Leaving Cambodia Pt. 2

I once had a professor back at Notre Dame who emphasized the importance of writing letters to people who inspired or helped you.  Since the late years of his professional life were spent in the Reagan administration, I figure I might update that ethos and apply it to the internet era.  Each day until I head out to Hanoi, I am going to highlight a few people I’ve had the privilege of knowing here in Cambodia; people who I owe quite a bit to and probably don’t know it.  It’s not an exhaustive list by any means; just letting my heart bleed through my fingertips on the keyboard in between packing boxes.

I am currently in Siem Reap and just finished an exciting Board meeting with PEPY.  I would be amiss if I didn’t include Daniela Papi, PEPY’s founder and Executive Director. on this list.  In 2005, Daniela sent out an umbrella email to a student club I was involved in at university asking for help with a business plan.  Based on a few group trips she designed and led to Cambodia, Daniela had an idea for a voluntourism social enterprise that would allow travelers to give back in a meaningful, relevant way and learn about sustainable development.  I  immediately responded that I would love to help out and she sent me a stack of PEPY Ride business cards a few weeks later.

I finally met her in person when she was selected as a finalist for the Notre Dame Social Venture Competition.  She came out to South Bend with super businessman/friend Steve.  After meeting for 15 minutes she asked me to run their information table at the event.  Dressed fairly shabbily and knowing very little about PEPY, I somehow managed not offend any competition judges.  At the end of the day, PEPY won top honors and $10k to get things started up.  Largely due to Daniela’s infectious enthusiasm, my involvement in PEPY grew stronger over the next year.

Sitting in a hot guesthouse in Siem Reap a few weeks from graduation, Daniela offered me a job with the PEPY team.  I readily accepted, booked a flight, and have been involved here on the ground in different capacities ever since.

Daniela is full of innovative ideas and makes things happen.  I’ve never met anyone that is able to mobilize people (myself and dozens of my friends included) to contribute to a common-good quite like her.  When Seth Godin wrote Tribes, I am pretty sure he was thinking of Daniela.  I am not sure that she ever sleeps, as my inbox always seems to have emails from her at all times of the day/night.

Daniela is incredibly introspective and is always looking for ways for PEPY and others to do things better (just take a look at her blog “Lesson’s I Learned” on the links tab to the right).  I remember when she emailed the founder/leader of a major non-profit and basically told him/her “You’re harming your stakeholders.  You should consider XYZ.”  When invited, she flew out to the USA and gave a stellar presentation in person to some of their key management and stakeholders.  No funding expected from the meeting, no ego – just a desire to see that a development organization works in the best interests of its stakeholders.  She applies the same critical perspective to her own work at PEPY.  The growth and transformation of both PEPY Tours and PEPY Ride under her guidance and leadership have been overwhelming.

When you’re around Daniela, you’re both inspired and challenged to be improve yourself.  More importantly, she’s works tirelessly to support you and connect you with whatever you want/need to accomplish your goals.  I know this firsthand – when I decided to leave my position at PEPY, Daniela didn’t get angry or shun me.  Instead, she helped me to make that transition and has kept connecting me with people and resources to continue growing personally and professionally.

I could go on and on… bottom line is that Daniela is an amazing person with an unwavering desire to impact the world around her by investing in people.  I count myself as lucky to work closely with her on a number of projects and can’t wait to see what idea she comes up with next.


~ by responsiblenomad on December 3, 2010.

One Response to “Leaving Cambodia Pt. 2”

  1. Wow… thanks Tim! It is I who is lucky to know YOU. No one else wrote back to that email I sent out to the ND club you know…. not everyone is as brave as you – to man a booth about an org you don’t know much about and confidently represent our team, fly out to Cambodia to co-lead a trip while still taking classes at school, turning down big banking salaries to come volunteer in Cambodia….. not everyone would do that! Actually, most everyone would not. We’re lucky that you are not most everyone! I look forward to working with you and learning from you for a LONG time to come. From volunteer to CEO in just a few years – it has been phenomenal to watch you learn and grow and influence others! Keep doing great things!

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