions because someone else tells us to, because someone gave us something, or because we are paid to. In other words, if you want to invest in sustainable change, you need to invest in the long term.

8)   Investing time in people is better than giving things away.

9)   Schools don’t teach kids. People do.

10) The only way to improve your family, your community, your country, or your world, is to start by improving yourself. (Thanks for reminding us, Chor!)

11) Some people don’t believe it’s possible. Ignore them. It’s ALWAYS possible. IT might change though, and YOU might change. If you want to achieve it, you need to stop listening to those who say it’s not possible, build a team of people who know it is, and work your butt off. IT wont happen on its own or just because YOU believe in it. IT will happen because you MAKE it happen through your hard work, inspiring others to work hard too, and because you are willing to learn, change, and adapt as you go.

12) Development education in the WEST is what is most needed to improve our impact on the REST. If we keep throwing money at problems, keep investing in ideas which have been proven to fail, and continue to feed our egos by focusing on helping the here and now rather than helping for tomorrow by starting with better educating our children, we will continue to create the same problems that those before us faced.

13) We HAVE to learn before we can help.

14) We vote with our money. Anytime we pay for something, whether it is buying a plastic bottle or giving money to a child on the street, we are voting for more of that in the world.

15) People CAN change. If we love them, work with them, and invest our time to help them develop the skills, connections, ideas, and inspiration they need to reach their goals.

16) YOU can change. I can change. I’m NOT even close to who I want to be if I grow up. I can only change if I know and admit my weaknesses, set goals for how I want to be as a person, as a leader, as a friend – then set goals for where I want to be and be open to hearing feedback which might help me get there.

17) Communal living (especially after reaching 30) can be the most challenging, but more often the most rewarding experience.

18) Cambodia is HOT in April. Except when “Global Messing Up” makes April cool and windy. Our earth is in trouble. We need to do something (MANY somethings) about that. Yesterday.

19) An organization will only be as successful as it can be if each person on the team feels invested in creating the vision, believes in the cause they are working towards, feels safe to share their criticism and new ideas, and is working on bettering themselves to achieve their own personal goals as well as those of the organization.

20) PEPY People are some of the best people in the world.  As my friend John once wrote, it’s all about the people. I’m delighted to have had so many of you become a part of my life and mold me into what I am becoming and who I want to be.

These are all things I now “understand”… it doesn’t mean I yet DO them well. I’m a work in progress, as my friend Yut always says. We all are. If we think we’ve reached it, we’re either kidding ourselves, about to die, or about to be REALLY bored. So, as I head out into the world-beyond-PEPY, though I’m sad to leave my second family here behind, I’m equipped with the knowledge that the only way we can improve the world is by improving ourselves…. so here I go!  Wish me luck!

Only 15 Spots Left for Voluntourism Conference

Because I’m trying to keep this conference small and targeted the first year we’re limiting the number of attendees – there are only 15 spots left so even if you are just thinking of coming email me now so I can hold your spot.

For more details on the conference and a rough agenda visit here.

Remember: Denver, June 28 at the Cambria suites – look at this post for all the details. Cambria Suites Denver Airport refer to Voluntourism group when booking. 303-576-9600, free airport transfers.

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon and starting a yearly tradition!

Voluntourism Conference Agenda

This is still a work in progress but just wanted to send this out so everyone knows how the day will run. I’m limiting it to 60 people so register soon as there isn’t much space left. Just email me.

Remember: Denver, June 28 at the Cambria suites – look at this post for all the details. Cambria Suites Denver Airport refer to Voluntourism group when booking. 303-576-9600, free airport transfers.

8:30  Welcome Coffee & Mingle

9:00 Featured Overseas Guest: Daniela Papi from

9:30 Economic Impacts of Voluntourism on a Destination presented by Kristin Lamoureux of George Washington University

10:00 Customer Engagement with New Technologies presented by founders Nate Abbott and Natty Zola

10:30 Creating a Compelling Brand Story that truly differentiates by Mark Campbell of Storytellings

11:00 New Social Media Developments, how to use it to interact with competitors and clients presented by industry expert Kathy Dragon

11:30 From Little Things Big Things Grow, a repeat of the TEDx talk – Christina Tunnah

12:00 Lunch

12:30 Meet the Press Panel (ask questions, they’ll talk about how voluntourism has changed from their perspective)

  • Michelle Theall – Founder of Women’s Adventure Magazine
  • Sheryl Kayne – Author of Volunteer Vacations Across America
  • Sara Hare – Travel & Leisure, Town & Country Freelancer
  • Abbie Mood – Associate Editor for Matador Network’s Change, Freelancer
  • Several others in discussions

2:00 Roundtable Discussions on Industry Hot Topics

  • For example: Pricing strategies, finding reliable in country partners, is voluntourism on the decline, what marketing channels are working, how do you handle bad press/unhappy volunteers, how do you manage expectations

4:45 Closing and Summary of Conference

5:30 Meet for Drinks and Dinner