An economics graduate from New York State, Daniela Papi is convinced of education's power to affect national development. She has already established a non-governmental organization (NGO) to improve Cambodians access to schooling. Now she sees the "voluntourism" business as the next step to grow her development enterprise.
Daniela herself has long been an enthusiastic traveller, right from the time she took a "semester at sea" programme with other American students in 1998. Stopping off in several developing countries during the 100-day voyage, she began to appreciate the educational opportunities she enjoyed. She also started to consider how she might bring similar chances to less wealthy people in poorer countries.
In 2002, Daniela started to fulfil her educational improvement goals when she established PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself), a non-profit organization that began by building schools in rural areas. "Transforming education in rural areas leaves students with better skill-sets, greater opportunity for personal development, and encourages a greater respect for the environment," she says.
An NGO with a business behind it
In 2007, Daniela has seen an opportunity to start a complementary
business that combines development initiatives with her other passion,
travel. "Many of those who donated to PEPY were keen to see where their
money was going. So we organized a tour to take them round our project
sites. At the same time, visitors wanted to see the major natural and
historical attractions of Cambodia. Combining these activities gave us
the idea of PEPY Tours, my proposal for the Cartier Women's Initiative
"As part of our plan, we've identified distinct, but overlapping markets to which PEPY Tours is tailored," says Daniela. "There has been a 15% annual increase in tourism in Cambodia in the last five years. Simultaneously, there are increasing numbers of individuals professing a wish to give something back [as volunteers] as they travel."
PEPY Tours will seek to win business from each of these markets by offering tourists both the chance to enjoy exciting adventure activities and to get involved in community development projects. All profits made by PEPY Tours will be invested into the PEPY NGO and other local development initiatives.
The possibilities don't end there. "If we're successful, we'll launch
the business elsewhere in South-East Asia with partner NGOs in other
countries. At all times, our priority will be to assist our constituent
communities whilst simultaneously offering an important life experience
to our clients," says Daniela.
The Cartier Women's Initiative Awards represented the opportunity to traverse a major stage in PEPY Tours evolution. "The concept is clear, but we need expertise to market it appropriately, and capital to launch it successfully. I can't wait to see how the plan evolves as I draw on the knowledge of Cartier Women's Initiative Award business coaches," says Daniela.
In 2014, Daniela launched a new education and advocacy platform called "Learning Service" to help improve the impact of volunteer travel. She is currently looking to expand to Nepal, lectures a class on entrepreneurship at Oxford's Saïd Business School and does a range of other consulting work.
Since the competition, PEPY has been growing continually. It is now working in 12 villages and has built 6 schools since its creation. The formerly unique biking educational tour is now accompanied by various other programs. PEPY is now thinking to expand its activities to the whole country.
The Awards were the occasion for Daniela to meet Jury member Kamal Ahmad, Founder of the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Bangladesh, who later appointed PEPY as Recruiting Partner for AUW in Cambodia. This has given the opportunity to 8 girls selected by PEPY to attend the AUW.